Tag Archives: Scotland

Whiskey – Tell me more!

Do you know the difference between whiskey and spirit? Scotch and Bourbon? Well let me enlighten you!

(Disclaimer – This is coming from my memory and while I believe it to be accurate it could be slightly inaccurate. Do remember that I was under the influence of whiskey when I obtained this information.)

Whiskey is spirit after it is three years old. Before this time it is known simply as spirit. 

Scotch is whiskey made in Scotland, typically from malted barley. Bourbon is made from corn and typically comes from the United States. There is a law in the U.S. that whiskey barrels can only be used once. This benefits the Scotch makers a lot! And results in some whiskies being aged in bourbon barrels. Port and Sherry barrels are also common. These tend to affect the color of the whiskey, giving it a redder color and fruitier flavor. 

Malted barley tends to be made offsite now and then is brought in when ready. The barley is ground up first but ideally there are a mix of big and small bits. Hot water is added to the ground up malted barley, typically in three stages. This pulls out all of the sugars. The first two go towards making the whiskey. The third tends to not be strong enough and is used as the started for the next round of malted barley. The leftover barley mash is sold off to farmers as animal feed as it is high in nutrients. 

The sugar water is known as wort. Yeast is added and the liquid is left to ferment. This is quite an interesting stage as there is a lot of froth on top of the wort. A fan moves around the top of the holding tanks to try to keep the mash down. We put our nose in one, it cleared out our sinuses like nothing I’ve ever experienced. It was sour and fermented and you could just feel it in your sinuses. 

Next the liquid, now known as wash, is distilled twice in two different stills. These copper stills are replaced every few years but the replacements are created in the exact likeness of their predecessor, including dents, etc. The shape and design of the stills affects the taste and the process so every effort to recreate the exactly is made. After distillation, the spirit is tested in the spirit safe. This used to be locked by the tax person but is basically used to test the level of alcohol. 

Now that the spirit is cooled, it is placed in a barrel and set aside for many years. Distilleries will keep some product at their location but will also rent space from various farmers or warehouses in order to spread out their product. Remember that alcohol is highly flammable. 

While in the barrel, about two percent will evaporate each year, meaning that a significant portion is lost over the course of twelve years of aging. This is called “the angel’s share.”

HMY Britannica

HMY Britannica was the royal yacht before being retired in 1997. It was scheduled to be built just as World War II took off so the plans were delayed. Queen Elizabeth’s father began working on it after WW2 but then unfortunately died… so the Queen took control of the plans. It was used for many state visits and sailed an equivalent number of miles to sail around the world every year it was in service. Young royals used it for their honeymoons as well, including Charles and Diana. It provided privacy, even with a staff of 300!

The Queen and King each had separate bedrooms but they adjoined. Charles had a double bed put in for his honeymoon and it was the only one on the boat. The walkway below the Queen and King’s windows was lower so that people were less likely to accidentally look in while passing by.

All chores, including washing the large private deck had to be completed by 8am and the crew was not allowed to wear their hats in this areas so that the crew would not have to formally salute whenever they saw a royal. The crew was to remain perfect still and quiet until the royal passed. Working in silence led ot the use of a lot of hand signals.

On the tour, stuffed corgis were stahed in rooms, including one bandaged up in the medical area.

The boat is now used for various functions on occasion by the royals, including for Zara Phillips’ pre-wedding event.

I apologize as I didn’t take any photos. You can view the official website here though.

Edinburgh

On my first visit to Edinburgh, I said I would move there in a heart beat. I am happy to report that this sentiment still holds true.

We stayed in the Grassmarket area in a hidden courtyard that we found on AirBnb. We enjoyed a relaxing evening, storlling down the Royal Mile and just taking in Edinburgh. At the end of the Royal Mile is of course another palace – Holyrood Palace. I visited it before and as my S.O. is not royal obsessed we did not visit it again.

In the morning we took part in a free walking tour. I’ve used this company before on my travels as it’s a great way to pay what you want to while still being able to learn more about the city you’re in. Here’s their website if you’re interested. They of course offer other tours that they will sell for you at a discount for taking the free walking tour.


