#16 A Canadian single malt with a Scottish soul

Visiting Glenora Distillery


TL;DR: Gianluigi went on a work trip to Nova Scotia, Canada, and sneaked in a visit to the first single malt distillery in North America: Glenora! Although a bit expensive (compared to Scotland prices) the visit was definitely worth it and the whisky had its own very fruity character. If you find yourself in the area, it’s strongly suggested. 

(This post is written in first person by Gianluigi, since he was the only one on this trip)

In the academic world, one of the last things to come back after Covid were in-person international conferences, of course. Hundreds of researchers coming from all over the world and staying together in closed spaces for a week, what could go wrong?!? In my field of study, infectious diseases epidemiology, people have been particular cautious…guess why. So after 2020 and 2021 without meetings, in August 2022 I finally went to my first in-person conference in Halifax, a quite touristy city in Nova Scotia, on the Atlantic coast of Canada.

Once flight and accommodation were booked, I looked for activities to do in the couple of days before the conference. And what I really mean, is “whisky activities”, or even better “whisky distilleries to visit”. I found out that Nova Scotia has some relative recent ones (Caldera, Authentic Seacoast, among others), but the one that grabbed my attention was Glenora Distillery, located in Cape Breton Island, the north of Nova Scotia province. The mighty David taking down the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) Goliath.

Slowly getting there…

For those who don’t know the story: Glenora Distillery was founded by Bruce Jardine, a local entrepreneur, and it was the first North-American single malt distillery, during a time when distilleries in Scotland were still shutting down following the whisky loch. He decided to go back to his Scottish roots, and start producing the most iconic Scottish product in a province literally called “New Scotland”. He moved for over a year in Scotland to learn the nitty and gritty about distilling, in particular at Bowmore, and after coming back to Nova Scotia he acquired the land and built the distillery. After an unfortunate start which saw the distillery change owner twice, in 2000 they released their first single malt (an 8-year old), the Glen Breton Rare. Proudly advertising it as the “only/first single malt in Canada/North America” didn’t prevent the SWA to sue them over the use of the world “Glen”. But well, they are literally located in a “glen”, and the village is called Glenville. After 9 years of trials and appeals, they had the last word and could keep the “Glen”.

Almost there…

So, you could understand my excitement to visit them! However, the visit almost didn’t happen, because of the shortage of cars for rental in the whole region. That meant zero cars available at the airport, despite looking 4 months ahead. After bothering a number of people through emails (taxi/shuttle companies, Nova Scotia tourist service, hotels, etc.), I was about to give up the trip, but then I decided to try Turo. This is a company that hires private car, like Goboony does for campervan, but they aren’t a scam like the latter. So, I booked a car, not cheap but what the hell, when will I be in the area again?

Unfortunately, another challenge was behind the corner: the disastrous situation of Toronto International airport, where I had my layover, which I learned a mere 10 days before the trip. And in fact, my first flight was almost 2 hours late, but the second was 75 minutes late as well, so I didn’t lose the coincidence. This meant to change the time of the rented car pick up though, and when I called the owner to ask him to come later, he blathered some excuse and said he wasn’t allowed to hire cars anymore. I called Turo, which very professionally (unlike Goboony, sorry if I stress this but they are really terrible) provided me a different car and covered most of the price difference. So, finally, at 9.20pm local time, I was on a car directed to a B&B not too far from the airport.

Finally there!

Because of the jet lag, I woke up quite early, and after a good breakfast I was already on my way to Cape Breton Island. I arrived at the site around 2.30pm, ready to check in for the night: I didn’t tell you already, but at Glenora they have a hotel on site and a lodge just up the road, where I stayed. They also run a pub and a fine dining restaurant on site, so I was all sorted. The distillery offers two tours, the regular (CAD 7.00 + taxes, one dram) and the VIP, which I signed up for.

The tour started at 3pm, and it was conducted by Donnie, the manager of the hospitality side of the business. He is a huge malt whisky fan, so the tour was extremely entertaining and all the information really in depth. We started outside the shop building near the stream where they source their water from (first time I am bothered by bugs during a distillery tour).

The source wee stream.

The shop is topped by a pagoda roof, but it is just for aesthetic purposes and was never meant to be a kiln. In fact they source their malted barley from Sasquetwchan, but until the early 2000s they were buying it inScotland (some peated as well). My visit happened in their silent season, which goes from the late spring to the Fall, and during which they mostly run the hospitality side. For this reason their production is currently about 50,000 mlpa, although Donnie later told me that they could easily crank it up. All their equipment came from Scotland, including the two Forsyths stills. Differently to many distilleries, the wash and spirit still are of the same size, approximately 5,600 litres. A particular difference is that they fill their barrels with 70% newmake spirit, unlike the greatest majority of distilleries we visited which fill at the standard 63.5%.

Scottish equipment on Canadian soil.
The still I’m hiding looks the same as the other one, I promise!

We moved to the dunnage warehouse, one of their three, and for the first time the air was warm and humid instead of cold and humid: what a difference! Donnie explained us their maturation process: they source the barrels from Kentucky (we could see many Buffalo Trace’s ones) and they rarely mature for less than 10 years. Apparently they don’t re-use them, so all their barrels are first fill ex-bourbon. They had used sherry and other casks in the past, but for very specific releases. We tried one sample from the cask of a 26y/o, which was very creamy and quite fruity, in particular after adding water (collected from the stream!): after 26 years it was still 64%! Donnie said their angels’ share (the % lost to evaporation) is still 2%, similar to Scotland, although with huge seasonal variation. They bottle everything on site, without adding artificial colouring nor chill filtering.

The dunnage warehouse.

We moved the tasting room, near the restaurant, where 5 drams were ready in front of us: we started with the newmake spirit (at 70%!), which after the 64% in the warehouse wasn’t too hard to drink, followed by the Battle of the Glen, a very sweet and balanced 15y (43%) celebrative of the victory of the trial vs. the SWA. We moved on to the 12y Ice (43%), finished for a short time (average 3 months) in ice wine casks. I was totally unaware about ice wine before this tasting: it is wine made with grapes harvested in February, and the frozen water allows the sugar to be retained to make a very sweet dessert wine (I bought a 5cl at the airport, I’m very curious to try it!). They also have 10y and 15y cask strength versions of the Ice in 25cl bottles (the latter available at the Halifax Airport). The final two drams were distillery casks: a peated 18y old, still made with Scottish barley, and an unpeated 12y, both cask strength. These two were the standout of the line-up, in particular the peated one.

