#22 Goodbye 2022, see you soon 2023

A very dramming year

 

TL;DR: As usual this period gives us a chance to reflect on the year about to end. It has been an intense one for us, particularly the second half. Whisky-wise, we had some very fantastic experiences, some disappointing, and a few average ones. While we are looking forward to “dramming around” in 2023, here our 2022 highlights.  

Aaaand…It’s December, and we are finally on holidays. By the time you will be reading this, another Christmas will have just passed, we hope you had a great day of celebrations with your loved ones, and that you are now bloated and relaxing on Boxing Day (or St. Stephen, as it is known in Italy).

Because of our jobs, we both arrived at the end of the year very tired. However, it was also a year full of fantastic whisky experiences, that we hope to repeat next year. In 2022, we visited 19 (Gianluigi) and 20 (Teresa) new distilleries (17 in Scotland and one in England together, Gianluigi visited one in Canada, Teresa one in Ireland and one in England). We also had the chance to revisit some good old acquaintances, like GlenAllachie and Deanston (amongst our favourites). We were able to go to Orkney (hurray!) to catch up with both Scapa (aye!) and Highland Park (nay!).

Sheep grazing with Scapa in the back.

And, finally (FINALLY), we visited Islay for the first time, after our March 2020 trip was cancelled by you-know-what. What a crazy holiday that one, our rented campervan broke down on day 1, half-hour away from the ferry terminal. Although we had to get last-minute accommodations and move around by taxi, we managed anyway! And what a visit, we have to say that whisky tourism on Islay is something really different. Take the Laphroaig tour for example, the token system to pick the drams for your tasting at the end makes it much more flexible than most of the other tours, so that can be enjoyed by both novices and experts. Moreover, Bunnahabhain (best warehouse tasting ever…just the bottling prices a bit too steep), Lagavulin, and Kilchoman rewarded us travelling there by including no-core range drams, all limited ones, which made the experience truly special. We wished other distilleries on far-away islands would do the same… We can’t wait to go back to Islay, to catch up with the other distilleries, and revisit some.

Moments before the best warehouse tasting ever.

Other than Islay we had some incredible whisky experiences, like the Deanston Winter Fest (coming up soon in the blog), or the GlenAllachie tour during the “Speycation” (coming up soon too).

Deanston WinterFest: that’s happiness after three tastings.

This word was brilliantly created by our friend Cath, and greatly implemented by  Justine (Kask Whisky): over the weekend we visited 5 distilleries (+ 1 being built) and did a few tastings, including one in the now closed Coleburn distillery, and one in the Strathisla’s warehouse. A couple of weeks earlier, we were again in Speyside for the Dramathon, and of course we visited (or revisited) a few distilleries: Glenfarclas (new visit), Glen Grant and Glen Garioch on the way back (both revisits).

The direct-fired Glen Garioch spirit still.

Some of the tours we did were OK, a bit standard but nothing to complain about: we’d say that usually you get what you pay for. Disappointments came from distillery-exclusive bottling prices. In some cases, instead of rewarding you for visiting the distillery (and already paying for a tasting or a tour), they put a 20-30 quid premium on those. Not nice. The only distillery experience that was really a disappointment and we regret paying for was Highland Park. Despite avoiding the basic tour (£30, already not cheap) we opted for the improved one (£75, the most expensive tour we did so far) to be denied any dram of distillery exclusives or other limited bottlings, and just taste the core range which we could have done in Edinburgh anytime. An expensive tourist trap, we won’t go back there (sorry James, you were a superstar guide though!).

A nice but waaaaay to pricey Blair Athol (£120!!!).

With the Covid19 restrictions behind our back, we could attend our very first whisky festivals, the Fife whisky festival in March and the Whisky Fringe in August – we had a lot of fun, let’s see if it’ll be the same with bigger events.

Enjoying a break between the two Fife Whisky Festival sessions.

In-person tastings came back too. We did a few organised by our friend Justine, of course, as well as others by Mark, Murray (both at Kilderkin) and Colin at Tipsy Midgie. We had some cracking drams, including a 20y Dutch single malt from Zuidam, a fantastic Doorly’s rum (from Foursquare distillery) and some cracking Daftmill-s and Bruichladdich-s. Also, SMWS events came back, including our favourites: Outturns and Distillery Visits (an event where you can taste whiskies brought by a distillery representative together with some provided by the SMWS). This year we did the Glen Moray distillery visit with Iain Allan connected remotely and the Distell one (Deanston/Tobermory) with the very funny Brendan McCarron: both cracking events with awesome whiskies! Gianluigi also decided to become an Aqvavite Youtube Channel Patreon: Roy’s content and entertainment are really priceless, and this was long overdue. We also attended a very funny blind tasting in Glasgow where we finally met all those whisky folks we’d only seen on screen until then.

Awesome Aquavitae event in Glasgow!!!

By writing this up, we realised 2022 was intense not only because of work, but because of whisky too! We hope to bag more distilleries in 2023, although we’ll probably try to be more selective when picking tours and experiences. We are also starting to organise whisky tastings: the first will be towards the end February and will be Port-cask related (we got the idea during our fantastic trip in Portugal…tickets here), but the following ones will involve bottles we picked up in our travels, not necessarily at distilleries, eheh…Stay tuned! Overall, it’s still a very long way to become whisky geeks, but we’ve learned a lot this year and we hope to continue the trend!

Not just whisky for us…coming to a tasting soon!

Happy holidays and see you next year! Slainte!


#18 Two festivals adventures

Festival!

 

TL;DR: With the relaxation of Covid restrictions (thanks vaccines!), public events started coming back, including whisky festivals! In 2022 we attended a couple of wee ones, the Fife Whisky Festival in March and the Whisky Fringe in August. In both cases, we are already looking forward to the next editions!

Until a few years ago, the word “festival” meant a very specific situation to us: (mostly) summer, a few thousand people around, and music blasting your ears. Northern Italy wasn’t short of these events, so during our teenage and 20s we indulged in what the national and international rock scene offered. Fast forward a few years, we are still going to concerts, even to international festivals, despite the older age making it more difficult: sleeping in a tent in our mid-20s was feasible, doing it in our mid-30s, it just won’t happen again (thanks a lot, Bluetooth speakers!).

Us going to festivals before getting into whisky!

In the meantime, we collected a new hobby: whisky! As you probably know if you read this blog, we started by visiting distilleries around US and Scotland. We have been enjoying the usually remote location of many distilleries, and the often intimate type of experience. That’s why, when first heard about whisky festivals, we weren’t too convinced. This changed in 2019, when we learned about a couple of them that seemed a great opportunity to know more about our beloved amber liquid.

After missing out on a couple of events in 2019 (Whisky Fringe was already sold-out when we learned about it) and 2020 (we only managed to attend a Fife Whisky Festival side-event at Kingsbarns distillery), the time of our first whisky festival finally arrived, in March 2022: the Fife Whisky Festival, for real! Because of our friendship with one of the organizers (Kask Whisky Justine), we were recruited as volunteers to help out during the day. The festival actually started the evening before, with a dinner at the Lindores Abbey distillery.

Welcome cocktails on the way at Lindores Abbey…
…followed by a welcome dram.

