#22 Goodbye 2022, see you soon 2023

A very dramming year


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

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

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

Sheep grazing with Scapa in the back.

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

Moments before the best warehouse tasting ever.

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

Deanston WinterFest: that’s happiness after three tastings.

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

The direct-fired Glen Garioch spirit still.

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

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

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

Enjoying a break between the two Fife Whisky Festival sessions.

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

Awesome Aquavitae event in Glasgow!!!

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

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

Happy holidays and see you next year! Slainte!

#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/

#13 A weekend on the Isle of Arran

Arran, the beautiful


Back in 2019, when you didn’t have to sell a kidney to rent a car, we organised a last-minute weekend on the iconic Isle of Arran. 

The Autumn of 2019 was a very different time. Thinking of that period makes us feel a bit naïve and unaware, a bit like pigeons pecking on the road before being run over by a bus.

Things were different also regarding our whisky journey. It had started, but it was still at a larval stage. We had already visited a few distilleries in the US back in 2016 and 2017, in Campbeltown (a year earlier) and up in the Highlands (a few months earlier). We were still in our first year of SMWS membership, and we had barely just found out about their awesome tastings in the city venues. A few months earlier Gianluigi had found out about Mark Gillespie’s WhiskyCast, which became the soundtrack for his runs on the Pentlands. The idea of starting a blog wasn’t there yet. So, we were getting there, slowly but steadily. Things were definitely moving at a much slower pace with respect to the pandemic first wave when, ironically, our knowledge and awareness sped up quite a bit.

Ready to go!

It’s in this context that one day, we decided on a whim to book a mid-November weekend on the isle of Arran. At the time renting a car was much cheaper, so we got a compact (we are quite compact ourselves), we booked one night in a B&B (it wasn’t exactly high-season) and, more importantly, the tours to two distilleries: Lagg and Lochranza! These distilleries are both owned by the Isle of Arran Distillers Ltd. While Lagg was very new at the time, we were already familiar with the Lochranza’s Arran 10yr, having tried it once or twice in bars before. To be completely honest, we hadn’t connected with it right away. We think it was (past tense, very important!) because, as beginners, we were chasing big and bold flavours such as peat or heavily sherry influence, rather than gentle and balanced drams like Arran or Deanston. Nevertheless, it sparked enough curiosity to jump in a car and get to see them!

Teresa studying Ardrossan Castle’s ruins.

The drive from Edinburgh to Ardrossan on a Saturday morning was easy and smooth, not too much traffic. We stopped briefly to check out the Ardrossan Castle ruins (not much is left, to be honest), before getting to the pier. On the boat, we got that melancholic feeling of visiting an off-season tourist destination. And indeed it is, as many people from the mainland, Glaswegians in particular, choose it for their holidays.

The Isle of Arran is called “Scotland in miniature”, because of the very different landscapes in the north, resembling the Highlands, and the south, more similar to the Lowlands. It is roughly shaped like an oval and its main roads draw an “8”, which we intended to drive all along to explore the island. So, as we landed in Brodick, we drove first north, then west, then towards the south-west corner of the island where Lagg is located. This distillery was very new at the time, they had started producing only a few months earlier. They focus on peated spirit, and while their single malt was not available of course (it still isn’t at the time of writing), the available peated range Machrie Moor was produced at the Lochranza distillery.

Inexperienced whisky enthusiasts at Lagg distillery.

The building is beautiful, with the shop on the ground floor and a good café upstairs from which we could see young orchards (we found out later that they were planning to produce cider). Before starting the tour, we admired old pictures showing how life on the island used to be. Then the guide welcomed us and, after covering the history of the distillery and the island, made us try the new make – that was a nice surprise! The tour of the production was good and fairly short, mostly because everything was in one large room, one of the first (but definitely not last) times we had seen this.

Lagg stills.

From the big window behind the mashtun, the view on the sea was just stunning. In the tasting room, we tried some Machrie Moor (the main expression and the cask strength), but the guide also kindly gave us a wee sip of the sherry-finished Fingal’s Cut.

Sorry you can’t see the sea behind the mashtun!

Tired but happy, we took the south road to Whiting Bay, had dinner and, finally, a couple of drams in a bar before going to bed.

