#23.2 On the run again: Dramathon 2022

Back to the Glens
(Grant and Garioch)


TL;DR: The day after the Dramathon we took advantage of being in Speyside to visit two distilleries we’d only had tastings at: Glen Grant, in Rothes, with their unique rectifiers, and Glen Garioch, in Oldmeldrum, which has been recently renovated. Both worth returning. 

(missed Part 1?)

So, after a (not so) resting sleep in Dufftown (guess why), we found ourselves with a spare Sunday (the drive home is about 3 hours only): plenty of time for some whisky stuff! Deciding which distillery to visit in Speyside and its surroundings, however, is becoming more and more difficult. Despite being the biggest single malt producing area, most distilleries are closed to the public, and a bunch of them are closed on weekends. Let’s also say that we already had the opportunity to visit a few of them (ehm, ehm, ehm, ehm).

Nevertheless, because we’ve been there also around Covid times, we only saw the visitor centre or the tasting room of some distilleries, so this was a good occasion to catch up with the production tours we hadn’t done yet. First off: Glen Grant! We’d been there for the first time in July 2021: at the time we could only visit their marvelous Victorian gardens (if it’s a beautiful day, they are worth the price of the ticket alone), have a quick tasting at the shop, and an Illy espresso at the café (spoiler: this time the café was closed, so no Illy, ouch!).

It’s dram o’ clock.

The distillery is owned by the Campari group, reason for the Italian flag in the courtyard: after Wild Turkey, this is the second distillery we visited from this owner. Glen Grant is in Rothes, almost in front of the famous copper still-producer Forsyth (also, where Caperdonich, nicknamed Glen Grant 2, was located). Founded in 1839, except for the modern and polished shop/visitor centre, it has maintained a classic distillery feel. A notable fact is that their master distiller, Dennis Malcom, is one of the longest serving workers in the whisky industry, with over 60 years of experience under his belt: impressive!

The guide of the day was Kirstie, very knowledgeable and professional. Since it wasn’t raining, her explanation of the history started in the courtyard. We swiftly (or schwifty) moved to production, where we went through the usual path: milling, mashing (closed stainless still mashtun), and (wooden) washbacks.

Mashing in progress (looks like the first water).

Here came the interesting part: the still room. Like Glenfarclas and others, the room is separated from the rest of the production. As we walked in, we noted the curious shape of the wash stills, with a copper cylinder-ish bulge at the bottom of the neck, rather than the usual round one. The spirit stills have a classic round bulge, but the most fascinating characteristic, however, is the rectifier installed at the end of the lyne arms, looking like another small still. This was an intuition by John “the Major” Grant, who took on the business in 1972, and their purpose is to allow only the lightest vapor to be condensed. To produce a light spirit, they also set quite a short and high cut for the spirit heart: from 73% down to 68%.

Have you seen a rectifier like this before?

We then visited the warehouse before the self-guided tasting at the visitor centre. At the time of booking, we asked if we could pay more to upgrade our drams: not because they are bad (because they are not, in our opinion), but just because we had had the very same drams during our 2021 visit (Arboralis and 10y). Unfortunately, it wasn’t possible, which was a pity because it would have been a simple but relevant improvement to the experience, in particular for more experienced drammers (other distilleries do it), but oh well.

Bottles on display (we tasted the middle ones).

After sipping (Teresa) and nosing (Gianluigi) the two drams, we went back to the car and drove towards the Aberdeenshire for the second distillery of the day. While driving we did some distillery spotting, first Glentauchers and then Strathmill, in Keith, reached after a nice short walk along the river Isla (the day was truly gorgeous!).

Not so hidden Strathmill warehouses.

Glen Garioch is in a very different setting: even older than Glen Grant (it was founded 1797), it is almost stuck in the village of Oldmeldrum (near Inverurie): it looks like the village grew around the distillery. Funnily, it was the distillery we visited after our 2021 Dramathon as well, but at the time it wasn’t possible to visit the production due to a combination of Covid safety rules and ongoing renovations, so we were quite excited about the tour!

Look what’s on Distillery Road!

Our guide Iona started the tour from the new malting floor, one of the parts under renovation the previous year. There was one originally, but it was dismissed back in the day when industrial maltings became too convenient to be ignored. This happened across the entire industry, so that now only a handful of distilleries malt their own barley in a malting floor (Benriach, Balvenie, Kilchoman, Laphroaig, Bowmore), and to our knowledge, only Springbank/Kilkerran do it for the 100% of their production (waiting for Dunphail), so bravo Glen Garioch! They also re-introduced the use of peat in their kiln, to get peated malt from time to time.

The renovated malting floor.