A very tasty 3-course dinner, entertained by the radio host Vic Galloway (to note, he’s curating a very interesting podcast for the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, tasting drams with guests from the Scottish artist scene and pairing them with music). The dinner was accompanied by four tasty drams: a wine-matured Lindores, the Glen Scotia Victoriana, a 25y Glenfarclas, and finally a peated Kilchoman, UK exclusive batch 3, each one presented by one of the respective distillery ambassadors.

Archived the dinner, the day of the festival arrived, at the Corn Exchange in Cupar. We were given aprons and instructions: we were going to be at the door, Gianluigi scanning tickets (with Kath, a friend from the Edinburgh Whisky Group) and Teresa putting bracelets and giving away scratch cards (with Kath’s partner, Craig) to get the chance to buy one of the festival bottles, a single cask Lindores Abbey and a highly sought-after single cask Daftmill. The scratch card was actually a very smart move by the organisers, because it avoided tons of chancers going straight to the shop and buying a limited edition bottle to be put on auctions. Of course, someone complained, but there is no remedy against self-entitlement and selfishness…or is there?

Hard life volunteering 😛

After the entrance operation, our task was to set up the room for the two masterclasses, Mackmyra and Loch Lomond. During these, we could do little breaks, which we exploited to taste a couple of drams each. We spent the rest of the session walking around the stands assisting brand ambassadors and chatting with friends.

All set for the master class!

At the end of the first session, we and the other volunteers quickly cleaned everything up, and had a little lunch break. This is when Justine brought in the mystical fudge donuts: a beast of a dessert, probably hundreds of Kcal per bite. After checking that everyone had one, Gianluigi decided to show his true animal nature and ate a second one.

Happy two-fudge-donut guy.

The second session went almost as smoothly as the first one: a few more drunken fellas, but fortunately no one outrageously pished. Overall we loved the atmosphere, so relaxed and friendly, it was a great day that we are looking forward to repeating.


A few months went by, until we got to the middle of August. Gianluigi had just come back from a conference in Canada (and a distillery trip he managed to sneak in, wink wink), just in time to attend the Whisky Fringe. “Just”: his flight from Toronto landed in Edinburgh around 9am. Fortunately, the festival location, the beautiful Mansfield Traquair, is only about 30 minutes walking from Leith, and the festival was starting at 2pm. After an abundant brunch and a bit of unpacking, we were on our way to the festival.

Ready to taste whisky!

The number of participants for each session was limited to 500, which seems a lot, but because of the festival layout on different floors, and the space around, never really felt very crowded. The first stand we hit was the Uncle Nearest one. We were already aware of their fascinating history (Green Nearest was the person, at the time enslaved, who taught Jack Daniels how to distill). We tried two of their Tennessee whiskies, both quite delicious. We then went to say hi to our friends at Ardnamurchan (Gianluigi is part of their AD/Ventures club), and to taste one of their fabulous drams. We met several friends, some from the Edinburgh Whisky Group, some from past tastings, some just friends. Feature of the festival, a half-time dram: at 4pm, each person could choose a special dram from one of the stands. Gianluigi went for a 16y Port Charlotte from Thompson Brothers, Teresa for an old Glen Moray, both very tasty!

Blurred picture (ooops) of Uncle Nearest whiskeys.

Choosing what to buy with our 10-quid voucher was hard, of course you can’t get all the delicious Thompson Brothers’, Glenallachie’s, Springbank’s/Kilkerran’s, Ardnamurchan’s at once. We finally opted for a bottle of White Heather 15, a stunning blended scotch from the Glenallachie company, very different from most whiskies we tried, and which we had been after for a while. The night ended with a meal with some friends at the Leith Depot, and a last dram at Nauticus.

Both experiences challenged our prejudice of whisky festivals being messy and noisy. They were both quite relaxed, lively experiences, where we could enjoy some delicious drams (well, not so many at the Fife Whisky Festival, as we were helping out) without spending lot of time queuing. We already signed up to help at the 2023 Fife Whisky Festival, and we will keep an eye on the Whisky Fringe tickets. Are we ready for bigger events? Not really sure, but who knows. 

Until next time, slainte!


Whisky Festivals Links

https://www.fifewhiskyfestival.com/
https://www.royalmilewhiskies.com/whisky-fringe/


#11.3 Birthday in the Borderlands

Crossing the borders for the Lakes (Day 3)

First distillery visit in England, in the gorgeous Lakes District

(missed Day 2 or Day 1?)

We woke up after a resting night in our hotel in Workington. The night before we had had the chance to explore the town, but after the restaurant and a pint we decided to head back to the hotel. At that point face masks weren’t mandatory anymore in England, in spite of the high Covid rates, and this wasn’t making us very comfortable.

Our hotel was only half-hour away from the distillery, but we decided to take the long road and drive through the Lakes region. The road was not the easiest, long chunks of single tracks (which we got acquainted with during our trips in the Highlands) and even some very steep ones, which Cliff took like a champion! This choice, however, rewarded us, as the landscape was truly beautiful!

Snooping around the Lakes District.

While driving through the posh village of Kenswick we also understood why we couldn’t find any decently priced accommodation for the night in the area. As we left the hills behind us, we entered in a very flat and smooth valley along Bassenwaite lake.

Cliff, you made it!

We were a bit ahead of schedule, so the fact that Gianluigi missed the turn (twice) for the distillery gave us the chance to explore the area even more! However, the third time is the charm (as someone would say…don’t know exactly whom though) and we finally arrived at the Lakes Distillery.

We learned about them a few years ago and we were both very curious about it. We had reserved the Lakes Whisky Tour at noon (hours are different now, every day at 11.30 and some days at 3.30pm), which is whisky focused. The regular tour instead includes vodka and gin production, which could be a solution if you are accompanied by non-whisky drinkers. Other options are the whisky and chocolate pairing (all Wednesdays and Saturdays at 3.30p), and the “pet the alpacas” experience.

Happy in the wind.

The whole site was clearly designed with visitors in mind, so while waiting for the tour to start, we had a coffee at their restaurant (which is a proper one!). We barely made it, because it was fully booked for lunch. This is something that surprised us, but considering the restrictions easing and that the distillery sits in a very touristic region, we could have expected it (so, if you want to have a meal there, booking is strongly suggested!). Our guide was Sonja, and she started the tour explaining how it took a while for the funders to find the right spot, which they found in the Victorian farmhouse where the distillery is built. The distillery opened in 2014, and they’ve been expanding their production by repurposing some of the buildings previously used for cask storage.

Yes, this used to be a farm.

We moved to a dark room where we watched a (spectacular but a bit too long) drone video following the water source of the distillery, the river Derwent, from the Sprinkling Tarn in the Lakes district to the Irish Sea in Workington (ah!). We moved to the production (where pics were not allowed), which is tightly fit in the old farm barn buildings. Here we could see something very peculiar: the spirit still has two condensers – a usual copper one and a stainless steel one. Sonja told us that it is there for experiments, it should produce a heavier new make because of the missing interaction with the copper. She also told us that none of the whisky released so far went through this condenser. The final part in the tour was in another dark room (not a warehouse, unfortunately), where we were talked through the effect of different types of wood on the whisky maturation.

