Saturday, 30 June 2007

Whisky Tour Part 4.

Where was I?

Ah, yes, Ardanaiseig.


After a solid sleep, I ... well, actually, I sort of went back to sleep. Fisher, Arrow and Lu all partook of breakfast, but I chose to lie abed, snoozing and reading my way to wakefulness. We were leisurely in our leaving, knowing that yet more driving awaited. However, our first stop was relatively close, as we had the Oban distillery to visit.

I'm not a huge fan of Oban. At night, it's a proper harbour-town, complete with local Neds who drink too much and shout obscenities outside your window at 3 in the morning. It's also quite grotty in parts, and you only have to scratch below the pretty, touristy surface to see the Gateway to the Isles is juuuust a little bit skanky. However, Fisher pointed out that our view is also quite skewed by the assosciations we have with the place: namely arriving in the dark, just in time to witness the first drunken wave of Neds, staying in dodgy B&Bs or hotels (we never organise ourselves in time to book good ones) and then waking at some ungodly hour of the 'morning' to catch a depressing CalMac ferry to Coll. With all this in mind, it's easy to forget that despite its flaws, Oban is actually quite lovely for a flying visit. It certainly was that day, anyway.

In some manner of miracle, the sun had decided to come out, and nothing could be prettier than Oban harbour in the sunshine.

Oban Harbour
The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

We found the distillery with ease, but had around 40 minutes to kill before the tour kicked off again, so decided to get some coffee at the Italian bistro opposite Eeusk restaurant. We wandered over, and Arrow & Lu got a good look at the view and harbour. A tall ship called Tenacious was moored by the bistro. It specialises in holidays for people of all abilities - disabled and able bodied - so people can get an idea of crewing for a tall ship. It looked a lot of fun, although I did overhear one of the women telling a 'hilarious' story about how seasick everyone had been during wet weather - which rather dulled the romance.

After our coffee we headed back to the distillery and heard, yet again, how whisky is made. We refrained from joining in with the more well-worn facts (Guide: "To make whisky you need only three ingredients ..." Us: "Barley, yeast and water!") and I actually managed to listen all the way through the piping process and understand it! Marvellous! Although I think I've now forgotten it again. Hey ho.

It was another good, clear guide, delivered by a girl with obvious aspirations for the theatre, and when it came time for the tasting we were all eager. Unfortunately, I can't remember a bloody thing about it! I'm sure Arrow will add the facts in a comment, but I can't recall a blimmin thing! I have a hazy recollection that their standard malt was older than most, at 14 years, but I may have just made that up. Oban itself is one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland, so I may just be confused. I think Arrow commented on its saltiness in comparison to the others we'd tried, and I agreed that the old tongue shrivelled slightly. I also think I quite liked it. However, it can't have knocked my socks off if I have such diluted memories. Anyway, it was a good trip overall. The distillery itself has an interesting display relating its history, and it's all very professional and slick.

Back in the car we leaped, and had a decision to make. We could either head straight home, stopping off at Loch Fyne Oyster Bar for lunch and then visiting points of interest on the way back - or we could head south to Glengoyne distillery, which is just south of Stirling. There was much dithering, but it was Arrow's choice in the end, and I think the dread words 'points of interest' did it for him in the end.

Glengoyne distillery it was!

We drove down past Loch Awe and into the Lomond and Trossachs national park. We passed Loch Fyne, and I gave it a nostalgic mental wave, and then we were searching for the little village of Dumgoyne, near Killearn. And there was "the most beautiful distillery in Scotland."

Well, yeah ... it's pretty enough, but not as pretty as Edradour. But aaaanyway ...

The moment I stopped the car, Fisher was out like a lit firework, absolutely gagging for the loo. Lubentina went with her, while Arrow and I gave the dogs a brief walk. Then I crossed the road to the distillery, needing the loo as well, and encountered Lu coming back to find us, saying that Fisher had been in serious discomfort when she discovered the loos were all the way at the back of the distillery. She'd nearly peed her pants.

"Oh," I said, opening a nearby door. "So she didn't want to use these loos, then?"

At that moment, Fisher appeared around the corner - much relieved - saw me standing at a much closer loo door, and nearly peed her pants again.

Toilet humour aside, Arrow and I went to reception to find out whether there was a tasting option that didn't involve taking a tour. By this stage we were pretty sure than the minor differences the Glengoyne guides might throw up were far from worth paying for yet another tour. We asked a slightly disconcerting gentleman who insisted on looking over my right shoulder while he spoke to me, whether such a thing was possible. He gave a very convoluted answer, which seemed to imply that yes, there was an option but that you usually had to book in advance, but that he'd check. But he didn't check, he just hailed a passing manager-type and turfed the whole matter over to her.

The nub and gist (which I was only too glad to grasp by this point) was that, no, we couldn't have a tasting without a tour, but we could go down to the shop and the girls there would let us have a dram or two, and also tell us all we needed to know. So this is what we did.

Alas, once again, my memory fails me. There were 4 different drams, and I'm pretty sure the standard was a 10 year old. The other three may or may not have been a 15, a 17, and a 21. I do recall that Arrow and I were very pedestrian in our choice and went for the most commonly favoured one as one of two favourites. I think it was the 2nd youngest. We may, or may not, have also enjoyed the 21 year old. Oo ... actually, I vaguely recall being told that most people liked the 21 year old as well, and thinking "yeah, well, that's just because they think they're supposed to" in a very snobbish manner - so maybe I didn't like the 21 year old after all.

BOLLOCKS! Why is my memory so crap?

Yeah, yeah, I heard you. Too much whisky.

One thing I do remember, because it's very interesting, is that Glengoyne use no peat at all in their process. Unlike other distilleries who malt the barley using peat smoke in varying amounts, Glengoyne use only hot air - no peat at all. There's therefore no smokiness to it, and it's a very smooth, clean number. Good ... I think.

So that was that. The whisky tour was at an end, and all that remained was to hot foot it back to Fife, have some supper, and go our separate ways. We thought about going out for one final meal, but decided it would be easier just to grab some shopping at Tesco's and have a meal of bits 'n' bobs back at our place before the sad but inevitable parting. Not very glamorous, but there we have it. We aren't very glamorous, so it was quite fitting.

And thus comes the end of The Whisky Tour. A most enjoyable, refreshing and tasty way to spend a holiday.

Oh - and before I go to bed - I managed to gird my loins and go for a run today. Just 2 miles, but I did do it in 21 minutes, which is quite fast for me. 10.32 for the first mile and 10.33 for the second, which is nice and even - so that's good, too. Fisher actually ran with me, which helped keep my pace up. Of course, I then came home and discovered I was meant to run for 25 minutes, not 20, so that pissed me off - not inconsiderably.

And there I go again ...

Right. I am delighted I did 2 miles in just under 21 minutes. It was a good, even pace. That is all.