Wednesday, May 28, 2014

20 things I learned about Scotland, so far...

Hello lovely people of the #whiskyfabric!!! Sorry I haven't been writing but with no access to a laptop or the internet on a regular basis (long story), I have been very much unable to post anything since my first week away. Let me bring you up to speed...  I've been gone for 33 days!  All of which were spent in Scotland. I've been to the Speyside area, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Arran, Campbeltown, and a few places in between. It has truly been a magical trip so far.

I do plan on writing many posts about my experiences as 95% of them have been most memorable. It's like Disney world for whisky enthusiasts!!! But for now I'm going to do a recap of what I learned about being "in Scotland"...

1. You CANNOT buy coffee cream anywhere! So, drinking morning coffee has been a very interesting experience!?

2. To my friend Linda's utter disgust: They do not have bug screens on windowns or doors and if you ask them, they don't know what they are.

3. As a visitor to Scotland you are expected to eat a big Scottish breakfast EVERY morning!

4. "They" don't have an accent, "we" do...

5. I am automatically considered an American until I say I'm from Canada, then I get laughter and a huge apology.

6.  DO NOT try to go anywhere on a Wednesday afternoon after 1:30pm (just about everything closes down for "market day")

7. The only thing most young people know about Canadians, they have learned on South Park.

8. Drinking beer here is apparently safer and more tasty than water.

9. Whisky in Scotland is twice as expensive than in Canada.

10. If you don't understand the person speaking to you, smile and look like a deer in head lights... They will know immediately to rephrase or speak more slowly.

11. Nobody here wears Ughs and I can't tell you how refreshing that is!

12. You shall and will dance at a Ceilidh and it won't matter how much you plead injury or shyness.

13. Haggis.... IS GREAT! Especially with a whisky sauce.

14.  Scottish people are are amazingly wonderful & patient with tourists.

15. Friends are easily found, and sharing whiskies even easier.

16. Taxi drivers KNOW ALL, trust me on that one.

17. The Bonaccord in Glasgow is the MUST go to bar, double trust me on that one. Tell Paul Whiskylassie sent you...

18. There are more sheep in Scotland than people (hehehe)...

19. There are no faceclothes and in some cases, bringing your own toilet paper is a good idea (not kidding).

20. If you don't like the weather, wait 5 minutes. We saw hail, snow, sunshine, fog, mist, rain and heard thunder all in the same afternoon.

Words of wisdom, I assure you. Feel free to add your own in the comments section. Stay tuned for posts.  Will do them as soon as I can!

Next part of my journey takes me to Bristol and other parts of the UK. 

I bid a very sad farewell to Scotland.  I will indeed be back...


Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival, Day 2... Trucking right along!

Having fallen asleep well past 1:00am, totally exhausted after day 1, I was a bit shocked when I woke up at 7:30 the following morning. I padded down the stairs into the kitchen of our rented house and made myself a pot of coffee. I sat in silence looking out over the garden just taking in the sunshine, the peace and the birds. Day 2 at the Spirit of Speyside was about to begin...

With over 400 events over the course of 4 days to choose from it was really difficult to pick the ones I really wanted to go to. I just didn't want to drink a bunch of whisky, I wanted to experience Speyside in as many ways as I could. I started my day with the James Fleming Walking Tour with Ann Miller. It was a beautiful sunny day, perfect for a light hike through the hills & town of Aberlour. 

Along the trail we found nature at its best as you walk along a babbling brook, the Linn of Ruthie and six images of whisky components taken at a microscopic level. The walk was refreshing, interesting and well worth the few dollars I paid. If you want to learn more about James Fleming please click here: 

With a mango chutney chicken sandwich from the delicatessen, we were on our way to Roseisle Distillery for our next tour. I will talk about it briefly in this blog, but a full blog about it is coming in the next few weeks. Walking through Roseisle was like being on the deck of the Starship Enterprise!  