Maturating whisky, maturing colour.

Afterwards Sonja led us to a different building, a beautiful house just on a wee hill behind the distillery, with the alpaca farm on the back: tasting time! After a wee pause for restroom, the tasting started with the newmake, followed by a 1 year-old dram aged in a sherry cask. This is very important to them, as the Lakes whisky style is generally very sherry/European oak forward. We moved on to a couple of their One, the line of their blended whisky, including other malts and grain whiskies from Scotland. We had the sherry and port finishes, both very drinkable (someone would say “drams for drinking, not for thinking”), displaying again the ability to play with different woods. Finally, we got a dram of their last (at the time) release, the Mosaic single malt. This very rich and aromatic dram would have been clearly the highlight of the tasting, but Sonja decided to give us an extra dram: the Whiskymaker Reserve N 4, which was truly great (and sold-out, ouch).

Tasting time!

After the tasting we had a wee meal at their restaurant, but just before that we went back to the shop for a wee taste of two other Ones: the Moscatel and the Orange Wine cask finishes. While the first was more balanced, the latter had a very particular note that we haven’t found anywhere else, so we went for that one. Finally, we got into the car and headed back to Leith, crossing the South of Scotland and some unexpected but amazing landscapes around Moffat and Biggar. Tipsy Teresa (she necked all of her drams, of course!) was definitely very happy for her birthday celebrations…while Gianluigi was already thinking about how to top this next year!

The house of the raising drams!

So, our first visit to an English whisky distillery happened, and it was good one indeedy! Thanks to the visit, we could see how their (former, apparently) whisky maker Dhavall Gandhi gave a very clear direction to their whisky. While definitely sherry-oriented, the drams we had were not “sherry bombs”, and the influence was more nuanced and balanced – we both thought Dhavall is an amazing blender. For us, some whiskies to keep an eye on and, unsurprisingly, we’ll likely return to visit!


The Lakes Distillery Whisky Tour

Price: £35.00 pp (March 2022)

Tasting: Lakes new make spirit, 1y malt spirit (ex-sherry cask), The One Port & Sherry finish blended whiskies (both 46.6%, NAS, NC, NCF), the Mosaic Single Malt (46.6%, NAS, NC, NCF)

Target: whisky enthusiasts and geeks

Value for money: Good

Highlights: the distillery is very beautiful and in a great spot

Link: https://www.lakesdistillery.com/


#11.2 Birthday in the Borderlands

Tripping in the South of Scotland to Annandale
(Day 2)

 

The second day in Dumfries & Galloway, driving from Portpatrick to the lovely Annandale distillery! 

(missed Day 1? Or go to Day 3)

The morning wasn’t too cold as we went to a nearby hotel for a big breakfast. We went for a short walk on the cliff around Portpatrick, the view of the village was pretty spectacular, but the clouds prevented us to spot Ireland…hopefully next time!

Quiet, cloudy morning in Portpatrick.

First stop in the morning, Newton Stewart. It looked as a nice, quiet village. Here we met up with Tom, a Gianluigi’s former colleague and his family for coffee and cake. It was great catching up with him, since Gianluigi and Tom hadn’t met in person since March 2020, despite spending a big chunk of the pandemic working together building a Covid model for Scotland.

The road between Newton Stewart and Annan was a quite different landscape compared to others in Scotland. A rug of intense green rolling hills, punctuated by cattle and sheep quietly grazing. We stopped by a smokehouse just past Creetown, on the main road, to get some of their delicious goodies. Past Dumfries, instead keeping on the main road, we drove straight south to Caerlaverock Castle. The visitor centre and the castle were closed, but it was possible to park nearby and, thanks to a sunny day, take a walk in the park. The castle looks like a proper medieval fort, including a catapult “parked” in front of it as a reminder of those walls purpose. As we will learn from the Wikipedia page, this has been under siege many times, until it was abandoned in 1640.

Beautiful castle behind an even more beautiful catapult!

It took just a short half-hour drive to arrive to Annandale from the castle. As we left the car in the wide parking lot, we could admire the awesome restorations of the distillery buildings. It sits in a nice spot as well, close to a stream and surrounded by fields and woods, almost like a postcard! We checked-in at the visitor centre’s shop (where we got our very first whisky lanyard!) and while waiting for the tour to start, we had a coffee at the Maltings, their cafè.

Checking in at Annandale.

Other than the basic tour there are other three options available, which is possible to enquire about from the website: one focused on the buildings restoration, one about the new owners journey and project, and a technical one about whisky production. Gianluigi enquired about the latter, but that week the person in charge was on annual leave, so he chose the basic tour (prices of the alternative ones are not specified on the website).

Our guide led us to the room where the tour started. While she was explaining the history of the distillery, which dates back to 1836, she gave us a first dram of a blended scotch whisky prototype (not on sale yet), a blend of North British grain whisky with their peated expression (Man O’Sword), diluted at 40%: despite the thin mouthfeel, not bad at all! The distillery was bought by the Walker family in 1893 as a source of peated single malt for their blends: their kiln used peat from local bogs, making it a pretty unique malt. Compared to other peated malts, it was also easier to transport it to Kilmarnock. The distillery was closed and dismantled in 1924, and prior to their acquisition by David Thomson and Teresa Church in the late 2000s, it was abandoned. When the renovation happened, all the equipment was new, making it another (almost) 200 years old “new distillery”, similarly to Bladnoch. In the middle of the courtyard we could admire the old stillhouse building’s base, with the two circular structures that used to host the stills.

A piece of whisky history.

The historical ties of these distillery don’t end here, as they decided to name their single malts after two very important characters tied with the local and Scottish history: while their unpeated whisky is named “Man O’Words” in honor of Robert Burns, their peated one is the “Man O’Sword”, after Robert The Bruce (and the peat doesn’t come from the area anymore, but it’s sourced by the Simpson maltsters).

As we moved to the production area, we spotted the similarities with other distilleries influenced by the late Dr Jim Swan (Lindores Abbey). In particular, they have a mashtun closed by a copper lid, and three stills: one wash still and two twins, slightly smaller, spirit stills.

All in one room: mashtun, washbacks and…
…Stills!

In the filling room, a poster of Doddie Wair, which filled their first peated cask. The dunnage warehouse is on two levels, and here is where we had a wee taste of their products (well, not Gianluigi as he was driving). We tasted their peated and unpeated Rascally Liquor (newmake spirit bottled at 63.5%), and their young Man O’Words and Man O’Sword from bourbon casks (unchillfiltered, natural color and cask strength). Back in the shop, we realised that all their bottling were £80-85 or over, depending on the cask type, so we opted for a tasting set of 6x5cl drams: peated and unpeated single malts in ex-bourbon, ex-sherry and STR casks, a good compromise (we still have to taste them however…). For what we could taste on that day (but also in another Kask Whisky tasting, when we had a dram of their sherry cask matured Man O’Words… and a real sherry cask, not a seasoned one) the whisky is very promising, and we are excited to see what is in their plans in the years to come!

Dunnage warehouses.

