#27.5 Speycation

The one when we made it to 70 distilleries


TL;DR: And finally, we got to 70 distilleries! The lucky one was the Cairn, a new and very modern distillery in the Cairngorms, right outside Grantown on Spey. We went back to Edinburgh the day after, but only after a visit to Dunphail distillery, at the time still a building site. 

(missed Part 4/Part 3/Part 2/Part 1?)

Sunday was a long day, we started with Glendronach, followed by a Chivas Regal tasting at Strathisla. In the last post we left you off on the bus, as we were leaving Keith. The last (and final) activity of the day, was a visit to a new distillery (spoiler: it won’t be the newest in this post): the Cairn. It is located in a very beautiful flat spot in the Cairngorms Park, and the building concept is to “mix” with the landscape. It is owned by Gordon & MacPhail (remember the first tasting of the holiday?), and because it’s inside a national park, there are no warehouses on site, they are at Benromach distillery, in Forres (also owned by G&M).

We arrived there 20-30 minutes late on the schedule, it was almost dark outside, but the team were very kindly waiting for us (they will be rewarded, at the end…wink, wink). The building is very modern, almost futuristic, substantially departing from what you’d expect from a typical Speyside distillery. Here the group split in two: some only had drams at the bar, while others (including us) toured the distillery.

By wondering around it, we could see how everything is computerised, so they can run the production with minimal effort. The tour guide, John, was very nice: he took this job recently after a past in the ski industry. Gianluigi (who used to enjoy skiing before rugby took his ACL away…twice) chatted with him a bit about Dolomites ski locations – there are some truly memorable tracks over there!
The touristy part of the distillery, including the video, was a bit cheesy (do they really need a clock to mark how long are we away from a 10-year Cairn whisky?), but thankfully not as much as others we visited in the past.

A nice dram 🙂

After the tour we had two drams, both from the range of CRN 57 (57 being the latitude) blended malts, the 12y and 18y. They are bottled at 43%, which at our arrival discouraged us, but we have to admit they are both quite good, in particular the 18y. As a matter of fact, we brought back a bottle of it to share with Gianluigi’s family at Christmas: velvety and easy drinking, chocolate and dried fruit notes, the perfect dram for such an occasion (full disclosure: in Teresa’s family almost no one drinks alcohol, hence no bottle). The range is only available at the distillery, and it is completed by a 25y (43%) and a 30y (51.1%). They were (and hopefully still are) all very well priced, and in fact almost everyone bought a bottle, and quite a few 30y were sold (proving that the distilleries who didn’t reply to our visit requests definitely missed out!).

Celebration time!

The Cairn is the 70th distillery we visited (well, 71st for Teresa, ahah): hooray! To celebrate we had bought a bottle the day before, a very rare independently bottled Tamnavulin from the Connoisseurs Choice range (by G&M), which we shared with the gang on the bus. We chose it because it ticked all the boxes: cask strength, not chill-filtered, not artificially coloured, 14y of age, full maturation in a refill bourbon barrel, which makes the distillery character emerge (unlike the many Tamnavulin offerings in supermarkets). Creamy, light fruit, vanilla: a great clean and crisp dram! This confirmed our theory, that most scotch single malt distilleries can produce great whisky, and if things go wrong it is usually at bottling…
Back to the hotel, because it was late, we all had dinner at the Fayre Brewer, next door from the hotel. One of our pals, Mark, was disgusted by Gianluigi’s choice to have mashed potatoes instead of chips with his battered fish. That brought lot of laughs, and we even found a name: THE FISHY MASHY! Oh well, that might resemble what we feel as Italians when they put weird toppings ion the pizza!!!

An almost ready distillery, yay!

Well, that’s all for our Speycation…oh no, wait! Justine the maverick didn’t leave anything untried, so we had an activity for the Monday morning, on the way back to Edinburgh: the visit to the Dunphail distillery! This is located in, you guess where, Dunphail, just a few miles south of Forres. It is owned by the same company owning the very successful London boutique distillery Bimber. At the time, it was being built: we visited a construction site or “the embryo” of a distillery, if we want to be poetic. We were greeted by Dariusz, who started showing us around. The buildings, which used to be an old farm, were renovated already, and about to be completed (well, structurally speaking): the main distillery building, the malting floor (more about this later) and the shop/visitor centre. A warehouse was there already, where at the time they were keeping their equipment.

The future malting floor, so exciting!

