A few weeks back, with some mates of mine from the blogging/writing/filming brigade of wine-o’s made the short but decidedly early morning trip up the British Isles to Inverness, in the heart of Highland Whisky country. Some of us were whisky experts, and some of us whisky newbies to which I think I definitely belong!!
As ever, full write up and take home coming up in The Buyer, but I’ve got a few top bits of the trip for you here…
Sticking Hairs On My Chest With Barrel Strength Scotch
When you’re making Scotch, you need to age it in an oak barrel for a minimum of 3 years, and most Scotch is matured for a lot longer than that. Not sure how open to debate this is, but it’s widely thought that the barrel ageing process is what gives each individual Scotch the majority of its flavour.
Now that makes it sound like if everyone used the same barrel, then all whisky would taste the same. Well for a start they don’t, but there’s loads of ways the ageing process is altered including temperature, humidity of the surroundings, all kinds of little things like that. After 10+ years of ageing, the little things make a big difference.
Common in all spirits production, especially commercially focused (i.e. on the supermarket shelves) is a set output alcohol content. Usually for something like a whisky, you’re looking about 40% abv. You’ll have seen that on the bottles I’m sure. But it definitely doesn’t come out of the barrels like that.
Dr Bill Lumsden, who heads up the production at Glenmorangie (and Ardbeg in Isaly), thought we couldn’t check out the barrel room without a taste around the different barrels…so out came his rod and a few jerks up and down later it was full of barrel strength purity.
Ok at 50%-70% abv these samples were to be handled with care, but you could taste everything so clearly. The Oloroso barrels were taught and nutty, the PX barrels were full of prune and demerara sugar.
Two sips later and I was well on my way, how the heck does Bill get through an entire blending afternoon???
Scotland Is Clearly God’s Country
Anyone know any Scottish people? In fact I’ll start that again, does anyone know any Welsh people? Wales is a brilliant country, I mean absolutely stunning, and I’ll let them have that they’re pretty good at rugby too. Thing is, someone from Wales is usually more than happy to tell you that too. No problem with that, if you’ve got it, then flaunt it. Thing about Scots is that they usually let you bring it up first, then just smile smugly at you. And fair bloody play to them!
A worrying number of years ago I headed to Edinburgh to do my post grad year. Now I was working my little ginger backside off for the whole time I was there, but I was told by all our course lecturers – who were taking breaks from the corporate world to teach and do their PhDs – that the surfing, golf, walking, cycling, swimming, and all the rest of it was top drawer.
Yeah people talk about the shit weather, but if that was better then everyone would want to live there. It’s like in South Wales; if it was sunny no one would spend their summers anywhere else!!
Now I’m not making this up, but I was half way round a distillery tour at Glenmorangie, and stood in their impressive Pot Still room having just these recollections, surrounded by all these giant giraffe like copper pot stills and looking up at the grey clouds through the window at the end. Then the clouds parted and the picture you see above happened.
Divine provenance? Hey, I’m not arguing…
Getting Lost In Scotch Whisky…Or Just Getting Lost
So overnight we stayed at the gorgeous Glenmorangie House which is a proper highland hunting lodge kind of get up, with this lovely mix of old world charm, wood carved four poster beds (where’s the missus you need her!?), more open fireplaces that you can shake a stick at, and…well…let’s just say the occasional spirits cabinet 😉
The night we stayed over was filled with things I both can and can’t talk about, but one of them is definitely the slap up banquet popped together by Head Chef, John Wilson. Any good drinks break has top food too, and he sorted us out with some belters, including a whisky infused scallop ceviche idea I’m going to get on tape some point soon!
And the getting lost bit? Well, we made it to bed about 4am, and me thinking I was billy big time (and training for a marathon) decided to go for a run along the banks of the Dornoch Firth at 8am. I’ll never regret it, because my life it was beautiful. Slight issue was that I was so drunk when I left for the run, I had no idea how I’d got down to the beach from the house. There’s a kindly dog walker out there that saved my life, I reckon. Or at least got me home to the black pudding in time to save my life!
I was a guest of Glenmorangie for a couple of days at the end of summer.
For a full range of Glenmorangie’s whiskies and barrel finishes, please check out their website by clicking HERE
If you’re planning a trip up to Scotland to do some whisky tasting, check out availability at the brilliant Glenmorangie House by clicking HERE