4 stories up!
It is a state of the art distillery and since I love chemistry SO MUCH... It was an amazing experience with regards to carbon footprint and everything a distillery can do to be as cost effective as possible. Back in the car, quick trip to the Tesco and back to the house to cook a proper spaghetti supper, which was superb since the house we rented has a fresh herb garden. :)

Packed up the car and headed over to Elgin to see Charlie McLean & Michael Urquhart at the Droughty Cobbler. What a fantastic & intimate venue for the festival. I was impressed not only with the whisky selection, but the staff knowledge! Up the stairs to a cosy area where we all had the pleasure of listening to Charlie & Michael talk about reflecting on their whisky lives with an interactive audience. Discussions were informative, funny and insightful. The surprise of the night was a blind whisky
that Michael would only describe as a 50 year old Speyside whisky that had been distilled in 1939. My gut instinct told me it was a Mortlach. I went home quite elated that I had taken part in such a great night.  
The awesome Gavin Smith, that is all!
 All and all, day 2 was great!  Later that night as I drank a lovely independent bottling of Mortlach, the lot of us had a fantastic discussion about very old whisky. Two things I learned from Day 2: Appreciate the moment! Be present, be willing to absorb and never stop learning.

I think Day 2 really drove home the "spirit" that exists during the whisky festival. Speyside is a magical little part of Scotland where whisky is an experienced that is lived, not just nosed and drank.

Off to bed, yet another exciting day ahead of me for day 3: International Women of Whisky Day. #IWOWD

Cheers from a very happy Lassie!

Friday, May 2, 2014

Spirit of Speyside - Day 1, multi-tasting 101...

How does one soak up the moment when you are trying to take notes, photos, ask questions, meet/greet with the people being introduced, ensure you stay on your schedule and be the navigator when your partner is driving?  Very...  skilfully, that's how.  Well, at least that's how I survived the first day of Spirit of Speyside whisky festival in Scotland.  I have to say, years of being a project manager certainly helps as does being genuinely interested in the subject matter as well as the people I am meeting.  The day started with a Canadian Skalk at the house we are renting in Craigellachie,  Canada arrived in full force wearing our proud colors, and in one case hockey jersey.  We had the opportunity thanks to my friend Emmett Hossack to open and imbibe the first edition of Confederation Oak from the Forty Creek distillery.  It was, as expected, a very special dram and I cannot thank him enough for the gift of revisiting that fabulous and now very rare whisky, in Speyside no less.  Proud Canadians we are!

We parted ways and all went in opposite directions.  Graham and I had booked the Master Cooper Tour at the Speyside Cooperage.  I will be writing a blog dedicated to that visit as I feel that so much needs to be shared and this little recap of day one simply will not suffice.  It was extremely educational, entertaining and in some cases the statistical information mind boggling.

After a hot cup of tea, a dram and a few biscuits we headed to our next destination, the Knockando Distillery which is not usually open to the public.  One of the things I'm enjoying the most at this point in my #whiskyfabricRoadtrip is learning the proper pronunciation of many of my my favorite whiskies/distilleries/towns.  Knock-AN-do (heavy emphasis on the AN) is off the beat and path of the whisky trail, but a gem of a tour because the distillery is yet to be fully automated and still has many of the human touches to it.  While we were there, one of the stillmen noted that an exhaust pipe didn't "sound" right and he was in the process of figuring it out.  Many of the processes were still done manually and recorded by hand in ledgers, spreadsheets.  It was refreshing to see.  At the end of the tour, of course, was a tasting and the interesting fact that came out of that was that most Knockando bottlings end up out of country in their largest target market: France.  I happen to really enjoy their whiskies so that saddened me a little.

