The Highlands

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After a couple of months of planning we headed off on a tiny propellor plane to Scotland in windy February! The flight was a bit rocky, but I was happy when we landed, picked up our new car and started our three hour drive into the Highlands!

We headed straight to our hotel and got their about 7pm for dinner and drinks. Most of the drive was in darkness so we didn’t get to see much of the countryside. We spent the week driving around and visiting some places, with a description of each below!

Distilleries

Our reason for coming for Scotland was to visit the Speyside distilleries, and they are everywhere! We made a list of a couple that we wanted to go and see, along with stopping in on a few others.

Glenfarclas: I had never heard of this whiskey, but it was the first distillery we came across on our first day out driving. The entrance was a long tree-lined drive way, but once you got past the trees, there was a beautiful distillery at the bottom of a mountain. We were the only people on the tour and Donna took us through each part of the process. We got to see the mash tuns in use and the yeast being fermented in the wash backs. It is a family run distillery and they live onsite, which we learned was quite unusual, and would be very small compared to some others we would visit. After the tour we got to do a tasting where Sean got to try some of the different whisky’s (I was driving, but they kindly gave me a little bottle to take away!).  Highly recommend the tour!

Cost: £7.50

Cardhu: Up next was Cardhu, which was a short drive from Glenfarclas. We had booked in for the 3pm tour, with a Brazilian couple. Irene was bringing us around on this tour, and she was lovely. The tour itself was not as good as Glenfarclas and as most of the whisky produced here went to the Johnny Walker Blends it felt more corporate than the smaller family run distillery. Cardhu was the first distillery founded by a women, which was interesting. At the tasting, we only got to chose one whisky. We had gone for the standard tours in every distillery we visited and this was the one we enjoyed the least, and wouldn’t recommend visiting. Wouldn’t recommend visiting!

Cost: £5

Glenfiddich: Our first tour on Wednesday was to Glenfiddich, where they have beautiful site in Dufftown. This tour was slightly longer at 1hr 45mins and Gregor was our guide. We started off watching a small video about how the distillery began, before moving through the site. A couple of things we noticed about the distillery was the huge amount of wash backs, it was interesting that when they could no longer be used, they were taken apart and new ones were built onsite as they were too big to be moved into the distillery. They also had quite small pot stills, which was unusual compared to the others – every distillery had their own unique stills. Gregor was the only tour guide who talked a lot about the marrying process and the specifics of each of the whisky’s. The interesting things about this distillery was their onsite cooperage and bottling plant, this was the only distillery we visited where bottling was done onsite. The tasting was done in another part of the distillery and included a tasting of 4 different whisky’s from their range, they didn’t provide a take away for drivers, which was disappointing as they were the only distillery that didn’t. Recommend the tour!

Cost: £10

Glen Moray: After Glenfiddich, we drove for appox. 40 mins to the Glen Moray distillery in Elgin. It was hidden down the back of a housing estate and we jumped on their last tour of the day. This distillery was quite different, as the process was all automated and didn’t stick to the traditional roots like all of the others. This tour was much less informative than all the others, if it was your first distillery you would be quite confused on the process. As it was our last tour of the day, Sean was happy for me to do the tasting. We could buy a drivers tasting packet or I could do Sean’s tasting also. When we saw the huge measures we got, I decided to drive and let Sean do the tasting! This was the most generous tasting with three large measures of different whiskeys (2 traditional whiskys and 1 cask strength) and their new make spirit. You could pay to do the tasting, without having to do a tour, which I would recommend. Wouldn’t recommend the tour, but stop in for the tasting!

Cost: £5

Macallan: We got up early on the Thursday to head to Macallan back towards Dufftown. The distillery is on the other side of the river Spey and is up on a hill with unbelievable views down onto the river and valley. They are expanding the distillery at the moment and the work being done is huge, with a beautiful new distillery and visitor centre in the middle. Our tour guide here was Jody, she was quite new and admitted she knew nothing about whisky before getting this job. Our first stop was to talk about the malting and fermentation process. She was super clear and made sure everyone understood what was happening. We had been to a few distilleries and knew the process, but she described it the best! The interesting thing about Macallan was after going through the wash still, the low wines are divided into two seperate spirit stills, this was the only distillery we visited where this happened. We could also see and touch the new make spirit running through clear pipes as it came out of the spirit still. Jody gave a really good description of how Macallan source their own casks and brought us through the cask making process (after visiting the Cooperage, this was much better). We got to do a tasting at the end, with 5 different whisky’s – and I got to take mine home!   Highly recommend a visit!

Cost: £15

Aberlour: Sean had heard this was one of the best tours around, and as they only have a 10am or 2pm tour, it took us a while to get booked onto one.  This was the biggest tour group also, with about 15 people on it. It was the only tour where we got to see the mill in use and where we got to taste the ‘beer’ after the fermentation process, which was vile. The distillery here is quite small and traditional but we got to walk through each piece of it, and see everything working. We went for a tasting which was really good, with 6 different tastings including the new make spirit. I got to take mine away at the end (and got some extra from people who didn’t show up for the tour). Highly recommend a visit!

