Glengoyne Distillery and the Kelpies
bethany_abroad
My last full day in Scotland and I can’t believe that I’ve already been here nearly a fortnight. On Monday, Iain promised me that we could go back to the Glengoyne Distillery for a chocolate-pairing whisky tour.  I didn’t know that I really wanted to go to so many distilleries but as it happens, I may have to come back just to go to the Islay and Lowland distilleries.  I so desperately wanted to go back because of the whiskey maker, Jason (McCleod?), who was so nice when we wandered on to the grounds after the distillery had been closed for the day.

The tour started a little differently than any of the other tours we’d been on: they gave us the whiskey at the beginning – but they didn’t assist with the nosing or the palate.  Instead, they had us watch a really well done expository film about the distillery.  I LOVE the fact that it is not owned by a conglomerate but is instead in private hands.  They didn’t tell us that the distillery was not automated but Jason told us this.  We learned that instead of them drying the hops with a peated fire, they warm-air dry them.  There could be many reasons for this but our guide, Alistair, told us that the likely reason was that there is little peat in the highlands.  Scarcity has such an influence on all kinds of things.

We saw the knives in the mash tun turning because Jason was having trouble draining the wort.  Turning the knives in the mash tun is a big no no because the knives act as another kind of milling and therefore the draff is more difficult to get out of the tank.  The wort that was being fermented in the washbacks smelled distinctly of banana bread with a little more spices.  It is the first time that I’ve smelled banana in the beer but it was delightful.   They only make about 1 million liters of spirit each year and it is piped across the road for maturation in the “lowlands” because of the technicality of the Highland Fault Line.  They actually mature all of their whisky on sight which is unusual but this is likely due to the fact that they are not owned by a big conglomerate.

We went back to the shop and then Alistair took Iain and me and two Germans to have a different tasting, because we paid for more.  Alistair was really funny about the chocolate pairings.  We tasted the 10 year old whisky with a milk chocolate that was layered with tablet and a dark chocolate with cranberries.  The milk chocolate tablet mixture was what I thought was best with the 10 year old and it brought out the full mouth, buttery flavor that brought to life the lightness of the original spirit.  He also had us try the 21 year old which was matured only in sherry casks with a ginger-infused dark chocolate and a pistachioed dark chocolate.  I liked the ginger because it brought out the cinnamon in the finish of the whisky.  I really, really liked the 21 year old until Alistair broke the rules and gave us a taste of the “teapot” blend that was sherry cask strength and only sold at the store… so of course that was the one I got. The Germans were really nice and we exchanged contact information so that perhaps the next time that I am in Germany I have a couch where I can stay.  Who says you need to be part of a dynamic travel club in order to see the world?

After the distillery, we went to have lunch at the Unicorn Inn in Kincardine.  It is supposedly the birth place of Sir James Dewar who is probably best known for his Dewar flask, which he used in conjunction with extensive research into the liquefaction of gases, like hydrogen.  Though it was titled the “Unicorn Inn”, there was not a unicorn to be found there… not even a horse with a dunce cap… that would have even worked for me. I voiced my discontent but they simply said that it was difficult for them to find unicorns.  Umm, you’re not looking hard enough.

We then made our way to the Helix, home of the Kelpies.  The Kelpies are enormous stainless steel horse head statutes, two of them to be exact.  They are really spectacular.  Apparently they were initially designed to be lock gates for boats but it was going to be too expensive.  There is still some work to be done in order to get them tourable but they are a fantastic piece of artwork.  They are in Falkirk, which is a ways from East Kilbride, but it was definitely a wonderful side trip.

Onward to packing.  I have more whisky than I care to discuss on a public journal, mostly because I am selfish and if you want to try my awesome collection, you have to come to my house to visit me.  Hopefully they won’t give me terrible trouble in customs tomorrow.  Scotland is beautiful my friends.  I WILL be returning, with more things to cross off a bucket list and better presents from Texas.  I love and miss you all!

A Walk in the Park and Tablet
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Yesterday was such a fun-filled hectic day that Iain and I decided to take it easy for now.  Today we decided that since there was no rain, we would take Iain’s dog, Kym, for a run around the park.  They don’t have parks like we do in the States.  Our parks in America are lame and small.  The local parks here are what we consider state or national parks in America.  So we went back in to Glasgow and went to Pollok Country Park.  When we first arrived, I couldn’t believe the name, mostly because of the crude jokes that were told about pollocks that are way too un-PC for today’s culture.  Still we drove for what was probably a few miles into the park before we decided on a place.

Kym is a black Labrador. He is one of the sweetest, most well-mannered dogs I’ve ever encountered and he doesn’t need to be on a leash because he looks for commands and doesn’t really want to sniff or say hello to a random stranger.  So we walked around the park, looking for a way to get into the local stream.  Kym loves the water and this was a priority.  It is strange here how all the water here looks murky and brown.  I would have thought of this as pollution but as it turns out, it’s from the peat that is in all of the local landscape.  We passed by the Pollock House and soon found a clearing through these beautiful Himalayan weeds to get Kym to fetch a stick in the stream.

We continued on and Iain let me go into the Burrell Collection, which is a museum.  I am not sure if they are famous for anything in particular, but I love looking to see what each culture picks out to display for people to look at.  They have collections of Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece and Rome, paintings, Chinese Art, Gothic Art, Arms and Armor, tapestries, needle works, and a stained glass exhibit.  I was completely happy to walk through the galleries and spend lots of time looking at things that comprise out human history but as Iain had Kym, I tried to be quick and soon after left.

