Monday, July 17, 2006

Day six -- My Personal Whisky Trail

Today, Becky and I headed our separate ways from Ed, Kathleen and the boys. After a great breakfast of porridge and stewed berries at the Mountain Cafe, she and I hopped the train to Elgin for a little whisky tour.

Our first stop in Elgin was Gordon and MacPhail, purveyors of fine scotch whiskies. Their most expensive whisky rings up at over £7500! (£1 = $2, presently!) Needless to say, I purchased some of their more reasonable single malts, which I will delicately pack and bring home with me. I selected an eight year Benromach single malt and a Aberlour fifteen year single malt, plus some gifts for the folks at home.

Then it was a very long walk to Glen Moray distillery, where we had a wonderful tour of the distilling process from beginning to end. I learned quite a lot:

  • Whisky making is exactly the same as beer making except: (1) no hops, and (2) beer is not distilled, of course.
  • Ice in whisky is a terrible faux pas. The "correct" way is to drink it straight and to add a few drops of water to open up the whisky. This is particularly good for younger whiskies.
  • All the barrels are recycled barrels from America. They use older barrels because the new ones impart too many tannins. We saw barrels from Jim Beam, Jack Daniels and several French sherry barrels. All were filled with Glen Moray spirits and whisky.
  • Whisky is called spirit until it is sufficiently aged--three years. Glen Moray sells no whisky before eight years.
  • Even in single malts, the bottle of whisky is a blend of different casks. For one bottle, there is a recipe of older whiskies, newer whiskies, and different barrel lots to get the perfect blend. If it all comes from the same malt source (i.e. the same distillery), then it is considered a single malt. Blended whiskies come from multiple different distilleries.
  • Condensation tower size is an important distinguishing element in the distilling process. Glenmoragie has the tallest cooling towers in Scotland, and hence, the heavier alcohols condense and continuously fall back into the boiling spirit; only the lightest of alcohols escape to be captured. This makes the whisky one of the lightest tasting you can find. Glenlivet, by comparison, has very short cooling towers, so nearly all the alcohols find their way into the whisky, yielding a very rich and robust whisky. Glen Moray is right in the middle, and about average for most distilleries in Scotland.
  • Peat! Peat! Peat! Wow, what a difference a little peat makes! We tasted an Ardbeg from the Isle of Islay in my own Clan Campbell country. They are in a boggy area, and all the malt is roasted on peat fires. Wowee, what a difference. It's a little like bottling a campfire and drinking it. Glen Moray uses no peat, and gosh, can you tell a difference.

After the whisky tour, we headed back to town to grab a quick to-go lunch at the Marks and Spencer supermarket-- salmon and soft cheese on oatmeal bread for me, ham, cheese and pickle on oatmeal bread for Becky, a nice wheat berry and cous-cous salad with tomatoes and roasted butternut squash, and a packet of steak and onion crisps--all of which was eaten on the train back to Inverness.

At Inverness, we just walked around High Street a bit, doing some pointless window shopping until our train was ready to leave for Aviemore. After several drams of whisky at the Glen Moray tasting, I had a nice little nap on the train.

Arriving back, we hooked up with Grandma and Grandpa, who were entertaining the boys in the pub by watching them play racing games in the arcade. While we were away, the boys had a great time playing in the pool and fishing on Rothiemurchus Estate. Both boys even hooked themselves a rainbow trout, but weren't able to pull them in. When we caught up with the boys at dinnertime, they absolutely stank of fish--which is a pretty rare accomplishment considering they never touched a single fish.

After a wonderful dinner of sirloin steaks, pea soups, a wonderfully tall tower (yes a TOWER) of black pudding, and cheeseburgers and chips, the boys went to the playground and quickly befriended two ten year old twin local boys named Andy and Mark. The twins had a bucket between them and were catching frogs and toads in the boggy woods behind the hotel. They were very kind, taking Eddie and Luke with them on their frog hunt. The four boys together had a grand time, and I think Eddie and Luke (Eddie especially) really appreciate it when they receive kindness from total strangers. (Unlike the girl in the pool who informed Eddie that he "had a big bum.")

After the frog hunt, we came back to the hotel to wind down before bed, but not before throwing the boys in the shower! After a couple quick games of chess (yes, the boys are learning), they're off to bed and ready for a long trip to Skye tomorrow. I think I'll go to bed now as well. I'm beat.

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