Saturday 5/21

After landing about 7:30 AM local time (2:30 US time) we whisked through customs and were off driving by 8:45 AM. On the 4-hour drive to the cottage in Cawdor we stopped at the Dalwhinnie distillery and toured the facility.

They did not allow any pictures, and the tour was very short, however we did have our first sample dram and bought our first bottle of whisky to enjoy at the cottage.

In the evening we had dinner at the local Cawdor Tavern and whilst a bit pricey it was a very good meal, good service, and great ambiance.

Sunday 5/22

After a good nights’ rest our journey began with the most expensive breakfast I’ve ever had at the Nairn Golf Club Hotel. I had my first taste of Haggis and, although it was not bad, it is not something I would necessary have again.  Then Deb & I dropped Chris and Doug off for their round of golf.

It was a somewhat sunny day that was forecasted to have passing showers. The winds were really the kicker as they just did not let up. 

Deb & I went on into the town centre and did a little grocery shopping for the stay. After dropping the stuff off at the cottage we went back into Nairn and walked a round. There were only a few shops open but enough to keep us occupied for a while.

After we gathered Doug & Chris we had a light lunch and went on to Cawdor Castle for the tour. It was self-guided, but enjoyable nonetheless.

Monday 5/23

What a GREAT Day! Started at the Balvenie Distillery and experienced the Master Class Tour which was a whopping 4 hours long (advertised as a 3 hour tour). The distillery is set in the heart of Speyside close to Dufftown. We walked up a long walkway leading to a grand view of the Balvenie. At the visitors center we were welcomed by David… and went into a cozy sitting room and enjoyed coffee, tea, shortbreads and a warm fire, along with some good conversation, until another couple arrived and we went on to our tour.

The first visit was to the floor malting....

 the kiln...

...then on to the grist mill, mash tun, wash backs, and stills.

Our next visit was to the cooperage where they repair and re-char the sherry and bourbon barrels that are used for the aging.

Next was Warehouse No. 24 where they keep a small supply of casks for aging. One of the best experiences of the tour was to dog a bottle of whisky right from the cask. First he let us taste each of the three casks – a first fill bourbon barrel, a second fill, and a sherry cask. David actually spilled a little of each on to the palm of our hand to taste. Just great! Then each of us pulled a bottle (or two) from the casks. There was also a large barrel that was vatting 5 different malts ranging from 14 to 30 year olds, of which we have one, the Tun 1401 #1 bottling.

We then went on to the tasting room and sampled some new spirit, 5 different malts, and a special treat at the end – the Balvenie Peated Cask.

This turned out to be the most memorable day of the trip.

Next was the Glennfiddich distillery just around the corner (also owned by W.T. Grant). We enjoyed a wonderful lunch here.

Then we went on to Tomintoul where we visited the “Whisky Castle”. I purchased the Balvenie 1972 Vintage Cask bottling from this store via the Internet back on 2005. It was great to meet Mike, the owner, and check out the store. He poured a number of (5) samples for us and chatted for about an hour or so while Deb shopped the surrounding stores where she found a kilt skirt to match our kilts. Needless to say we purchased 4 bottles for one of our next tastings.

Tuesday 5/24

We slept in this morning to catch up. Our travels today took us to the Talisker Distillery on the Isle of Skye. A healthy 3+ hour drive meandered along Loch Ness and then out to Skye. A beautiful trip, although the rain, wind, and sun came and went with almost each passing mile. Absolutely beautiful country!

The Talisker distillery was set down off the side of the mountain just above the loch. We were able to get on the next tour that was just starting. Again, no photography was allowed, and the tour, although informative, was short. Another nice dram of Talisker at the end was also a great treat. We then had lunch at “the Old Inn” just up the hill from the distillery. A very quaint pub with good food and service, After a leisurely lunch back to Cawdor where we had a wonderful dinner at the cottage and on to the tavern for a late brew and some darts.

Wednesday 5/25

Wednesday turned out to be a whirlwind tour of 3 distilleries and 1 brewery. We had only planned to visit 2 distilleries but timing and location allowed for more.

On the way up to Dalmore we passed the Black Isle Brewery and decided to head back there after Dalmore

The Dalmore Distillery we found, on arrival, that it was closed since November, but since we had been booked we were the first to have a tour of the refurbished distillery. A TST exclusive no less! Shirley took us on a very nice tour, although no pictures were allowed we were up close and personal with the process. The new shop had a great selection of all their whiskies and glassware. Actually had someone else come in for a tour while we were in the shop and they turned them away!