As we left the distillery Teresa wasn’t aware of the next stop, and she was really clueless until we crossed the border with (cracks in the sky noise) England!!! The distillery for the next day was, of course, the Lakes distillery, but Gianluigi decided to spend the night in a town on the coast, Workington. We stayed in the very clean and tidy Hall Park Hotel, which has a bar as well, so before dinner we could watch the second half of the England-Ireland 6 Nations game from a comfy couch in our room with a pint! Sublime!

So another distillery in the sack, this time the beauty of Annandale really made the difference. We will definitely go back for another tour (hopefully the technical one), maybe in a few years when more expressions of this whisky will be available.


Annandale Distillery Tour and Tasting

Price: £20.00 pp (February 2022…But there was a discount at the time, we paid £10pp)

Tasting: Blended scotch (a blend of North British grain and their peated single malt, 40%), Rascal spirit (new make), Man O’Word & Man O’Sword (unpeated and peated, NC, NCF, CS)…and wee glass and laynard to take home

Target: everyone

Value for money: Good

Highlights: The beautiful site

Distillery Exclusive: Man O’Words and Man O’Sword single cask bottle your own vintage 2015 (CS, NCF, NC, ~£60 for a 375ml bottle)

Things we did not like: Feeling like broken records, but the bottling prices were a bit steep again

Link: https://annandaledistillery.com/


#11.1 Birthday in the Borderlands

Away to Galloway: Bladnoch Distillery (Day 1)

 

Another trip to discover distilleries in the Lowlands on a special occasion: Teresa’s birthday

(Want to read the whole story? Go to Day 2 or Day 3)

There was one trip we aimed to do back in 2020, but because of you know what, we postponed it: Dumfries and Galloway. We heard this is a lovely region and, very important for us, home of two single malt distilleries, Annandale and Bladnoch.

This year, Gianluigi decided to catch up with this trip, and the perfect occasion was Teresa’s birthday, in March. He organized the trip as a surprise, so on that Friday morning when we ignited Cliff’s rowdy motor (thanks again Justine!), Teresa had no idea where we were going. As we left the city and didn’t take the Fifth of Forth bridge, Teresa recognized the landscape of the M8 towards Glasgow, so she narrowed down her guesses to two: Arran or Galloway. As we turned south towards Ayrshire, she got the correct guess. Smart lady! The distillery visit of the day was at Bladnoch. Their 1817 Tour is only available on Wednesdays and Fridays at 11.30, and because Gianluigi wanted to drive on the Ayrshire coast (which is a bit longer route), we had an early start.  

Ayrshire itself is now home of at least three whisky distilleries in two production sites. One is the huge Girvan complex, owned by Willian Grant & Sons (the same company owning Glenfiddich, Balvenie and Kininvie, in Speyside) and including the Girvan grain distillery and Ailsa Bay (and for gin lovers, this is the place where Hendrick’s is produced). We briefly stopped to take a picture and snoop around the site.

Nosing around Girvan…in the wind.

The third one is a new small farm distillery called Lochlea, who released their first whisky in early 2022. They don’t have a visitor centre, but in some interviews on podcasts and on an article on the Whisky Magazine, they seemed to suggest they could welcome small groups of visitors, if contacted by time. That was very far from the reply they sent to Gianluigi’s email, which was polite but categorical in saying that, because it is a farm distillery, there is zero chance of welcoming guests (to be honest, that was not the case when a few weeks ago it was showed on social media that they actually had bloggers/podcasters, but hey ho!). Along the coast we also drove past Cairnryan, where the ferries to Northern Ireland leave, and the nice town of Stranraer, which we pictured much smaller.

Since the day was cloudy but not rainy (yet…), we decided to park the car in Wigtown and reach the distillery on foot. Wigtown is a very cute village and the Scottish capital of books. The place is in fact full of bookshops where you can find both new and second-hand books. In the afternoon, after the distillery visit and lunch, we took advantage of it to enlarge our collection of Ian Rankin novels and whisky books. The walk from the village main square to the distillery was about 20 minutes long on a very quiet road through a rural landscape which we’ll find very characteristic of the area.

Tour and tasting…we’re coming!

As we crossed Bladnoch’s doors we realised how new the visitor centre, shop, restaurant are, and we checked in right away with our tour guide, James. He used to work as a chef, until he decided to join the Bladnoch team part time as a guide for their tour and, occasionally, to prepare meals for business visitors. When the tour started he told us how everything changed when the distillery was bought by Richard Prior in 2015, in particular the distilling plant (stills, washbacks, etc.). So, it is basically a new 200 years old distillery! We moved to the mill room, where he showed us how the shuttle box is used with a scale to check that the mill grinded husk, flour and grist at the correct ratio. We made a brief stop at the closed steel mash-tun, and moved to the room with 6 wooden (Douglas Fir) washbacks. James and the operator showed us how to measure the alcohol content of the wash, before and after fermentation (very similar to what we did in our timid attempts to brew beer at home, actually).

Very sophistcated equipment…

We moved to the still room, where four shiny copper stills (two wash stills and two spirit stills) were actually working! It was very nice to see the liquid been distilled through the wash still’s little window.

What a beautiful still room!

Once in the courtyard, we could admire the old distillery building including the malting floors, that are now used as offices. James also showed us the water source, just behind the old buildings. We spent a while inside the dunnage warehouse (where we couldn’t take pictures, except from outside the door). The new make spirit is maturing in a variety of casks: quarters, lot of sherry hogsheads, lot of wine barriques, bourbon, etc.

Birthday girl and the old malting floors.
Casks, casks, and…more casks.

We finally got to the tasting room, adjacent to the shop, where 5 drams were waiting for us: the new make spirit (nice surprise!), and four of their core range expressions (see summary below). Because most of the whisky they are currently bottling comes from the previous owners, at this point in their journey they want to showcase what they can do with the range of casks available. In our opinion all the four drams were all very cask-forward and enjoyable, although not mind-blowing. The two stand-out were the 14 y/o matured in ex-oloroso sherry casks, and the 19 y/o matured in ex-PX casks, of which James gave us a wee taste at the bar. A shame the price of both was a bit too steep. After the tour we stayed for a quick meal at their nice café: a plate of smoked duck and salmon, very good!

A (not so) wee taste of Bladnoch.

On the way back to Wigtown it started raining (sad trombone sound), so as we got into the village we sought refuge in another café (that was Gianluigi’s excuse to get another cake…). After leaving Wigtown (with a few more books in the trunk) and driving around a bit we directed ourselves towards our place for the night: the Waterfront Hotel in Portpatrick. This is a quite spectacular village on the Rhinns of Galloway peninsula, right in front of Ireland (which we couldn’t see because of the clouds). Our room was very ‘cosy’ (not to say tiny), but the staff was nice enough to give us one with a spectacular sea view. We had a delicious meal at the Connor’s restaurant, where we could also taste a couple of discontinued Bladnoch expressions: the 10 y/o (which Ralfy talked a lot about…and in fairness, it was one of the best we tried) and the 17 y/o.

Despite not bringing any bottle with us, we were very happy to have visited Bladnoch distillery. This experience was an example how the guide’s enthusiasm and knowledge can really “make the tour”, which otherwise could have been a very ‘standard’ one. So, to James, Sláinte!