We spend nearly 3 hours in the park, walking around and playing with Kym before we could see Kym getting tired.  We even saw this Border collie carrying a stick that was by no means exaggerating 3 times his body length.  Anyway, we made our way back toward East Kilbride and stopped in for afternoon tea of scones, cakes, and homemade meringues at a tea shop called the Wishing Well.  I was more than impressed with afternoon tea.  In fact, I think that I may even start taking it up as a hobby… but only if I join a gym first.

We came home and visited with Iain’s mother and sister for a while before they went out to take away a “fish supper”.  This is typically “fish and chips” or a fancy fish stick and French fries.  Let me tell you, I really am not a fan of fish.  I know that I should love to eat it because it is healthy and good for you, but it is not tasty… but this was amazing.  I am glad that they got pre-set portions to take away because I could have eaten way more and been completely miserable.  It’s too bad there’s not something like this at the Texas State Fair.  I mean maybe there is but I’ve never seen it.

After dinner, I got Iain to teach me how to make tablet.  This is a very traditional Scottish confectionary that hovers between fudge and toffee.  It calls for butter, sugar, milk, and sweetened condensed milk.  I’ve had store bought but I wanted Iain to make it just so that I could maybe reproduce it.  It has to set overnight but we added some whisky to the mixture because you know… we could.  Time for a wee dram.  I love and miss you all!!

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2014
bethany_abroad
All the Scots that I’ve met are rather negative about the weather.  I didn’t really think much of that rain until about 50 percent of my trip here has been rainy.  There are blessings about this, like the fact that the water sources provide for fabulous whisky, but the negative is that you spend your time around like a wet dog.  Because of the influence of Hurricane Bertha, we didn’t know if there would be any day of sunshine left here on the trip.  So we decided that if we were going to go to Edinburgh, it was better today than not.  So we hopped on the train in East Kilbride, and transferred to Glasgow.

I should have known that the day would be a fabulous one because as we were walking from one train station to another station  we saw a pipeband that were not in traditional kilt garb but in something more uniformesque.  We walked up to them and as we were watching, someone came up to us and asked if they could interview us for Oman television.  So we got to hear a pipeband that had an Oman influence with the drums and it was AWESOME!Onward to the train to Edinburgh and when we finally got there, walking out of the train station is was amazed with all of the beautiful buildings, seemingly happy people, and a general festival activity.  We walked up to get tickets for the Irish comedian Jason Byrne.  It was something Iain wanted to do and I was not opposed.  So we stood in a queue to get tickets for the Fringe Festival.  Apparently the ticket queue is often very long so it was important to get them early, just in case that show sold out.

Afterwards, we went to lunch at this awesome pub called Maggie Dickson’s.  The food there was great and it wasn’t super busy because it was off the Royal Mile.  They had over 70 kinds of different single malt whisky and of course, I was fascinated.  But what was even better, was the fact that the pub was dedicated to this woman called Maggie Dickson.  Apparently “Half-Hangit Maggie Dickson” was accused of concealing her pregnancy.  Her husband had abandoned her and took a job at the local in where she became pregnant and she didn’t tell anyone for fear of losing her job.  Since male parliamentarians thought their job was keeping young, loose women who had only modest means on a straight and narrow path by criminalizing their options, Maggie’s sleight-of-womb (in current times “I didn’t know I was pregnant!”) put her in violation of a law against concealing her pregnancy.  The resulting infant turned up dead it was traced back to her, despite the high infancy mortality rate at the time.  She was tried and hanged.  The hanging reported nothing unusual and when the family claimed her body and took her in a coffin to Musselburgh for burial, Maggie started banging on the inside of the coffin and was revived.  Officials then decide that since the sentence of being hanged had already been carried out she was allowed to live the rest of her life (40+ more years) in peace (as was the will of God).  Interesting right?

After lunch we walked around to the University of Edinburgh and it was so interesting to see the difference in scale from that of Glasgow.  The building was not ugly, but it was also not large by any stretch of the imagination.  This tour of the University led us down several stairs and then up what felt like 500 stairs to be at the mouth of Edinburgh Castle.  Edinburgh Castle is a massive fortress.  The grounds are more than huge holding the Scottish Crown Jewels, the Great Hall, the Royal Palace, Mons Meg (a cannon), St. Margaret’s Chapel, the One O’clock Gun, the Prisons of War Exhibition, and the Military Museum.  I could have spent several hours in there but because of the relative short stay in Edinburgh, I decided that it was important to utilize my time wisely so I didn’t go it.  Museums are terrific if you’ll be in a city for a long stay but to get the overall glimpse of a city, you should walk in the streets and meet/observe the locals.

This put us down the Royal Mile.  Because of the Fringe Festival, there were street theater performances, live music, and people dressed in all kinds of costumes just hanging out.  I don’t think I could imagine the streets less busy.  One of the street performers was a juggler from Australia. We didn’t see the whole show but what we did see, he climbed up a one-sided ladder (imagine stilts) and then had this Belgian child throw him knives that were then juggled while he was on stilts.  It was pouring rain, he was still very funny and it was a good show.  Street theater is so interesting.  We also saw a classical guitarist, a contortionist, and several singing acts.  I could have simply wandered around the streets watching people but we marched on the Royal Mile ending up at the Royal Palace.

The Royal Palace is the estate of the Queen of England when she visits Scotland.  It is a smaller palace than Buckingham, but is very tidy and an immaculate estate.  We didn’t go into the palace either. We walked by the Scottish Parliament.  It is a unique building that apparently went several million over budget but in a city where everything sings of olden times and the architecture is more classically styled than modern, it seems out of place.

