Dramming Around moves to Scotland
Our first whisky trip in Scotland: couldn’t have been anywhere else!
(For a more in depth Campbeltown experience go here: Cadenhead’s Warehouse tasting, Kintyre Gin and Watt Whisky tastings, Springbank/Glengyle visits and Glen Scotia tasting)
September 2018, still the beginning of our life in Scotland: Gianluigi had moved about a year earlier, Teresa not even 4 months. We were coming out our first Fringe as Edinburghers (although someone would use another term), festival that we appreciated but despised at the same time, as the city can become very hard to live in August.
We wanted to have a weekend break somewhere, but for a few weeks we were stuck exploring options, undecided. Then a thought crossed our minds: why don’t we go to that place…the one that is a whisky region by itself…what’s its name…Campbeltown!
As we used to do for our weekends away back in Illinois, we rented a car, and booked a random accommodation on Booking.com (at the time we were not aware of the Ardshiel Hotel), and the holiday was set! The program was very easy: travelling on Friday, Saturday in Campbeltown, and on Sunday we’d visit Oban and travel back to Edinburgh. We had no idea what was expecting us! At the time we hadn’t visited any distillery in Scotland…together: Gianluigi had visited Glengoyne as a side event of a conference he had attended a couple of months before in Glasgow. Unfortunately, the experience was far from great: too many people and one tiny dram.
So, when the day came, Teresa went to work in Glasgow as usual, while Gianluigi picked up the rental car and picked her up for lunch. We followed Teresa’s colleagues suggestions and drove westward instead of north. So, we crossed the sea on ferries twice: first from Gourock to Dunoon, and after crossing the Argyll, from Portavadie to Tarbert, to finally drive down the Kintyre peninsula.
Even if this is not the most popular part of the West Coast, we found most landscapes truly beautiful, and particularly peaceful. We arrived at our hotel quite late, and Gianluigi had to finish off a bit of work. We hadn’t realised how early restaurants were closing in Campbeltown, so we almost missed dinner time. Fortunately, a nearby restaurant allowed us in, at the condition we ordered quickly, which we did, as we were super-hungry (unfortunately, when we were back in 2021 we saw that it’s closed). The night ended with a pint at the hotel’s bar.
After a generous breakfast, we left the hotel to check out Campbeltown. The day wasn’t great (overcast but not rainy), and we just walked around. Someone would describe the town as a bit run down, but to us the atmosphere was relaxing and cosy, almost intimate and melancholic, one that you can only find in far-away villages like this.
The first appointment of the morning was at Glen Scotia Distillery, but when we arrived, everything was closed. We waited a bit puzzled, checking emails and times meanwhile. Suddenly, a man came out of the production gate, asking if one of us was Gianluigi. He was one of the distillers, Archie, who told us that the designed guide was sick and couldn’t give us the tour. However, if that was OK with us, Archie would be the guide for the two of us, although sometimes he would have needed to go check the stills. Moreover, the tour was free as an apology for the inconvenient. We couldn’t believe our ears, of course it was OK with us!!! The tour was really in depth, and the fact that a distiller was our guide made it really invaluable. Even the tasting was very generous: a wee taste of the new-make spirit, then the Double Cask, the 15y, the Campbeltown Festival 2018 (finished in Ruby Port casks), and the Victoriana. Unfortunately, the shop was closed as well (the sick tour guide was running the shop too), so we bought something later at Cadenhead’s.
After the tour, we had a quick but tasty bite at Café Bluebell, and we then proceeded to the afternoon activity: the Cadenhead’s Warehouse Tasting. At the time we weren’t as nerdy as we are today, so we decided to skip the Springbank or Glengyle distillery tours in favour of a tasting: we weren’t even aware of all the frenzy around Springbank yet. Moreover, at first, the concept of an independent bottler was not the easiest to grasp: why should a distillery sell its product to an intermediary? Now it is so obvious, and we are grateful for that: the variety of whisky that some independent bottlers can offer is truly astonishing, and without them we wouldn’t be able to get our Miltonduff’s, Glen Elgin’s, Glentauchers’, Glen Spey’s, Mannochmore’s, and all the other ones that are rarely bottled by their owners.
As a matter of fact, it didn’t take long to appreciate the great work that Cadenhead’s do. In the warehouse, a sizeable line-up of casks was waiting for us. We don’t remember much, but in the bunch there were a Strathclyde grain (there are pictures), a Longrow 11y, a Paul John, definitely a speysider, someone said a Lagavulin (probably a Caol Ila) and a 10y rum from Darsa distillery, in Guatemala. We ended up taking the rum and the Longrow, but all the drams were truly delicious. Not surprisingly, we’re in the Cadenhead’s club now!
At the end of the tasting we were kind of tipsy (ehm…), so we decided to leave the bottles at the hotel and have dinner in the most far-away restaurant we could reach walking, on the other side of the harbour (which is now closed too…are we bringing bad luck??). We went back to the hotel, not before having an extra dram, the last one in Campbeltown…for now.
The Sunday morning was again overcast turning to rain, so we checked out and started driving south, towards the Mull of Kintyre (“Oh mist rolling in from the sea, my desire is always to be here”…), to finish our exploration of the peninsula.
Then we drove north, towards Oban, the last stop in our trip. Although the sun came out while driving, it started pouring rain as soon as we parked in Oban (experiencing the 4-season in day). Oban is a nice village but looked a bit too touristy for us (and indeed we haven’t been back yet, unlike Campbeltown). The tour at the distillery was nice but a bit dull, probably it suffered in comparison to the previous day experiences. Still, it was interesting to see how this distillery, unlike many others, is nestled in the village, with no space for potential expansions. At the end of the tour we were given a dram of the flagship, the Oban 14y, and one of the Oban Little Bay. We ended up not buying anything, as even then we were aware that distillery prices sometimes are not competitive. We would have bought a bottle a few months later.
As a baptism into scotch distillery visiting, we couldn’t ask for more: a magic place, and magic whisky. With the pandemic and all we weren’t able to go back to Campbeltown for a while, so when we managed to do it in 2021, it was a very welcome return, with more whisky knowledge and experience in the pocket! Now it’s time to plan our third trip… 2023?
Glen Scotia Distillery: https://www.glenscotia.com/
Oban Distillery: https://www.malts.com/en-gb/distilleries/oban