There are many reasons to be excited about this project. First, they will have their own malting floor. Considering the current malt shortage (in particular peated malt) this is a very smart move, and they plan to produce both peated and unpeated malt. In the main distillery building, the equipment was about to be fitted inside. They aim for long fermentation (hurray!), and there are going to be three stills: two wash stills (first distillation) and a directly fired spirit still. The reason for the two wash stills is that a single one was too big to fit inside the farmhouse building. At the time, however, the equipment was laying around so we could take a sneak peek at it. We really can’t wait to visit the distillery and try their new-make spirit!

A still to be…

After this, we all said “goodbye” to each other and everyone left towards Edinburgh. It was a very different experience compared to visiting distilleries on our own. While on the one hand we didn’t have much time to explore the area as we usually do, the tours and tastings with such a good bunch of people were definitely much more fun and (because the knowledge of the crowd is always bigger than the individuals’ one) more interesting. We are really looking forward to the next Edinburgh Whisky Group trip.

Until next time, slainte!

The Cairn Explorer Experience

Price: £25.00 pp (October 2022)

Duration: 1hr 30min

Tasting: 2 drams, CRN57 blended malt 12y (43%) and 18y (43%)

Target: Anyone, but whisky geeks might appreciate it more

Value for money: Good

Highlights: the distillery setting

Distillery Exclusives: all the CRN57 blended malt range, 12y (43%), 18y (43%), 25y (43%), 30y (51.9%)

Recommended: only if curious to visit a modern and totally automated distillery

Link: https://www.thecairndistillery.com/

Dunphail Distillery*

Link: https://www.dunphaildistillery.com/

*No summary because it is not open yet!

#27.4 Speycation

Out of Speyside and back:


TL;DR: Sunday was a busy day: we started off with a trip to Huntly, to check out Glendronach distillery. After the tour and a very nice (but stingy) tasting, we jumped on the bus again to go to Strathisla, a beautiful distillery where we tried some cask strength Chivas Regal. 

(missed Part 3/Part 2/Part 1?)

Sunday was a big day: not one, not two, but three distilleries! Not all of them were in Speyside though. Because of the planning issues we wrote about last week, we had to go outside, but just: Glendronach, in Huntly. This distillery is very popular although some of the recent choices they made, plus a price increase in the releases, are making them being less on geeks’ radars (at least the ones we follow). Nevertheless, their stuff can be really superb – for example, when we visited the distillery in 2021, we tried some great expressions. Similar to Glenallachie, at the time it wasn’t possible to do a tour of the production because of Covid, so the possibility to visit their production this time was definitely a bonus for us. 

The picturesque courtyard.

When we arrived, the weather was still very nice and sunny. They split us up in two groups, one starting off with the tasting, the other with the tour: we were in the latter. Our guide was Vicky, a very funny and knowledgeable lady who had also hosted the sherry masterclass tasting we did in August 2021. The tour started in front of a very old building in the corner on the right with respect to the road coming in. In our understanding, it is one of the first buildings on the site, with a very nice internal courtyard. There, we took a quick look at the milling room with its old malt mill. We moved to the rest of production, which is mostly located in the big windowed building right in front of the parking lot, characterised by a more modern (and not particularly nice) architecture, with the bonus that the stills can be seen from the outside. At the moment they have six stills, with the last four installed in the 60s. However, there are currently plans to have more to increase the production capacity. They have six warehouses on site – we visited one of the three dunnage, just next to the visitor centre.

The still room, from outside the room.

After the tour, the tasting was waiting for us: five drams, at Justine’s request without any of their regular core range (so NOT the 12, 15, 18 and 21). We started with the Portwood (46%) and the cask strength batch 10 (58.6%). Moving on, we tried one of the distillery bottlings (or fill your own) at the time: a vintage 2012, 10y, matured in an ex-oloroso puncheon (61%, £105). The fourth dram was a 1989 vintage (29y, bottled in 2019), from an ex-PX puncheon (49.9%), while the final was the second distillery bottling: a 1993 vintage (again 29y) from an ex-oloroso puncheon (54.9%, costing an eyewatering £550). The drams were all delicious, however while decanting an extra set that was poured by mistake (to gift the bus driver) we realised that they were only 10ml measures…a bit stingy for the £50 we had paid. At the bar, most of us took another dram: we got one finished in virgin oak (definitely one of the strangest drams we had) and a 12y (vintage 2007) matured in ex-PX cask which was delicious.

A special tasting!

Back on the bus, we only had time to grab a meal deal at a big Tesco on the way to our next destination, Strathisla! As we arrived, we remembered how beautiful it was, one of the prettiest distilleries in our opinion. This time we didn’t do a tour (which we had already done it in 2019, together with a blending experience), but a tasting of Chivas Regal, in the warehouse number 3.

Cute, sooo cute.