Bladnoch 1817 Tour & Tasting

Price: £50.00 pp + £5 per transaction (March 2022)

Tasting: Bladnoch new make spirit (63.5%), 11y/o (46.7% , NCF, NC, ex-bourbon casks), Samsara (46.7%, NAS, NCF, NC, California wine and ex-bourbon casks), 14y/o (46.7% , NCF, NC, oloroso sherry casks), Alinta (peated, 47% , NAS, NCF, NC, 1st fill ex-bourbon and 1st fill ex-sherry casks)…and the glencairn to take home

Target: whisky enthusiasts and geeks

Value for money: a bit pricey but the in-depth tour made up for it

Highlights: the very enthusiastic guide James and the possibility of tasting extra drams

Distillery Exclusive: single cask 2007 vintage (55.9%, ex-port pipe, NC, NCF, £170) and 2002 vintage (48.4%, ex-sherry butt, NC, NCF, £400)

Link: https://bladnoch.com/

#10.4 Whisky in Edinburgh and beyond









Lost and found distilleries in the Lowlands

 

A Sunday trip with Justine around the Lowlands looking for lost distilleries (this time, requiring a car and a very knowledgeable friend!) 

(Missed the other trips in and around Edinburgh? Here they are: One/Two/Three)

There was a time when the Lowlands had less than a handful of single malt distilleries left, mainly Auchentoshan, in Glasgow, and Glenkinchie, near Edinburgh. Until it was purchased by Richard Prior in 2015, Bladnoch had a very tormented history, with many stop-and-go. Other very popular distilleries closed during the whisky loch, such as Rosebank (closed in 1993), Littlemill (1992), Inverleven (1991), and St. Magdalene (1983). While the first is in the process of being rebuilt, the other ones are gone forever.

Many grain distilleries experienced a very similar fate. During the whisky loch and in later years Caledonian (closed in 1988), Cambus (1993, now Diageo’s cooperage), Dumbarton (2002), and Port Dundas (2011) closed down, while the production got progressively concentrated in the few remaining, like Cameronbridge (Fife), North British (Edinburgh), Strathclyde (Glasgow), Starlaw (Livingston), and Girvan (Ayrshire).

Scottish whisky went through several ups and downs in its history, and already during the 19th century saw massive plants closing down. One of these was the Kennetpans distillery, near Alloa.

Hidden sign of a hidden story.

This distillery was funded by the Steins family in the first half of the 1700s, and was followed a few decades later by the Kilbagie distillery. The two plants were massive for the time. They were connected by a canal and a railway, and were the first exporting bulk spirit outside of Scotland. The family was related through marriage to the Haig, of Cameronbridge, and the Jamesons, of the famous Irish whiskey. Following an increase in duties on spirit in the late 1780s and after a bribe attempt, John Stein and his family fell in disgrace, and the Kennetpans distillery was sequestered, sold, and finally closed in 1825, probably made obsolete by the invention of the Coffey column still. For you history buffs, there is a great website dedicated to Kennetpans (see here or below).

We were totally unaware of this “ancient” history, until a Sunday in September 2021 when our friend Justine (Kask Whisky) proposed to go there. Had already done our weekend run, we happily joined her! The site is a few km from the village, kind of in the middle of nowhere. We left the car a few hundred meters away, and we slowly explored what is left of the building. It was not possible to get very close because of safety fences, and the thick vegetation partially covered the building. However, it was possible to get a sense of the size of the plant, which at the time must have been massive indeed! As it was still early afternoon, and having being lucky with a very sunny and warm day, we decided to stay a bit in the area and take our exploration further.

Lost distilleries, theory and practice.

The trend of distilleries shutting down slowed down in the late 1990s and it was actually reverted in the 2000s, in particular for single malt distilleries. In 2007 the gigantic Ailsa Bay distillery was commissioned and built in just 9 months (12 millions of alcohol liters per annum produced). This is owned by Grant & Sons and is on the same site as the Girvan grain distillery. Almost a decade later, it was followed by a plethora of new distilleries, opening all over the place south of the Highland line. We already talked about a few of those, such as Holyrood (Edinburgh, 2019), and the Borders (Hawick, 2017). Another one, the Falkirk distillery, had been in plans for almost a decade, and in 2020 finally started producing spirit. We drove there, and we were able to take a few pictures from the gate. We found the building quite beautiful, with the few remaining works mostly limited to the parking lot. We are definitely looking forward to visit it!

Open soon to visitors, please!

Not far from there, another distillery that will be firing its stills soon is the missed Rosebank, still in Falkirk. Ian McLeod (already owners of Glengoyne and Tamdhu) purchased the trade mark back in 2017 together with some old stocks, and the construction is happening as we write. On that day we could just see the skeleton of the building, which didn’t look much like a distillery yet. Now works are well ahead, as you can see from their social media accounts.

Rosebank or…when whisky makes building sites interesting.

Fourth and last stop of the day was the old St. Magdalene distillery, in Linlithgow. It closed down in 1983 and, similarly to Caledonia and Dean distilleries in Edinburgh, was made into flats a decade later. However, the structure of the building, including the pagoda roof and the warehouse, is still admirable from the street. Being in Linlithgow, we decided to stop at Du Vin Bouchers, a very nice wine and whisky bar, for cheese and drams. The bar is very cosy, and the choice of whiskies is excellent, in particular from the Dram Fool independent bottler range. They also host Jolly Toper tastings. As the day was getting to an end, Justine slowly drove us back to Leith, ending this day full of whisky history!

A bunch of flats that used to be St. Magdalene distillery.

Thinking about all this whisky history, made of ups and downs, and of spirit first flowing, then stopping, and now flowing again, many questions popped in our heads. One is, how many of these new distilleries would survive a potential whisky loch? How many distilleries are too many? And, once maturity is reached, will these spirits be different enough for each to find their ecological niche in the whisky landscape? These questions are just food for thoughts right now, and they are not definitely ours to answer. At the moment we feel extremely lucky to witness a new golden era of whisky, and being spoiled for choice! Long live the Lowlands malt, slainte!


Links:

https://www.kaskwhisky.com/

http://www.kennetpans.info/

https://www.falkirkdistillery.com/

https://www.rosebank.com/


#10.3 Whisky in Edinburgh and beyond

 


Dramming in
Glasgow and Fife

Another couple of distillery trips right outside Edinburgh: Clydeside and Kingsbarn

(missed Part 2 or Part 1?)

Being in a new golden era of whisky, recent years saw a plethora of new single malt distilleries being built around Scotland and the rest of the world. A few new ones are in the Lowlands. Here, distilleries opened really all over the place: in Fife (remember our trip to Lindores Abbey?), in Edinburgh (someone said Holyrood?), in the south of Scotland (ehm-ehm, Borders), and in Glasgow. One of the most recent here, is the Clydeside distillery, which opened in 2017 and started producing new make spirit in 2018. We visited it back in November 2019, at a time we were getting more and more involved into whisky. We spotted an event in the SMWS website which included the distillery tour plus tasting and bites. What else could we ask?