Happy kid with the tasting.

As I was by myself, Donnie joined me over dinner for a nice chat, where I bought another couple of their drams (they were selling by the half-ounce, 15 ml): their main expression (the Glen Breton Rare 10y, 43%), and the 14y, which was truly delicious (still 43%). Not too late, we called it a day and a driver took me to the lodge.

I was very satisfied with the visit to Glenora, it was a very different experience to our usual trips around Scotland. Being a very touristy area, and isolated from other whisky distilleries, I could see how this makes them more of a tourist attraction, almost a “boutique distillery”, if you want. I could fully appreciate how good their single malt can be though, starting from one of the best newmake spirits I tried so far. The hot/cold maturation process definitely influences the whisky compared to most Scottish malts, but probably other factors are important too, like filling the barrels at 70%. I am really having a hard time comparing their prices with other tours or other whiskies, as during the whole time I spent in Nova Scotia, I felt that the cost of living is just much higher. Nonetheless, if you are travelling to the area or nearby, as I did, it is a must-do experience for any whisky lover.

Until next time, slainte!

Glenora VIP Tour and Tasting

Price: CAD 125.00 pp + taxes (total CAD 143.75, August 2022)

Duration: 2-3 hours

Tasting: in the warehouse, sample from the cask (26y, ex-bourbon barrel); in the tasting room, new make spirit (70%), the Battle of the Glen (15y, 43%, *NC, NCF), ICE 12y (43%, NC, NCF), Barrel #67 2010 (12y, 59%, NC, NCF), Barrel #132 2004 (12y, 59.0%, NC, NCF)

Target: whisky lovers and geeks

Value for money: Good+

Highlights: everything

Distillery Exclusive: Barrel #67 2010, Barrel #132 2004 (see above, CAD 125/375 for 25/75cl), Barrel #129 1995 (27y, 65.4%, NC, NCF, CAD 250/750 for 25/75cl)

Link: https://www.glenoradistillery.com/

*NC: not artificially coloured, NCF: non chill-filtered
+at the time of the visit 1 GBP = 1.55 CAD. If compared to Scottish distilleries tours it was pricey, but after a few days in Nova Scotia and on Cape Breton Island I think that it reflects the high prices in the province.

#15.2 Exploring Port(ugal)

Taking the country road


Moving away from the city, we visited the magnificent Avelada vineyard on the hills near Penafiel! 

(missed Part 1?)

In the morning we woke up a bit dizzy, but nothing that the abundant and delicious Serra do Pilar B&B breakfast couldn’t fix, bravo to them. We spent the morning visiting parts of town we hadn’t seen the day before, the Jardins do Palacio de Cristal among them (loads of peacocks, and for some reason, chickens). Right after lunch we went to pick up the car near the airport, and then we left the city to go to Penafiel, the village where the wedding was.

Four peacocks in a single picture, that’s a record.

The village is about 40 minutes from the airport, which gave us enough time in the afternoon to visit the Quinta da Aveleda vineyard, in the Vinho verde DOC area. The Quinta was funded by Manoel Pedro Guedes about 150 years ago, and has been with the same family for 5 generations. They own at least four vineyards in Portugal, one of them in the Douro region as well. They produce many types of wine, Port and brandy. The vineyard is adjacent to a huge and really beautiful Victorian garden, full of stories and anecdotes about the family. We were surprised to find a statue of the green men inside, other than the peacocks (again…noisy, but still better than Leith’s out-of-control seagulls).

Victorian gardens at Quinta da Aveleda.

After visiting the estate and mostly the garden, the guide conducted us in the warehouse where they mature brandy: curious Gianluigi asked, but none of these casks are shipped to Scotland afterwards (d’oh!), although some of their brandy is finished in former Port casks. The tasting comprised 3 glasses of wine: a vinho verde, a white wine from the Bairrada region and a red from the Douro Valley. The latter two were quite exquisite, but we took the first with us: it had some very unusual and interesting citrousy notes, and we could totally see it paired with grilled squids or Scottish scallops. Plus, it was the local one so it made more sense. We also got a tasting box of their brandys (the 5y, 12y and 30y), something we were very curious about (not tried yet, we’ll let you know!).

A small warehouse.
Gianluigi trying to come up with non-whisky tasting notes.

In the evening we had a pre-wedding party with the young attending the wedding, and with “young” meaning 30 to 40 more or less. It was very nice to see Paul and Nelly, Gianluigi hadn’t seen them for a few years, and for Teresa it was the first time.

The wedding was at 4pm on the day after, so we had all the morning to treat us as…old people. We went to a thermal pool near Penafiel, and afterwards to the Castro of Monte Mozinho, a Roman archaeological site.

An unimpressive picture of an impressive archaeological site.

The wedding was celebrated in an old monastery, followed by a luscious dinner at a close by estate and a lot of partying. At the end we tried a J&B blended scotch 15y at the bar, which wasn’t as bad as we expected. It was not the first blended scotch we saw in Portugal with an unusual age statement: Grant’s 8y, J&B 15y, William Lawson 12y, other than the Old Parr (12y), which are not sold at all in Scotland. We were very restrained with drinking, so in the morning we woke up refreshed and we could drive straight to Porto to return the car. The airport, the centre of the city, Vila Nova de Gaia and the train stations are all very well connected by a quick subway train, which allowed us to carve out another couple of hours in the city. Do you really need to ask what we did?

Ooops, we did it again!

This time we went to Kopke (randomly chosen because Gianluigi found an unopened bottle of it in his late grandmother’s basement). They had no warehouse there, but we could choose over a range of tastings in their three-story venue. We chose a nicer one, which started with a dry white port: this is a variant to the regular whites, with the aguardente being added later during formation, after 7-8 days, so the sugars are almost gone (hence “dry”): we found it much better than the regular whites. Then we had a 2004 vintage ruby, a 10y white and two delicious tawny-s, a 20y and a 1978 Colehita. All paired with chocolate, which was a plus!

Delicious tasting at Kopke.

