#24.1 Dramming in Dublin

A whiskey weekend before the storm: Teeling & Roe & Co.


TL;DR: In January 2020, we visited friends in Dublin, so why not check out a couple of distilleries in the meanwhile? We chose two among the many newbies, Teeling, in the Liberties neighbourhood, and Roe & Co, a new Diageo distillery close to the iconic Guinness brewery! 

In our blog, so far, we talked about our whisk(e)y adventures in Kentucky, England, Canada and, of course, Scotland. You might have noticed an important gap, which is the object of this and the next blog post: Ireland!

Gianluigi had actually visited Ireland, mostly Dublin, a few times way before his whisky journey started, while for Teresa the first time came when we went there to celebrate 2019  New Year with two friends from the US. At that point, we were already into whiskey (and whisky), but in our heads Dublin = Jameson, so that’s what we went for: the Jameson Experience in Bow Street, where the old distillery was. It was a nice experience for newbies, and it was very interesting to compare scotch (Johnnie Walker), American (Jack Daniels…) and Irish whiskey (Jameson, of course). For sure, at the time we were not aware of the troubled history of Irish whiskey: after the trade block with the Commonwealth countries as a consequence of the Irish Independence war, and prohibition in the USA, Irish whiskey saw a decline which led the biggest producers (Powers, Cork Distillers and Jameson) to join forces and form the Irish Distillers company, while moving production to the New Middleton distillery, in Cork, in 1971. For many years, only two distilleries were active in Ireland: the aforementioned Middleton and Bushmills, in Ulster.

Recent years saw a renaissance of Irish whiskey, however. First, in 1987, John Teeling acquired and converted an old potato processing plant into the third Irish working distillery: Cooley. More recently, a number of distilleries throughout the island popped up, including a handful in Dublin.

It is in this context that we started to sniff around. The occasion was a weekend at the end of January 2020, when Covid was already a thing but hopes were that, like the SARS-CoV-1 in 2003, it would have been a limited outbreak…so naïve! We went back to Dublin to visit a friend of Gianluigi who was working at the UCD, and a former Teresa’s advisor from New Zealand. When we looked at the available tours we spotted four distilleries: the Liberties, Pearse Lyons, Roe & Co. and Teeling. Being unfamiliar with all of these brands, we chose the latter two, almost randomly.

First Irish whiskey distillery visit: Teeling.

It was a sunny Saturday morning, when we arrived in the Liberties, a former industrial neighbourhood. This is home to both the Liberties (more on this next week) and Teeling distilleries. The latter was founded in 2015 by Jack and Stephen Teeling, the sons of the founder of Cooley, now owner of the Great Northern Distillery, in County Louth, the former Harp beer brewery converted into a distillery in 2015. In hindsight, visiting Teeling first made sense as it is the first new whiskey distillery in Dublin in over 100 years, and the first operating since Jameson and Powers moved to Cork.

The three stills (made in Italy!)

The building is quite modern, and it’s obvious that they built the distillery with tourists in mind: everything is spacious and feels ready to accommodate big groups. They are quite a sizeable distillery too, with half-million litres of alcohol per annum. They produce many different styles of whiskey: single grain, single malt, single pot still and the typical Irish unaged spirits (Poitin), all bottled at 46%, except the latter which goes up to around 50-52%. Their main expression Is the Small Batch, made with malt and grain whisky. The tour was nice, nothing particular to note, except that the three stills (most Irish whiskeys are tripled distilled) come from an Italian firm, Frilli, and they are named after the owners’ daughters (which now we cannot recall…it was 3 years ago!). The tour ended with a visit to the on-site warehouse, where some of the first casks filled are stored.

After the tour, we got a 4-dram tasting: the Small Batch, the Single Malt, the Single Pot-still and a distillery exclusive. It was very interesting to try them all together, a comparison between very different styles of whiskey! At the bar, we also tried one of their special releases of the time, the Brabazon vol. 2, a sourced whiskey finished in ex-Port cask and bottled at 49.5% abv, very different from the others!

Caged casks.