It was very sunny when we woke up in the morning. This and a generous breakfast with sea view put us in a very good mood, and we were ready to explore the island! We decided to take full advantage of the nice weather and go for a short hike. We first drove along the coast to get to a car-park where we could take the path to Machrie Moor (yes, it’s not just whisky).

Encounters on the path to Machrie Moor.

The walk was easy and the landscape just beautiful, and at that stage it was so warm that we took our jackets off (who said that the weather is always bad in November?!?). It was fascinating to walk around the archaeological site dating to between 3500 and 1500 BC and admire the circle and standing stones.

Circle stones…
…and standing stones.

Back in the car, we headed north towards the last stop of the day, Lochranza distillery. Formerly known as the Isle of Arran Distillery, it can be considered the trailblazing distillery in this new golden age of Scotch whisky, dating back to 1995. Other than being the first to open on the island in a very long time, it was built in a period when, elsewhere in Scotland, some distilleries were still being decommissioned or demolished following the whisky loch of the 80s.

The same inexperience whisky enthusiasts at Lochranza distillery.

The visit started with a short video about the history of the distillery, its connection with the location and a bit about production. While watching the video, we enjoyed a dram of Arran 10yr. After that, our guide Richard gave us a very entertaining, informative tour. He also spent some time in the courtyard to show us the variety of casks they use, thanks to which we finally started to understand the difference between barrel, hogshead, butt, etc. (again, it was the early days of our whisky journey).

Washbacks at Lochranza distillery… and a wee guest!

At the bar, we were given a sip of their cream liqueur (great gift for non-whisky drinkers), but then we separated from the rest of the group to do a more in-depth tasting. We enjoyed having the tasting room all to ourselves while Richard talked us through an excellent selection of drams: Amarone and Port finishes, Bodega (sherry finish), the Bothy (ex-bourbon quarter cask finished), 18yr….

After the tasting (and the purchase…), we sat at a table outside the distillery for a bite (Italian salami, cheese and bread), with Richard joining us for a few minutes. We would have stayed more, but it was time to get the ferry back to mainland.

And there it happened, we connected with Arran whiskies, confirming how a good distillery experience can make a difference: now we always have an Arran on our shelf! The quarter-cask expression also made us realise how good bourbon-matured casks can be, a type of flavour that since then we have been chasing more and more!

Beautiful Arran, we’ll be back.  

Links :
(No distillery box because we visited these distilleries more than two years ago.)



#12.2 From Islay with love

Pouring down rain…and drams

(Day 1)

 Despite the campervan breakdown we made it on the Isle of Islay! Not a postcard day (euphemism…), but that didn’t prevent us to enjoy some awesome drams! 

(missed what happened first? Here’s the Prologue. Curious to know how it continued? Day 2, Day 3, Epilogue)

In spite of the bad luck with the campervan, we were on Islay! , On the ferry we managed to book a taxi to get to our first destination. This distillery is a very favourite of ours, so much that their 12y is the only bottle we replaced: Bunnahabhain!

We made it to Bunnahabhain!!!

On the way to the first distillery, we could admire the Port Ellen maltings and some piles of peat. We were a few minutes early, so while Teresa arranged the payment with the taxi driver (we found out at our destination that they didn’t take card…note for next time: bring cash), Gianluigi started browsing the shop, which featured the core range, some limited releases, and to our surprise last year (still) and this year (already!) Feis Ile bottlings. As the time for the tasting arrived, we followed Colin through the distillery to the mythical Warehouse 9 (although there aren’t 9 warehouses on the site now, only 6).

The Warehouse 9 line-up!