Coincidentally, a couple of friends of ours were visiting, so we gladly involved them in the visit (we’re still unsure whether they really wanted to get involved, but they didn’t say “no”). Being a time when people used to go every day to the office, Teresa was already in Glasgow, and the three of us reached her in the late afternoon. At the time the distillery was not quite easy to reach by public transport from the city centre, so we grabbed an Uber. The distillery building is beautiful, a mix of modern and industrial architecture, right on the side of the Clyde river (well, the distillery name kind of gave it away, I guess…). There is a whisky shop inside the visitor centre, with a wide selection of whiskies.

The tour was very nice, we had to translate it in Italian for our friends, so we ended up not taking any pictures (and tbh, at the time the blog idea was not there yet…), but we enjoyed it nonetheless. We were very happy to try the newmake spirit at the end of it. Being a SMWS one, the rest of the tasting was quite great as well, and there we could try a single grain whisky distilled a couple of days Gianluigi was born! The bites were a bit underwhelming, so to calm our hungry stomachs we had to get a (very typical late night in Glasgow) kebab when we were back in the city centre, before our train back to Edinburgh. At the time they didn’t have any official release yet, but now that they have, we are waiting for the right occasion to go back to Glasgow and try something tasty!

Arriving at Kingsbarns!

Among the most prolific areas for new distilleries, Fife could almost be a region on its own now. We recently visited Lindores Abbey, but among the new distilleries we can count for Aberargie, Daftmill, Eden Mill, Inchdairnie, and Kingsbarns. We visited the latter in March 2020, right before the pandemic. The event was organized by the Fife Whisky Festival, and consisted in the projection of the Amber Light documentary, featuring Dave Broom, and the tour of the distillery. To attend this event Gianluigi had to turn down a free ticket offer for a Scotland rugby game at Murrayfield, where it was playing against France. His epidemiologist instinct suggested avoiding big crowds, since Covid was already spreading across Italy and, in his mind, it was just a matter of time for it to get to Scotland.

Reaching the distillery in a combination of train and buses turned out not being the cheapest, we ended up spending more money than what a rented car would have costed at the time. However, it paid off as the distillery is situated in a very beautiful spot of the Fife coast, nearby the sea and meters away from golf courses. The projection of the movie was not the best, due to the initial technical problems and a very low audio volume.

A very focused Teresa!

The distillery was built in 2014 on an abandoned farm originally from the 1800s, of which they retained the main structure (including the pigeon house and, as many newly built distilleries, they have a café, where you can have food and tasty cakes. The very enthusiastic tour guide walked us through the production stages, and tested our ability to recognize flavours and aromas in a dedicated area. We understood that the intention was to release single malt at a young age, therefore commonly to others they use lots of shaved, toasted and recharred (STR) casks. They started making newmake spirit in 2015 (the first cask is exposed in the visitor centre), which we could taste at the end of the tour, together with a first core range expression, Dream to Dram (46%, ex bourbon and STR casks), and the Family Reserve: a similar expression but bottled at cask strength. The distillery is owned by the Wemyss Family, which is an independent bottler as well, so we were also offered a Velvet Fig 25y/o malt from their range. We particularly liked the Family Reserve expression, however at the time we had a 10-day trip to Islay scheduled for the end of the month, so we didn’t buy it and we got a couple of Wemyss blended malts miniatures instead…fortunately we could find that bottle months later, since that trip to Islay never happened.

Shiny happy mashtun holding mash!

In spite of the young age, the drams we had were both very tasty. We recently attended a Kingsbarns vertical tasting at the Tipsy Midgie, in Edinburgh, which confirmed how promising their whisky is, when matured in a range of casks as well. Overall, getting to know these new distilleries is very exciting: all of them can offer a unique take on single malt, and unlike many of their older brothers, the new and family-owned ones have more freedom to experiment and provide innovation in the category. Being able to reach them (more or less) easily is definitely a big “plus”!

Until the next adveture, stay safe and sláinte!


Whisky Activities Links

https://www.theclydeside.com/
https://www.kingsbarnsdistillery.com/
https://smws.com/
https://www.fifewhiskyfestival.com/


#10.2 Whisky in Edinburgh and beyond




Dramming by bus

 

Other whisky things to do easy to reach from the capital of Scotland. 

(missed Part 1?)

There was a period when we were poorly experienced drammers, and our search for new distilleries to visit was done through the good (although it could be improved) Visit Scotland map or with the map we got from the Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh. The brands we knew better were the ones we could find in grocery stores or the super classics (Oban, Lagavulin, Macallan, etc.), so we didn’t have much clue about many of the distilleries around Scotland. In this context, we started looking out for places to visit in daytrips. One of the first ones we spotted, and quite isolated with respect to others, was in a village called Hawick, the Borders distillery! So, on one sunny morning in November 2019 we decided to head south and go!

The same morning was actually the day of the Rugby World Cup final England – South Africa, so we already woke up early to find a pub showing it in the city and to get breakfast. We ended up at the Black Cat, in Rose St, where we fully enjoyed the game, including that two incredible Springboks tries.

Finished the game, we moved toward the Edinburgh bus station, to find out that our pronunciation of “Hawick” was definitely very wrong. The bus ride was about 2 hours long, including a 10-15 minutes stop in Galashiels to change coach. The landscape with rolling hills and lot of green was not as dramatic as others in the country, but it was beautiful nonetheless. Once in Hawick we went for a short walk to check out the village. It looked like a nice and quiet, nice to visit for a day or maybe two, but not much more. We then went to the distillery, situated in a late 19th century building that used to be an electric company, a great example of recovered industrial architecture. At the time it was very new: renovated in 2016, it started producing new make only in 2018. On the side they produce gin and vodka, and yes, we bought a bottle of the latter at the end of the tour, argh!!!

Nosing around before the tour.

Our guide for the day was David, which looked very invested in the project and gave us a very nice tour, delving into the details of their whisky and other spirits production. It finished with a tasting in a very cozy bar above the visitor centre. The taste included their new make spirit, Kerr gin and Puffing vodka, and one of two scotch whiskies, both sourced: the blended malt Lower East Side and the blended whisky Clan Fraser. Of course, we tasted one each, and although pleasant, we decided to wait for their own single malt. After the distillery we conceded ourselves a coffee and cake in one of the nice little cafes in Hawick, and we took the bus back to Edinburgh, to end a very nice day.


We found ourselves into a similar situation a couple of months later. It’s early January 2020, a friend was visiting us from Italy for a few days…A friend that, being from the north-east of Italy, appreciates spirits and is very curious about whisky. After the a quite lame Hogmanay’s celebration, we decided to take her to visit a scotch whisky distillery…Clearly just out of courtesy, not because we wanted to!

When your friend is busy…

We didn’t have enough time for a big trip, but still enough to go outside Edinburgh, so we figured out that Tullibardine or Deanston would have been good options. We picked the second option, for no special reason other than a better combination of train timetable and timing of the tour.

Quite a unique distillery building!

We woke up quite early to take the train to Stirling, and from there we took a bus that very conveniently left us in front of the distillery. Our friend had never seen a distillery, so we decided to do a standard tour (we caught up with the Warehouse tasting later on).