The guide gave us a brief introduction about the distillery and its role in being at the core of this very popular blended whisky. Chivas 12 is very popular indeed, in Italy is omnipresent at grannies/aunties houses, and it was during our trips back home that we realised that, compared to its peers (ie ”value blended whiskies”), it is actually not a bad offering. After the introduction, we moved to a caged part of the warehouse, where 5 casks were laid out. We knew these already: as part of our tour in 2019, we could choose two of them to try. These were cask strength expressions of the main Chivas Regal bottlings: the 12y, the Extra (13y), the 18y, the 25y, and the Ultis, which is a blended malt (so without a grain component). However, because of the pandemic, these casks lasted much longer, so we’ve been told by the guide that we needed to add 5 years to each of them…quite a great deal!

A wee treasure in the warehouse.

The drams were all very good, the 18y (actually a 23y) very chocolatey, reminding us how blended whisky can be great. Unfortunately, none of these were on sale…at the shop the offering was a bit pricey (as in most Pernod Ricard owned distilleries), and because we couldn’t try any, we just gave it a pass. We were surprised that some bottles of 12y single grain from Strathclyde we bought after our visit in 2019 were still there: a sign of how grain whisky is underrated sometimes.

You wouldn’t say we just had 5 cask-strength whiskies…

Back to the bus, we finally headed to the last working distillery visit of the holiday. More about this in our next post, just a tiny clue: the distillery is in Grantown on Spey. Until next week, slainte!

Glendronach Distillery*: https://www.glendronachdistillery.com/
Strathisla Distillery – Home of Chivas*: https://www.maltwhiskydistilleries.com/strathisla/

* No summaries because there experiences were bespoke

#25.3 Highlands trip bonanza!

Back to Edinburgh through Aberfeldy and Pitlochry


TL;DR: The final day of the trip was dedicated to slowly driving back to Edinburgh. Still, we were able to fill the day with a few distillery visits: Aberfeldy first, followed by Edradour and Blair Athol! Phew

(missed Part 2/Part 1?)

We woke up early that day, skipped breakfast, and drove straight to the ferry terminal at Fishnish, on the Isle of Mull, to catch the ferry back to the mainland under the morning sun. After a quick ferry trip (we believe it’s the quickest Mull route), we arrived in Lochaline, on the Morvern peninsula (home to another distillery, Nc’Nean, which at that time we didn’t even know existed). We had breakfast, finally, at the Lochaline Snack Bar, which serves delicious sandwiches, rolls, and other goodies at very reasonable prices. We enjoyed our breakfast in the good company of a nice English couple, who told us how they decided to spend their retirement on Mull…not a bad idea at all!

Not a bad morning!

Back in the car, we soon arrived in Corran for another quick ferry (this time just to save us over an hour drive), and then drove for the first time through Glencoe: what an incredible place! It felt like being in the middle of American canyons, but green.

We followed the road to Bridge of Orchy and Tyndrum, then we turned left (eastward) and drove almost straight towards the first distillery of the day: Aberfeldy! It was not a new name for us, we had seen it in supermarkets and at the airport, but we had never tried it before, so we were quite curious. The distillery is in the village of….yep, you guessed it: Aberfeldy! Lovely place, the landscape was not as dramatic as the ones we had crossed earlier in the morning, but hilly and cosy. The distillery itself sits in quite a beautiful spot, almost like a postcard, with a small walking bridge to cross before entering the visitor centre.

Teresa wasn’t ready for the picture.

The distillery is owned by Bacardi, together with Dewar’s, one of the most prominent blended scotch whiskies, and a few other single malt distilleries (Craigellachie, Royal Brackla, Aultmore and Macduff). Before the tour, we could take a look at the museum on site, with lots of memorabilia and documents about the history of John Dewar and related brands.

Then, we started the tour of this very pretty distillery. Around production, the signals of being owned by a big corporation were obvious, with a lot of signs that reminded Gianluigi of his environmental consulting days (not a bad thing, on the contrary: emphasis on environment and safety are a must!). It is on this tour that we realised that we could remember all the stages of production…after all, that was the 5th distillery in 4 days.

At the time we didn’t really know what it was…

Then, we moved on to the warehouse, where a dram taken from a cask was served, but only to those with a more expensive ticket (3-4 people on the tour, including Teresa). It was a 1999 (so almost 20y old) Aberfeldy ex-sherry cask, and it was truly delicious. The fact that it was served with people with the regular ticket just waiting and watching was not the best however, a bit awkward. Anyway, back at the visitor centre, we could try a dram each: we chose the Aberfeldy 12 and the Dewar’s White Label. Not very memorable the first one, more memorable (but not in a good way) the second one.