We moved on to follow the phases of whisky production: milling (classic red-painted Porteus), mashing (again, closed stainless steel mashtun), and fermenting (stainless steel washbacks). In the still room, we saw the other result of the renovations: they removed one of their three stills, and the spirit still is now directly fired (a flame is burning below, heating the still, instead of the usual steam coil inside it). Again, this modification is a step back into the past of whisky production, as direct-fire stills aren’t usually as efficient as steam coils. Their cut is wide, 73% to 63%, which contributes to giving body to the spirit.

Directly fired, trust us!

This is reflected in the malts that we sipped in the tasting room, back at the visitor centre (after a wee tour in one of the warehouses). The 12y is a solid whisky, but the Founders’ Reserve (NAS) is good too. Similar to last year, the visitor centre offers a choice from their core range, the Renaissance range (a series of four expressions, the youngest 15y and the oldest 18y), the American cask trilogy (single casks sourced in Missouri, Minnesota and Kentucky), the virgin oak finish (a vatting of multiple casks), and a couple of distillery exclusives (see below).

The Spirit is flowing!

Again, another very interesting visit, to a distillery that made efforts to bring back some features of the original production. We know that, with the re-discovery of flavours in single malts, there’s a question about the effects of each part of production. While most of the flavour has been attributed to casks, now people started exploring the effect of other factors, such as malting and distilling, and doubts about more recent modernisations have arisen. For us nerds and geeks (and generally consumers), this exploration is quite exciting as it brings us a lot of new (or old?) flavours!

The tasting.

Until next time, sláinte!

Glen Grant Tour

Price: £7.50 pp (October 2022), including the Victorian gardens

Duration: 1hr 10min

Tasting: 2 drams, Glen Grant Arboralis (NAS, 40%) and 10y (40%)

Target: Anyone, but geared towards tourists and novices

Value for money: Very good

Highlights: The still room and the rectifiers

Things we did not like: The very limited tasting options…or “option”

Distillery Exclusive: Glen Grant 13y (2008-2021), 56.5%, single cask (NCF, NC) 50cl for £120

Recommended: For the price, definitely yes

Link: https://www.glengrant.com/

Glen Garioch Founder’s Tour

Price: £15.00 pp (October 2022)

Duration: 1hr

Tasting: 2 drams, Founders’ Reserve (NAS, 48%, NC, NCF) and Glen Garioch 12y (48%, NC, NCF)

Target: Anyone, but whisky geeks might appreciate it more

Value for money: Good

Highlights: The new malting floor and the direct-fire stills

Distillery Exclusives: Glen Garioch 1991 (single ex-bourbon cask, 46.4%, NC, NCF, £325) and Sherry Cask 2009 (1st fill ex-sherry butt, 58.3%, NC, NCF, £130)

Recommended: Yes

Link: https://www.glengarioch.com/

#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!

#17.2 A first taste of Speyside

Walking and blending


TL;DR: The last two days of the trip were dedicated to less standard whisky experiences. First off, a walk through the village of Dufftown and its distilleries. On the last day, we did a blending experience at Strathisla, learning the hard way how difficult it is. Overall, definitely a great trip! 

(missed Part 1?)

The morning of the third day was quite open, so we went back to Aberlour, officially for a walk to the Linn waterfalls, behind the Aberlour distillery, but we sneaked in a second visit to…no, not the distillery, to the Walker’s cookies shop! Just to pick up Christmas gifts for family and friends, and because Gianluigi loves cookies indeed! We had some take-away food from a local shop, before our afternoon activity: a walking tour of the 9 distilleries of Dufftown! If you’re asking yourself why 9, just stick with us…

A cute meeting point for the walking tour.

The tour was organized by Michelle, a local guide living in the village. We and another young couple met her at the clock tower. First, we walked towards her house, where she very professionally gave us a glencairn and a yellow vest: at the end of the day we were about to walk through a few whisky producing plants, most of them not open to visitors. To start with, we walked towards the site where the now demolished Pittyvaich distillery used to be (close to the Mortlach Parish Church). While looking at some of the old warehouses, Michelle poured a taste of a 25y Pittyvaich from a Diageo release. A bit down the road, we then stopped at Dufftown distillery, owned by Diageo.

Best shot at Dufftown distillery.

This is one of the three distilleries making the Singleton (Singleton of Dufftown), sold mostly in the UK and Europe. Moving on with our tour, walking along the Dullan Water, we found the third distillery: Glendullan, another one from the Singleton series (this one distributed in North America, while the third one is from Glen Ord and is distributed in the Asian market). One exception was the House of Tully Singleton, part of the Game of Thrones range, which we had a taste of after a wee look at the still room. Next stop was a popular one, Mortlach, which we were very curious about for their quite complicated 2.71 distillation process. We saw their third still (from the outside), called the Wee Witchie, where the last 0.71 of the distillation happens (in our understanding, but not so sure…).