We opted instead to walk up Holyrood Park.  This is the park that is kind of at the end of the Royal Mile but it is probably higher up than Edinburgh castle.  I looked at the hill and thought, “This will be no problem…” but then when I found that the incline was about 30% I thought better.  Still, we slowly made our way up to the top and were inspired by the beautiful views.  Though the skies were cloudy and rain kept threatening, we got some fabulous views and it helped me to better understand the layout of the city.  I need to see things from a bird’s eye view to help orient me.

This walk turned out to take longer than either of us expected.  We stopped in a pub called Kil-der-kin.  The definition of kilderkin is 2 fold: 1 – (noun) – Unit of capacity.  The kilderkin is an old Scottish unit of volume equal to half a barrel of two firkins.  It is used as a standard size for brewery casks.  The world kilderkin comes from the Dutch for “small cask. 2 – (pronoun) – a meeting place for like-minded individuals can congregate to enjoy food and drinks in a relaxed atmosphere. (Those are their definitions, not mine… )The scenery was great and we really needed a break as we’d been walking around the city for a very long period of time.

We walked back up the Royal Mile and stopped at the Cathedral.  It has an amazing pipe organ that has more than 2,000 pipes.  The stained glass was more than beautiful depicting some very interesting scenes but what I found unusual was the depictions of the life of Christ.  I wandered around and lost Iain and as it happened it took what felt like forever for us to find each other.  The Royal Mile still had street performances and we stopped to watch them before walking down to the Princes Street Gardens. This provided us with great views of the Edinburgh Castle and the Edinburgh Eye.  We walked around for a while before going to a nearby pub for a light dinner before going to the Assembly for our show Jason Byrne in You Name the Show.

I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE going to see live comedy.  Laughter is so healing.  He came in on a swinging ball in a wife beater and tighty-whities.  He badgered the audience and really the audience was quite interactive.  What was interesting was this exchange:  A wheel to determine the topic was spun and it landed on his wife.  Some jerk from the balcony booed while most of the audience cheered.  Jason Byrne began a conversation with balcony guy:
Jason Byrne:  Did you just say boo?
Balcony Guy: Yes
Jason Byrne:  Are you sitting at the back wall?
Balcony Guy: Yes
Jason Byrne:  Are you here alone?
Balcony Guy:  No.  I’m with a lass I met at the pub and I’m staying with her.
Jason Byrne:  What?
Balcony Guy: I’M WITH A LASS I MET AT THE PUB AND I’M STAYING WITH HER!
Jason Byrne: A lass? No one says that anymore.
Jason Byrne:  Are you American? Where are you from?
Balcony Guy: Yes! Austin, Texas.
Jason Byrne:   Which part?
Balcony Guy: The Republican part (which is a lie because I do not believe that any Republicans actually reside within Austin city limits).
Jason Byrne:  Are there any other Americans in the house?
Me: WHOOP!
Jason Byrne:  Ouch!  You shouldn’t do that.  Scottish people don’t react well to loud noises nor do they actually participate. Where are you from?  Texas too?
Me: Yes.
Jason Byrne: Really?  What part?
Me: Dallas.
Jason Byrne: Whoa, that’s a real place? *begins humming the theme to the television show “Dallas”* Are you single?
Me: Yes.
Jason Byrne:  Are you here alone?
Me: No.
Balcony Guy:  Actually, I’m a Divorce Attorney from Westlake.
Jason Byrne:  Why do we need to know that?
Balcony Guy: You know, just so she knows I’m great.

I honestly thought about writing my name on a whiteboard from the stage with my phone number and holding it up… you know for his future reference. But I didn’t… you know I want to be classy.

We got to the train by 10:30 and made our way to Glasgow… however, we missed the last train to get home to East Kilbride so we took a taxi.  We had such a great day but by the time we got home we just fell into bed.  I was so happy that I got to see Edinburgh because it is a very unique place.  I could see myself spending a few weeks just there but what a festival!!  I love and miss you all!!

P.S. I don't think I can upload any more photos... more will be to come somewhere like facebook or instagram.

William Wallace, You Are Truly An Inspiration
bethany_abroad
When I initially decided to come to Scotland, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do other than a distillery tour, Loch Ness, and to see the memorial to William Wallace.  So two were down, one to go and today, we went to Stirling to see the William Wallace Monument and Stirling Castle.  Now all Americans, or perhaps most Americans, have seen the 1995 film starring Mel Gibson, Brave Heart.  But legends all have some shred of truth.  During the time of Wallace, many Scots probably only thought of him as a like-minded rebel but because of his effort, perhaps in the Battle of Bannockburn, he became legend.  Actually, he was knighted once Scotland had its independence and actually traveled around Europe to gain support from other countries… but King Edward was not happy and the only thing he wanted in exchange for peace was William Wallace.  But Wallace was all like, “No biotch… I don’t even care that you’re a king!” and went into hiding until found out, taken to London and hung, drawn, and quartered.  Basically the same as the movie with less paint... The Monument is really amazing!  I can only liken it to the Washington Monument in DC because both men changed the foundations of their countries.
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For lunch, we walked down the way to The William Wallace pub.  The owner or manager saw me taking a picture outside.  He opened the door for us and there were about 3 patrons inside, all looking like extreme locals… after all, they were there drinking a pint at 2pm on a week day and all younger than retirement age.  The owner/manager was so cute and told me that because I’d taken a picture outside, I needed one behind the bar.  So I smiled and walked behind the bar and he poured us a William Wallace Ale.  Food was great and the beer was terrific.  So apart from the kitschy name of the pub, I was impressed.