We finally took a train to Lisbon, where we spent the last few days of the holiday, trying wines and sightseeing. The city is a must visit if you’re around Europe (although we liked Porto better!). We walked a lot and did the ‘classics’: went to Belem for its famous tower and monastery and for its even more famous pasteleria, got lost in the charming Alfama neighbourhood, checked out as many miradouros (viewpoints) as possible, and even squeezed in half a day at the beach in Cascais. All this while enjoying great meat and seafood. Wine-wise, we found out that the area near the capital is home of great reds as well, some as good as the Douro Valley ones.

A windy day…
…followed by another windy day.
And just the night before going back home, another excellent wine!

So, the mystery: where do ruby port casks come from? We asked a few times, even the guy at Kopke couldn’t reply. Our best guess is that they are seasoned with ruby port, similar to what they do with sherry in the majority of cases today. We couldn’t really understand if ruby ports could be matured in small casks instead of large vats, maybe for smaller producers? No clue. We will post updates, if we find out! [August 2022 update: a whisky expert told us that yes, ruby port casks are seasoned casks.]

Port can be an excellent type of cask to mature or finish whisky, although still a try-before-buying for us. Similar to what we did when we visited Grattamacco in Tuscany, understanding a bit more the drink that contributes to give a certain character to the casks was very interesting, and we are happy to share some of the little knowledge we acquired with you!

Until the next time, slainte!

Visit to the Quinta de Aveleda and its Gardens, Premium Tasting

Price: 40.00 Euros pp (June 2022)

Duration: 1h 30m

Tasting: Vinho verde Parcela do Convento 2019, Douro Superior Vinhas do Sabor 2018, Arco d’Aguieira 2018

Target: tourists and gardens lovers

Value for money: Ok

Highlights: the Victorian gardens

Link: https://www.aveleda.com/en

Kopke Tasting

Price: 43.00 Euros pp (June 2022)

Duration: 45m

Tasting: dry white port, 2004 vintage ruby, 10y white, 20y tawny, 1978 Coheita

Target: tourists and port wine lovers

Value for money: very good

Highlights: the 1978 Colheita

Link: https://kopke1638.com/

#15.1 Exploring Port(ugal)

So, Port, eh?


With the excuse of attending a wedding, we travelled to Porto, where we were initiated to the magic of Port wines…and many others! 

(Read this already? Go to Part 2!)

This story began many years ago, in 2007, in Madrid. Gianluigi is a young fella, just moved there to study for a few months. Coming from a small and prude city in northern Italy, the bright and incredibly alive 5-million people metropolis provided a life changing experience. After a few unsuccessful attempts to find a room, he stumbled on this ad in a local newspaper: not close to the Autonoma University, but close to the city centre and to Malasaña…oh well, you can’t have it all. It’s here that he met Nelly and Paul, two of his eight (!!!) roommates. Nelly and Paul are French, but she’s from a Portuguese family, so fast-forward 15 years, and here they are: celebrating their wedding in a town half an hour away from Porto. Of course, having witnessed the happy couple beginnings, Gianluigi couldn’t turn down the invitation to the wedding!

It’s all about tiles here.
It’s all about tiles, part 2.

Porto is an outstanding city, a mix of new and old buildings, lively and bright, despite the intermittent clouds. The Douro river splits the city in two, we stayed in the south side which is called Vila Nova de Gaia, where all the Port houses are, as you can very easily guess: their names are written in huge characters on top of buildings and warehouses.

Happy people with port houses behind.

Before our scotch whisky epiphany, fortified wines were not our thing. However, after finding out that casks previously used or seasoned with sherry, Porto, and other wines are used to mature or finish whisky, our curiosity grew. So, obviously heading to Porto was the perfect occasion to start our exploration of Port and other Portuguese wines. After a morning spent strolling in the charming streets of the city centre, we booked a visit to Sandeman for the early afternoon, one of the most known Port houses (as we guessed by looking at various advertisements around the city).

Play ‘where is Sandeman’.

It was founded by a Scotsman actually, George Sandeman, at the of the 18th century, with the first offices based in London. To our surprise, Port wine came to be in a much more recent era than we thought, as a consequence of the many Anglo-French wars which prevented French wines to be shipped to Britain. In order to conserve the wines for transportation, they started cutting them with aguardente vinica, grapes’ high abv spirit (~70% abv neutral grape spirit). Since this is done during fermentation (normally after four to five days), the wine retains a lot of sugars, giving more sweetness than most other wines. Going back to Sandeman, they are selling both Ports and sherry, and in fact their mascot, the Don, has both a Portuguese student cape and a Spanish hat. The tour was a bit touristy and cheesy, but very informative nonetheless.

Sandeman warehouse. Wanna play ‘where is Sandeman’ again?

We understood that there are three main types of Port: White, Ruby and Tawny. In all cases the grapes have to come from the Douro Valley Wine region, and the wine used to be transported to Vila Nova de Gaia with those typical dark and slim wooden boats, called rebelos.


The difference between white and red ports (both ruby and tawny) is the same as for regular wines. White ports are usually light and crispy, used for mixing as well. They spend 2-3 years in large vats (made of concrete or wood), before being filtered and bottled. Ruby ports go through a very similar process, a few years in vats and then in bottle. However, there are two other categories: the Late Bottle Vintage (LBV) and the Vintage. The former comes from a distinguished vintage, and is bottled after 4-6 years. The latter is from an exceptional vintage, and is bottled without being filtered, allowing the fermentation process to continue in the bottle. Vintage ports can mature for decades in the bottle, although once they are open, they don’t last long. The LBV and the Vintage samples need to be submitted to and approved by the Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e do Porto. Finally, Tawny ports are matured in European oak casks, and not in large vats, before being bottled. Most of them have an age statement indicating the average age of the wines. An exception are Colheitas, which are from a single vintage year, and aged for a minimum of 7 years. Easy, eh? There are other categories, like Rose ports (technically ruby, but with limited skin contact for a lighter colour), but these are the main ones we tried.

Those are big vats!