The beast of Dufftown and us.

In this case, the dram was a Gordon & MacPhail 25y from the distillery label range, paired with homemade shortbreads, which were fantastic! It took a bit to get to the next stop, this time walking along the Foiddich. During the walk Michelle showed us the building where another silent distillery was, Parkmore, closed too long ago to get a sip. We were already acquainted with the next working one, Glenfiddich, but not the next ones: Kininvie and Balvenie.

Balvenie, the beautiful.

Unfortunately, during this trip we hadn’t managed to book the latter (although we caught up almost a couple of years later), so we were very curious to see it. As we walked past the malting floor, we saw smoke coming out of it, meaning it was working! Michelle was very excited as well, she had seen it only a dozen of times. We walked past Kininvie still room (the mashtun and washbacks are at Balvenie). The final distillery was another silent one, Convalmore, now used as warehouses. This is where Michelle’s husband was waiting for us in a van to bring us back (it was quite dark at that stage). It was a great experience, a bit different from a regular distillery visit, definitely worth it! We ended up having dinner at the Commercial Hotel and, again, a couple of drams at the Seven Stills.

Sunday was the last day of our wee holiday. We had a very nice conversation with Linda and her partner, who drove us to Keith for the last whisky activity of the long weekend: Strathisla. The distillery looks very pretty, in particular as you walk in from the parking through the courtyard. Like Aberlour, it is owned by Chivas Brothers (a subsidiary of Pernod Ricard), and it is the core malt of one of their most popular brands, Chivas Regal. The 12 year old expression is present in almost all aunties’ and grandmothers’ houses back in Italy too.

Iconic Strathisla.

For this tour, Teresa picked something different: the blending experience. So, after the tour of the distillery and the warehouses (where we had a dram of Chivas straight from the cask), we were guided to the blending room. It looked like a fancy version of a high school chemistry lab, with all the glass equipment, but instead of burners there were bottles of whisky. Our task was to create a blend of 5 whiskies: fruity (Strathisla), citrusy (Glen Keith), smoky (Allt A’Bhaine), creamy (Longmorn) and floral (Strathclyde, a grain whisky distilled in Glasgow). Of course, as we were making it, it was like: “it’s going to be super tasty”, but when a few months later we opened our 20cl souvenir bottle of our very own blends, it clearly was kind of crappy. Well, blending is more of an art, and the blenders job is definitely one of the hardest in the sector! Definitely a fun activity though, although we both agreed that one time was plenty.

As we came out, we had over an hour to wait at the Keith “station” (a porch) for the train to Aberdeen. We couldn’t really walk around because of the backpacks and the heavy rain, so we just sneaked in a walk to Glen Keith distillery, right in front of Strathisla.

Glen Keith distillery under the rain.

On the train back we came up with the idea of a whisky blog. It would have taken over a year to kickstart it, but this trip is the culprit! It substantially improved our knowledge and made us even more enthusiastic about scotch whisky. Speyside is one of those places where every time we visit, we say to each other: “we should get a house here”. This was the first trip to this magical region, with many more just about to come!

Until the next story, slainte!

Strathisla Distillery Tours

Michelle’s Dufftown Distilleries Walk

(Because this trip happened almost 3 years ago, we are not compiling the distillery visit evaluation box.)

#17.1 A first taste of Speyside

A birthday surprise


TL;DR: in December 2019 Teresa organised a surprise weekend for Gianluigi’s birthday, so we travelled to Speyside for the first time. One of the few times we travelled by train, it wasn’t easy to reach all the places we wanted. Nevertheless, in the first couple of days, we managed to visit four distilleries in Elgin, Aberlour and Dufftown. 

2019 was a weird year for us. Because of an intense period at work, Gianluigi could take very few leave days throughout the year. But it was also the year where something changed for us about whisky: we became members of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, we started listening to whisky podcasts, reading books, and visiting distilleries more often. So, when December arrived, going off on a wee whisky holiday was a very easy decision to take. It was also Teresa’s gift to Gianluigi for his birthday…so for him the destination was a surprise!

In the morning, first train to Aberdeen, then another one to Elgin, so Speyside, which we’d never been before! This is home to over 50 distilleries, without doubts the biggest producing single malt whisky region. Although not all of them are open to visitors, a good bunch are. Which ones then? Still a mystery to Gianluigi.

Happy faces, and we were not even drunk!