We had lunch at the café in the visitor centre, but we soon left to get to the next distillery of the day: Edradour! It is a very small distillery, located near the village of Pitlochry. It used to be one of the smallest, if not the smallest in Scotland (called ‘the little gem’), but then they lost the record because a few smaller distilleries opened and because they built a second production line in a separate building on site, increasing the stills from 2 to 4. Edradour is owned by Signatory Vintage, an independent bottler, and indeed the shop stocks quite some of their range.

Ready for the second tour of the day.

This time, drams were served at the beginning of the tour (so Gianluigi could sip a tiny bit of it): we picked the flagship Edradour 10 (40%) and the peated version Ballechin 10y (46%), and decided not to go for the whisky cream liqueur. We started the tour with a big German group, but after a while, we and another 3-4 people branched off to get the tour in English. As usual, the tour guide went through the story of the distillery, which was founded in 1825, although their first single malt was only released in 1982! We visited the new distillery first, while the old production plant was showed to us from the courtyard as we walked back to the visitor centre. It is on this tour that we discovered what the ‘monkey shoulder’ is. At the shop, we found out that for a few extra quid, we could get the Signatory Vintage version of Edradour, still 10y old and vintage 2019, bottled at 46%, non-coloured and not chill-filtered: a very delicious treat to ourselves! We also got the whisky cream liqueur for a friend, who gave absolutely positive feedback!

Back in the car, we drove towards the final stop of the trip, the neighbouring Blair Athol distillery, in Pitlochry. We went first for a coffee in the village (the early start was catching up on us), and then checked in at the distillery. After a bit, our host for the day, the very knowledgeable Calum, took us to the table for the tasting (after two tours in a day, we didn’t feel like going for the third one…Well, we would catch up later on).

We can’t remember whether this was before or after the tasting…

We hadn’t had any Blair Athol before, and actually rarely heard anything about it, so we weren’t surprised when Calum explained to us that the majority of the whisky produced there goes into blends. Now that we are a bit more experienced, we can say that Blair Athol drams can be fantastic, but mostly the independently bottled ones. There, we were given Blair Athol 12y and Distillers edition 2019, followed by a range of Diageo products: Cragganmore, Caol Ila and Lagavulin Distiller Editions, and a wee tiny sip of Johnnie Walker Blue Label – the first and only time we tried it, not impressed (instead, we determined that the much cheaper Green Label we had at home was more enjoyable). After collecting “our” driver’s drams and a quick stop at the shop, we finally drove home.

It was a cracking weekend, one of the most memorable ones, and we took so much in from all these distillery visits. It’s when we switched from being whisky curious to whisky enthusiasts! Some of the experiences were quite touristy, which was OK with us at the time, but would not suit us well today after n more distilleries tours and tastings…We really appreciated Ardnamurchan for their environmental forward thinking (well, now we appreciate them ALSO for the stunning quality of their whiskies), while the range we tried at Tobermory was incredible. Edradour and Ben Nevis were unknown to us previously but revealed themselves as little gems in the scotch whisky landscape. Overall, a fantastic trip!

Until next time, slainte!

Distillery Links

Aberfeldy: https://www.dewars.com/gl/en/aberfeldydistillery/
Edradour: https://www.edradour.com/
Blair Athol: https://www.malts.com/en-gb/distilleries/blair-athol

#24.2 Dramming in Dublin

Back to Dublin after the storm: the Dublin Liberties Distillery


TL;DR: A much awaited reunion with two friends became a perfect opportunity for Teresa to visit another fairly new distillery in Dublin: The Dublin Liberties. But before then, we explored Irish whiskey from home. 

(missed Part 1?)

Soon after our weekend in Dublin in 2020, we found ourselves stuck at home, unfortunately not baking much. However, during this unfortunate period, we started digging a bit more into Irish whiskey (well, into all things whisky to be fair). We got our first bottle of Redbreast 12, and in spite of the 40% ABV, we loved every drop of it. We also got a big Irish whiskey tasting for the Belfast Whiskey 2020. There were supposed to be a bit more than a dozen dram, finally they were 19 (it took ages to finish them all…) and among many forgettable drams, we found some quite nice ones (Dingle Single Malt, Sliabh Liam Dark Silkie, Dunville Three Crowns). Later that year, an Irish whiskey tasting was organised by Justine and Connor for the Edinburgh Whisky Group, and this time we found another true gem: Powers John Lane 12y, now one of our favourites. And we didn’t replace the bottle, but Jameson Black Barrel was an easy sipper for a while (we’d be very curious to try the cask strength version).

Oh yes, we like you… who would have said an Irish dram would be so tropical?!?