In Sandeman’s warehouse we were shown some huge vats made from wood (European oak), that could contain up to several thousand litres of maturing wine, as well as very ancient vintage bottles, and many casks maturing tawny-s. The tasting included five samples: the Fine White and ruby Founder’s Reserve, the Vintage 2018 and two tawny-s (the Imperial Reserve and the 10 years old). To our palate the latter two were much better than the others, probably because of the woodiness which we are used to because of whisky. We decided to try the 20 and 30 years old by the glass: we couldn’t believe that a measure of the 30y was only 13 euros!

Timidly approaching…
…our very first Port tasting!

After Sandeman, the plan was to visit another port house, but a smaller and less known one. Serendipity stroke: right before the previous visit we were given a flyer for the Quinta dos Corvos, a few hundred meters away. They are a much smaller operation, and all their wine comes from a single estate (quinta means “estate”). The tour guide was extremely well prepared, she explained to us that they tend to focus on red more than white. Also, most of their Ports are aged. We found out that aged whites are as good as tawny-s, although while the latter tend to turn lighter over time, the former turn darker. We even tried the “grappa” they add during fermentation, but to be honest it wasn’t a memorable experience.

Keeping learning about Port at Quinta dos Corvos.
That was interesting…

For a day it was more than enough, so we had dinner and went back to the B&B, happy to have learned something new…with a little mystery, however: since ruby ports are matured in large vats and them bottled, where do the ruby port casks used in whisky come from? We honestly still don’t know the answer, but for a couple of guesses wait for the next chapter of this story. Slainte!

Sandeman 1790 Tour

Price: 23.00 Euros pp (June 2022)

Duration: 1h 30m

Tasting: Fine White Port, Ruby Founder’s Reserve, Vintage 2018, Tawny Imperial Reserve, Tawny 10y (all around 19-20%)

Target: tourists and curious

Value for money: very good

Highlights: the warehouse and the cellars

Link: https://www.sandeman.com/

Quinta dos Corvos Guided Tour

Price: 10.00 Euros pp (June 2022)

Duration: 30-40min

Tasting: White Port and 10y Red Port (both around 19-20%)

Target: tourists and curious

Value for money: very good

Highlights: the friendly guide that made us try their ‘grappa’

Link: https://www.quintadoscorvos.pt/index.php

#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

Whisky bar links

#8 Dramming at home

Whisky in the time of coronavirus


For a few doors closing, a number of tasting packs opened. 

Our last story was about how we stumbled into whisk(e)y during a road-trip in the USA in 2016, and our trip back to Kentucky a few months later. Fast forward a few years, we now live in Edinburgh, and we (slowly) started visiting distilleries across Scotland, with trips to Campbeltown, the West Highlands, Arran and Speyside (all stories for future posts, don’t worry!). It was precisely on our way back from Keith that we decided to start sharing our whisky adventures on a blog. That was December 2019, and what we did not know was that as we were on that train, happy and with our fair share of bottles in the bag, a few strange pneumonia cases were emerging in some areas of China.

In early 2020, we started preparing for the launch (domain, social media, learning WordPress, first drafts), planned for mid-March. That was because we wanted to start with a bang: an imminent 12-day trip to Islay and Jura! We had carefully planned everything: campervan, ferries, 11 distilleries (8 on Islay, Caol Ila was and is still closed, Jura, two on the way). But then…you know how the story ends, don’t you?

Instead of preparing our trip to Islay, we spent weeks frantically calling off all reservations. But the lockdown prompted us to open a few bottles we had bought previously, and to start doing some “homemade” whisky tastings, including comparing different cask finishes or Old-Fashioned cocktails made with different whiskies (Bourbon, Rye, Auchentoshan American Oak, and a blended scotch…the Rye won).

Homemade tasting nr. 1 (cask finishes madness).
Homemade tasting nr. 2 (Old Fashioned extravaganza).

We soon realised that this wasn’t enough, but then online tastings came to save us. We had never done one before, but the format was very simple: you order your tasting pack, which arrives at home by mail, and you just show up on this (at the time) new platform: Zoom! Easy-peasy!

Our very first online tasting was towards the end of April, and was organised by Frederick of East Coast Whisky: it included a few quite old and delicious drams from his awesome collection and was very very interesting!

The first of many online tastings: East Coast Whisky.

However, we thought it was a bit too advanced for novices like us, in our mind it floated the question: “is our palate developed enough to fully appreciate a 29-year old Clynelish?” At the same time, we realised there was a plethora of possibilities, so we decided to go back to basics.

It is around this time that we joined the Edinburgh Whisky Group (EWG, on Facebook) and met Justine of Kask Whisky. We became regulars of the EWG tastings, organised about every other week. Although less frequently, these events are still going on today. The first tastings were provided by the guys at Jeffrey St Whisky, and included some Douglas Laing, Lady of the Glen, AD Rattray and an Octomore! Thanks to Justine’s contacts, in the coming months we did Boutique-y tastings, Dram Mor, Dramfool, Glen Scotia vertical, and many more!

One of the maaany EWG tastings.

Over time, this became so much more than a tasting group – we’re now a fun bunch of whisky friends! In late 2020 we even purchased a cask from Holyrood, and after we were able to finally meet in person, we organised a quite successful (not according to our livers) trip to Campbeltown in October 2021 (you can read about it here, here, and here). From this, it also branched out one of Justine’s projects, the Quarter Gill Club. This is subscription-based, you pay a fee but the amount of advantages is ludicrous, including a monthly hybrid (online and in person) whisky tasting which is based on a theme: Single Grain, Blended Malt, Sauternes finished/matured, new releases, new distilleries, etc.

Quarter Gill Club tasting: exploring blended malts!

With the EWG we organised two tastings ourselves. The first, in April 2021, was a comparison between three basic blended scotch whiskies with the counterparts from the 70s we’d bought at auction: Antiquary, Teacher’s Highland Cream and Bell’s (all non-age statements except the 70’s Bell’s which was an 8y, the modern ones all 40%, while the 70’s Bell’s and Teacher’s were 43%). It was a very interesting comparison, and we concluded that the current versions are definitely younger and, very likely, the amount of grain whisky in the blend increased. In the modern Teacher’s the peat was way more prominent, probably to satisfy the palate of modern whisky drinkers since peat has become more fashionable in recent times. And talking about peat…there were a bonus couple of drams in this tasting, kindly donated by one of the EWG members. This was a Laphroaig 10, both current and 70’s version (the latter bottled at 43%) – the icing on the cake!