The first distillery was only a 20-minute walk from Elgin train station: Glen Moray. We are now very fond of this one, probably underrated because of their entry-level expressions available in supermarkets. Thanks to a few very tasty SMWS bottlings, however, at the time we had already started to appreciate it, so Gianluigi was very happy! Because of time constraints we only did a tutored tasting at the distillery’s café. We chose different flights, the travel retail (with the Elgin Heritage NAS, 12y and 15y, but all bottled at 48% and not chill-filtered) and the distillery casks (2008 ex-rye cask finish, 2001 2nd fill ex-oloroso, 2014 peated ex-gamay cask). We loved these expressions, in particular the 12y in the travel retail range and the 2008 Rye cask finish, but we felt it was too early in our trip to buy anything (much regretted decision).

Glen Moray tasting.

From there, we took a cab to another distillery, completely unknown to us: Benriach. Together with its sisters GlenDronach and Glenglassaugh, it had been recently sold to Brown-Foreman (aka Jack Daniel’s).

After seeing a malting floor for the first time.

At the time the visitor centre was just a small room with a couple of sofas, table and chairs, and a small shop. The tour was intimate (only 6) and quite in depth. We were guided throughout production, including their malting floor (first time we visited one), and we tasted the wash (someone said: “like a bland and watery beer, basically an English ale”). It was before the revamp of their core range, so we tried their 10y, 10y peated (Curiositas), the magnificent 12y triple-sherry cask, and the travel retail 10y triple distilled (of which we were able to grab a bottle only a few months ago), and another couple of older distillery exclusive expressions, including a peated ex-port cask. Truly a great tasting!

What a line-up at Benriach!

By the end of the tasting, it was dark outside (December…), and we almost missed the last bus to go to our final destination for the day. Fortunately the driver saw us waving at him in the dark. We arrived in Dufftown, where we stayed at the Conval House, a lovely B&B run by the very kind Linda. After the check-in, we had dinner at the Stuart Arms (not open anymore) and a couple of final drams at the Seven Stills.

The next day we woke up a bit dizzy, how so? (wink, wink). This didn’t prevent us to move on with our mission, and after breakfast, Linda generously drove us to the next distillery: Aberlour, in the near village of… Aberlour!

Ready to start day 2.

It was just us on the tour, definitely not high season for them. The guide gave us a dram straight away (the 12y), which we enjoyed before another really in depth tour. The distillery sits in a marvellous location, surrounded by woods and near the Linn Falls waterfall.

Linn Falls waterfall.

Again, the final tasting was quite generous, with samples of the newmake spirit, the 16y, the Casg Annamh, and two 14y single cask, one from an ex-bourbon barrel and another from an ex-sherry butt. Unfortunately the A’Bunadh, which we hadn’t tried yet, was not in the line-up, but we would have caught up later that day.

After a quick stop at the Walker’s cookies shop in Aberlour, we caught the bus, next stop: the Speyside Cooperage. It was a very cool experience, and very different from a distillery. To be honest, the guide did not say much (a bit shy?), but was available to reply any questions. However, as whisky novices we didn’t have that many. The walk in the production area was very interesting: we could admire the toasting process and the coopers doing their magic rebuilding the casks.

The sky is blue above the Speyside Cooperage.

Finally, the last stop for the day: the Glenfiddich distillery. This is a massive operation with a capacity of over 22 million litres of alcohol per year. The tour started with an introduction video. After that, we parted from another quite large group of people, as only the two of us went for the in-depth tour. It was the first time we visited a distillery of that size: the two huge lines of stills striked us!

So many stills at Glenfiddich!

At the end of the tour and after a wee look at the bottling line, we were ready for thetasting. We had the 12y, the 15y, the Project XX (the best of the bunch, in our opinion), the Fire and Cane, the 18y and finally the 21y rum finish. When we visited the warehouses we could try a tiny sip of the 15y cask strength form one of their huge solera-style vatting tubs – very tasty but pricey (at the time 120 quids at the visitor centre).

Our day ended with a nice dinner at A Taste of Speyside restaurant (now unfortunately closed), and another dram, only one this time (the Aberlour A’Bunadh) at the Seven Stills. What an intense day!

Distillery (tours) links


Speyside cooperage

(Because this trip happened almost 3 years ago, we are not compiling the distillery visit evaluation box.)

#12.4 From Islay with love

A day around Kildaton Riviera

(Day 3)


Our last day on Islay ended with a visit to two iconic distilleries, and checking out the resurgence of another. 

(missed Day 2/Day 1/Prologue/Epilogue?)

The next morning we had an early start (well, “early” considering we were on holidays), and after a good breakfast we took the bus at around 8.15. We needed to cross the island to go to Port Ellen, and the next bus would have been too late (this gives a different perspective about Edinburgh’s public transport service…). The ride was in two steps, Bowmore first, just enough time to take a wee pic of the distillery gate, then Port Ellen. As it was early and wasn’t raining, we snooped around the newly built Port Ellen distillery before walking to Laphroaig.

Port Ellen distillery WIP.