We were quite a large group, 13 people, which coming out of 2 years of pandemic seemed even bigger! But of course, there was place for everyone on the benches around the 4 casks. The mood was already up to the sky and we both had smiles larger than our faces. Colin was very knowledgeable and funny, he definitely played a big part in our experience. We later found out that he is the co-host of the Attic Islay podcast… we wish we would have known before that! (We also learned from his social media that he moved on soon after, so the best of luck to him!) The first sample was one of the last few bottles from a cask that was just replaced: a beautiful and pale 17y malt from an ex-manzanilla sherry butt. As a starter dram, it set the bar quite high! Second off, a weirdly pale ex-PX Noe which was extremely silkie and sweet, another belter. According to Colin, the reason why the whisky came out so pale after 17 years in an ex-PX cask is because this might have been the one on “top” of a solera system “pyramid”, so the sherry might not have had the time to give the typical dark colour, which in some cases can be as deep as coke (note: solera systems casks are not necessarily physically on top of each other, but it’s easier to explain it this way). Teresa won a sample of the ex-PX Noe by being the closest to guess the year in which the Bunnahabhain flagship expression 12y went on sale: 1979 (Teresa’s guess was 1981, Gianluigi’s 1972). The last couple of casks were very new in the line-up, and since Colin was still recovering from his Covid-caused loss of smell and taste he told us he had no idea about how they tasted… what a shame for him! The third dram was a peated matured for 17y in an Oloroso butt, this time a dark, very earthy and oily dirty dram, like chainsaw fuel but in a good way. The final dram was truly one of the best whiskies we tried: 19 years of age, the first decade spent in a refill ex-bourbon hogshead, the final 9 years in an ex-Heaven Hill barrel. Truly wonderful stuff.

Happy kids in the Bunna’s warehouse!

Because their cafeteria at their visitor centre is still closed, we decided to move on to the next distillery, despite we had the tour booked for much later in the afternoon: Ardnahoe. The distillery is only a half-hour walking distance, so we went out to take a few pictures before moving on. The cloudy day, which earlier dissuaded us from pursuing other walks, turned into a downpour. As we walked in Ardnahoe, we were totally wet: excluding the times we were physically inside a body of water, probably the wettest we had ever been. The visitor centre is unusually big (it almost makes the distillery looking like a side feature), with a shop and a cafe. In spite of its size, the first available table was at 2pm, a good hour and a half away. During this time we browsed several times the Hunter Laing collections (including Old Malt Cask and Hepburn Choice, among others) and did a few trips to the restroom to try dry ourselves under the hand-driers. The soup and the chowder (we needed to warm up!) were quite tasty, and after a good coffee we indulged in a couple of their very fairly priced drams: an independently bottled 9y Talisker (first time we tried an independently bottled one) and a 25y North British, both 5 quids each.

Ardnahoe still room (on a very dark day)…try to picture Jura’s Paps behind the fog!

Finally, 4pm. The tour started in a room adjacent to the visitor centre, where our guide explained the history behind the distillery, which started producing new make spirit only in 2019. We quickly moved to the production area, where we admired their Bobby mill, one of the very few existing. It was followed by the copper covered mash tun, their wooden washbacks, and in particular their stills, which have the longest lyne arms in the Scottish industry (they are really long!). These arms take the distillate to worm tubs condensers, a unique feature among Islay distilleries. Unfortunately the tour didn’t include the warehouse. We were brought back in a tasting room, where we could choose a dram among four: the Islay and Highland Journeys (two regional blended malts), a Hunter Laing Glengoyne and the Scarabus single malt (from an undisclosed Islay distillery). We chose the two blended malts, which were ok but not very memorable. More interestingly, we got offered a taste of the new make spirit: on top of the usual pear and green apple aromas we tasted in other mew makes, this one also had lot whiff of bananas and, of course, smoke.

The tasting at Ardnahoe

After the tour we unsuccessfully tried to call a few taxi companies to pick us up. Fortunately, we spotted a father-and-son duo, and asked them for a lift to the hotel. Fortunately, they accepted, as the hotel was on the way to their camping. That really saved us, as the rain didn’t seem to want to stop any time soon (we were again very wet just crossing the Ardnahoe parking lot!). We rewarded their kindness with a tasting set of the Scarabus once at our destination: the Skerrols House hotel.

We were very warmly welcomed by Thomas, the hotel manager. He showed us the amenities of the hotel (including a warm room where we could dry our clothes and shoes!) and offered us a cup of tea. As he learned about our trip, and that we wouldn’t have left the hotel before the next morning, he and his wife offered us a couple of sandwiches for dinner. The hotel was quite great, just outside our house there was a small “reading room”, and downstairs, where we had the tea, a very comfortable hang out room (with TV). Everything in the room was great too: soft towels, comfy bed and pillows, and a nice view. We are not definitely used to such fancy places! We couldn’t relax as we wished however, and we had again little sleep, because of the uncertainty around our plans… but there was nothing to do until the morning.