The following day, much cloudier, was Roe & Co’s turn, very close to the Guinness St James Gate Brewery. The name is inspired by George Roe & Co, the owner of the old Thomas Street Distillery. This used to be a massive distillery around the late 1800s, just a stone throw away from the brewery, with over 2 million gallons of single pot still whiskey produced per year. It was closed in 1926, following the aforementioned crisis of Irish whiskey. The new Roe & Co distillery was built by Diageo in the old brewery powerhouse, and started producing in 2019. It is a very beautiful old industrial brick building, with big windows that make it possible to see the still room from outside. Next to the building, there is a tower with a green dome and a pear tree (which inspired the distillery’s logo).

Second day, second distillery: Roe & Co.

Production is characterised by a closed mash-tun with a copper lid, a few (we cannot remember how many) wooden washbacks, and three stills of different shapes. Again, this distillery too has been clearly built with visitors in mind, so the spaces are quite open, and the bar is near the still room. After visiting the production, the guide brought us to a fancy showroom with a big table, where there was a wooden box for each of us. Inside the box, a few aromas and other stuff for a sort of sensorial experience (honestly, the least favourite part of the tour).

Beautiful still room!

Afterwards, we went to a blending room, where the guide gave us a brief but informative introduction to mixology before we mixed our own cocktails. While we are far from being whisk(e)y purists (once in a while we like a good whisk(e)y-based cocktail), we’re not big fans of this “whisk(e)y as a mixer” thing that has been pushed so much by big companies like Diageo. However, we have to say that this experience was really interesting, definitely a plus of this tour.

Mixology newbies.

Finally, at the bar we had a sip of the Roe & Co whiskey, a blend made with malt and grain whiskeys from undisclosed Irish distilleries: a nice dram (45%, not-chill filtered, NAS). We also tried an ex-Port cask finished Roe & Co, another blend (if we recall correctly), a bit more robust, but we couldn’t get it because we had no checked luggage. Oh well.

We felt this trip to Dublin was just a first, tiny taste of the Irish whiskey wolrd, and indeed we were left more curious than when we had arrived. Since then, we have tried some very interesting expressions, and it’s nice to see the Irish whiskey scene being revamped. For more about this, stay tuned until next week, Sláinte!

Jameson Bow St. Whiskey Experience
Link: https://www.jamesonwhiskey.com/en-gb/visit-our-distilleries/jameson-bow-street-distillery-tour/

Teeling Distillery
Link: https://www.teelingwhiskey.com/

Roe & Co. Distillery
Link: https://www.roeandcowhiskey.com/

#19.2 Dramming Around Orkney

The other side of Kirkwall


TL; DR: The second day on Orkney was dedicated to visiting historical sites like the Ring of Brodgar and the incredible village of Skara Brae. On the third day, we finally managed to visit Highland Park distillery. It was a very interesting and in-depth tour (mostly thanks to the outstanding guide, James), however followed by a disappointing tasting, which made the overall experience mostly a tourist trap. 

(missed Part 1?)

On the second day on Orkney, we decided to put on hold our whisky curiosity and focus on the history of the island instead. After a brief run to the foot of Wideford hill, shower and breakfast, we left the camping westward. First, we visited the quite spectacular standing stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar. Fortunately, it was a sunny day, albeit very windy, we even spotted a sunbathing seal!

Wind and stones at Stenness.

Around lunch, we moved on to Skara Brae. This is one of the sites we liked the most in Scotland, so far. Reading about the discovery of this 5,000-year old village was very interesting, as well as finding out about all the insights on the life of our ancestors. Being a nice day, we also took advantage of the splendid view on the beach just behind the site. After our visit, we drove first to the nearby Orkney brewery, not in time to enjoy a beer there but still in time to buy some for dinner. This was after a stop at Birsay beach, where the splendid landscape was saddened by the presence of a half-dozen dead seabirds: avian flu striking again. Back at the camping, it was grilling time! The only thing we did not account for was the number of midges assaulting us: the food intake was barely enough to compensate for the blood loss (sorry, we like to be dramatic…)!

The magnificent Skara Brae.
Romantic view of the Brough of Birsay.