So, one bit at a time, we started navigating the world of Irish Whiskey, although to be honest we are still confused and a bit annoyed about one thing: sourcing. Well, not the sourcing in itself, which we have no problem whatsoever with, but the fact that many of the new distilleries don’t make it clear on the label when their spirit is sourced from another distillery (at the other end of the spectrum, an excellent example of transparency was the Raasay “While We Wait” expression, very clear indeed!).

It is with this background knowledge that I (Teresa) went to Dublin for the third time in less than three years. Only a good reason could bring me back to a nice, but still quite expensive city.

No, that’s not the reason I went back to Dublin, but could have been.

The reason was indeed really good, a reunion with two old friends back in August 2022. The plan was very simple: just a chilled-out weekend to enjoy the city, good food and, most of all, some time together, with not much sightseeing involved. My two friends are not much, or better, not at all into whiskey (yes, I have friends that don’t like it!), so any whiskey-related activity was also out of question. Nonetheless, the evening we spent in Temple Bar and its surroundings, I couldn’t resist the “Irish whiskey calling”, so I had a Redbreast 12y and a Yellow Spot. Both quite pricey (from memory between 12 and 15 euros for a 25ml dram), most likely because we were in a very touristy area (so my fault, really).

A stroll in sunny Howth.

The two days went really fast and, after a morning in sunny Howth, it was already time for my two friends to head towards the airport. Not for me, because my flight back to Edinburgh was late in the evening, so I still had a few hours to spend in the city…That called for a distillery visit, of course! It was still very sunny, so I decided to walk to my destination, the Dublin Liberties distillery, where I had booked the last tour of the day (just in time!). At first, I wasn’t even sure I was in the right place, the neighbourhood looked very residential to me, and indeed I was already angry at myself for giving Gianluigi more evidence to laugh at my lack of orientation skills, but then I saw a small sign…I was at the distillery, phew!

Arrived at the distillery, such a relief!

While waiting for the tour to start, I browsed the shop: whiskey of course (but again no checked luggage, so I didn’t really pay attention to the bottles on display), the usual merchandise, but also a good selection of whisky books.

The tour started in a small room where the guide gave a brief introduction and made us (i.e. myself and three Americans) watch a video about the troubled history of the Liberties neighbourhood, including the famous 1875 whiskey fire. Such a young distillery (it started producing in 2019) doesn’t have much of its own history, so I found it quite clever to devote the first part of the tour to the roots of Irish whiskey in general. And all this while sipping a dram of Honeycomb liqueur (if memory serves me well), a bit sweet for my taste but nice touch!

That’s informative!

Another nice touch was the information about where barley is malted (Cork), and about the location of the warehouses (Wexford) – in most tours you normally get this level of detail only if you ask. We then moved to production – mashtun, stainless still washbacks and of course the still room, where I found out that the distillery has a capacity of 700,000 litres of alcohol per year. Not huge, but still more than I expected. Unfortunately my more geeky questions (like about the cut) weren’t answered, which made me realise that knowledge of whisky production wasn’t really the strength of our young guide. She was still entertaining, so overall an enjoyable tour.

The still room.

Finally, the tasting, which happened in the beautiful bar in a relaxed atmosphere. The two drams were two whiskeys, most likely sourced from other Irish distilleries (I didn’t ask), the Dubliner (3yr, 40%) and the Devil Oak (single malt, 5y, 46%, a bit confusing that they have also a blend with the same name, more prevalent). Probably because of the young age, none of them was particularly memorable, but I was surprised by how the Dubliner was very drinkable.

A blend and a single malt whiskey.

Back at the shop, out of guilt for my ignorance, I bought an Irish whiskey guide and made my way to the airport, where I found the perfect souvenir: a bottle of Yellow Spot, at a price (60€) that was almost too good to be true, compared with the 70-80 pounds we usually see it in Scottish shops.

Overall, nice to keep our exploration of Irish whiskey going. Until next time, Sláinte!

The Dublin Liberties Distillery Tour

Price: 18 euros (weekend tour, August 2022, 16 euros on weekdays)

Duration: 1hr

Tasting: 3 drams, Dubliner Honeycomb Whiskey Liqueur (30%), Dubliners Blended Whiskey 3y (40%, likely sourced but not 100% sure), The Liberties Oak Devil Single Malt 5y (46%, NCF, NC, sourced)

Target: Anyone, but geared towards tourists and novices

Value for money: Good

Highlights: The history of Liberties covered in depth and the friendly staff

Recommended: Yes if you’re a tourist or you’re bagging distilleries, no if you’re an expert

Link: https://thedld.com/

#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…

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/