This will be a relatively short post. I was feeling unambitious today. It’s two weeks since I left Vancouver, and tomorrow will be two weeks since I arrived here. Maybe that has something to do with it. I’m having a great time in Scotland, as I did in Ireland, but I’m missing my wife, my friends and family, even my cat. About the only thing I’m not missing to some degree is the daily commute to and from the North Shore. I also miss the variety of foods on offer in Vancouver. Here, most places offer variations on a theme. Maybe that will change in Edinburgh.
That sounded complainy. It shouldn’t. As I said above, I’M HAVING A GREAT TIME here. There are just things I miss about home. And the main one is Adele.
One thing they have in abundance here, but which we don’t have at all back home, is malt whisky distilleries. I could spend a week just visiting distilleries in the Speyside region, and still not get to all of them. Given that I can’t do everything – I never did get to John o’ Groats, for example – I’ve had to be selective. To date, I’ve toured two distilleries: Glenmorangie, which I wrote about a couple of days ago, and earlier today, Glenfiddich, which was my father’s favourite.
The Glenmorangie tour was very good. The Glenfiddich tour was excellent.
They’ve been making Glenfiddich for about 120 years in Dufftown, and it’s still owned by the same family, and largely made the same way they began in 1887. Like most other distilleries, they no longer malt their own barley, but buy it from maltings. Unlike most other distilleries, they have their own cooperage on site, and do their own bottling. They now sell to 184 of the 196 countries on earth, which makes them the biggest of the single malt whiskies on the planet.
Biggest isn’t always best, and to be honest, although I like Glenfiddich, especially the 18 year old expression, I’m more of an Islay malt guy. I like a bit of peat. Ok, a lot of peat. And even among the Speyside (and other Highland) malts, it’s not my first choice. Not far down the list, but not the top, either. (Sadly, The Glenrothes doesn’t have tours, or even a visitor centre, at their distillery.) But as they say, there are two kinds of single malt whiskies: good ones, and better ones. Glenfiddich belongs in the better group, just not necessarily at the top.
I do think it’s cool, though, how many of their employees are lifers. They have one cooper, for example, who’s been with them for 50 years.
And their tour would be hard to beat, even by a whisky I prefer. (Laphroaig and Lagavulin, Bowmore and Bruichladdich, Ardbeg and Bunnahabhain, among the Islays I’ve sampled.) It was surprising how different their approach is to whisky than, say, Glenmorangie. Using wooden washbacks, for example. (Made from Douglas Fir from British Columbia – just saying.) Or the fact they age their whiskies in both sherry and bourbon barrels for the full 12 (or more) years, and then blend those together to make their end products, rather than using bourbon barrels exclusively for the first ten years, and then “finishing” their whisky in sherry (or port, or Sauternes) barrels.
As I went their on the bike, I couldn’t partake of the tasting at the end. Scotland’s drink-driving rules are even stricter than those in British Columbia. The legal limit is 0.02, which is as close to zero as you can get and still have a test. Careful what mouthwash you use here! They gave me a wee bottle of the 12 to take with me.
The tour lasts 90 minutes, and afterwards I didn’t really see the point of visiting another distillery today, so I rode off into Cairngorms National Park. I didn’t set a destination on the GPS, just followed the road that led into the park on the assumption that all roads lead to somewhere. This one certainly did. Not only did I pass the Glenlivet distillery on the way to the road, it led me (after close to an hour) past the Tomintoul distillery, too.
The beautiful little B road also led me through some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever ridden through. I stopped and took pictures along the way, although I haven’t transferred them over from the camera yet, so you’ll just have to take my word for it for now. It ran beside the Avon and Spey rivers (at different points, of course), through farmland filled with cattle and sheep, along steep hills and through green valleys.
And of course, like all roads, it did lead to somewhere, in this case to a junction with another, larger road, which ultimately brought me back to Elgin.
Tomorrow I’ll be off to Edinburgh, where I’ll meet up with my friend Gillian for a while. After that, I’ll be down to England and Wales. I can’t believe my time in Scotland is almost at an end! It’s been fantastic. The only thing that could make it better is having Adele here with me. Next time!