On the third day, it was finally Highland Park time. Our friends Roberto and Cecilia are not whisky nerds, but they enjoy a dram once in a while, so they were very keen to visit the distillery. Because kids below a certain age are not allowed, we had to do the tour in two shifts so that there’d always be someone with the wee one: first, Teresa and Gianluigi, later Roberto and Cecilia. Our friends opted for the basic (but not cheap) one: Honour and Pride (and prejudice?) experience (30 quid, 3 drams). After excluding the two high-end offers (eye-watering price of 125 and 325 quid), we chose the upgraded Wild Harmony Experience, 75 quid with 5 drams, placing it as one of the most expensive tours we ever did… actually THE most expensive (unfortunately, the price jumped from 60 to 75 around May). Because of this, and of the history of the distillery, we had great expectations.

Two happy kids in front of a candy shop.

They picked us up at the St. Magnus cathedral, in Kirkwall centre, saving us the 15-20 mins walk to the distillery’s gate. Our tour guide was James, a true whisky geek and expert, who didn’t limit himself to answering all the questions, but went above and beyond to provide more context and deeper explanations. The tour started with a short video, during which we tasted their most basic expression, the HP 10y (40%, chill filtered, but according to them not artificially coloured, available in supermarkets). After that, we moved on to the distillery, starting with the malting floor: similar to other distilleries we visited (so far Laphroaig, Kilchoman, Glen Garioch, Benriach and Balvenie), they malt some of their barley in house (about 20%), using peat from Orkney, resulting in a quite distinctive flavour compared to Islay or Highland peat.

The malting floor.

The distillery has a very interesting history, and a curious layout, almost like a tiny village. It was founded in 1798 and now it belongs to the Edrington group, with a production of 2.5 millions litre per annum. They used to fill almost exclusively ex-sherry cask, although now they have several ex-bourbon cask expressions (the 10y, 15y and the Full Volume).

The excellent tour guide James explaining us Highland Park distillation.

The tasting took place in the Eunson room, named after the founder, above the visitor centre. To our surprise, the line-up was actually the core range: the widely available 12y (40% abv), the new 15y in the ceramic bottle (44% abv), the 18y (43% abv), and the 21y (2019 bottling, 46% abv). Except for the 21y, which was really good (but unfortunately overpriced at 240 pound), the others were OK drams: not dislikeable, but quite inoffensive as well. At the end, they gave us a bunch of (quite unnecessary) gifts: other than the usual glass, a booklet about the distillery (OK as well we guess…but what are we going to do with two of these?), the (n-th) tote bag and a postcard-size frame with a tour attendance certificate (probably more of a gullibility certificate for having spent 75 quid each on this tour).

The core range tasting.

We were hopeful until the end, but nope: no distillery exclusive or limited bottling in the tasting. Back to the shop, we spotted a couple of interesting expressions that we thought could be a good buy: a 10y bottled at 46% (ambassador choice) and a cask strength bottled to raise money for a local rowing club, both around the £60 mark. We didn’t even bother to ask for the distillery exclusive: 170 quid for a 14y cask strength seemed a bit ridiculous (at the SMWS you can them for less than half of this), while the Full Volume at £80 was definitely overpriced for a non-age statement whisky (probably you pay for the Marshall amplifier shaped box…Gianlugi always preferred Orange and Fender). We asked if we could purchase a dram of the two. We were told it was not allowed because they are an off-sale only (so…what about the 5 drams they had just given us? Mystery), but we could try them at the shop in Kirkwall. Once down at the shop, they said the same, but that we could try at the Kirkwall Hotel’s bar. At the hotel, of course, they did not have those 2 drams. We went back to the shop, asking them again, but no chance we could try.

Outside the distillery.

(rant mode: on)

We like to be positive in our posts, but seriously: how detached from reality do you have to be to think that whisky enthusiasts would prefer the bag of cra…ehm, unnecessary gifts to, for example, some more limited/special drams?