Cost: £15

Blair Althol: On the way back to Edinburgh we stopped in Pitlochry to visit this distillery as we never heard of it before. It is made primarily for blending, but they have their own small batch of whisky too which we picked up a bottle of. The distillery is made up of a number of small, stone buildings, one of which was the shop. The man working in the shop was lovely and seemed surprised that I knew the difference between Scottish and Irish whisk(e)y straight away. I was driving, so Sean got to have some very decent measures of whisky. We didn’t join the tour, as we could talk through the whisky making process in our sleep and only wanted to do the tasting. It’s a highly recommended stop on the A9 back to Edinburgh.

The Highlands

Muckrach Country House Hotel: This was our base for the 4 nights in the Highlands. When we arrived on Monday evening we got checked in and went for some food. The only menu available was a dinner menu of 2 courses for £22. We had this on two of the nights and it was lovely. The hotel was beautiful, very quite, in the middle of no where and had a huge gin and whiskey selection. We spent our evenings by the fire in the Drawing Room having a few drinks. The hotel is highly recommended, but for visiting the distilleries in Speyside, I would stay closer to Dufftown or Aberlour.

Findhorn Bay: After visiting Glen Moray we decided to take the long road back to our hotel and en route came across a sign for Findhorn Bay, which I heard was lovely. We were pleasantly surprised at the beautiful beach with colourful little huts dotted along it. It was quite cold, so we didn’t spend much time here, but it was a great little find. We stopped off at a pub on the way out of here, at the junction with the main road, it was a cute little country pub with a big open fire and the staff were very friendly!

The Mash Tun: We stopped here for some lunch before doing the Aberlour tour and it was fantastic!  We both got a burger and chips that were nothing fancy, but still unbelievable. It was quite busy over lunch, and could imagine the place rarely has a quite day!

Speyside Cooperage: This was our first tour in Speyside and we got to see the coopers making the casks. At the end you get to try make a tiny cask and see how difficult it is! The apprenticeship here last four years, and only in the third year can you start making casks! The coopers are also paid on the barrels they make. It was really interesting to see them being made and how easy it looks.

La Taverna: This was an Italian restaurant we went to in Aviemore, which was totally jammed. We managed to get a table and had the option of a buffet or normal menu. We both decided to go for the no. mal menu, but after seeing how popular the buffet was, I should have gotten that! It was a reasonable price as we both got starters, mains and desserts along with a couple of drinks for me. Recommend the visit!

Victorias: On the way back to Edinburgh we stopped off in a very cute little town called Pitlochery for some lunch. Victoria’s was recommended so we decided to give it a try and we were not disappointed. It was lovely for a quick stop off along the way.

Edinburgh

The Jolly Botanist: After a week of whisky tastings, I got to go visit a gin bar in Edinburgh!  I heard about this place before so decided to give it a go. They had a huge selection of gin and the place was very busy for early on a Friday night. I got to try 4 different gins that we new to me, so I was a happy camper!

Usquabae: After we tried some gin, we went back onto whisky here. It was a cute little bar downstairs that had a massive whisky collection. I decided to try the Octomore 7.1 and was quite surprised as its not my kind of whisky. We stayed here for a few drinks before heading back to the hotel for the night. I think I liked it here more than Sean did.

Tigerlily: While strolling down Georges Street we came across this cocktail bar so stopped in for one. It was really funky and they had a great cocktail selection. We only stayed for one as we were heading for dinner, but I would go back next time I’m in Edinburgh!

Miros Cantina: We tried to get a table in here the first time we were in Edinburgh but it was fully booked. This time we got lucky! The place in tiny, with only a handful of tables but the food is amazing. We both got chicken fajita’s which were a huge portion that I tried to battle my way through, followed by some great frozen margaritas. Recommend a visit, and booking is needed!

The Principle, Edinburgh: Our last night was being spent in Edinburgh and we decided to book into a really nice hotel. We heard some great reviews about this place, and online they seem to be getting good reviews too. We checked in and went to our room through the small, narrow, long, grey hallways that felt like we were on an old ship. The rooms were big, with no view but were decorated in the same shade of grey as everything else. We had breakfast included which was a disaster. We had to queue up in a corridor with about 6 other couples before we could go to our table, which was up on a little step between two others. The two other tables were not cleared in the 40 minutes we were at breakfast, they were full of dirty plates. At the beginning, I asked for coffee and toast, and I had to ask again before I got my coffee – my toast never arrived. The hot food was half empty so you couldn’t get everything at once. After breakfast we decided to pack and check out. I called reception to see if they had a weight, so we could weigh our check in bag and was told they would drop it to our room. 15 minutes later when it didn’t arrive I went down to reception and was told the hotel didn’t have one in the first place. Fantastic! I found the hotel to be quite crap and wouldn’t stay there again. The last time we were in Edinburgh, we stayed in the Ibis hotel which was small, but really funky and 10 times better than here!

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