Stirling Castle was interesting.  It looks less like a castle and more like a fort.  This makes perfect sense because during the afore mentioned Battle of Bannockburn, this is where the Scots held the English in 1314.  It is at the top of a beautiful hill and really the gateway to the highlands.  If Scotland had lost this castle during this time, they would not have an independent country that they are today.  This is especially significant because of the vote to make Scotland independent from the United Kingdom in September.  It is symbolic of Scotland’s struggle to consistently remain sovereign.

After walking about Stirling, we went to a distillery that was in a movie called The Angel’s Share.  It was supposedly called the Deanston Distillery.  This, however, was not the right one and so we pressed onward.  We had a coffee in Drymen before moving on to the Glengoyne Distillery.  Of course it was closed at 7pm but we figured we could take some pictures.  It is indeed the distillery from the movie but as we walked about the distillery, it appeared abandoned yet there were doors open to the still house.  We walked around and only saw a woman who looked extremely unconcerned that two strangers were milling about.  They have a waterfall and a chocolate pairing whiskey tour with and made-chocolates and stuff.  Then as we walked out, we met this man who was standing at the door of the still house.  He was not a tour guide but actually one of the people who is responsible for the product. He told us some really interesting things.  Glengoyne Distillery has absolutely no automation and is one of only 3 in Scotland that don’t use technology.  They run 24 hours a day and are privately owned making approximately 1million liters of whiskey a year (which is a relatively small amount).He also told me that the knives in the mash tun do not actually affect the maltiness of the whiskey… those liars at Cragganmore!  He also informed me that the shape of the still changes things but what is most important is the bowl in the middle of the still.  The one at Glengoyne is very big and round which creates a cloud-like affect so that only the lightest of spirits actually make it out of the still.  The Glengoyne Distillery also does not use any peat in their malt and their barley is actually sundried before being milled. He also told us that due to the road B834 they create their spirit in the highland but the whiskey is actually aged in the lowland because the road is the technical split between the highland and the lowland as far as whiskey is concerned.  Who knew?   He was the nicest guy and so open to answering my questions.  I only have a few days left here but I think that simply to go support the private owners of Glengoyne and to try their really awesome whiskey, we’ve got to go on the tour!

We stopped by the store on the way home and I volunteered to make dinner.  So I introduced Iain to chicken and dumplings.  It was okay but not quite as good as if I knew how to measure things in the metric system and if I only had Crisco.  Oh well, it wasn’t bad and Iain was really kind about it even if it was terrible.  Though it was a ridiculously windy day with showers on and off, we packed in a lot of things.  I am so grateful for all the things that I am getting to do.  I love and miss you all!!!

The Whiskey Trail Is The Best Trail I've Ever Been On
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Staying on the Whiskey Trail means that you are in danger of losing time because of course you’re going to partake in the enjoyment of fine whiskeys but then again there is a very fine balance between enjoyment and going too far.  Last night, I tried two other whiskeys that I hadn’t seen in the states, Speyburn 10yo and Glenkinchie 12yo.  Both are single malt and both are apparently very typical of Speyside whiskeys.  Fortunately, the awesome locals made choices easy and when I went to bed I was little more than slightly tipsy.  It helps that getting a whiskey neat here amounts to $6 or $7 per taste.
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We organized a tour around the Aberlour Distillery this morning at 10AM.  Most distilleries that do tours you can walk in and join, but at Aberlour that is not the case.  So we left the hotel and followed Google Maps to the distillery.  Aberlour Distillery is a magnificent complex.  It is neat and well maintained.  Our tour guide, Mabel, was friendly and knowledgeable.  She had tons of interesting side notes and stories to tell about the distillery itself.  We actually got to see the barley being milled and see all parts of the process.  Mabel even had me stick my nose inside the mash tun to experience the level of carbon dioxide that is put off from the fermentation process.  That is something that will truly wake you up.  The Aberlour Distillery is in operation 7 days a week and produces approximately 31 million liters of spirit/whiskey a year.  This is impressive considering the fact that they only have 2 sets of stills.
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What got really interesting was when we were brought up to the tasting room.  The room was set with 6 different products from the Aberlour Distillery: new spirit (the one that comes directly from the spirit still before it has been aged), Burbon Cask Matured, Sherry Cask Matured, 10 year old, 16 year old, and the A’bunadh.  Iain was a champ and drove me around the Whiskey Trail and so when he offered his whiskey to me and then everyone else, Mabel gave us this really cute story about this guy who conned her out of one of her empty bottles and poured in all of the left over whiskey from the tasting and he actually got almost a whole bottle.  So when I asked Mabel if I could go get my water bottle, she said that it was okay with her.  So as I filled another bottle of the Sherry Cask Matured whiskey 16 year old at cask strength, Iain went around and dumped all un-tasted samples into my water bottle and we ended up with half a liter (about 18 ounces) of Aberlour whiskey.  Everyone thought this was funny and as it turns out, when we got home tonight, we both tasted it and it was incredibly smooth and well-rounded.  “Free” (not really because the tour costs £14 each) whiskey makes the tour all the more awesome!
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After the Aberlour Distillery, we made our way to the Cragganmore Distillery.  The weather turned bad because the tropical storm Bertha that was annoying the eastern US seaboard has now made its way to the British Isles.  So when we arrived, being a Sunday, the clouds pouring rain, and there being absolutely NO cars in the car park, it looked closed.  However, we walked into a warm visitor’s center with 2 charming, lovely young ladies.  We were the only ones there.  I told them that I wasn’t really interested in a distillery tour but I really was interested in asking them some questions.  As it turns out the Cragganmore spirit stills have flat tops which completely alter the flavor.  I really was interested in seeing the stills but we had other places to go.  At this point, one of the girls asked me if I had a cell phone and when I said no and my camera was actually on the counter, she told me to follow her.  She took me into the still house and let me see the flat-topped stills.  The other interesting piece of information she told me is that when the wort is being extracted from the grist-water mixture, the speed at which the arm in the mash tun turns makes the wort and therefore the spirit more malty flavored the faster the arm turns.  The speed at which the Cragganmore wort is turned is very moderate which is one of the reasons that Cragganmore whiskey is more malty than typical Speyside whiskeys.  Cool huh?
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The girls told us that we needed to go to the Cardhu Distillery because they were rumored to have a list of websites that supposedly export whiskeys from Scotland to the US that you can’t always acquire stateside.  We also had a whiskey passport for the group of distilleries which Oban, Cragganmore, and Cardhu belong.  So we got a taste of Cardhu.  The nose is very strong with honey but the actual whiskey is more full bodied and smoky.  The ladies at the shop were considerably put out by my questions and so other than getting the list of websites, I was relatively unimpressed with the distillery.
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On our way to the Glen Livet Distillery we saw a sign to see Ancient Pict Symbol Stones.  Both Iain and I thought that these were like the standing stones we saw in Argyll but as it turns out, these are stones that have carvings on them.  They were held by a church and are very simply displayed.  I like the fact that they keep them relatively out of the weather to preserve them a little better from the elements. The stones are undated but the Picti were the original people of the Scottish countryside and were named that by the Romans in 297AD because they were a “painted people” (William Wallace anyone?!).  The stones and the church were a nice distraction from the Whiskey Trail and we took a moment or two to relax before heading back on the road.
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The Glen Livet Distillery is the second oldest continually operated distillery.  It is like Disney World for the world’s whiskey aficionados. They have 7 sets of stills and a single smaller still used during festival times to let people taste the spirit.  I don’t really like Glen Livet.  I keep giving them chances and they keep disappointing me… however when I saw the grounds of the distillery I have to give them props.  They make something like 300 million liters of whiskey a year and during last year they had and excess of 500,000 visitors.  So I asked the girl my normal questions that rather annoy the tour guides and she was quite nice and let me sample 2 of their whiskeys for the price of one.  Their 10 year old is not very good in my personal opinion.  It is harsh and antiseptic tasting.  I mean the nose is there but the actual body of the whiskey is not.  However, she had me try another kind of whiskey that was sherry cask aged and a limited edition and it was very nice and completely drinkable.  I didn’t know that I really like sherry cask aging until I came here but there you go.  We could have gone on a free tour but we decided against it because the process is the same everywhere and I’m not the world’s biggest fan.  However they have AND sell £1,200 bottles of single malt regularly at the distillery so there is that.