We usually like vertical tastings, but in this case it was very poor value for money. We were OK with getting the 12y, as it is their flagship, but the inclusion of the 10y as well was not great, as it is a mostly supermarket release (please don’t misinterpret us: the single malt selection in most supermarkets in Scotland is far better than some liquor shops in other countries, we just found strange to get that after travelling all the way to distillery). Not only the tour was super-expensive for no apparent reason (no samples from the cask, or distillery bottling, or some limited-edition release) but the fact that you couldn’t try try any other drams at the distillery nor at the shop was almost ridiculous. We believe that the only reason they can get away with it is the hordes of tourists from the cruise ships, which guarantee them some cash flow no-matter-what.

Highland’s Park bunch of (mostly) “unnecessary” gifts…definitely not worth 75 quid!

Ironically, the more basic tour was definitely better value for money: our friends did a very similar tour (albeit, not with James), and they still got to try the 12y and 18y, but instead of the 10y they got the Full Volume release. So, if you want to tick off Highland Park from the distillery list, the Honour and Pride tour is the one to go for.  

As for the whisky itself, thanks to the SMWS, Cadenhead’s, Watt Whisky and other independent bottlers, we know how good Highland Park can be, so the offer at the distillery was a bit disappointing. This is a shame for all the nice people working there, first and foremost the guide James, which was one of the best ones we ever had.

(rant mode: off)

Dramatic cliff at the Gloup!

Anyway, not being able to buy a bottle at Highland Park left us with a problem: no Orcadian whisky for the rest of the trip! Gianluigi solved the situation by getting a Douglas Laing blended malt Rock Island form the local CoOp: not only very tasty (and not-chill filtered and bottled at 46%), but also with some Highland Park in it, so 2 birds with one stone and a great value for money!

The day after we explored the east: a wee coffee break at the Deerness gin distillery (soon to produce single malt), a stroll in the Gloup reserve, and a stop at the J Gow rum distillery, on our way to the Italian Chapel. We went to the shop, and guess what: they let us try their (quite delicious) rums before buying!

Oooops, we bought some rum!

We really liked Orkney: we expected a quieter and eerie place, more similar to some areas in the north of the Highlands with mosses and peat bogs. Instead, it turned out to be a lovely, very rural landscape. Next time we’ll definitely try to cross to the other islands as well, but for a first taste it was a great visit!

Until next time, slainte!

Highland Park: A Wild Harmony Experience

Price: £75.00 pp (August 2022)

Duration: 2h

Tasting: 5 drams from the core range, 10y (40% abv) 12y (40% abv), 15y (44% abv), 18y (43% abv), and 21y (2019 bottling, 46% abv), probably all chill-filtered (but according to our guide, no artificial colour added)

Target: Gullible whisky enthusiasts

Value for money: Quite bad

Highlights: our guide James was outstanding, chapeu!

Things we did not like: see rant above

Distillery exclusive: 14y single cask (£170)

Recommended: NO!

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

Bonus: Highland Park Honour and Pride Experience (thanks to Roberto and Cecilia)

Price: £30 (August 2022)

Duration: 1h 15m

Tasting: 3 drams, Full Volume (48% abv NAS), 12y (40% abv) and 18y (43% abv)

Value for money: Acceptable


Recommended: Only if you want to visit the distillery really badly

#19.1 Dramming around Orkney

A visit to Scapa distillery


TL; DR: We were finally able to visit Orkney and its malt distilleries. First off, Scapa, home of quite a “mysterious” single malt, that we learned to appreciate during an in-depth distillery tour and a great tasting of mostly single cask expressions. Definitely a must-go for whisky fans visiting Orkney! 

In summer 2021, we had carefully planned a trip to the North of Scotland, including a few days on Orkney, which we were very eager to visit. For various reasons (actually, one reason, guess which one!) we had to cancel it. The occasion to catch up presented itself this year thanks to a couple of friends from Parma, Roberto and Cecilia (and their wee one, Flora). They wanted to visit the Highlands since their first visit in 2019, but things happened in between. This year they finally made it, and halfway into their holiday we joined them in Inverness and continued together: direction, Orkney!