“Now and Then” tasting.

The second tasting we organised was just a few weeks ago: a vertical Kilkerran tasting! We collected a few bottles during the pandemic (12y, 16y first release in 2020, 8y cask strength sherry, and the heavily peated batch 4) that, except for the 12y, were still unopened in mid-2021. So we thought that it might have been great to use them for a tasting. We got the 5th bottle during our Campbeltown trip (the bottle-your-own, which is a marriage of different casks in a big jar they have at the visitor centre) and an EWG friend kindly donated the 6th one: the Virtual Open Day 2020, 14y, triple distilled and matured 100% in refill ex-bourbon cask (which was quite spectacular). It was really good to share all these excellent drams with friends instead of keeping the bottles to ourselves (and taking ages to drink them all).

Kilkerran tasting with Friends.

Going back to 2020, in spring it was already impossible to keep up with all the online tastings from shops, distilleries, indy bottlers, or other outlets. However, this was not enough to satisfy our eagerness of whisky knowledge. Prompted by an article on the SMWS magazine Unfiltered, we learned about the whisky-tube: Roy, Ralfy and all the other youtubers and reviewers (including the newly released Dramface website, a great information source). We’re far from being experts, but we definitely know way more about whisky now than in early 2020, and thanks to the tastings we have developed our taste buds (we are almost ashamed about our early tasting notes or comments…), making it easier to spot aromas and flavours not only in whisky, but also more generally in other drinks and food.

Overall, in spite of the abnormal times we lived through (and still living in), we found a great community of people with the passion of whisky, thanks to online outlets. This made our journey more enjoyable and fulfilling, even when the furthest we could travel was to the couch. Slainte!

Useful Links

The Quarter Gill Club

YouTube channels (some)
Malt Box
The Liquid Antiquarian

Shops/others organising (more or less) regular tastings
East Coast Whisky
Inverurie Whisky Shop
Jeffrey St. Whisky and Tobacco
The Spirits Embassy
Royal Mile Whiskies
The Grail
The Ensign Ewart

Some websites and blogs
Kask Whisky
Islay Whisky Academy

#4 Tales from a Tuscan detour

Wine not?


For the first time we visited a winery in the Bolgheri area in Tuscany…with a Scottish connection!

Because of you know what, we haven’t visited our families for over a year, skipping the Italian Christmas for the very first time in 2020. Almost unforgivable!

This year, we made up by staying over a month between Piacenza (in the Emilia-Romagna region) and Florence. Both areas are famous (well, one more than the other…) for great food (of course, the lesser famous is the one with better food…Teresa might disagree with this statement) and delicious wine. This makes visiting our families even nicer. The only problem is the lack of whisky distilleries, with the next whisky trip planned weeks ahead. Nonetheless, we found a way to keep our palate trained with a different kind of experience.

In scotch whisky, red wine cask finishes are a relatively recent trend. Surfing the web, we realised that for more experienced whisky aficionados this might be still an unusual, and not always welcome, finish/maturation. Instead, for people like us that have been into whisk(e)y for a few years only, this feels pretty normal. Indeed, we were able to connect more easily with many red wine cask finished drams, such as the Arran Amarone cask, the Port Charlotte MRC, the Ledaig Sinclair Rioja finish or the Longrow Red(s). In our experience, French wine casks seem to be the most prevalent, but we are seeing more and more Italian wine casks.

The Bolgheri village gate.

Two drams that recently surprised us came from GlenAllachie: the first was a widely distributed 11y single malt, bottled at 48%; the second was again 11y, but cask strength and only available at the distillery (click here for more about that trip!). Both were finished in red wine casks from the Grattamacco winery, located on the hills in the Bolgheri area (Livorno Province), an officially recognized wine geographical denomination. In recent years (well, recent in “scotch time”) Bolgheri wine has become really popular, with over 60 wineries now active in the area. All of this just to say that one morning we woke up and said: “Why don’t we just try to check that out?” “Wine not?” (wink-wink).
So there we go! We booked a tour, took the car and drove! We left Florence quite early and after a quick stop for gas and to allow Gianluigi a second breakfast with a delicious pistachio custard croissant, we were on our way to discover a new place! The ride was almost two hours but quite smooth, in fact we arrived early. We thought about taking a walk, but after realising how frickin’ cold it was, we just rang the winery’s bell.

Taking pictures of the vineyard while freezing.

Michela, our guide, was already waiting for us. After our vaccination passes’ check, the visit started in the tasting room, which featured an amazing view on the hills and the Tirreno sea. Michela told us the story of the winery, which was founded in the late 70s by a guy from Lombardy, and sold in 2002 to the Colle Massari company. Compared to other wineries in the area, the estate is at a slightly higher altitude (around 2-300m on the sea level), therefore with a slightly different micro-climate.

The fermenting vats of the Grattamacco winery

After the introduction, we moved to the main production building. They harvest several grapes: Cabernet-Sauvignon (which is the main component of their red wines), Cabernet-Franc, Sangiovese, Merlot and Vermentino. Grapes are mechanically soft-pressed and cleaned to get the must, which is fermented in two types of vessel: metal big tanks or wooden 500 litres open vats (which smell great!). Then, we visited the cellar, where the casks are stored, divided by vintage. All casks are from the Taransaud tonnellerie (cooperage) and are of course made of French oak (Quercus robur)…the smell down there was amazing too! We could also take a look at what Michela called “the library”, where all the vintage bottles (starting from the early 80s) are stored. They use the casks up to four times, before selling them to other smaller wineries or to distilleries to make awesome whiskies (like the GlenAllachie). The vinaccia (leftover of the wine production) is sent to a distillery in Veneto region to produce Grattamacco grappa, and they also grow olives to produce olive oil.

The cellar.

And now, the wine tasting. First off, a white wine, made 100% with Vermentino grapes. We were both pleasantly surprised by how good it was (both not huge fans of white wines, but this one…WOW!). Second, the Bolgheri Rosso, made with four grape varieties (Cabernet-Sauvignon, Cabernet-Franc, Sangiovese and Merlot), fermented in the metal tanks, and aged 5-6 months. The third and fourth were the stars of the tasting: l’Alberello, single vineyard (less than 2 hectares, Cabernet-Sauvignon and Cabernet-Franc grapes) and aged for almost 18 months. Finally, the long awaited Grattamacco: fermented in oak vats, aged 18 months, mostly Cabernet-sauvignon (~65%) with an addition of Merlot and Sangiovese, with the percentages varying each year. These two wines were both sublime, and it was really hard to decide which one was the best! Anyway, thanks to this visit we sorted out a number of Christmas gifts.

