My muse musta slept in, coz she ain't anywhere to be found on or around the premises. So there's this (from July, 2009):
Just the Facts, Ma'am… or "How I Came to Know and Love Single-Malt Whiskey." Gordon dropped this lil bit last evening in comments to my End of an Era post:The funny thing about a distillery tour is that the process is the same for beer and whiskey. With beer they stop after the fermentation; whiskey gets run through the still twice.
It's kind of like touring cathedrals in Europe; one distillery is pretty much like another unless you really get into details like the shape of the still. Of course, the reward at the end is the tasting, which I can't do (but I do smell it). Some places are a little more generous with the samples than others, of course.You could spend a month touring a couple of distilleries a day in Scotland and still miss a bunch.Gordon speaks Truth, especially when it comes to Scottish distilleries. I've not been in all that many Scottish distilleries, but my first distillery tour was one of those life-changing experiences and I mean that most literally.
It came to pass that The Second Mrs. Pennington and I decided to take a ten-day camping road trip up to Scotland the first Spring we were in Ol' Blighty. We had had a bout of extremely unseasonal warm weather in the south of England in mid-April… so being the clue-free sorts of people we were when it came to the UK's miserable weather, we loaded up our camping gear in the back of our old Ford Courier the third week in April and hit the trail for Points North. Bad idea... more correctly: bad timing for a rather good idea. But that's not the point of this story… suffice to say we spent more time in bed and breakfast establishments and hotels than we did in our tent, although we did manage to camp out about three of our ten days on the road.
Anyhoo. The focal point of our springtime odyssey was "Castles of Scotland" and we procured a way-cool Ordnance Survey map of just about every Scottish castle there is (or ever was) as our basic guide, planning the excursion so as to take in as many castles as was humanly possible during a ten-day period. Aside: the term "ever was" is key, as more than a few Scottish castles are better described as nothing more than piles of big-ass rocks. But quite interesting rocks, none the less.
And so we set out. It further came to pass once we were in the Highlands… on about our third or fourth day out from London… that Balvenie Castle was on our agenda. And a most beautiful castle it is…
(Image from the web site linked above)
But… and here's where serendipity enters the picture… to get to Balvenie Castle one must drive right by the Glenfiddich distillery (conveniently located on Castle Road). Where there is prominent signage right on the lane that says "Tours Daily." Which, of course, seemed like a damned good idea to YrHmblScrb and TSMP. So… we went up the lane about a quarter to a half mile, parked the truck, and proceeded to play among the ruins of Balvenie Castle for about an hour or so. We were alone amid the spectacular ruins of this castle... and that allowed us to run and play like nine-year olds, in the most literal sense of the term.
(Yet another aside: since the Scottish tourist season doesn't really begin until May, TSMP and I found ourselves alone or nearly so at pretty much every castle/tourist spot we hit, with the notable exception of Edinburgh, which… being a city… is fairly crowded year-round. There was a downside, as some of the larger attractions were closed for the season. But there was also an upside to the downside: on at least three occasions we were treated to private tours by resident caretakers who indulged us "since you've come all the way from America!" No shit. Really.)
(A further aside: we took pictures on these trips. LOTS of pictures. And they ALL disappeared in The Great Divorce Cataclysm of 1998. Regrets 'R' Us. In SO many different ways.)
So… back to our story, such as it is... we meandered back down the lane, pulled into the distillery carpark (which was nearly deserted, given the season), and went inside for a tour… which was memorable on several different levels, beginning with the fact there were perhaps six of us on the tour and ending with the tasting experience at the tour's completion. Up until that very point in time I had been a blend-guy if and when I drank Scotch, which was rarely. My first sip of Glenfiddich was a revelation and I do NOT use the term loosely. Epiphany would be a better term. When it comes to Scots whiskey it has been single-malts... and ONLY single-malts... ever since the day I took that tour.
And that is how I came to love single-malts. What began as a castle tour opened up a whole new world to me... a world that is still being explored to this day. In other words: so many whiskeys, so little time.
(Final aside: TSMP and I cut our ten-day trip short by a day. We spent our last night out in our tent in a campground somewhere south of Edinburgh and awoke the following morning to about two inches of snow on our tent and the surrounding ground. We set a "personal best" for breaking camp that morning, throwing most of the stuff in the bed of the truck in a supremely disorganized jumble and beating feet for the motorway south towards London, all while listening to The Beeb tell us that we were in peril of being caught up in the UK's biggest blizzard since Gawd-Only-Knows When. Weathermen are all alike, no matter where you are: it's ALL doom 'n' gloom in their world. But these weathermen were speaking truth. We raced that blizzard south, making better time than it did, thank the Deity At Hand. We awoke the morning after we got home to about ten to 12 inches of new snow on the ground… and that was in LONDON. It was much worse "up north," where the motorways were closed. We most definitely dodged a serious bullet, that time. If I have ANY advice to give in this space…"this space" being motor-touring in Ol Blighty… I'd recommend you not go up to Scotland until sometime in May. Mid-May.)"How I came to abandon single-malt whiskey" is a story o' falling from grace, penury, and the relentless pace o' inflation. It's ugly, as all tragedies tend to be. But I have renewed my acquaintance with Scotch blends, this one in particular.