We travelled in a campervan, which was meant to be an adventure. It was indeed, although with way more midges than expected: that was our first unfortunate discovery of the holiday: the Northeast coast is full of midges, almost as much as in the West, at least around Thurso where we spent the first night.

On the way to Thurso, where midges were waiting for us!

We woke up early however, and not for the midges, our ferry from Thurso to Stromness was around 8am. The cafe on the boat had a very Scottish menu, which meant a roll-based second breakfast. The view was quite spectacular, in particular we could admire the Old Man of Hoy during the cross.

The (misty) Old Man of Hoy.

Once on the island, we explored the village of Stromness. It looked like a very peaceful place, and not overwhelmingly touristy. After the stroll we had a quick lunch in a cafe and drove towards East, direction Orphir, where we stopped for a walk to the beach, taking advantage of the nice weather. On the beach we found half a jaw of some animal…cow? Sheep? Seal? And, more worrying, some dead birds, likely because of avian influenza. This wasn’t the only time during the holiday, it happened later at the Brough of Birsay and at Dingyshowe beaches.

Peaceful Stromness.

Moving on, it was finally time for our first visit to an Orcadian distillery, Scapa, right outside the “capital”, Kirkwall! Before the tour, Scapa was quite a “mysterious” single malt to us: until then, we were only aware of two official bottlings, the Skiren and the Glansa, the latter finished in ex-peated casks (since the distillery belongs to Chivas Brothers, we guess Allt-A Bhainne). We also never came across an expression from independent bottlers (the SMWS has a code for Scapa, #17, but as far as we know no recent bottlings).

Gianluigi exploring Orphir beach…
…Look what we found!

Our friends dropped us at the visitor centre, where the tour guide Maria Letizia warmly welcomed us. Because she is Italian, she gave us a personalised tour in Italian, the very first time for us! The distillery is going through some renovations. They’re building a new tasting room, making sure it’s not pointing towards a certain buoy in the Scapa Flow. Maria Letizia explained that this is a sign of respect, because that’s the place where the Royal Oak, a ship with about 800 novices in training, mostly teenagers, was sunk by a German submarine during WW2, which was lucky enough to get to the Flow avoiding all old ships positioned as hurdles.

Scapa distillery, here we are!

After this quite sad historical anecdote, the tour moved on as usual: we got told the history of the distillery, which was founded in 1885, and partially destroyed in 1919 by a fire. More recently, in 1994, it was mothballed and for a few years, personnel from the neighbouring Highland Park were turning it on for a few weeks every year to make sure that everything was still working. They get all the malted barley from the mainland, totally unpeated, and that was from the foundation in our understanding, which is very uncommon for an Island distillery. Unfortunately, we couldn’t take any photos in the production area, so we cannot show you a very peculiar detail: their wash still is a Lomond still, similar to the Ugly Betty at Bruichladdich (which is used for gin, however). They also don’t have any filling station, so the newmake spirit is stored into tankers and transported to Glasgow to be put in casks, at 63.5% if first-fill casks, while at a higher strength, 68.8%, if refills. Some of these return back to the island, together with casks from other Chivas’ distilleries, to mature on site. We could take a sneak peek at the warehouses, but photos from the outside only.

The warehouse.

Back to the visitor centre, everything was ready for the tasting. When we booked the tour (which alone was 5 quids only!!!), we could choose three tastings: the Land (a core range expression and 3 from the 10-16y range, £30), the Sea (four drams from the 15-19y range, £35) and the Air (four drams from the above 20y range, £45). These tastings were not bookable from the website, which only offers 3 unspecified drams for£25, we had learned about them by contacting the distillery via email. Except for the two core range expressions, all the other ones are available as 50cl bottles, as is typical of Chivas Brothers’ distilleries. Like the ones we saw in the other distilleries, they are a bit pricey too – company policy.

The delicious Air tasting.

We chose the fancier ones, Sea and Air, although in the first one we decided to include two drams below 15y (more approachable price-wise). All very tasty drams, in particular a couple of sherry cask matured ones (very cask forward, though). In general, we found the distillery character very citrusy, oily, crispy and honey/vanilla forward. They were all single casks, except an 18y, a marriage of 5 ex-bourbon barrels from the small production of 2000, when the distillery was run for a few days by Highland Park operators.