We then took the “Three distilleries path”, a walking/cycling path from Port Ellen all the way to Ardbeg (which we didn’t reach, this time). As we were walking along the building site of the Portintruan distillery (the Elixir Distillers’ one) we wondered if they will rename it the “Four distilleries path”…

Encounters on the Three Distilleries path.

We were super-excited about visiting Laphroaig: it is one of the first malts we remember having and buying, a few years back, and its peat was one of the things that hooked us up to single malt. Even now, despite not connecting with all expressions, it still has a special place. The distillery layout looked very old, with the visitor centre door right next to a beach – really pretty.

Reward after the walk.

When we checked in, we found out that the coffee is complimentary, hurray!!! Our guide was Caroline, and the tour obviously started from the malting floors, where they malt about 10% of their barley, and the kiln, where some of their magic (ie peat) was laying around.

Sun shining on the malting floor.

The tour went through the rest of production, up to the still room, in a separate building. One of the 7 stills is definitely bigger than the others, but we were told that all the spirit produced is mixed together anyway (also the spirit produced with the sourced and their own malted barley is mixed).

That’s a big still room!

In the courtyard, Caroline told us that most barrels are from Makers Mark bourbon distillery, in Kentucky, an old acquaintance of us. Another signature is the use of quarter casks, still made with American oak, but smaller in size and therefore imparting a stronger flavour to the whisky. Last stop before the tasting was the dunnage warehouse (where a tasting was going on…hopefully we’ll be able to catch that next time!) for a sneaky peak of their casks resting.

Back to the visitor centre, it’s time for the tasting. Other than the lanyard and the wee glass, Caroline gave us three tokens each, which we could spend to get some of the available drams: 1 token for the regular Laphroaig 10 and the Select, 2 tokens for the 10y cask strength, etc. An opportunity to custom the tasting experience, we both thought this is very smart. We had 6 tokens between us, so we opted for the Lore (2 tokens, never tried before), the Quarter Cask (1 token, tried a long time before) and the Cairdeas 2021 bottling, finished in ex-PX casks (the only 3-token dram). At the bar, we had some light snacks and a dram from the warehouse tasting cask (the only available to try, not to buy), a 13y which spent 5y in an ex-bourbon and 8y in an ex-PX cask: really delicious!

Such a beauty!

Back on the Three distilleries path, our next and last stop was a very celebrated one (even in an American TV show): Lagavulin Distillery! Right next to the sea, and it didn’t undergo any apparent rebuilding – really beautiful.

Second reward after the walk.

The interior is also very home-y (a friend suggested that it looks like a ship, which it definitely does!) and the shop is quite small compared to many other distilleries. Everything is there however: some distillery exclusives, some past Feis Ile and Jazz Festival bottlings, some limited releases and even the Caol Ila range (this being still closed for renovation). While waiting for the Warehouse tasting to start, we sat in a very cozy room, where among the things on display we saw a bottle of the last Malt Mill run. A guide came to pick us up (a big group of over 20 people!) and brought us to the warehouse, where Ian MacArthur was ready to start the tasting! He was very entertaining, making jokes and passing around some very tasty drams. At some point he also made some people sing, it was definitely one of our funniest tastings. The three samples from the casks were a 10y, a 12y and a 25y, all from refilled casks. This had great educational value, which allowed us to deeply appreciate the core of Lagavulin nature. The fourth was the 2021 Feis Ile bottling, 13y in ex-bourbon and finished for 5/6 months in white port, a type of finish that we encountered a couple of times recently and, so far, didn’t disappoint. So, on paper the tasting was done…but Ian moved on and gave us other two samples: the distillery exclusive, a NAS (a marriage of 8, 12 and 15/16y), bottled at 53.5%, and the 2018 Jazz Festival (marriage of 8, 12 and 25y, refill bourbon and sherry)…what a flight of great drams!

A whisky legend and two of his fans.

This tasting really made clear that Diageo distilleries can actually provide great value and a great experience! Jokes aside, we had other good tastings, but this was truly an experience. At the bar we tried another few drams: the Caol Ila distillery exclusive (finished in wine, awesome!), the Lagavulin 9y Game of Thrones (compared to the first and only other time we tried it, we found it a bit dull… probably because of the comparison), and finally the 12y cask strength from Diageo’s 2021 special release.

We left Lagavulin very happy on a bus towards Bowmore first, then to Port Askaig ferry terminal, ready (but not really) to go back to mainland. During the stop at Bowmore we had enough time to buy a disposable grill, so dinner was sorted. On the ferry we relaxed, and started to address the big elephant in the room: what to do with the campervan on the next morning.