Black Isle Organic Brewery

Set a mile back off the main road was a organic “farm brewery”. It is just a small place in an old barn started in 2003. They had minimal equipment, including a hand bottler outputting 10,000 bottles a week. (really?) There was a short tour by a lively woman, who then tried to sell us some brews, and we did. There are 4 standard filtered brews and 4 bottled conditioned. They are also trying to arrange distribution in the states. Meanwhile we did a tasting that night and here are the results.


Black Isle Organic Brewery “Goldeneye Pale Ale” 5.6% abv Scotland

Color: Deep amber

Nose: Floral & hop notes

Palate: Fresh hops and slight malt with good balance

Finish: Short & slightly bitter

Comments: An OK pale ale considering the local availability of good beer

Black Isle Organic Brewery “Heather Honey Beer “5% abv (bottle conditioned) Scotland

Color: Light Golden Straw with thick head

Nose: Fresh malted barley (right from the wash back)

Palate: Honey sweetness, good carbonation (tastes like you just poured a glass from the wash back

Finish: Short finish with slight bitterness.

Comments: Not a bad one at all

Black Isle Organic Brewery “Scotch Ale” 6.2% abv (bottle conditioned) Scotland

Color: Deep ruby with no head

Nose: Dark roasted malt, sweet, and a bit fruity (plum)

Palate: Slightly sweet, little of the roasted malt,

Finish: Short and flat

Comment: A bit thin and disappointing. Not what you would expect from a Scotch  Ale

Black Isle Organic Brewery “Porter” 4.6% abv Scotland

Color: Coffee with slight head

Nose: Chocolate, coffee, dark roasted malt

Palate: Chocolate, roasted malt, molasses

Finish: Medium short, slightly sweet with lasting roasted coffee notes

Comment: Fits the style, easy drinking

Black Isle Organic Brewery “Hibernator Oatmeal Stout” 7% abv (bottle conditioned) Scotland

Color: Strap molasses with medium head

Nose: Espresso, barley sweetness, liquorice

Palate: Strong coffee, bitter chocolate, good body,

Finish: Medium short with slight sweetness on the tail

Comments: Not Sam Smith’s but a great effort

We stopped on the way up to Glenmorangie at Glen Ord, as we were just a few miles from it. This is also in the Diageo family and was quite a nice surprise. They had a great shop, small whisky history “museum” before the tour. The tour again did not allow photography but was quite nicely done and we also had a two different drams at the end.

The Glenmorangie distillery we hit just in time for the for the 3pm tour. A beautiful setting in Tain, set back off the loch a bit. This tour did allow photography, and we did get some great imagery for tasting covers. This tour was the largest one we were on, about 20 people. Nicely done and again a dram at the end with a chance to buy some additional selections including a 25 and 30 year old. A bit pricey though!

Thursday May 26th

Travel day!

We said a fond farewell to the Ivy Cottage in Cawdor and headed back to Glasgow airport for our flight to Islay. Arrived in Islay about 6pm and were in the hotel in Port Askaig by 7:30. They served us some tea, although Doug & Chris opted for a brew. Then we had dinner @8. We all enjoyed some local fish, scallop, and langostines for our dinner (small lobster, large prawn size). Then retired to the rooms and enjoyed a malt or two.

First up was Lagavulin. A nice 40 minute drive down from Port Askaig through Islay. I can’t say much for the roads, as there are only 2. As picturesque as the images we see at home, Lagavulin was the perfect start to the Islay trip. We came in just as the 9:30 tour was getting ready to leave. As a Deagio owned facility there were no pictures allowed in the distillery. We had a great tour and more information was divulged about production specs, procedures, and output. Our treat was a choice of a Lagavulin 12, 16, DE or an “only available at the distillery” bottling that I could not walk away without, along with the free glass. So yes, we’ll have this at a tasting soon. Interestingly enough while we were tasting (oh, and by the way we had our kilts on!) I handed a TST card to some sitting near us and no sooner done then 4 others wanted one. A real mob scene!  They all showed a lot of interest in the group. We did our damage in the shop with a multitude of stuff.