By this time it was getting close to 4pm, which is when most of the distilleries close.  We passed by Dalwhinnie but it was not open and so we just made our way back to East Kilbride.  I have to say that Iain is my champion because he drove all day and managed to get us home before 9pm.  We took our time relaxing and enjoying our own personal distiller’s mix of whiskey from Aberlour.  So 8 distilleries is simply a drop in the bucket of the 100+ distilleries in Scotland but I think we made a good run of it!  I love and miss you all!

The Whiskey Train includes Loch Ness...
bethany_abroad
There are few things better than waking up with the sun.  Instead of having breakfast right away, Iain and I had a quick stroll along the lane to take pictures of the clearing mist around Ben Nevis.  This is the tallest mountain in Britain and we were going to climb it but then we remembered that we were lazy and did not plan for potentially white out conditions in August.  It snows some places around this area during this time apparently and not only am I a weenie when it comes to climbing 3,000 foot mountains without proper gear but only a sweater to protect me from a blizzard?!  Not a chance.  So I was quite happy to look at it from a distance to see the magnificence of Scotland’s greatest peak.
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Our first stop brought us to the Ben Nevis distillery.  This distillery was established in 1825.  We went on tour and found that a lot of the information that we’d originally seen at Oban was quite the same everywhere.  Here they had 4 stills and they manage to produce about 14,000 liters of whiskey a year, which is approximately what larger distilleries like Glenfiddich do in a week or perhaps even a day.  The fun fact that I learned here was that the head of the spirit after it’s been distilled is at above 76% - and the reason that people think alcohol can make you go blind or have brain damage is because the head of the spirit actually can… so make sure that the next time you need to taste spirits you have a hydrometer to make sure that you’re not drinking the head.

After the tour we tasted their whiskey but instead of a single malt, they gave us a blend.  Instead of the blends you find in America, it was about 70% barley and 30% wheat and so it gave a really good impression of a single malt whiskey.  Still I was not super impressed.  I became acquainted with either the owner or someone higher up and we were talking about how ridiculous some of the things in Dallas can sometimes be when he told me to “wait just a moment”.  He came back and asked me my age before handing me a proper whiskey glass filled with a honey-colored liquid.  When I told him I was 30 he said that the whiskey in the glass was almost double my age!! This Ben Nevis whiskey was single malt at 55.6% alcohol by volume, 56 years old with fine maturation in a sherry cask.  Folks this had a nose of heaven, apricots and pears with a twist of some delicate spices from the sherry cask and the full mouth feel and butteryness of the liquid was completely indescribable.  It is by far the smoothest whiskeys or spirits I have ever tasted and it damn well should be at £1,200 a bottle that is only sold to private collectors. Umm… can I beg, borrow, or steal for another taste please?!?!  So though the distillery was largely unimpressive, it was exceptionally memorable.