Laphroaig Experience Tour

Price: £15.00 pp (April 2022)

Tasting: drams of choice with token systems, with wee glass and lanyard to take home. Options were: Select (40%), 10y (40%), Quarter Cask (48%), 10y Sherry Oak Finish (40%), Lore (48%), 10y Cask Strength Batch 011 (58.6%) and Cairdeas 2021 PX Casks (58.9%)

Target: casual tourists, whisky novices and enthusiasts

Value for money: Very good

Highlights: token system for drams, free coffee in the shop

Link: https://www.laphroaig.com/gb

Lagavulin Warehouse Experience

Price: £38.00 pp (April 2022)

Tasting: 10y (3rd fill European cask, 56%), 12y (2nd fill European cask, 51%), Feis Isle 2021 (13y + 5-6 months finish in white port, 56.1%), 25y (refill European cask, 52%), Distillery Exclusive (double maturation in ex-bourbon and recharred cask, 53.1%), Jazz Festival (2018)

Target: whisky enthusiasts and geeks

Value for money: Good

Distillery Exclusive: double maturation in ex-bourbon and recharred cask (53.1%)

Highlights: Iain, the bar and the relaxed atmosphere

Things we did not like: nothing really

Link: https://www.malts.com/en-row/distilleries/lagavulin

#12.3 From Islay with love

Kilchoman & Bruichladdich, here we come!

(Day 2)


Finally our plan came together and we visited a couple of very popular distilleries on the west of Islay. We got some sun too! 

(missed Day 1 or the Prologue? Or go to Day 3 or Epilogue)

In the morning,  breakfast at the Skerrols House didn’t disappoint: huge and delicious! We managed to find a taxi to go to the next pair of distilleries and an accommodation for the next day, so our plan finally came together and we didn’t have to take the ferry in the evening!

The taxi driver showed up a couple of minutes early, and at 10.15 we were already travelling westward towards Kilchoman. As we got closer we realised how remote the north-west of Islay is, far away from the other villages. Kilchoman visitor centre is quite large as well, with a dram bar, a cafe, and local crafts on sale. While checking-in, the receptionist chuckled when she realised that our tour had been paid “pre-Covid”…. the tour started in the tasting room, where Breagh, our guide, gave a brief introduction. We soon moved to one of the best parts of the distillery, the malting floor and the kiln.

Beginning and end of whisky production.
We definitely enjoyed the surprise dram!

We learned that Kilchoman produces about 20-30% of their malted barley, with local peat coming from Loch Gorm. Here Breagh gave us a taste of their last 100% Islay Barley 2021 release, the annual expression entirely produced with their own malted barley, and quite a delicious one (but unfortunately also sold out). We moved on to the rest of production. At some point of their young history (the distillery was open in 2005) they doubled their capacity, so the two pairs of stills sit in opposite sides of the building.

Man at work and the only female on the tour.

We then visited one of the dunnage warehouses, and admired the variety of casks, colour coded depending on whether the spirit inside is from their own malted barley or not. They are one of the few Islay distilleries maturing all their stock on site, understandably so given the available space around the distillery. The only discordant note of the tour was caused by some of the crowd, which were a bit annoying and disrespectful: we couldn’t believe that Breagh had to repeat more than once not to touch anything! She managed it incredibly professionally, politely but firmly…the tour guide job must be really hard, especially with a certain type of crowd. Back to the tasting room, we had four drams waiting for us: Machir Bay cask strength (bottled in 2015 to celebrate their tour to Europe), the recently released UK batch #3 (a vatting of ex-bourbon, ex-sherry and ex-Sauternes casks), a Madeira matured expression, and finally the distillery exclusive, this last one finished in Marsala casks.

The tasting.

While waiting for the taxi we had a very tasty soup, and of course a couple of drams from their Comraich range, which is only sold to partner bars (or Kilchoman “sanctuaries”).

The next stop was Bruichladdich, but before the distillery we first checked-in at the B&B, and happily realised it was a minute walking from the distillery gate. Before the tour, we got some food in the near (and only) shop. We didn’t have a reservation for the night, so some backup was definitely needed. Our guide for this tour was Leslie, and while at first she seemed knowledgeable but shy, she soon revealed herself as funny and entertaining. The tour started in the courtyard, to quickly move to the mill room. No malting floor here, but apparently it is in the plans (delayed by Covid). That would be very convenient because about 52% of their barley comes from the neighbouring farms, but it is then shipped to Inverness to be malted according to their own specifications. We were surprised by how the production is still very manual, somehow contrasting with their progressive mindset on some aspects, like sustainability and cutting-edge packaging.

The open mashtun at Bruichladdich.

After checking out the open mashtun and the wooden washbacks, it was the time for the still room, where we finally met the legendary Ugly Betty! This is the Lomond still used for their gin, the Botanist, and used to be at Inverleven, a short-lived distillery in the now demolished Dumbarton grain distillery complex. In contrast with almost all other distilleries, their wash and spirits stills are very dark and not shiny at all, giving almost a steam-punk vibe!