The tasting!

Before going back to Florence, we had a nice lunch in a nearby restaurant (an “agriristoro”, actually), with delicious local food: wild-boar and beef roast. We slowly drove to the (quite small) Bolgheri village, where we took a walk, had a coffee and another glass of wine for the non-driver (Gianluigi): the mighty Sassicaia (mighty also for the price).

Definitely happy to try something different!

Overall, this was an amazing day and no less fun than the trips we usually do, the ones where we end up saying: “we should do this again asap!”! Being our first winery, we felt like total newbies again, but it was a great educational experience (btw, please correct us if we wrote anything wrong!). We have learned so much about this amazing nectar which has been on our families’ tables since we were kids. And the wine spoke for itself!

Grattamacco Winery Tour and Tasting

Price: 35.00 EUR pp (December 2021)

Tasting: 4 glasses of wine – Grattamacco Vermentino (white), Bolgheri Rosso (red), L’Alberello DOC single vineyard (red), Grattamacco Bolgheri (red)

Target: anyone

Value for money: looked good to us, but we can’t really tell as this was our very first winery tour

Highlights: the view from the tasting room, the tour in the cellar and the wines…pretty much everything!

Things we did not like: nothing

Link: https://www.collemassariwines.it/estates/grattamacco/

#3.3 Campbeltown Loch, I wish you were whisky!

How things are done!
(Day 3 & 4)


A day at Springbank and Glengyle distilleries, plus a Glen Scotia tasting. 

(missed Day 2 or Day 1?)

And finally it’s the Springbank-Glengyle day! During our first trip here, back in 2018, we only visited Glen Scotia and opted for the Cadenhead’s Warehouse tour instead of the Mitchell’s company distilleries…what did we miss! Fortunately, the folks at Springbank were nice enough to offer us a tour on a Saturday, which is normally closed (many thanks to Mary for that), and a tasting at their newly build Washback (spoiler: the bar is made of an actual wooden washback!).

Dry peat and wet peat!

Since we were the only group, we could tour the distilleries all together. First off, Springbank. We started off with the malting facility, which they still do 100% on their own (and we realised how this is the bottleneck of their production size, but also their strength). There was barley drying on the malting floor, one of the first times we actually saw this stage of the process happening live. Of course, it is all done like in the old times, and as a testimony of this there was also a hi-fi system (go 90s!) to keep the workers company.

The Springbank mashtun.

Moving outside, another thing new to us: a pile of dry peat and one of wet peat. The knowledgeable Mary told us that they are used in a slightly different way depending on the product they are producing. The kiln is run for 30h with hot air when they are producing the unpeated Hazelburn (10% of their production), for 6h with peat and 30h with hot air for Springbank (80% of their production), and up to 48h with peat smoke for the (quite heavily) peated Longrow (another 10% of the production).

In case you need a recap about distillation.

Moving to the next production stages, the mashtuns, (actual) washbacks and stills, we could again see how hands-on are all the processes here: no computers, everything very manual. In a world moving too fast, it is comforting to find a place where time seems to slow down, and where people definitely take their time to do things. And rightly so, since their bottlings normally fly off the shelves like pigeons after a gunshot. Next up, the warehouse, which is of course the best smelling place of the distillery, as always…eheh.


Glengyle brought us back to slightly more modern times. Opened in 2004, one of the reasons being to circumvent a rule of the SWA (Scotch Whisky Association) which wouldn’t allow to call an area a whisky region with only 2 distilleries. The stills came from the defunct Ben Wyvis distillery, dismantled in 1977. The distillery looked more “conventional”, although still way less automated than many distilleries we visited, which looked like they could be run by computers…maybe in a dystopian future that will happen and the machines will take control on humanity by poisoning the booze! Don’t worry, we are not becoming sci-fi writers, and going back to Glengyle distillery we could spot the window which inspired the Kilkerran Single Malt logo: a selfie was a must!

Glengyle, or the second distillery tour in less than two hours.

At the Washback bar we picked a Hazelburn and a Longrow flights, since they included drams we were not very familiar with. Both awesome, in particular the former: the Hazelburn Cognac SC knocked our socks off! And among the latter, the (at the time) just released Longrow 18 was outstanding.

The smile only a flight of Hazelburns can give you!

After a few extra drams, the party moved to another bar, were we took turns wearing a “90s Meg Ryan” wig…We’ll spare you the pictures! We had dinner at Number 42 – great food quality (probably one of the best fish&chips tried so far), although not ideal combination of small portions and high prices. The night still ended on a high after a few drams at the Ardshiel.

On the last day we had a free morning. Many (including Teresa after a run and a shower) joined Justine in a lost distilleries’ hunt – Benmore, Argyll and so many others! Meanwhile, in preparation for the upcoming half marathon, Gianluigi went for a 24k run on the hills around the town. Fortunately, the weather wasn’t too bad, so he could actually take some (far from decent) pictures!

A bench overlooking Campbeltown.

In the afternoon we attended the last event of the trip, a Glen Scotia tasting with Ian MacAlister at the Ardshiel Hotel. We started with the 10y, a very new bottling destined to grocery stores. This is why it is bottled at a 40% abv, like their other NAS supermarket release, the Campbeltown Harbour. Similar to this, and in spite of the 40%, it is a quite drinkable sweet dram, very well engineered for a broader audience. The other three drams – Warehouseman’s Edition (2005 recharred American oak finished in first fill oloroso, 56.2%), Single Cask Shop Bottling (2013 highly peated 1st fill bourbon, 61.4%) and Master Distillers Edition (2002 refill American oak hothead, 57.3%) – were all outstanding, with the Single Cask Shop Bottling being the one we liked the most. At this point, Ian surprised us with two more drams. The first one was a 2002 single-cask refill PX, which he (and us) loved – too bad there isn’t enough for a bottling, it was quite unique! The second was their new festive bottling, a 12y cask strength which has spent some time in heavily charred and oloroso casks, frankly delicious!