Bunnahabhain Warehouse 9 Tasting

Price: £40.00 pp (April 2022)

Tasting (all samples from the cask, so NC, NCF and CS*): 17y unpeated ex-manzanilla butt (56.5%), 17y unpeated 2004 ex-PX Noe cask (52%), 17y peated Oloroso butt (52.9%), 19y double ex-bourbon maturation (10y hogshead, 9y 1st fill Heaven Hills barrel, 53.7%)

Target: whisky enthusiasts, geeks, and experts

Value for money: great

Highlights: the drams, the distillery scenery and Colin’s enterteing tasting

Distillery exclusive: most of the above (they decided to stop selling the Warehouse 9 releases on their website, as tour re-started)

Link: https://bunnahabhain.com/

Ardnahoe Distillery Tour

Price: £15.00 pp (Apr 2022)

Tasting: one dram from the following, the Islay and Highland Journey (blended malts, NAS, 46%, NC, NCF), Scarabus (single malt, NAS, 46%, NC, NCF) and a Hepburn Choice Glengoyne

Target: casual tourists and whisky novices

Value for money: Good

Highlights: the distillery scenery (still nice despite the weather)

Things we did not like: very “vanilla” tour

Distillery exclusive: 11y Jura (NC, NCF, CS*) from Hunter Laing

Link: https://ardnahoedistillery.com/

*NC: not artificially colored, NCF: not chill0filtered, CS: cask strength

#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/

#2.2 A very Scottish summer holiday

A trip to Orkney Speyside et al.

(day 2)

Busy day (fortunately, given the weather…): we officially entered Speyside and visited a couple of Glens, Glenlivet and GlenAllachie! 

(Forward to Day 10 / Days 7-8-9 / Days 5-6 / Day 4 / Day 3 or back to Day 1)

Unfortunately, our first night ever sleeping in a campervan was not particularly resting, aided by an incessant rain pounding on the van’s top. Teresa waked up particularly nervous because this day was going to be the first time she drove on the left side of the road. However, we jumped in the van and the drive was (surprisingly) smooth until, just round a single-track corner, a behemoth of a distillery appeared: and here we are at Glenlivet!

Happy faces at Glenlivet.

Here, the tasting guide Andrew welcomed us very kindly, leading us to the newly built visitor centre and bringing us a nice coffee. The room is quite nice, with a very relaxing and cosy atmosphere, almost like a chalet on the Alps. It has a cocktail bar and comfortable chairs. That brings us to the tasting room, with soft lights and themed to look like an 1800s whisky cellar.

For that day we chose the “Single Casks” tasting, where we were given four samples of the big range of single cask bottlings available at the distillery, all cask strength. Andrew was extremely knowledgeable and passionate; we could listen to him talking about whisky and whisky making all day! As a first dram, he picked a 12y aged in an ex-oloroso butt, very dark in colour and a typical sherry bomb style. Second and third a pair of 16y, one golden coloured, almost like a wheat field in June, and the other again deep amber. Of course, this was to show us the difference between maturation in ex-bourbon barrels and ex-sherry casks. Finally, a real gem: an 18y matured in a refill sherry cask, lighter in colour than the previous sherry matured drams, but more delicate and nuanced. Overall, a great experience.

What a lineup!

The Single Cask bottles at the shop were a bit expensive (among the ones we tried, the cheapest was £85 for a half-litre bottle), so we decided to buy a “bottle your own” expression. They had three, all cask strength but not single casks: a 12y (£55 for a 70cl bottle), a 15y (£70 for 70cl) and an 18y (£110 we think, but we might not remember correctly); we chose the 15y, whose cask make-up reminds a lot the one of their 15y core range, although this one is not chill-filtered. To note the impressive collection of Glenlivet expressions available at the shop, as well as whisky from other Pernod-Ricard distilleries (these ones in the single casks range).

Gianluigi’s first bottling experience.