Ugly picture of Ugly Betty.

We moved to the main warehouse, which sits in front of a yellow submarine! This is a remotely operated vehicle owned by the navy. When a fisherman rescued it close to Islay, the Bruichladdich marketing team was quick in reacting and made a special release for that, which is now very sought after. In the warehouse, we spotted the set-up for warehouse tastings…We will definitely go back for that. Back to the shop, the tasting consisted in their three main single malts: the Bruichladdich (Classic Laddie), the heavily peated Port Charlotte (10y) and the Octomore 9.2. Except for the Octomore, we already knew the other two, so we decided to save them for later and try a few others: the two distillery-exclusive bottlings and the Bruichladdich Bere Barley 2011. They were all delicious, but because the half-litre bottles for the distillery exclusives were sold out, we took the Bere Barley with us. It’s the second time we try one of their whiskies made with this ancient barley strain, cultivated on Orkney, and to both of us it reminded the home-made bread baked into traditional wood-fired oven, like our respective grandmothers used to do.

The sky can be blue!

Contrary to the day before, it wasn’t pishing down rain, so after the distillery we walked from Bruichladdich to Port Charlotte to get a pint and a gin tonic in one of the local bars. The walk was very nice and relaxed, even some sun came out! We tried our fortune in the only restaurant we spotted on the way, but it was booked until late…we were wise to get some food at the shop. After a light dinner, a quick wash of some clothes and a couple of leftover drams, we went to bed. Finally, we slept like rocks!

Kilchoman Limited Edition Tasting & Tour

Price: £35.00 pp (April 2022…same as March 2020!)

Tasting: 100% Islay 2021 Release (during the tour), Machir Bay CS* Europe Tour 2015 (58.9%), UK Small Batch (49.1%), Madeira Cask (full hogs maturation, 5y 3 months, 50%), Distillery Exclusive Marsala cask, all NC and NCF*…and a glencairn to take home

Target: whisky enthusiasts and geeks

Value for money: Very good

Distillery Exclusive: single cask, 8y ex-bourbon, finished 7 months in Marsala cask (54.8%, £102)

Highlights: seeing the malting floor while sipping a dram

Link: https://www.kilchomandistillery.com/

Bruichladdich Distillery Tour

Price: £10.00 pp + £1 service fee (April 2022)

Tasting: Classic Laddie (NAS, American oak, 50%), Port Charlotte 10y (1st and 2nd fill American oak, 2nf fill French wine casks, 50%), and Octomore 9.2 (5y, 4y in American oak and 1y in French oak, 58.2%), all NC, NCF*

Target: casual tourists, whisky novices and enthusiasts

Value for money: Great!

Distillery Exclusive: two fill-your own – Port Charlotte The  Distillery Valinch (SYC: 03 2009, 61.7%, £95 half litre) and 59 Robert Mceahern (single cask, ex RVS, 11y, 60.8%, £75 half litre)

Highlights: the still room and the great guide

Link: https://www.bruichladdich.com/

*NC: not artificially coloured, NCF: not chill-filtered, CS: cask strength

#5.1 Run through the stills

Balvenie all the way!
(Day 1)


For the first post of 2022 we go back a few months: a trip to Speyside for the Dramathon and a couple of distillery visits, including our 50th! 

First things first, happy new year! And we hope you had good and resting holidays, possibly filled with drams!

In spite of the ongoing situation 2021 was a decent year, and we managed to “dram around” quite a bit and do a few whisky trips! One of the highlights was an event we attended back in October. This one has been on our radar for a while, but for various reasons we haven’t been able to attend before: the Dramathon! This combines two of our major extra-work activities, running and dramming.

Gianluigi has always been running, more or less. During his rugby years (first as player, then as referee) it was part of his training, of course. Since he moved on, running was the only activity he kept doing regularly. On the other hand, Teresa has never been a sporty lassie, but she recently got into running after realising she couldn’t run up the stairs without getting heavy breath. We already participated to a couple of races back in 2019, before the pandemic. For this one, we prepared for approximately a month and a half, and after recovering from Covid, so the aim was just to finish our respective races (Gian the half-marathon and Teresa the 10k) and have fun.

Of course, could we plan a trip to Speyside without visiting at least one distillery? Never! A couple of months before the race Gianluigi got in contact with Balvenie to ask if there were tours available and the answer was yes for the morning before the race, what a luck! That required our friend Justine handing over Cliff’s keys (don’t know who is Cliff? Read here!) the night before, and us leaving Leith early in the morning. The trip was smooth, except we had to refill gas at a gas station at Dalwhinnie, just a few hundred meters before the distillery. Getting off the car we realised that, when you read that Dalwhinnie is coldest place in Scotland, it might be right…the temperature drop from Leith was significant! From the gas station we quickly drove to Aviermore, Granton on Spey and finally entered mighty Speyside.