Some tidbits of information for you from our tour:

  • Scotland’s official animal is a unicorn. You’ll frequently see a unicorn pitted against a lion, England’s official animal.
  • The phrase shit-faced drunk comes from the fact that Scotland used to have a big sanitation problem. To curb this a little and reduce the smell in the city, it was decided that chamber pots could only be emptied at 10am and 10pm. Well, drunk husbands coming home late would have the chamber pots emptied on them down below in the streets, not hearing the warning called out, thus leading their wives to declaring them shit-faced drunk.
  • Bobby the dog. A night watchman requested a dog from his employer for his watch and the dog he chose was a small little terrier whom he called Bobby. Bobby was fiercely loyal. A couple of years later, the nigh watchmen died and Bobby sat by his grave everyday until he died, almost a decade late. As dog’s were not allowed in the cemetery and stray dogs were rounded up and killed… Bobby was given a key to the city so that he was permitted to remain by the grave of his owner. He was buried nearby the cemetery (as dog’s were not permitted to be buried in the cemetery) and the area now has various memorials to the loyal dog.
  • A school in the old quarter apparently was the inspiration for J.K. Rowling when she wrote the Harry Potter books and was “designing” Hogwarts. Names from a nearby cemetery provided inspiration as well. She frequently wrote in the Elephant Room care and the school is visible from there. We went for breakfast to the Elephant Room, a place I had visited on my list visit to the city. I must admit though that I have never read the books nor seen the movies (except for when they showed the first one in a class in high school but I did other things as it played).

One of the delightful things about Edinburgh is that there is easy hiking from the city center over the rolling cliffs and hills and to Arthur’s seat.

We stopped by a history museum in Edinburgh (it was free) and discovered a section on famous athletes. This gentleman was featured.

A couple of decades ago, some drunk college students decided to steal the Stone of Destiny from the English and return it to Scotland. While they were successful they also split it. You can read more about it here.

A brief drive though St. Andrew’s

Regrettable, we didn’t spend as much time in St. Andrew’s as we had initially intended. We drove through the quaint town, past the castle, and the famous golf course to another of it’s famous golf courses for a late lunch.

St. Andrew’s consists of 7 golf courses, 6 of which are intertwined and in the heart of the town. The old course (original course) lies in the middle. We had lunch at the Castle Course which is on the outskirts of town with a lovely view looking back at the historic city.

Balmoral Castle & Boat of Garten

Balmoral Castle is the Queen’s private retreat in the Scottish highlands. Originally purchased by Queen Victoria who spent a great deal of her time there. The tour is 95% outdoors, showing you some exhibits in the stables then leading you on an audio self-guided tour.

The gardens are exquisite and the estate house is far off the main road, offering true privacy. The one room available to view is the ballroom.


On the way back to the car park, we walked down a trail by the river rather than following the prescribed path. I can see why the Queen utilizes it as a retreat, it felt as though we were miles from everyone and it truly provided an escape from every day life.

We were staying in Boat of Garten that evening. The drive to the town provided a beautiful quilt-like landscape with patches of various foliage lining the rolling hills.

Our hotel was divine (although mildly confusing when it came time to finding our room in the labyrinth leading to the rooms. We made a dinner reservation upon check in (if you’ll remember from an earlier post, reservations are required at most Scottish inns). While dinner was quite good, the best part was my drink. My drink of choice recently has been an old fashioned. This bartender made the best old fashioned I had ever had! I think it was the raw chunks of sugar versus just a crushed sugar cube. 

Off to find Nessie!

I am sad to report that we unfortunately, did not find Nessie… However we had a great time seeking her out!

After I accidentally led us to the wrong place, we were able to quickly zoom to the correct place and make it aboard on time. It was chilly but not rainy so we were excited to be out on the water. The boat took us through part of the Caldonian canal, which was built to creat a water passage way through Scotland. As soon as it was finished though it was rendered obsolete as ships were bigger and would not be able to pass.