The building looked quite different from other, more classic distilleries. We understood why at the very start of the tour, when the guide covered the history of the distillery and told us that the building used to be a cotton mill until the mid-60s. Before moving to the production area, we could take a wee look at the turbine that produces power for the distillery from the river Teith.

The open mashtun!
Shiny stills.

The tour was quite informative and interesting, with two highlights: the huuuuge open-top mash tun (we were all impressed!) and a cask in the warehouse signed by the cast of The Angels’ Share movie…because yes, part of the movie was filmed here!

The Angels’ Share troupe was here!

We finally moved to a nice tasting room, where four drams were waiting for us: the classic 12y, the Virgin Oak, the 18y, and the 14y Spanish Oak Finish, all 43.6% except for the latter (57.9%). The drams were paired with delicious chocolate. To be honest, our palates were not that developed at the time to fully appreciate the quality of these whiskies. We definitely do now, and Deanston is one of our great favourites!

The tasting bottles.

After the tasting we browsed the shop (which btw offers a lot of 35ml bottles), but very briefly because it was already time to head back to Edinburgh. We would have hanged out a bit longer, but we’d decided to bring our friend to the SMWS in the evening to put a cherry on the top of her full-on whisky day. She still drinks whisky, so we consider her initiation to the water of life a great success. Stay tuned for another couple of car-free whisky adventures in the next post, meanwhile, as always, Slainte!


Links
https://www.thebordersdistillery.com/
https://deanstonmalt.com/


#10.1 Whisky in Edinburgh and beyond



Dramming in the Capital

 

Some whisky stuff to do in and around the capital of Scotland, starting from the “in” ones. 

One of the things that we liked the most about our last visit to Blair Athol was being able to do it in a single day trip, without using a car and therefore taking full advantage of the drams included in our distillery tour. Scotland isn’t a huge country, but sometimes travelling to distilleries is not as simple as someone might think by just looking at the map. First, living in an urban context such as Leith also means driving 20-30 minutes before you are even outside Edinburgh (we can’t bake our cake and eat it, we guess). On top of that, some distilleries are particularly off the beaten path, such as Bladnoch, Ardnamurchan or Nc’Nean, and reaching towns such as Campbeltown is not the easiest either! This has its own advantages though, like the beautiful landscapes you cross to drive there, and that you will hardly find a swarm of casual tourists or whisky fans during your visit.

Despite all this, since we moved here we have been able to do a few whisky-related activities in a single day. Some of them are in the city itself, like the Holyrood distillery, the Leith and Edinburgh Whisky trails offered by Kask Whisky, the recently open Johnny Walker Experience (which we haven’t visited yet) or the Whisky Experience on the Royal Mile. Others are just beyond the city (Glenkinchie distillery), or within an hour-or-so of public transport. In this series of posts, we will tell you about our whisky adventures in and around the Scottish capital city!

First off, The Whisky Experience, just a few feet away from the Edinburgh Castle, the very first whisky-themed activity we have done since we moved to Scotland. Gianluigi did the tour twice: the most basic one with a couple of friends (and where he tasted Ardbeg 10 for the first time!), and a few months later with Teresa, this time opting for a fancier experience with a dram per region. As beginners, this was a gentle and not-to-cheesy introduction to the world of Scotch whisky, we would say tailored for tourists. Also, their Amber restaurant serves very good food and their whisky bar is quite exceptional (and not expensive despite the location). Few meters away, you’ll find the Ensign Ewart pub, which deserves a mention for their whisky offer, tastings and the break-even prices on some rare bottles, and Jeffrey Street Whisky, which offer interesting tasting experiences.

Since then, our whisky journey took a while to take off, but in July 2019 we finally visited what at the time could have been considered the Edinburgh “home distillery”, Glenkinchie.

Gianluigi under the famous Pencaitland sun.

Part of the Diageo empire, it is located in the village of Pencaitland, about half-hour away from the city center by car. Unfortunately, the distillery can’t be easily reached with public transport, but they offer a shuttle service …good solution? Maybe, if you like to throw your money in the bin: the shuttle costs £20 per person independently of the number of people in the party (or others taking the same trip), so if you’re alone it might work. In our case we were five, so it was more convenient to just get a car through the Enterprise Car Club carsharing for 3h, which costed around £25, definitely more convenient…well, probably a cab would have been more convenient than the shuttle anyway, eheh! Almost three years have gone, so we cannot give a lot of details about the tour, also considering the big renovation works connected to Johnnie Walker (as for Clynelish and Cardhu). We remember it as a pleasant experience, with two drams at the end: the Glenkinchie 12y and the Distillers Edition. The available experiences are much more now, and sooner or later we will check them out. We hope to still find the very detailed scale model showing the whisky production process from barley germination to distillation – excellent for beginners.

Gianluigi showing off one of the Whisky Experience gifts!

The wave of new distilleries didn’t spare Edinburgh, meaning that we now have two home distilleries, Holyrood and Bonnington, and a third one, the Port of Leith distillery, is being built. Holyrood is open to the public, and we waited for Gianluigi’s brother and his girlfriend to be in town to visit, in February 2020. Scotland in February hasn’t the best weather usually (a few hours later Gianluigi and Edo will assist to one of the dullest, wettest and coldest Calcutta Cup games in a few years, at Murrayfield Stadium), so checking out Holyrood seemed a quite fitting activity. We chose the Whisky and Gin tour (now £15.50pp) instead of the Whisky Tour and Tasting (now £25.00pp) because some people in the party were more gin drinkers (yeah, we know…). It was a very cheerful and fun experience, including a sensory room to test our ability to recognize aromas.

Double act at Holyrood: gin…
…and whisky stills.

In the gin production area, we learnt that they buy neutral grain spirit and re-distill it with juniper and their chosen botanicals. The whisky production area was quite nice, with very tall and thin stills. We found their experimentation with various barley and yeast strains extremely interesting. At the tasting we could choose one each of their sourced whisky (now discontinued), gins and gin liquors. Flights were also available. Definitely a very pleasant experience, which we might do again when the time is right.

Finally, last but not least, the historical whisky tours offered by Justine of Kask Whisky, the Edinburgh and Leith Whisky trails. Edinburgh has an incredibly important, as well as hidden in plain sight, whisky history, which Justine uncovered for us during these tours. We’d say that they are more oriented to whisky nerds like us, however Gianluigi’s parents (which are definitely not whisky nerds and don’t speak English) quite liked the Edinburgh Whisky Trail, which started near the Haymarket station (at the Caledonia distillery site) and ended in one of the prettiest neighborhoods in the city, Stockbridge.

Memory of the Caledonia distillery.

The whisky history of Leith is even more obvious, it is really hard not to spot the signs, from the Cooperage on the Shore, to the (former) warehouses (now flats). However, Justine is able to take a deep dive in the history of this part of town, and show how it was connected to the whisky industry. As the icing on the cake, Justine’s tours end with a tasting of old, sometimes very old blends. Definitely a must-do for every whisky geek out there!

Old blends at the end of the Edinburgh Whisky Trail…and a special guest too.