Sooo curious about this tasting!

We were very happy to finally get to know this distillery and its character. After dinner, we tried the two core range expressions, Skiren and Glansa, which we had tasted a long time before. Quite inoffensive sweet drams, definitely not comparable with the juicy and tasty ones we had had earlier at the distillery. Just a shame Chivas don’t bottle more geek-forward expressions at a reasonable price (don’t have to be all single casks, btw).

The night ended at the Kirkwall camping, trying to avoid the midges. Stay tuned for the second and last part of this trip!

Scapa Tour and Tasting

Price: £5 tour (August 2022) + tasting (£25 3 drams, bookable online in the summer season; £30 Land 1 dram from the core range and 3 distillery bottlings 10-16y; £35 Sea 4 distillery bottlings 15-19y; £45 Air 4 distillery bottlings 20+y)

Duration: 1-1.5 hours

Tasting: depending on tasting choice and available expressions

Target: anyone really, the experience can be easily customised

Value for money: very good

Highlights: the still room and the Lomond still

Recommended: YES!

Link: https://www.scapawhisky.com/

#18 Two festivals adventures



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

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

Us going to festivals before getting into whisky!

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

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

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

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

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

Hard life volunteering 😛

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

All set for the master class!

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

Happy two-fudge-donut guy.

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

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

Ready to taste whisky!

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

Blurred picture (ooops) of Uncle Nearest whiskeys.

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

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

Until next time, slainte!

Whisky Festivals Links


#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.

#12.5 From Islay with love

Back to mainland… Au revoir, Islay (Epilogue)


A straight return to Leith and some reflections about our first trip to Islay. 

(missed Day 3, Day 2, Day 1 or the Prologue?)

We woke up a bit sad: we weren’t on Islay anymore. The night before we had made good use of the disposable grill (in the parking lot…) and, exhausted, went straight to bed. After breakfast we called AA right away, still puzzled about what to do with the campervan. Another guy came, again from the super helpful Stag Garage, and helped us turn the van on. One objective now: drive straight to Edinburgh, without turning it off! It looked like one of those challenges in the old ads of Amaro Montenegro (at least the ones on Italian TV), but we could do it, fuel was enough. And yes, we made it: four hours later we successfully drove it to a garage in Leith previously agreed with the owner, stopping only once for a leak and once for Teresa to unload our stuff (Gianluigi stayed in the van… we don’t feel comfortable enough to leave a running vehicle around Leith yet)! After a celebratory coffee and pint, we finally went home.

So that was it, our very first trip to Islay, and hopefully, the first of many! It didn’t go as we planned it out, and we definitely didn’t like being moved from one distillery to another like cattle. We like doing things our way, and it’s not just about the whisky: taking our time, exploring the roads and the places, enjoying the changing landscape and feeling the community. But setbacks happen, so we feel lucky that we still managed to somehow visit the island, at least! Anyway, visiting six distilleries in three days made us reflect on a popular topic in the whisky community: what makes a good distillery tour?

First, the tour guide, definitely. An experienced, engaging and enthusiastic guide always makes the difference, even when the distillery doesn’t have much to offer (for example, because whisky is not ready yet or because the site is not the most beautiful one). We always admired the ability of a guide to set the tone of the tour depending on whether the crowd is knowledgeable or not, and to answer questions at a depth which felt just right for the audience. Most of the guides we found on the island were great, and were a big component of our experience.

This was outstanding!

Second, the type of visit matters too. We always have fun visiting production, but warehouse tastings are becoming more and more our favourite whisky experience. The trip on Islay only confirmed it: the feeling, the smell, the dampness…there is really no other place like a distillery warehouse! We already did some excellent warehouse tastings before coming to Islay (Deanston, Cadenhead’s twice…). Among the ones we did so far, Bunnahabhain Warehouse 9 was definitely one of the best ever. Next time we’d like to do the distillery tour, but we’ll likely do the warehouse tasting too (yes, again!). Similarly for Lagavulin, with a slight difference: Bunna’s drams were clearly chosen as outstanding ones, all very rich and showcasing the influence of both cask and spirit; Lagavulin’s drams were cleaner and spirit-forward, and this gave to the tasting a very valuable educational angle, it was like following the spirit in its maturation journey. We loved both!