The lineup was quite nice:  New make spirit, 12, 15, 18, 21, 25 & the manager's dram. Overall the new make was quite nutty, the 12 buttery, the 15 quite oily with lots of orange oil on the finish, the 18 was probably my least favorite, I found it very light with not much personality, the 21 was lovely with lots of tropical fruit, the 25 - a dram sitting in an old leather chair at the library while the cleaning lady polished the wood furniture and the manager's dram, albeit at cask strength, was not at all what I expected (super aromatic on the nose, palate the total opposite).  The 25 was by far the most interesting of drams, followed by the 15 for me.  Easily two whiskies I would buy and add to my collection.  We thanked the distillery manager and went on to our next destination: Home to get ready for the opening dinner, Touch of Tartan.

The opening gala dinner was 90 pounds which at the time of booking I thought, am I mad? Having been to several festivals, fancy whisky dinners with the "stars" of the whiskyfabric I can tell you this did not disappoint!  We arrived for cocktails and had the opportunity to tour the new Glen Grant bottling plant at half speed (it looked really fast to me!?).  After a few more cocktails we were lead into a fantastic marquis erected on the grounds of the distillery.  It was a cold night in Speyside but you would have never known it.  Chandeliers, soft lighting and 400 people sat in comfort the entire evening.  You quickly forgot where you were actually sitting because of the fantastic decor and warmth. Opening remarks, dignitaries and Charlie MacLean as the emcee for the evening.  Whiskies ready/paired with our meal, fantastic company at the intimate tables arranged.

Then the servers arrived with our first course:  Confit of Lossie seafood, smoked salmon with prawns served with a horseradish & tarragon mousse decorated with micro herbs, a dusting of pink peppercorns with a drizzle of creamy lemon/olive emulsion. This was paired with a Knockando 12 year old which I might add was a brilliant pairing. The second course was just as delicious and beautiful in presentation.  Sundried tomato w/Glen Grant apple chutney stuffed breast of chicken served on rosti potato with a green bean parcel, baby carrots and a cider jus.  Whisky pairing: Benriach Sherrywood Matured 12 year old.  Thank goodness they did some presentations after we ate our main course as it allowed for some digestion and great conversation with the other guests at the table. I was shocked and so proud when they announced Frank & Jacqui Scott from Fredericton, New Brunswick Canada as the Speyside International Ambassadors of 2014.  I've known them for a few years now, and our local tasting society in our hometown would not exist if not for the help, guidance and friendship provided by the Scott's.  The award was truly deserved since they have been to the Speyside Festival for 13 of the 15 years of its existence.

After chatting with many people, getting to meet the likes of Mary Hemsworth, Hans Offringa, Penny Ellis and so many others, it was time for dessert and of course more whisky.  A well designed and mouth watering trio of a raspberry pannacotta that exploded with flavor, a pear and caramel bavarois and a mouthwatering and rich chocolate torte.  All paired with a Glen Grant 10 year old.  It was at that point that I realized it was almost 11:00pm and we had been experiencing the gala for 4 hours. We finished off the evening with a small auction for a local fundraiser that ended up raising 500.00.  More great conversations, meeting some social media "friends" I had been waiting to finally introduce myself to:  Kirsty Clark, Annabel Meikle, Chris Coates & Alwynne Gwilt.

One more whisky (there's always one more, isn't there) and they placed the bottle on each table under the condition we drank it all before we left.  How could we let them down? And so we did. Bottle empty, bellies full & hearts aglow we all left the marquis.  It was almost 1:30am by the time I climbed the stairs to my bedroom.  My last thought as I began to drift to sleep was I may be mad but I'm happy.  The opening gala was by far a highlight for day one.  Truly was a magical night that will not soon be forgotten. If the rest of the festival is anything like my first day, I'm in for the festival experience of my life.

Day 2 itinerary is as follows:  James Fleming Guided Walking Tour, Roseisle Distillery and Charlie MacLean's Reflection of life in Elgin.  Blog to follow....  :)

Life on the road, albeit quite twisty and turny in Speyside is proving to be quite fantastic indeed!