Last but not least: the Glen Scotia tasting!

We were all quite happy (well…you know), and the party naturally moved to the Ardshiel bar, with Ian staying with us for a couple of pints and many chats. Dinner was booked there as well: delicious and again great service, strongly suggested! Back to the bar, our friend Cath started playing the guitar and singing. At some point Gianluigi was invited to play the guitar, but it was not a great success since Tool and Mastodon songs are not quite as sing-along songs as he would think, who knew! He somehow managed to remember Don’t look back in anger and Everlong to accompany Cath solid effort, before passing the guitar back to her. Probably because of the many drams, we went to bed quite early, although it felt like 1am!

The day after was smooth, returning back to Edinburgh with only a quick stop at Fyne Ales to grab a few of their sour beers, with anything notable happening. As a first group trip, we really enjoyed it. And it was awesome to spend time with people sharing our same whisky passion and which up to now we had mostly met on Zoom. Going to Campbeltown again was great, and put back in perspective how whisky can (and should) be enjoyed at a slower pace, after all the FOMO and online hysteria which went crazy during the pandemic. Can’t wait to go back!

Springbank Tour

Price: £10.00 pp (October 2021)

Tasting: a 20ml of Springbank 10 and a 50ml of Springbank Distillery Visitors bottling (NAS 46%), and a sampler glass

Target: everyone, literally!

Value for money: Great

Highlights: the malting floors

Things we did not like: nothing

Link: http://springbank.scot/

Glengyle Tour

Price: £10.00 pp (October 2021)

Tasting: a 20ml of Kilkerran 12 and a 50ml of Kilkerran Distillery Visitors bottling (NAS 46%), and a sampler glass

Target: everyone, literally!

Value for money: Great

Highlights: the malting, but the distillery overall

Things we did not like: nothing

Link: https://kilkerran.scot/

Glen Scotia Tasting*

*Since this was a bespoke tasting, we won’t make a summary card.

Link: https://www.glenscotia.com/

#3.2 Campbeltown Loch, I wish you were whisky!

A tale of two spirits…or three
(Day 2)


A day around Campbeltown with a gin tasting, a whisky tasting, and a trip to a distillery. 

(missed Day 1? Jump to Day 3 and 4)

On Friday morning we understood why it was worth spending a few extra quids by staying at the Ardshiel Hotel, other than their great whisky bar: the breakfast and the service! The breakfast was abundant and delicious, and the nice lady serving us very kindly kept refilling the coffee mug (American diners’ style, one of the things Gianluigi misses the most from when he lived in the US). A big breakfast was necessary, as we had an early start: a Kintyre gin tasting at 10.15am at the Hall’s of Campbeltown, the Beinn An Tuirc distiller’s shop in town.

Preparing our stomachs to a looong day.

Before that we had just enough time to go to the Springbank’s shop to try get a cage’s bottle. All the frenzy around Springbank’s bottlings meant that, around 9.40, we were already second in line, with the first one being a nice couple of Glaswegians we met the day before at the Warehouse tasting. The s***-show was actually behind us: a couple trying to jump the queue with the excuse that they had to go (and also insisting with the gentleman at the counter to sell them the bottles before 10am, which is forbidden in Scotland) and other people coming in group to grab as many one-per-person bottles as possible. Not nice.

The tasting was nice, three different takes on gin (botanical, pink gin and navy strength), both straight and with a paired tonic water; many of the botanicals come from the Kintyre peninsula. We also got to try a rum from the Dominican Republic, bottled by Torrisdale Castle Estate, 11y of age and over 60% abv: a bomb of herbal, sweet and savoury notes, really delicious!

Kintyre gin tasting.

Right before lunch, we endeavoured in a quest: go to the Glen Scotia distillery shop with Justine, and decide with her which bottle to purchase for the Sunday tasting, what an honour! This because, despite contrasting news, the Glen Scotia distillery was still officially closed to the public. Therefore, Justine decided to organise another tasting at the Ardshiel hotel, with the master distiller Ian McAlister joining us: pretty cool, this definitely made up for not being able to see the warehouse! At the distillery shop we first had a look at all their core range, including the very new entry: a 10y bottled at 40% (don’t be too put off by this, wait for the next post for a full comment about it…). Since the Edinburgh whisky Group had already had a Glen Scotia core range tasting, we decided to pick only the new one. To complete the tasting, we picked three (quite expensive, we have to say) distillery exclusive bottles, priced £100 or more (again, more on it in the next post).

This reminded us one of the good parts of doing tastings – being able to try, at a reasonable price, interesting drams, otherwise a bit north of what we would spend for bottles “blindly”. Moving on to the afternoon, after a quick bite, we had a tasting we were particularly looking forward to: a Watt Whisky tasting with Mark Watt! This was our third tasting with them. In the first one (organized by Justine with the Edinburgh Whisky Group) we had 6 drams (5 whiskies and one rum) from their first release back in November 2020, including a Cly…ehm, a Highland which was great. Second time, in May 2021, another of their releases, including an 8y Arran and a 16y undisclosed Highlands (someone said “giraffe”?) among the best drams. Mark is a great presenter, and he was nice and welcoming. This was the very first in-person Watt Whisky tasting, while his wife Kate would have done the second one a few hours later at the Whisky Show in London…making history here! As a comic relief, two members of the group showed up dressed as Jack and Victor from one of our favourite tv-shows, Still Game!

A Still Game moment (thanks Mike for the photo!).

The 5 drams line-up purchased by Justine and tasted at the Ardshiel hotel included some exclusive bottling or past releases*. These are: a 12y Macduff from the Electric Coo range (single sheerry butt, 55.1%…sh-sh-sh-sherry bomb!), a 20y Port Dundas (57.1%, very elegant and oily), a 13y Linkwood (59.3%), a 10y Undisclosed Highland reserved for the Taiwanese market (58.3%, honey and peaches a go-go…and some people swore they noticed a highland tiger while drinking it), and a 9y Ardmore (57.9%). As it happened for other tastings during this trip, we were very undecided on which dram to buy, but we picked the Macduff sherry butt, also for the crazy and funny label (well, more importantly the whisky was actually delicious!). Overall, we were pleased to realise that among all Watt’s releases, there were zero drams we wouldn’t buy!

