Tag Archives: Whiskey

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.”

Oban, Scotland

Overlooking this seaside town is McCaig Tower. It’s the best place to watch the sunset in my opinion. There’s a creative garden on the way up as well. 

Next whiskey stop – Oban. This was our first distillery tour. The Oban distillery is one of the oldest (1794) and smallest due to its inability to expand because of the cliff behind it. 

Bunnahabhain and Caol Ila – Islay, Scotland

Stop number four on our whiskey trail was Bunnahabhain distillery. There’s a long narrow road down to this area. We think some nearby houses are for distillery workers. 

Stop number five was nearby, the Caol Ila distillery. 

What’s distinctive about Islay whiskey you may ask? It’s the peat.  There’s a smokiness to Islay whiskey that makes it quite distinct from other whiskey in Scotland. 

Ardbeg & Bowmore  – Islay, Scotland

Stop number two during Islay’s weeklong whiskey tour – Ardbeg. They have an excellent restaurant here and lots of parking so it makes for a nice stop. You can also get your photo taken with a large still! You’ll notice they had one whiskey named after the Kildalton cross. Ardbeg turned 200 last year (2015). 

Stop number three – Bowmore. We went into the tasting room here which had a small terrace area. 

Lagavulin & Kildalton Cross- Islay, Scotland

Have you ever seen Parks and Rec? This is the distillery that Ron Swanson visits. 

Lagavulin was stop one for us during Islay’s weeklong whiskey festival. They turned 200 this year (2016). We just happened to pick the day they were releasing their special offering to visit. There was already a long line of people waiting to get their 125 GBP bottle. You have to realize that the roads tend to be one way with passing places so to have that many people in one place caused some problems for parking and passing. 

We were signed up for a whiskey food and tasting master class and made it just in time. The instructor had us start off drinking a smokey whiskey. Then we put a mint on our tongue and had another sip. The smokiness disappeared! We matched our various whiskies with an assortment of food. It was quite a treat for our taste buds. 

Wandering around the grounds, there was a bag piper, food offerings, and a crafts area. 

We walked along the rocky shore to the castle ruins for a great view back on the distillery. 

After our visit we decided to keep going on the road. This random adventure allowed us to meet a peacock, find the Kildalton cross and ruins, and find an honor system coffee, cake, and tea stand. We seemed to peak the interest of some nearby sheep as well who came to take a look. 

Luang Prabang, Laos

I had three days free so I decided to take a quick hop up to Luang Prabang, Laos.

It is a very cute riverfront town located where the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers join together. Apparently tourist season started on October 1st which is of course right when I arrived.  The town is probably the most walkable town I have ever been to in my travels and because of the two rivers you are basically guaranteed a water front view.


My first evening I followed the road around the town, taking in the double water front view before hiking up to Phousi, a temple that overlooks the town and provides a beautiful view of the sunset and the surrounding area. As I walked up the 328 steps to the top, I was reminded that the only exercise I have done in the past 5 months has been limited to runs down my short soi (alley), workout videos and water weights in my room, and shooting hoops on the crooked hoop in the school yard with my students.

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On the way down the 328 steps, the red and blue tents of the market could be seen.  They were all setup and ready for the evening market.  This experience is unfortunately not for tall people as tents line the entire walkway at a height of about 6 feet.


The next morning I went on a boat ride to the Pak Ou caves. It was a rather primitive boat and the driver had to try multiple times to start the engine but it was all part of the experiences of course. My favorite part about the journey was simply being in the boat and seeing the wonderful Laotian landscape. In the morning there was still fog hanging over the green hills as we made the two hour journey up river.  The caves consisted of an upper and lower cave.  There were a lot of buddha images to see. I wouldn’t necessarily add it to a must do when visiting Luang Prabang but the journey in itself was worth it.  On the way back we stopped at the whiskey village where we were exposed to the interesting way that rice whiskey is packaged… Yes those are actual snakes and large bugs packed in with the whiskey…

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Lunch was at Joma, a bakery cafe on the river. I indulged in a taco salad and an almond cookie. There are many riverfront cafes. Perfect for resting tired feet and just enjoying the cool breeze.  While it may not have been cool by everyone’s standards, one must remember that I have been living in Bangkok for awhile now so anything below 28 degrees Celsius is considered cool to me!

For the evening, I had made a reservation at Tamarind for their special Pun Pa Friday night dinner. I was joined by a lovely Canadian couple who had just moved to LP after traveling around for a few months.  Dinner started with sticky rice and dips.  A roasted eggplant dip  and a tomato based dip tasted almost like guacamole and salsa or at least close enough for my taste buds.  The next course was a platter of vegetables paired with a steamed fish and peanut sauce.  This was similar to a dish that I have eaten in Thailand where one essentially makes lettuce wraps with the fish, sauce, and vegetables. Dessert was purple sticky rice with coconut, sesame seeds, and a tamarind sauce paired with a platter of fruit. It was one of those meals where you don’t feel full until about 10 minutes after you’ve stopped and at that point you feel really full.

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On my final morning in LP I got to witness the monk procession.  Every morning around 6am, monks take to the street to accept offerings from the faithful (and tourists!). Their orange garments can be spotted from far away.  Walking around you see people readying their offerings and kneeling in prayer.