Happier and more knowledgeable after the Lagavulin warehouse tasting.

We know they have warehouse tastings at Laphroaig and Bruichladdich too, but while we couldn’t fit them in this trip, we’ll definitely check them out next time. In both distilleries we did the “regular” tour, although we were pleasantly surprised because in both cases the tour was definitely whisky geek oriented, and nothing like the quite dull regular tours you can find sometimes on the mainland. Probably being in a distillery on Islay is definitely a sign of whisky-geekery, you cannot stumble there on your way to Loch Ness we guess…

Laphroaig malting floor.

Having a good experience definitely makes you connect deeper with a whisky, but in these two cases we already liked them both. Laphroaig was one of the drams that got Gianluigi into whisky in a first place, although now we moved away from the main range (the Select and the 10y), trying solid drams like the Lore and the Cairdeas was a pleasant discovery. The basic Bruichladdich range (Classic Laddie and Port Charlotte 10y) is very solid already, but unfortunately getting special releases or and single casks can be a bit pricey…in particular the whole Octomore range.

Bruichladdich still.

Finally, every distillery has its own features, and even just this makes the visit worthwhile (ok ok, we accept this might only apply to enthusiasts like us). While some of the distilleries might seem similar at a first glance, ultimately they are very different in their philosophy, style and, more importantly, their malt. For example, we were very curious about Kilchoman, being one of the youngest distilleries on the island, but still built in a moment when the whisky frenzy wasn’t as high as it is now. The fact that this tour was supposed to happen over two years ago only made us more eager. It did not disappoint, and we both really liked everything about the distillery, from its mix of modern and traditional features, to their philosophy. A truly farm distillery, something we hadn’t seen many times.

Kilchoman warehouse…Oh the smell!

Ardnahoe tour was the only one we found a bit basic, in particular compared to the others on the island, but we have to consider that it’s much harder when you are such a young operation (from 2019…and with 2 years of pandemic in between) and don’t have well aged stock to showcase. Still, it was very interesting to see a perfect example of how new distilleries are clearly built with visitors in mind. Also, their new make is very promising, so we’ll look to go back after their single malt releases.

At least this time we have bad weather as an excuse for our bad Ardnahoe pictures…

The only thing a bit off was some of the crowd we encountered in a few distilleries. It’s understandable being enthusiastic, but when that becomes rudeness it’s not ok: touching things you’re not supposed to touch, making the party wait for you, not respecting personal space, bothering the guide with questions about other distilleries (…why?), talking over the guide and reply to question directed to them…Please don’t be that guy! We had already witnessed some of these previously, but not all at once like on Islay…We were a bit shocked, so shocked that we thought the whole thing was worth a bingo card! Big shout out to the guides that, kindly but firmly, kept the undisciplined visitors straight!

Here a bingo card for your leasure!

Well, we will need to go back to Islay, hopefully sooner rather than later: first to visit the other distilleries (Bowmore, Caol Ila and Ardbeg, plus the close-enough Jura…and of course one day Port Ellen and Portintruan), and probably to revisit some. Hopefully next time things will be much smoother (not that it would take much, to be honest…), so we’ll have a chance to have a more fulfilling experience!

As you might imagine, we are already starting to planning it out!

#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

#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

#11.3 Birthday in the Borderlands

Crossing the borders for the Lakes (Day 3)

First distillery visit in England, in the gorgeous Lakes District

(missed Day 2 or Day 1?)

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

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

Snooping around the Lakes District.

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

Cliff, you made it!

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

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

Happy in the wind.

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

Yes, this used to be a farm.

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

Maturating whisky, maturing colour.

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

Tasting time!

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

The house of the raising drams!

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

The Lakes Distillery Whisky Tour

Price: £35.00 pp (March 2022)

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

Target: whisky enthusiasts and geeks

Value for money: Good

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

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