Watt whisky tasting.

The day ended with a dinner at the Harbourview Grille restaurant of the Royal Hotel, with very abundant portions which again reminded Gianluigi of his time living in the US. However, that night no doggy-bags for us: everything was eaten to soak up all the usual drams at the Ardshiel Hotel before sleeping time!

Hall’s of Campbeltown Gin tasting

Price: £10.00 pp (October 2021)

Tasting: 3 gins (paired with 3 different tonic waters) – Kintyre Botanical Gin, Kintyre Pink Gin, Kintyre Tarbert Legbiter Navy Strength Gin

Target: gin lovers and curious

Value for money: very good

Highlights: the relaxed atmosphere

Things we did not like: nothing

Link: https://www.kintyregin.com/

Watt Whisky Tasting*

*Since this was a bespoke tasting, we won’t make a summary card.

Link: https://wattwhisky.com/

#3.1 Campbeltown Loch: I wish you were whisky!

A warehouse at the end of the road (day 1)


Billie Joe Armstrong wrote: “Wake me up, when September ends”, but he forgot to add: “because we’ll be in Campbeltown!”

(Jump to Day 2 or Day 3 and 4)

Since our last trip to Speyside and Highlands almost two months have gone by. In the meantime, we: worked, got covid, recovered from covid, ran, got our smell and taste back, worked a bit more, a couple of tastings, some tenth phone calls to British Gas, worked again. The usual.

We are very excited for this trip: it is the first time we are going to do a “whisky holiday” as part of a big group, and not just the two of us or with a couple of friends. We went as part of the Facebook-based Edinburgh Whisky Group, managed by the tireless Justine from Kask Whisky. Since the first lockdown this group has grown substantially (guess not much else to do, uh?) and we did a good number of tastings, often directed by brand ambassadors or distillers. We had planned this weekend for a while, and we decided that Campbeltown was the perfect destination for a group of whisky aficionados: 3 distilleries, 2 independent bottlers, a long whisky related history and heritage, enough pubs and restaurants, and everything at walking distance. What else?

For the two of us it is the second time we land in this hidden gem of a place. The first time was exactly 3 years before, at the end of September 2018, when our whisky journey was still in its infancy. That was also the first time we visited a scotch whisky distillery together (Glen Scotia, specifically), and the Warehouse tasting we took at the time was quite a surprise.

Group A is in town!

Back to the trip, being a large group, we had to take part to some tastings separately because of Covid-related safety issues. We were in the first group (group A), which meant we needed to be in Campbeltown in the early afternoon, which in turn meant we had to leave Leith in the early morning. Justine came to pick as up at 9.30, sharp as razor, with her glorious car Clifford (Cliff for friends). The ride was smooth (not according to some squirrels, apparently) and quick, not too much traffic in Glasgow, and no queue for gasoline (at that time the biggest news on the British press was the gasoline shortage, which thankfully didn’t affect us). We stopped in Inveraray for a quick lunch: in line with our Italian culture, we prepared food at home. Less in line with that, we prepared Spanish tortilla sandwiches, which are always lovely. Back in the car, the second leg was even smoother than the first one. So around 3pm, we finally arrived at our destination! So excited!

We parked the car at the Ardshiel Hotel, but instead of doing the check-in we immediately went to the Cadenhead’s shop, just to look around on what was there (we felt like kids in a candy store after months of diet). We resisted to the temptation to buy anything rght away (HOLD!) and we moved on to the site of our first activity: the Cadenhead’s Warehouse tasting! Those sweet 7 words every person wants to hear the most: “Please, follow me down to the warehouse”!

Casks pyramids outside Springbank, always a nice view.

The first time we attended this tasting was in 2018, and we remember that we had at least 7 or 8 drams in a very informal setting, with the guide drawing the liquid directly from the casks. This time the set up is a bit more structured (everyone has a well-distanced barrel holding a glass and a bottle of water in front of them), and Jenna McIntosh, usually their sales manager, is going to guide us through the 6 drams for this one. First off, a delicious Glen Elgin, 12 years of age in a first fill ex-bourbon cask, and a 9y Glen Garioch, with 3 years spent in a Tawny port cask, betrayed by a pink-ish colour common to other drams matured in similar casks. Moving on, a grain: Cameronbridge distilled and casked in 1989 and a 18y Glenfarclas, coca-cola coloured because of a 2y finish in an ex-PX sherry cask. Finally, the two peated drams: one just lightmy peated, a 12y “Orkney”, the other quite peated 9y Caol Ila, both in ex-bourbon casks.

Cadenhead’s tasting aka best way to start a whisky trip.

While the Glen Elgin (very clean dram, crispy with vanilla and coconut notes from the bourbon cask very prominent) and the Caol Ila were both delicious, they were somehow “known” to us (we have a SMWS 13y Glen Elgin in our cabinet and a 10y Thompson Brothers Caol Ila, both very similar in taste), the Glen Garioch and the “Orkney” were something new to us, which we quite appreciated: fruity and spiritely the first, farmyard-y and smoky the latter. The grain was delicious too, as many grains of that age, while the Glenfarclas was a bit disappointing for a dram that old: thin and not very flavourful.

A full cage…so rare!

After the tasting, we could grab a couple of bottles at the Springbank shop, one from the cage (a friend’s request) and the 12y cask strength batch 23 released the week before (and, of course, sold out online), before getting the tasting’s bottles at the Cadenhead’s shop. We had dinner at the Argyll Arms pub (coincidentally, the hotel where we stayed on our first trip in 2018) and a couple of drams back at the Ardshiel Hotel. For a first day on holiday, that was plenty, and we called it a night!

Cadenhead’s Warehouse tasting

Price: £35.00 pp
(September 2021)

Tasting: 6 cask strength drams. This time ours were: 12y Glen Elgin, 9y Glen Garioch, 32y Cameronbridge, 18y Glenfarclas, 12y “Orkney” and 9y Caol Ila, plus a “perfect dram” glass (similar to the Whisky Exchange ones).

Target: whisky enthusiasts and geeks

Value for money: very good

Highlights: the drams

Things we did not like: nothing

Link: https://www.cadenhead.scot/