On the cruise we passed Aldarie Castle where Mel Gibson stayed while filming Braveheart. There was also  a small dock built specifically for Queen Victoria’s visit to the Highlands. The tour then turned towards Urquhart castle to drop more than half of the group off. We continued on back.


Lochness is the deepest lake in Scotland, nearing 700+ feet at its deepest point. It slopes deeply into the middle, with steep banks.

Inverness and Day Trips

My S.O. got his first taste of Spanish food in Inverness. (I know, I know, who eats Spanish food in Scotland, but we were getting sick of fish and chips!) I have a special place in my heart for the Spanish comida after having both studied and lived in Spain and am surprised it took me this long to give him a truly authentic Spanish experience. Chocolate con churros were on the menu of course!


After dinner we went for a walk to St. Andrew’s cathedral across the river and to some of the shops. It’s a very pretty downtown area, especially given the river. The houses and inns all have such a unique character to them.



We utilized Inverness as a home base to head north. Of course another distillery was on the agenda, this time Glenmorangie. Their symbol, or rather mascot is a giraffe because they have the tallest stills in Scotland and they are taller than a full-grown male giraffe. We got a chance to sniff some of the “spirit” on its way to becoming a spirit. Holy cow! (Or maybe I should say giraffe) The vapors cleared out our noses!


We drove farther up to Dunrobin Castle. This was quite the castle as it was designed for living vs. for a battle. The current owner turned it into a boarding house after inheriting it from her unvle. When that didn’t work out it was opened for tours. There was lots of land and magnificent gardens.


On the way south, we drove past Skibo castle which is where Madonna got married to Guy Ritche. I really should say drove past the property as we could not see the castle. Unlike Dunrobin, which was opened to the public, Skibo was turned into an exclusive property for wealthy people and provides a lot of privacy.


Finally, we ended our day with a trip to one more distillery – this time Dalmore. They had a unique blend called a cigar malt that is supposed to go well while smoking a cigar. While we didn’t have a cigar to go along with it, we were quite impressed with the flavor. We even purchased some upon our return to the States (through an online dealer).

Another unique whiskey that Dalmore offers is the Shackleton Whiskey. There whiskey was used to make a recreation of one that was found in Antarctica as part of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s base camp. It had been perfectly preserved in the ice. As part of international laws, nothing can be taken from the frozen continent so this was “borrowed” for sampling and then returned. I was tempted to buy some but the £120 price tag was a bit much, especially as this was before Brexit. 

Eilean Donan Castle

Photos can be deceiving. We pictured Eilean Donan Castle as a castle in the middle of nowhere, serenely in tact but when you show up you realize there is a significant parking lot and a town right next to it. These are just conveniently left out of photos.

The castle is still owned by a family and apparently there was a family wedding there over the summer. There are some private quarters not opened to the public where the family stays on their visit.

The castle has been featured in Highlander and Braveheart.

The tour takes you through the grand areas of the castle and the servant quarters. It does have quite a unique setting, situated almost entirely surrounded by water. There is a guest cottage nearby that is available for rent on a weekly basis.

Talisker, Fairy Pools, and Spicy Pizza – Skye

Talisker is the lone distillery on the Isle of Skye. Our stop at this distillery informed us that Skye is 50 miles long, 25 miles wide and perhaps 400 miles around if you tried to walk the coastlines. Skye comes from the Norse words for cloud and island alluding to a misty isle.

The joy of being on a road trip around Scotland is that if we want to go down a random road, we can!

Our afternoon led us to the fairy pools. It’s a mild hike out to this area but worth it for some unique pool configurations. The fairy pools are made up of a stream of water that has cut through rock creating a unique setting. Some people brought their bathing suits and hopped into the crystal clear water.


For dinner that evening, we stopped into Sia’s cafe in Broadford and my S.O. ordered the spiciest pizza either of us had ever encountered. I don’t understand how he was able to eat the entire thing! My mouth and esophagus burned from just one bite!