Of course one of us could not taste these beauties right away, and today Teresa picked the shortest straw. Back in the van, we drove towards the village of Aberlour, where we had booked a pitch at a lovely camping. The second and last distillery of the day is one producing a whisky we both really enjoyed so far, so we were very hyped up and we didn’t want either of us to miss the tasting. So, after checking in at the camping, we walked towards the distillery on a nice trail, and 50 minutes after (someone miscalculated and thought there were only 20 minutes…ehm, Gianluigi for once) we arrived at GlenAllachie!

Here as well, tours were not available, so the experience offered to us was a video tour and a tasting. The video was very entertaining and one of the best substitutes for a walk into a distillery that we have experienced. The guide Graham interrupted the video a few times to give us the opportunity to taste the delicious drams (although with a very tiny version of a Glencairn glass, almost could not stick our noses into it!). These were: a GlenAllachie 15y, two of their distillery single casks (2009 Grattamacco finish and 2006 ex-oloroso full maturation, both cask strength, priced £100 and above) and finally a 21y McNair Lum Reek (46%). He also gave us a taste of theMcNair upcoming rums, two 7y (one finished in an ex-peated whisky…very interesting!) and a 15y. Gianluigi in particular appreciated this, as he is starting getting more and more into rum as well (oh noooo).

Again, what a lineup!

Something that we both always experienced, since the beginning of our whisky journey, is a connection with the red wine finished whiskies. We grew up in different parts of Italy, but both our families come from the countryside. There, red wine is almost always the drink of choice during meals. All this to say that the Grattamacco had to come home with us (nice excuse, isn’t it?), together with a miniature of the mighty 10y cask strength, a dram now very hard to get hold of when a new batch is released. After we left GlenAllachie we walked back to Aberlour through a wood, near the Linn Falls and along the Aberlour distillery (…no worries, just walking past it, we already visited it in December 2019, but it’s a story for another time).

The quality of pictures decreases after two tastings…

We had a quick pint and a warm soup in a pub before heading back to the camping, tired but happy. Our first attempt to grill failed miserably as the charcoal was too humid after all the rain of the night before. So, we sadly cooked the meat on the portable cooker, and we quickly went to bed, to get ready for another adventure!

Glenlivet The Single Casks Tasting

Price: £30.00 pp (July 2021)

Tasting: 4 drams from the Glenlivet single casks bottlings (for us 12y 1st fill ex-sherry butt, 16y 1st fill ex-bourbon barrel, 16y 1st fill ex-sherry butt, 18y 2nd fill ex-sherry butt, all cask strength)

Target: whisky enthusiasts and geeks

Value for money: Good

Highlights: the drams and the renovated visitor centre

Things we did not like: the single casks bottling prices

Link: https://www.theglenlivet.com/en-UK

GlenAllachie Premium Experience

Price: £30.00 pp (July 2021)

Tasting: 4x20ml drams, GlenAllachie 15y, two distillery exclusive single casks 2006 ex-oloroso hhd and 2009 Grattamacco finish, MacNair Lum Reek Blended Malt 21y. Complimentary mini glencairn.

Target: whisky enthusiasts and geeks

Value for money: Good

Highlights: the drams and the video distillery tour

Things we did not like: nothing really

Link: https://theglenallachie.com/

#1.3 Dramming around again after lockdown

A quick escape to the Highlands (Day 3 & 4)


Next in line in our May 2021 Highlands trip: Deanston and Tullibardine. 

(missed Day 2 or Day 1?)

Day #3 started with a 3-hour drive from Muir of Ord to the village of Doune, in the southern Highlands, famous for its castle which was used as a set for popular movies and TV series. Despite not being able to find our coconut shells (probably a swallow stole them from us), we toured the castle anyway.

Doune Castle <>insert coconut shells noise</>.

After that, we checked in to a lovely, local B&B and went straight to Deanston distillery, just a 15-minute walk away. The staff are very professional and welcoming, Brian led us straight to the warehouse where 3 casks were waiting for us and only us (a private tasting, yay!).