Onward toward Inverness and we got to drive along the entire length of Loch Ness.  There are a bunch of Lochs in Scotland.  This is something of a phenomenon for me because I have never seen this quantity of liquid.  Loch Ness is 23 miles long and 1 mile wide.  The average depth is 600 feet but it can be as deep as 800 feet.  Of course Loch Ness is famous for the Loch Ness Monster or Nessie.  During several points along the trip I looked longingly at the water hoping to see a ripple or perhaps an ancient monster haunting the waters but alas I FOUND ONE!  Just kidding.  I was just being a total tourist and really I think that being obnoxious is perfectly normal around something near a tourist trap like Loch Ness.
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The journey continued on to the Glen Moray Distillery in Elgin. The last tour was supposed to be at 3:30 but we didn’t get there until about 3:50.  So I strolled into the visitor’s center and flashed the smile that only a Texas charmer can do and somehow I got to taste the head of the spirit that made me realize that there is so much more to the whiskey than just the age.  I remembered the notion that I could go blind so I took the smallest sip of my life but was surprised to find how fruity the  and full mouthed the spirit actually was.  I also got to try the 8 year, the 12 year, and the 16 year old single malts.  Then I turned around and met two German guys.  I didn’t really know what was going on but they were bottling their own whiskey.  I then found that I was able to do this too.  Turns out that they guys were actually part of a German whiskey club and they’d seen 55 distilleries in about 2 weeks.  I think that’s more than I could possibly stomach.  So I got to bottle my own cask strength Glen Moray single-malt whiskey.  It makes all my wine bottling experience seems almost like small potatoes.
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We made our way down to Cawdor to see the castle.  As it happens, Macbeth, as in the character from Shakespeare was the Thane of Cawdor and so we thought we would see where that was.  However, by the time we got there, the last tour had already occurred and the gates were locked.  So we didn’t even get to see the outside of the castle.  Cawdor itself is a rather small rural community without much to speak of in the surrounding area other than a branch of the Dewar and Sons Distillery in a town called Brackla.  We think that this is partnered with the Royal Brackla Distillery but it was not open to the public.  This is apparently a common thing among distilleries in Scotland.
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When we made our way back through Elgin, we stopped at the Elgin Cathedral.  This was built in 1224.  It burned down in 1270, 1390, AND 1402!!! The Cathedral was rebuilt every time.  Then in 1560, a parliament was convened in Edinburgh and it was decided that the Scottish church would be Protestant.  So the Cathedral closed; and then in 1567, the lead roof tiles were removed from the church by Regent Lord James Stewart to help pay for the army.  Then in 1637, the roof of the eastern limb collapsed and basically from there it became ruins.  So because Elgin has a Cathedral, the Queen named Elgin a city in the 12th century.  I love that there is so much history in everyday life here.  Lynda, the grounds keeper, did a whole lot to help.
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After the cathedral, we went to Fochabers to stay for the night.  Since this is the middle of summer, it is a little more complicated than I would have imagined to actually get a room anywhere.  This is where the room was and so here we are.  We ate a terrific dinner and went for a walk to a local castle that we couldn’t actually get to.  However, we got to see a fabulous sunset and see the rise of a super moon as well as try a few new whiskeys.  I tell you what, perhaps people don’t know how to cram a day completely full of awesome but here it is… a day full of awesome!  I love and miss you all!!

Road trip to Fort William
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Off to the Scottish Highlands.  People say things like that and you have no idea what they’re talking about.  Are highlands mountains or are they like a plateau that is miles above sea level?  Does the heather on the hills have some unique psychotropic properties that when you drive through the countryside you fly higher than a kite?  I have not seen pictures nor do I really understand what is happening.  Still I happily hopped in the car because I have invariably itchy feet and off we went to Fort William.

It is a trip that is supposed to take about three and a half hours from Glasgow.  The time thing here is a little strange.  I consciously don’t take a watch or keep a clock on me because it makes me less aware of my surroundings.  We travelled though the Trossachs National Park and went on the Duke’s Pass.  Iain said that this was not the most direct way to travel but there we were in the middle of nature and seeing things that most normal people would quickly wave off as a waste of time.

We stopped at Lock Lubnaig for lunch at a little street-side bed and breakfast called Golden Larches.  It was a quaint little restaurant with a friendly enough staff.  The menu was sufficient and though my lunch left a little to be desired, the desert, sticky toffee pudding, was incredible.  Iain has had his mouth watering for that for basically the whole time that I’ve been here but this was the first place we had it.  It is basically a spiced cake with hot caramel drizzled over the top with pouring cream to drench it is mouth-coating sticky pleasure… I mean, though that sounds bad, it’s really delicious.

When we finally arrived in Fort William it was about 6 PM and our bed and breakfast was a ways outside the actual township of Fort William.  The weather was less than ideal but we made the best of it anyway.  We stopped in along the town center and found what we needed to know before heading out to a monument.  As we drove out to the monument, we found a distillery called Ben Nevis that had a crew of bagpipes outside giving a concert.  You know my incessant love of all things musical, we just had to stop.  The group was called the Flemish Caledonian Pipe Band.  Wouldn’t you know that we would see bagpipes played by a group that wasn’t even remotely Scottish?!
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The monument we went to was called Glenfinnan.  This was a memorial to the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745.  Funny enough, directly across the memorial was the train from the Harry Potter Film… where there is a steam engine on the way to Hogwarts.  Unfortunately the train only runs twice a day and we were not there around either of the times.  So we got pictures of the beautiful monument by the Loch and the bridge over which the train from the Harry Potter movie passes.