Our next stop was at Laphroaig. We checked in for our 12:30 Cardeas tasting and perused the shop and small museum. While we were waiting we met Simon Brooking, Master Ambassador for Laphroaig and Ardmore, who we chatted with for a bit and he offered to come and do a tasting with us sometime. So we will be in contact with him to make arrangements when we return. Just before the tasting was to begin a previous tasting let out and about 5 or 6 people wanted to take pictures of us. They thought we were Scottish! Imagine that. We of course told them we were American and we all had a good laugh. They also liked seeing Deb in her kilt: “This was the first time we saw a woman in a kilt!”  The Cardeas (friends) tasting was great. We had 4 malts, the 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011. One of the best lunches ever. And another free glass! After that we did the tour that did allow photography. A very nice in depth tour that also gave us a taste of the malting barley, dried/smoked barley, wash back, the low wine, a dip with our finger into the cask, and a nice Laphroaig Quarter Cask to finish off the tour (and a few more glasses). I also asked for some dried/smoked barley and the tour guide brought me a Laphroaig bottle sleeve full of malt! We’ll share this at our next tasting. 

We had some time so we decided to try Bunnahabhain. This was off on a side “road” 4 miles up the coast from Port Askaig. This was the most challenging road to date, as it literally was a roller coaster with blind hills and corners.

The distillery had an open day and unfortunately we got there when the party (and tour) was over, except for the pipe band that was totally trashed. We had a free dram in the shop and bought a few things as well. Unfortunately it was pouring and we only took a few pictures.

We’re resting now in the pub!

Saturday May 28th

Wow, a sunny day! The morning started off with promising warm (50) and yes, sun. Our trip started at the Bowmore (Bogh Mor) Distillery. While waiting for the tour we enjoyed the shop loaded with “only available here” bottlings. The tour itself was very in depth and more informative than most. Our tour guide, Lynda,  was very enthusiastic and knowledgeable and she offered not only information but demonstration as well.  We were allowed to take photos everywhere., and we did. Even got a shot of all of us in the kiln.

Bowmore is one of three distilleries on the island to still do their own maltings. After the tour we had our choice of drams and included the 8 year  (Feis Ile 2008) & 9 year (Feis Ile 2009) the 21 Portwood, the 2011 Feis Ile ,and the 15yr. Unfortunately we couldn’t get a shot of the outside of the building with the BOWMORE on the side as they were repainting it. I might go back and try anyway on Sunday.

Next we went on to Kilchoman just for a look as the tours were only 11 and 3 and we wanted to get to Ardbeg for a tour at 2:30. Kilchoman was set back again a mile off the main road, and a tricky road at that. It is a small farm setting that also offers horse riding. There was a great little shop and café. The shop had many enticing bottles but no more room left to carry one. Again there was a Feis Ile 2011 bottling not available anywhere else except for the distillery shop (or maybe eBay for 3 times the cost). So we took a few more photos and then off to Ardbeg.

This was the Ardbeg open day so it was packed with people. There were Flamingo dancers, lots of food, and a bar set up outside to buy a dram of Ardbeg from most of their range. We checked in for our tour and then had some GREAT oysters fresh from the local area and some other munchies. The tour itself was short and not really that great. With 25 or so on the tour it was also quite crowded. They have a very small distillery with 1mash tun (as most have) 6 wash backs (most 8 or more) and 1 wash still and one low wine still (most at least 2 – 3 of each). We did get a free dram and a glass, but rather disappointed in the tour. The shop was packed and had some nice offerings, especially the 4.5L Ardbeg 10yr.

On the way back to the hotel we stopped and I marked my 1 square foot of peat in the Friends of Laphroaig field.

It was a great day!

We’re heading back to the hotel now for a brew and relaxation.

Sunday May 29th

A bit of a down day as the only flight out of Islay is at 6:10 this evening. We’re off to explore some more of Islay till then.

Our first stop was at Caol Ila. Although closed we took a few photos and walked around a bit. The distillery was only about a mile from where we stayed in Port Askaig and tucked away rather nicely down by the loch.

Just about a mile away up another side road was Finlaggan. This was a small very picturesque lock where there were remains of the “Lord of the Isles” castle. There was a small visitors center (closed) and a few brave Scott’s prepping to go fishing. The winds were whipping at about 40-50 mph today everywhere we went.

We then drove around to Bruichladdich, Port Charlotte, and down the coast almost to the tip and then back to Bowmore/Port Ellen for lunch at the Lockside Inn, and photos of the side of the distillery.

Monday May 30th

We’re back! Mission accomplished.

Dram Score

Through the week we have had just a few drams. This includes tastings, samplings, and evening drams. We won’t tell you how many we had before lunch.


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Scotland Trip May 2011

















6 + 8 brews

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3 + 1 brew