Scotland has welcomed us with open arms, warm smiles, wonderful people, stunning views and powerful glasses of whiskey.
As a self-proclaimed wine lover, truth be told, I feel very much like a rank beginner when it comes to whiskey. With two weeks under my belt in Scotland and 5 distilleries visited, I feel confident saying I am developing my whiskey chops!
Advice on ‘how’ to drink your whiskey is everywhere – much like people offering parenting advice to a Mom of a new-born baby…whiskey drinkers are incredibly passionate about how to drink whiskey. I found sage, calming advice from Adam at the Jura Distillery, “Drink it in your left hand, drink it in your right hand. Nay matter. Everything in between is up to you – it is your drink.” I like my whiskey three ways – neat (nothing added), sometimes with one single drop of water administered by a dropper or with a tiny ice-cube.
As of today, we have visited 5 whiskey distilleries:
- Ardbeg was the first distillery we visited on Islay. They offered a complimentary dram of the 10 Year whiskey in their visitor centre. Ardbeg is an ultra peaty and smoky scotch and heated up my insides as I swallowed it down. I tasted orange peel, smoke, and toasted oak flavours. As this was my first stop – I didn’t really have a tasting palate to work from. Die-hard Ardbeg fans spilled out of the restaurant doing tasting flights and having some great laughs. I wish I had more time to spend more time here but we only had a few hours on Islay.
- Lagavulin was our second stop on Islay. We decided to relax and purchased the whiskey and chocolate tasting package. We were allowed to choose two whiskeys from their line up. We chose the 12 Year cask strength which was paired with a cinnamon flavoured chocolate and the 16 Year that was paired with a raspberry chocolate. The 12 Year had a delicate sweetness to it with deep honey notes. The 16 Year was my favourite – the aging was finished off in sherry casks which gave the whiskey smoothness and sweet fruit flavours…delicious.
- Jura was, hands down, my favourite tasting experience. Fiona and Adam were beyond helpful. Jura Distillery does not have the commercial vibe of the previous two stops, which I appreciated. They didn’t have a license to sell ‘drink’ but offered a complimentary tasting. We happened to the only ones there so we had the opportunity to have a friendly chat and ask loads of questions and sample some exquisite whiskeys. We walked away with a bottle of the 18 Year which finishes aging in Bordeaux casks – incredible (and nearly finished) and the Turas Mara which means ‘sea voyage’ in Gaelic – again with Bordeaux casks and sherry casks to add complexity to the profile. I am a Jura whiskey fan.
- Oban had the visitors experience dialed in. There was an interactive tasting room and you could purchase whiskey to sit and try. I did the Oban Little Bay and the 14 Year. Little Bay was full of toffee, citrus, and walnut notes. It was smooth and warming and I picked up heather on the finish. The 14 Year was more peaty and smokey with honey and toasted oak. It had an antiseptic note that I couldn’t put my finger on.
- Talisker disappointed me. I was so excited to go to Skye’s only distillery that I bought the distillery tour and waited with anticipation. We were not one minute into the tour when we were told we could not take photos. What??? I tried my best to pay attention as our guide quickly zipped us through the tour. I learned a few tidbits on whiskey production but not enough to satisfy me and make me feel it was worth it. At the end, we were offered a taste of the Talisker Storm – their most smokey flavoured whiskey. I wasn’t a fan – loads of pepper and fireplace ash mixed with brine. In the visitor centre I also tried Talisker Skye hoping to find something I really liked but it missed the mark as well.
Whew – if you are still reading – thank you!
I have a few more distilleries on my list of places to visit. Please send me your whiskey recommendations in the comment section.