On our way back to Fort William we found ourselves at Neptune’s Staircase.  This is just a series of locks that allow boats to climb or fall 64 feet in the space of 500 yards.  There are 8 forks and it takes about an hour and a half to pass through them.  It was built in the 1960s but because I’d never actually seen a series of locks, it was a unique experience.  Afterwards we went to Inverlochy Castle.  This is just outside the town borders, this castle was built in 1290.  Now I’ve seen my share of castles.  This one Iain insisted on seeing because he says he thinks he saw ghosts there.  I don’t know if you’ve ever had an eerie experience but I could swear he was telling the truth.  We actually met a girl there who said that she and her friends were going to go to have a séance tonight at 3AM.  That’s pretty freaky.  I climbed on the castle walls and looked around but when I left I felt all slimy.
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By the time we were all finished up, it was about 9:30 and there were not markets open and neither Iain nor I wanted to have a drink in the pub.  So we stopped by a BP (which may be the only petrol station in the UK that sells wine/beer) and got a bottle of wine and headed back out to the bed and breakfast.   Sometimes I don’t understand how we are about to pack so much into a day but here we are.  All nestled in for the night under the shadow of the tallest mountain in Britain, Ben Nevis, with a spooky moon and not a human that we can see for miles.  Pretty creepy… pretty awesome.  I love and miss you all!
 

Exploring Glasgow
bethany_abroad
Today the weather in Scotland was B-E-A-UTIFUL.  There were clouds in the sky but I don’t think you ever have the Texas skies I’m used to here.  We decided that we would take a day and do a walking tour of Glasgow.  Though there is a LOT of land in Scotland that is not lived on, it follows the same principals of most European cities in that the cities here are small enough to walk without killing yourself trying… Try doing a “walking tour” of Dallas… no thanks.

So we didn’t even get the car out of the garage.  We walked though East Kilbride to the train station to get a train into City Central.  The train journey took no more than 30 minutes.  Because we were on the second to last stop, the train slowly filled up with people of all manner while we made our journey.  I love doing people watching.  It is so fun when you can understand what people are saying but really examine a day in the life of a Scotsman that is simply a normal day.  The fashion here is amusing to me.  I know that it will hit Dallas eventually but I can’t imagine what the kids at my middle school would say if they saw a guy in a bright pink polo and Nike athletic shorts… actually, I can’t imagine what I would have said about him when I was young enough to think he was attractive.  But it makes me smirk nonetheless.

Our first stop was to get food.  I was at that point of hunger where I couldn’t make decisions, I didn’t know what I was hungry for but I was about to become a beast.  Glasgow is only about a population of 500,000 people and it is the largest city in Scotland.  Still they have a subway system.  It’s not very big but still… I wish we could be efficient like that in Dallas.  We took the subway to get to the University of Glasgow.  The parks in the city are beautiful and everything is so green it is impressive.  The walk took maybe 10 minutes before we landed in this super quaint pub that was almost on University grounds .  Iain says it’s really traditional.  I suppose that I could have gotten the haggis but I got a burger instead ANNND no one looked at me funny when I ordered a pint for lunch.
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After a delicious meal, we walked up to the University of Glasgow.  It is the 4th oldest university in the UK after Oxford, Cambridge, and St Andrews.  It is a magnificent structure dating back to the 15th century.  Glass window panes that have settled, a tower with a spire that could make any architect jealous… Even our Ivy League universities got nothing.  Sadly, the main structure that most people think of as the university is infrequently used and more modern buildings are used for instruction.  Being back on a university campus makes me think that I should go back for my PhD.  Apparently they are in serious need of teachers here in Scotland… how cool would that be?
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We walked down to the Glasgow Botanic Gardens to see the green houses and just walk among the beautifully manicured terraces.  Iain is a man after my own heart and every time I want coffee, he wants it too.  So we stopped for a coffee and set off.  The many arboretums that I have visited have not had the greenhouses the size that they were here.  There were lots of plants and flowers that I’d never seen before.
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Afterwards, we went on a long walk, past the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum to just admire the architecture of such and amazing city.  Soon we stopped at a pub closer to downtown called Variety.  The bartender Jillian was from Ireland and her boyfriend George was sitting across the bar from her.  We got into interesting conversations when I found out that they were selling Lone Star… I couldn’t believe it.  The beer that I’d gotten for a buck at Barton Springs Saloon they were charging £3.60.  That’s like $7.00 for a beer that is only purchased by juvenile delinquents that is partaken of simply to get drunk.  Here it is the posh hipster drink.  All I can say is “WTF mate?”
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Afterwards we walked down to George Square to see the City Chambers.   On the way, one of the buskers was a bagpipe player.  I can’t play bagpipes but it seems like it is a dying art.  So I threw in the only coins I had and happy snapped his picture. City Chambers is like “town hall” but it doesn’t look like any town hall I’ve ever been to.  The2014 Commonwealth Games were being held in Glasgow this year.  I arrived on the very last day of the games.  Remnants of the games were all over the place, from the Botanic Gardens to George Square, especially where the official mascot Clyde was concerned.  I don’t really know what the Commonwealth Games are all about but they are definitely a hullabaloo here in Scotland.
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We then walked along the riverside before having dinner at this terrific Indian restaurant called Ashöka at the Quay.  I suppose that because India was (or perhaps still is) part of the commonwealth, the Indian food that can be acquired here is ten times the quality of that found in the states.   By the time we got back to the train and eventually back to the house, we’d walked perhaps 15 miles and were completely knackered.  There is so much of Glasgow that I didn’t get to see but because I was able to walk most of the city, I got to see and experience things that I would never have otherwise.  What a charming place to visit.  I love and miss you all.

