Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Whisky Tour Part 1

For Arrow's 30th birthday, I promised him a jaunt around Scotland, visiting a selection of whisky distilleries in the company of Lubentina and Fisher. So it was that, on an extremely grey and dismal day, we set off for our first port of call in Fisher's newly cleaned car (thanks for helping with that, Chopper! A fun way to spend your morning, I'm sure.)

All the destinations were being kept secret, at Arrow's request, which made for some entertaining directions. EG:

"Are we turning ...?"
"Yes, but not until ... you know?"
"You know ... not 'til after the ... thing."
"That thing, or that other thing?"
Er ... that thing. I think." And so on.

Despite all this - and my decision to keep the destination as mysterious as possible by suddenly turning off the motorway at the last minute and forgetting there was actually other cars on the road who didn't take kindly to being cut up - we arrived at our first destination safe and sound, and with a few rays of sunshine struggling through.

Our first stop was Edradour, where I'd taken Heartlander and his mate, and this time we were able to take the tour and make the wise-cracking guide happy. It was excellent. The distillery is truly charming, with long, low, whitewashed buildings set beside a jaunty burn, and the tour was long enough to be interesting and not long enough to become tedious. What was interesting was that they gave us our tasting just after the introductory video, rather than at the end. What's even more interesting is that the tour and tasting are entirely free. Excellent!

The whisky was their 10 year old, standard single malt - and we all agreed that it was truly excellent. Edradour is one of the only independently owned distilleries in Scotland, as well as being the smallest. Only three men work it, with far more employed as tour guides, and only 12 casks are produced a week. They provide whisky to parliament, and it's the official whisky of Westminster - and I can definitely see why. I find it smooth, easy to drink, full of fruit and honey, and without any of the TCP I assosciate with many single malts. Delicious!

After out tasting we got to see round the distillery itself. We listened avidly to what would become a familiar speech about the making of whisky, saw all the relevant instruments of barley torture, and emerged back out in the open air much the wiser. (I got a bit lost 3/4s of the way through the making process, when they started explaining about the pipes 'n' all ... but I guessed I'd be quite familiar with it all by the of the trip, so didn't worry too much.)

Edradour Distillery
In order to experience Edradour more fully, we took a trip to the bar and sampled a couple of other malts, of which I have annoyingly forgotten the details. I think there was a 13 year old, which was supposed to be the best value and to taste like liquid Christmas cake. Both Arrow and I found it a little too overpowering, and actually preferred the 10 year old from all three drams. The last was a 21 year old Chateau d'Yquem, which was well balanced, fruity and delicious! I think I liked it more than Arrow, but in the end we were both of the opinion that, when push came to shove, there was no beating the 10 year old for pleasant sippin' whisky!

It was a good start. We bought a half bottle of the 10 year old in the shop, and then headed into Moulin village for some lunch and to find a geocache for Fisher and Lubentina, who claimed there was one in the churchyard. The dogs were keen for a bit of a walk, too, so after a bite in the Moulin Inn (voted Scottish pub of the year ... which was generous, though the food was pretty good and it's very characterful) we stepped into the kirkyard for a nosey. As I was perusing the gravestones I had a sudden creeping feeling that I had some relatives buried in this neck of the woods. I mean, I know there are Fergussons buried somewhere around Pitlochry, and I know my mother went to see some of their graves, but I couldn't remember exactly where and couldn't get hold of Ma to ask. However, Fisher agreed that the name Moulin sounded very familiar. And lo and behold, there were several graves with Fergussons in them. Of course, Fergusson isn't an unusual name ... although spelling it with 2 s's is more rare ... so it could all be a big coincidence. Anyway, I paid brief homage to Adam, Donald, several Elizabeths, John and Peter, and figured that if they weren't my Ma's lot then there was a good bet they were related in some way. And if they weren't related, then they were still Fergussons, and deserving of my respect!

The geocache proved to be a troublesome little thing. It wasn't in the kirkyard at all, but you did need to solve the clues found in the kirkyard in order to get the coordinates which would lead you to the right spot. In theory. Of course, when there's a whole bunch of hills kicking about it can be slightly tricky to get the GPS to work properly. I fear I'm not good with aimless wandering, and when aimless wandering turned into an impromptu walk up a very steep hill only to find a car park sitting at the top and a very pretty woodland walk which the dogs, whom we had returned to the car after their kirkyard wander, would have loved - I decided I'd had just about enough geocaching. I merrily stopped my climb, encouraging Fisher and Lubentina to continue without us - which they did. They promptly stopped about 20 paces from where Arrow and I stood waiting, and began scrabbling about in the undergrowth like large pink cocker spaniels. After a few false starts they were at last triumphant ... and found a very disappointing cache with nothing but plastic junk in it. Still, they signed the book and can now tick it off their list which, I think, is what really matters. But I'm no geocaching expert, and can't say I have a burning desire to join the ranks of those who refer to non-cachers as 'Muggles', set decoding exercises in graveyards, and lead you on impromptu walks up verticle climbs when you could have driven to within 5 yards of it and then had a lovely walk in the woods with dogs.

So there.

Once the geocache had been found we jumped into the car and decided it was about time to find our hotel for the night. I'd booked us into the Dunalastair Hotel in Kinloch Rannoch, which proved to be a longer drive than I'd anticipated (which ended up being something of a theme for this trip) and never having been to it before, I was anxious it would end up being a Trusthouse Forte Hell.

Luckily, it didn't. Although set right on the road and a corner, which led us to 'lose' it (we would have driven right past had Lu not had the presence of mind to actually look at the building we'd paused outside in our search for a signpost), it was a traditional, pretty aristocratic hunting lodge type thing. The rooms were comfortable, the meal good but nothing special, and the staff both friendly and helpful. And I will soon be starting my new job as a hotel reviewer for Bore Magazine ...

As Arrow would say: it was "all good." The evening was spent in relaxed ease. We were sold raffle tickets by a lad from Paisley, who said "I know, I'm the last person you'd want to trust ..." which I was not thinking at all. We enjoyed a wee nightcap, then retired to bed early, agreeing to meet for breakfast and be on our way by 11am.

The first day - or half day, as we didn't leave until noon - was over, and had gone swimmingly. At least, I had a great time! I can't recommend Edradour highly enough, both for its wisdom in not charging for the tour, and for its charm. I fell deeply asleep on a very comfortable bed, feeling most content.