The first expression was a 2013 vintage 1st fill ex-bourbon, quite delicious, full of all the notes you’d expect from a great bourbon cask (vanilla, honey, caramel), but very balanced despite the young age. Second up, an incredible 2001 fino hogshead, re-casked from 1st fill ex-bourbon. Brian told us that this cask was supposed to be finished earlier, but because of the pandemic it aged for an extra year or so. It was surprisingly good, very different from a typical sherried style whisky (drier, and orchard fruits notes), which instead came in the form of the last, and delicious, 2004 amontillado butt, a classic sherry-bomb.

The tasting location: Deanston Warehouse 4!

In the store they kindly gave us a wee taste of an ex-calvados and a marsala finished expression (12 and 15 years old), both quite interesting. We were spoiled for choice, but we went with the 2013 full bottle and the 2001 small bottle (too good and peculiar to be left there), plus a plethora of 30ml samples, including the new make spirit. At this point the credit card was crying. As it was a very nice day, we sipped one of the samples (a 2002 vintage ex-port pipe finish) in the beautiful gardens behind the castle, next to a wee stream: a liquid picnic.

Happiness after the tasting at Deanston.

As per the previous day, the rest of the evening was quiet…mostly because the only pub in the village was closed (we were told because of a restrictions breach), so we ended up drinking some previously collected samples in the B&B while re-watching Monty Python and the Holy Grail (of course).

The final day of our trip started with a quick morning visit of the Dunblane cathedral, which was on the way to our next and last distillery: Tullibardine. We were very curious, as despite its presence in local grocery stores, the only expression we know is the (quite nice) 15 y/o, tasted a few months back through our Whisky-Me subscription. In our understanding the distillery is going through some refurbishment, but the visitor centre looks already quite new and spacious. The guide, Gavin, is a veteran: has been working there for 17 years (and as a matter of fact, one of the distillery exclusive bottlings is named after him), and he was visibly happy to have visitors again. We were the first visitors, as they reopened for tours on that very same day. He explained to us that the distillery is owned by the Famille Picard, a French beverage company which, among other things, allows them to access premium ex-wine casks. He first showed us where the malted barley comes through and the milling room. After, we entered a space where it is possible to admire all 3 parts of the process equipment together (mashtun, washbacks and four stills). This was quite unique to us because in most of the other distilleries we visited these are located in different rooms, despite Tullibardine being far from a craft distillery (3mlpa production). Next, we spent some time in the warehouse, which is always among our favourite parts.

Tullibardine distillery.

Finally, the tasting takes place in the shop: Gavin was quite generous, and to our request he was happy to give us one of the Murray range instead of the 15y that we had already tasted, as well as a taste of one Distillery Exclusive, a 12y cask strength Moscatel finish (£95, the other one available was an ex-bourbon cask: same age, same price and cask strength), and a Marsala finish from the Murray series (which we happily bought). This was one of the most engaging tours we had…It was very easy to connect with the distillery “spirit” (in all meanings).

The rest of the day went smoothly. Lunch and a stroll in Perth, followed by a short but enjoyable walk at Loch Leven before driving back to the home base in Leith. As in our previous trips around Scotland, we ended up talking about how lucky we are to live in this gorgeous country, while starting to plan the next trip.

Deanston Warehouse 4 tasting

Price: £35.00 pp (May 2021)

Tasting: 3 drams straight from the cask, 2013 ex-bourbon barrel (£65/25 for 700/200ml), 2001 organic ex-bourbon with 3-4y finish in fino hogshead (£120/35), 2004 amontillado butt (£120/35), and a complimentary glass (high-stem copita)

Target: whisky enthusiasts, geeks, and experts

Value for money: Good

Highlights: the whisky and the friendly staff

Things we did not like: nothing really

Link: https://www.deanstonmalt.com/

Tullibardine Bonded Tour

Price: £30.00 pp (May 2021)

Tasting: 3 drams, Tullibardine Sovereign (43%, NAS but ~7y, wink-wink), a choice of the cask finish series (225 Sauternes, 228 Burgundy, and 500 sherry, all 43% NAS but ~8y, wink-wink), and the 15y (43%), and a complimentary glass (short highball glass)

Target: both whisky novices and enthusiasts

Value for money: Good

Highlights: the friendly guide and “hey, I can see the mashtun, washbacks and stills from this spot!”

Things we did not like: nothing really

Link: https://www.tullibardine.com/