Life is Easy When You Relax
bethany_abroad
It is important to have some days, on holiday or when you’re travelling, to take a few days to simply relax.  That day was today.  It was a lazy morning at Inverneill.  We had breakfast and so many biscuits and coffee that I feel as though I may melt in the Scottish rains.  The morning was filled with rain.  This seems so impossible to me as a Texas, who generally does not see rain from June 1st until about September 15th.  Still it came down in sheets.  We met friends of Aileen and Brian as well as Brian’s daughter.

Round about 3 pm, we left to go back to East Kilbride and the sun was out making for a beautiful drive.  The journey took only three and a half hours.  We made dinner at the house and then went for a long walk with Iain’s dog, Kym.  We then watched this really indie film (or perhaps it is a film that just never made it to America) called The Angel’s Share.  It was a mellow day and I now am relaxed and ready for the next big adventure.  I love and miss you all!

I Love Touring Scottish Whiskey Distilleries... Does That Make Me an Alcoholic?
bethany_abroad
When I woke up this morning, I found that it was nearly noon… AGAIN.  Because I want this visit to be easy for everyone involved, I am letting everyone else make decisions about where we go and what we do.  So when we finally left the house, I didn’t know where we were headed or what we were bound to do… I just knew that we were on another road trip that was going to be a drive.

We travelled north past many lochs and ended up in a bustling town called Oban.  This is a place where ferries carry people to and from the mainland to smaller islands.  More importantly, there is a distillery there for the whiskey Oban.  Apparently when asked what I wanted to do I was more than overzealous about discussing my passion for single malt spirits and wanting to do distillery tours and so it was decided that this was what we were going to do.  We stopped at Tesco for a quick sandwich and then we walked down some of the main streets to go to the distillery.

Oban is a cute quaint town.  There is something so charming about walking the streets with buildings that date back before the colonization of the Americas.  The people are modern but the buildings quietly stand in the background holding secrets of the centuries.  When we got to the distillery we were happy to find that a tour was to take place in about 10 minutes.  We walked around and learned that the distillery had been around since the 1970s and that due to the location, it was difficult to expand.
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David, our tour guide was exceptionally patient.  Oban whiskey is characterized by a light peaty smoke, salt from the sea air, honey, and citrus from the aging in American oak barrels.  The process begins with milling the barley and then turning it into beer.  Then from the beer that is about 9 percent alcohol by volume, it goes into 2 different stills.  After the first still, it is sent into a second still where it is boiled off again and has 3 parts: the head, the heart, and the tail.  The only part that is actually sent off for barreling is the heart that is between 60 and 78 percent by volume.  The head and the tail are sent back in the still and made into a heart later.  The whole process is exceptionally efficient although for about every 100,000 liters of water only about 10,000 liters of whiskey is produced.  This means that they lose 90 percent of the liquid volume for the original creation.  Then when it is barreled, it loses a small percentage of the alcohol per year, approximately 2 percent which is called the “Angel’s Share”.  This is why it is so expensive to buy a 30 year aged bottle of whiskey.  David was very insistent that just because it was aged in a barrel for a long time did not mean that it was a decent whiskey.  Further, he told us that for proper single malt whiskey, is required to be in the barrel for a minimum of 3 years.  The Oban Distillery produces about a million bottles of whiskey per year and about 60 percent of that is exported.  However they age about 60,000 bottles of double aged whiskey but it is not exported because they are usually sold out by mid -October in Scotland.  I had so many questions because of my prior very close association in the wine industry.  The science of making whiskey seems so refined that I wonder how it became an art form.  We had a taste of cask strength that was 10 years old and then we were allowed a taste of the 14 year old standard whiskey.  Both were amazing and I am always excited about trying new things.
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After the distillery tour, we wandered back to the car, stopping for a coffee and a pastry along the way.  Afterwards, Aileen drove us to the bridge across the Atlantic.  It is the only bridge in the world that crosses the Atlantic Ocean but it is much smaller than I would have ever expected.  It connects mainland Scotland to the Isle of Seil.  It was a charming beautiful place and we made our way to Ellenabeich.  This is a township that owes its actual existence to slate trade.  It had magnificent cliffs that shot up to the skies and wee cottages with slate walls and handsome mini gardens.  We walked along the rocky shore and through the village before heading back along the road.

Before we got back to the house, we stopped at Dunadd: The Seat of Kings.  It sits atop the bog of Maine Mhor (or the Great Moss) and was chosen as the royal capital of the earliest Scottish Kingdom, home of the Dalriada.  Iain and I walked up to the summit and found carvings, ancient footprints and a well.  Actually there is a footprint at the top of the summit was part of the inauguration of kings where they were betrothing themselves to the land that fed their people.  In the local legend, if your foot fits into the footprint, then you are to be the next royal.  My foot almost fits but is just a little too small.  The view from the top was incredible and beckoned me to stay and sit and just breathe it all in.  However, the impending rain had other ideas and Iain and I just barely got in before there was a torrential downpour.
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So much excitement in the day meant that a quiet evening in with a dinner of fish and chips and a wee dram of whiskey is just what was needed.  So here we are listening to a debate about whether or no Scotland should be independent from the United Kingdom and relaxing in the twilight.  Life is beautiful my friends.  One must simply take a moment to breathe in the beauty and be thankful.  I love and miss you all!!!

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