For people interested in whisky tastings there is also a good choice. While we already mentioned the Ensign Ewart and Jeffrey Street Whisky here and in our Dramming at home post, another option is the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, in particular the venue at Queen St (open to non-members), where they have weekly tastings guided by their very competent crew. For other tasting experiences, it is also worth to keep an eye on the social media profile of Jolly Toper, One Malt at a Time, and East Coast Whisky. Finally, a recent addition is Tipsy Midgie, offering a plethora of tasting experiences (distillery-focused, chocolate pairing, etc.). As a result of our first tasting we booked another two, just to give you an idea, eheh!

A tasting in the Pip Hills Room at the SMWS Queen St.
The unbelievable whiskybcollection at the new Tipsy Midgie bar!

If this has not satisfied your appetite for whisky stuff, stay tuned: in the next couple of weeks we’ll tell you about a few of our daytrips from Edinburgh…until then: slainte!


Whisky activities links
https://www.scotchwhiskyexperience.co.uk/
https://jeffreyst.com/
https://www.kaskwhisky.com/
https://www.holyrooddistillery.co.uk/
https://www.malts.com/en-gb/distilleries/glenkinchie

Whisky bar links
https://www.ensignewartpub.co.uk/
https://www.tipsymidgie.com/
https://smws.com/
https://teuchtersbar.co.uk/
https://kilderkingroup.co.uk/
https://nauticusbar.co.uk/
https://www.thebowbar.co.uk/


#6 Lindores Abbey Road

Last of 2021 but not least

 

The last distillery visit of the year was in a very special place: Lindores Abbey! 

And, as quickly as it came, Christmas 2021 was gone, with the usual few pounds added to our waist, giving us a goal for the first months of 2022. We finally came back to Leith, what we now call “home”, and as we arrived, we felt relieved. Staying in Italy for over a month was really nice, but definitely an overkill.
We were eager to come back also because we had planned a visit to a new distillery: Lindores Abbey! The distillery is in Fife, just about an hour away from the city. We could have visited it in other occasions, but because of its wider historical interest, we wanted to wait for someone visiting us to make the trip. Occasion that finally arrived, as Gianluigi’s friends Roberto and Cecilia, with their wee one, were in town to spend New Year’s Eve with us!


Gianluigi and Roberto left early to pick up the car in a small rental place in Tollcross, a bit far from Leith but the only one applying a decent rate for an extra driver – Roberto was eager to try driving on the left side for the first time. After a small breakfast, we were on the road! The ride was smooth in a nicer weather than forecasted, Roberto had no problem adjusting to the different side of the road. After we left the Forth Road bridge and the M90 and right before driving into the village of Newburgh we spotted another distillery on our left: Aberargie. This is a new one as well, owned by Morrison Distillers (Carn Mor series, Old Perth, Strathern distillery) – from the road the building looked very nice, and we could even see the stills.

Warm-up pictures before the distillery visit.


We arrived at Lindores Abbey a few minutes later. The distillery is in a very nice setting, surrounded by hills and looking towards the water. We will learn that the barley used by them comes from the surrounding fields. The distillery was carefully designed in 2015, while production started in 2017, with their first single malt released just a few months back, in 2021.

We checked in, and after a wee while the tour started. First stop, the “table room”, just in front of the visitor centre hall, with (as you might have guessed) a huge table in the middle. Here, our guide Matt delved into the history of the site, starting from the Abbey, built in the 12th century and one of the centres of religious (but not only) power in the Middle-Ages Scotland, which was also visited by a number of kings and queens. Destroyed during the reformations, a farm was then built on the site. The history is made very interesting by a draw of the abbey reconstruction, and an actual wall of the original building wall still standing a few metres outside the window. And the old spirit line, dividing Lowlands and Highlands, was even closer.

Lindores Abbey now…
…And then.


We moved to production, first into the milling room, where, of course, they could not possibly have a Porteus mill as most older distilleries, because Porteus were making such fine machines that they went bankrupt during one of the few whisky downturns. Similarly to few other distilleries (Tullibardine being one), mashtun, washbacks and stills are in the same space.

What a shiny mashtun!

Here, there is also a remember of Dr. Jim Swan, the whisky guru who helped Lindores Abbey (among many other distillery) set up and passed away prematurely just days before their first spirit was produced. Back to the stills, there are one wash still and two spirit stills – a peculiarity is that the latter two work in parallel, not in sequence, so the spirit is distilled twice, first in the wash still, then half in one spirit still, and half in the other one.

Distilling lesson nr. 1 for the wee one.

The stills are very close to a huge window on the old abbey remains, but on the other side is also possible to spot the site where, a few years back, it was found a small crater which seems to confirm that distilling was actually happening in the Middle Ages, well before 1494, date of the king’s aqua vitae order to Brother John Cor. Unfortunately, the dig area was covered with a big plastic tarp for conservation reasons, and Matt told us that samples are being dated. This was quite exciting news, as the results could change the history of distilling in Scotland!
We moved to the warehouse, where many different casks were displayed on the metal racks: ex-bourbon barrels, ex-port pipes, hogsheads, quarters, octaves, and so on. Thanks to the Grattamacco visit, we could more easily spot (what we thought were) the ex-french red wine casks. Clearly, a lot of experimentation is going on here!

Uh uh, these are taller than me!


Finally, the tasting! First dram, their main single malt, the MCDXCIV (or 1494), slightly over 3 years of age, non-coloured and non-chill filtered, made up with 3 different types of cask: ex-bourbon, ex-sherry, and STR (shaved toasted and re-charred, one of the many legacies of Jim Swan in the whisky industry). Second dram, the aqua vitae, a similar recipe to the one Friar John Cor used, but without some ingredients to avoid losing the “spirit” nomenclature. The smell and taste reminded us a hybrid between a grappa and an amaro – not our cup of tea honestly, but it might be very good in a cocktail.

The tasting.


After the tour we decided to have a snack at the distillery’s cafeteria, ordering a charcuterie board to share and thinking: “we will have something later”…however the plate was so abundant (and delicious) that no other meal was needed until dinner! Definitely recommended!


Back in the car, direction St. Andrews, as our friends had never been. The village was very quiet with that typical atmosphere of the days before a party. We did a long stroll between the university buildings, the cathedral and castle ruins, and our favourite part, the pier and the beach. As it became dark, we got back to the car and slowly drove back to Leith.

It’s getting dark in St. Andrews…


This was our last distillery visit of 2021. The year started with lot of uncertainty, but in spite of that we somehow managed to do some great whisky trips and visit quite a few distilleries all over Scotland. Still, there is a quite big gap in the whisky trips: Islay! Maybe 2022 will be the one….?


For now, sláinte, and see you soon!


Lindores Abbey Tour & Tasting

Price: £15.00 pp (December 2021)

Tasting: 2 drams, the MCDXCIV single malt (46%, NAS, NC, NCF*) and the aqua vitae (40%)

Target: casual tourists and whisky enthusiasts

Value for money: good

Highlights: the history of the site

Distillery exclusive expression: cask strength ex-sherry cask #18/95 (61.4%, NAS, NC, NCF)

Link: https://lindoresabbeydistillery.com/


*NAS: non-age statement, NC: non-coloured, NCF: non-chill filtered