Celebrating the 50th distillery visit! (Credits to James for the pic)

Balvenie is a distillery we have been wanting to visit for a couple of years. However, during our first trip to Speyside in 2019 it was fully booked, while earlier this summer it was closed to visitors. The other important reason to celebrate is that we were reaching an important milestone, with this being the 50th (working) distillery visit! Nine of these distilleries were in Kentucky, US (including the Evan Williams micro-distillery in downtown Louisville), two in Ireland (excluding the former Jameson Bow St distillery) and 39 in Scotland (for the nerds: 3 in Campbeltown, 10 in Speyside, 6 in the Lowlands and 20 in the Highlands….still no Islay, thanks to Covid).

After checking in at Glenfiddich, the distillery ambassador and guide James met us at the visitor centre. While walking towards the maltings, he started introducing us to the history of the brand and the site.

We entered the malting building – we were really looking forward to this, and not just because it was freezing outside! The facility looked bigger than Springbank, and James told us that around 30% of the barley used to produce Balvenie gets malted here. We were really impressed by the golden “dunes” of barley, we could definitely see why this is one of the highlights of the tour! Next, the kiln itself (yes, we were inside the pagoda), where we got an understanding of the process, which very veeeeery roughly is a combination of heating and hoovering. James patiently let us take more pictures of the barley dunes on the way out.

Red Riding Hood and the Balvenie’s peat.

Then, we moved to the other stages of production. To our surprise, we discovered that the mashtuns and washbacks of Balvenie are just next to the mashtuns and washbacks of Kininvie, a sister distillery whose malt mainly goes into the Grant’s blends. So basically we visited one distillery and a half, yay! We could also see an extremely lively wort, double yay!

The still house was less of a surprise, but only because we had had the chance to briefly see it two years ago when we visited Glenfiddich. In the warehouse, James showed us a wooden tun used for the vatting.

A not-so-little gem in the warehouse: a wooden tun.

Now the tour (and what a tour!) was complete, so we moved to the tasting room, small and cosy.

An excellent tailored tasting.

When James heard that we had done a vertical Balvenie tasting very recently, he made sure the lineup for the tasting was completely new to us, so kind of him! First, we had the Balvenie Single Barrel. We both fell in love with this dram, and indeed this is the bottle we bought. Then the Distillery Exclusive Sherry Butt (61.3%), the 19y “Edge of burnhead wood” (48.7%, interesting experiment with heather, but not really our cup of tea), a yummy 21y Port wood (40%) and the Tun 1509 (Nas, 50.4%, batch 6). Chats around our whisky journey and the history of UK train lines (another James passion) accompanied the tasting.

Warm-up run along the river Spey.

This was probably one of the best, most complete tours we had so far, we couldn’t have celebrated the 50th distillery in a better way! We happily drove to Rothes, where we had our hotel booked. After a quick warm-up run (well, for Gianluigi, Teresa ehm….) we had a light dinner, resisting the drams temptation. We needed a good rest before the big day!

Balvenie Tour Tasting

Price: £50.00 pp (October 2021)

Tasting: 5 drams selected for us by the distillery ambassador – Balvenie Single Barrel (12y, 47.8%, ex-bourbon), Distillery Esxlusive Sherry Butt (16y, first fill oloroso, 61.3%), The edge of burnhead wood (19y, American oak barrels, 48.7%), Port wood (21y, 40%), and Tun 1509 (Nas but at least 21y, 50.4%).

Target: whisky enthusiasts and geeks

Value for money: good

Highlights: the kiln and the intimate tour

Things we did not like: nothing

Link: https://uk.thebalvenie.com/

#3.3 Campbeltown Loch, I wish you were whisky!

How things are done!
(Day 3 & 4)


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

(missed Day 2 or Day 1?)

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

Dry peat and wet peat!

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

The Springbank mashtun.

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

In case you need a recap about distillation.

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


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

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

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

The smile only a flight of Hazelburns can give you!

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

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

A bench overlooking Campbeltown.

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

Last but not least: the Glen Scotia tasting!

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

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

Springbank Tour

Price: £10.00 pp (October 2021)

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

Target: everyone, literally!

Value for money: Great

Highlights: the malting floors

Things we did not like: nothing

Link: http://springbank.scot/

Glengyle Tour

Price: £10.00 pp (October 2021)

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

Target: everyone, literally!

Value for money: Great

Highlights: the malting, but the distillery overall

Things we did not like: nothing

Link: https://kilkerran.scot/

Glen Scotia Tasting*

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

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