Although I had mostly recovered from Thursday morning’s seasickness, I woke up Friday with terrible back pain again. I’m not exactly sure what causes this pain, which strikes occasionally and makes standing in one place torture. I just know it hurts. It helps when Bill steps on my back, but as we were in a tiny cabin, it wasn’t really possible for him to do that. Consequently, I started the morning with ibuprofen before breakfast. It helped somewhat before we visited Harris Distillery, a new player in Scotland’s whisky market. Harris Distillery currently sells gin, and we first tried it during our Spirit of Scotland cruise in March 2016. At that time, we were told that they were making whisky, but it would not be ready for three years. In Scotland, whisky must be aged for at least three years before it can legally be called whisky. Harris Distillery’s earliest whisky is now barely old enough to be marketed as whisky and they are focusing on quality. So, for now, there’s still just gin. But, I’m getting ahead of myself. First, we had to have breakfast.
Incidentally, our steward, Sergej, from Latvia, was outstanding. He joined our cruise a couple of days in. Prior to his arrival, his Latvian colleague, Piotjr took care of us. I had seen Piotjr before. He’s hard to miss, because he’s probably about 6’5″ and he’s a total pro at what he does. Actually, almost everyone on the ship is a total pro… with only a couple of exceptions, which I’ll get to later. For now, I want to focus on the positive as much as possible.
Sergej and Piotjr quickly learned our likes and dislikes. For instance, I don’t remember ever specifically telling Sergej how much I hate mushrooms, but somehow he knew. He also knew I prefer sparkling water and, at breakfast, I drink hot tea instead of coffee. Actually, I rarely drink hot tea off the ship, unless I’m in the United Kingdom. I really only drink tea on the ship because they use French presses and sometimes grounds escape into the cup. I have a very sensitive gag reflex and coffee grounds accidentally swallowed have a habit of making me vomit. Since I’m already drinking booze on occasionally rough seas, I figure it’s better to avoid coffee grounds. Also, the Brits just do an excellent job with their teas. I can have good coffee anywhere, but it’s a treat to have tea in Britain.
We docked in Tarbert, very close to Harris Distillery and Harris Tweed, which allowed us to walk to our destinations. Harris Distillery had a very inviting interior, with a fireplace as its centerpiece. The fireplace is an unusual sight at a distillery, since alcohol is so highly flammable. But the founder of the distillery wanted it that way… just as he wanted to create jobs for people on the Isle of Harris. This was not the only new distillery we encountered during our tour. It seems a lot of people want to bring more business to Scotland’s majestic islands so more young people might stay and keep the population going.
Our guide, Kate, was a trained chef who, I think, came from South Africa. She liked the Isle of Harris and stayed, where she pitches Harris Gin. When the whisky is available, I suspect she’ll pitch that, too. I thought her presentation was very professional. After a few distillery tours, you start to compare guides. Kate was one of the best, if only because I could easily hear and understand her. She was confident, friendly, and competent. She sold us a bottle of gin, along with sea kelp botanicals, hand soap, balm, and hand cream.
Harris Gin has limited availability at this time. I can get it in Germany, but I have to order it from one of the few distributors in Germany. It’s not something one can find in just any liquor store at this point. Kate was quick to tell us that Queen Elizabeth II regularly orders Harris Gin for her private collection. She likes her gin and tonics.
Really, though Harris will eventually have its own whisky, this was a gin tasting… Here are some photos.
My back was really hurting during our Harris Distillery tour, so I decided to walk back to the ship. Bill attended the Harris Tweed weaving demonstration, and did a little shopping. He picked up some Harris Tweed cufflinks and little booties for his new granddaughter, Clara, who was born July 4th.
For lunch, we opted for sandwiches, which are offered every day for those who don’t want three courses.
As we left Tarbert, the seas got a bit rough again. I was glad to have food in my stomach this time, as I took more seasickness pills. We cruised the Minch, but I was napping the whole time. Bill opted to listen to whisky expert Jim Allan give his talk called “Islay– Queen of the Hebrides”. Bill said it was a very good talk, even as he fought off drowsiness from the meds.
Jim Allan was a last minute addition to the cruise. We were supposed to have Charles MacLean aboard. He was on our Spirit of Scotland cruise in March 2016 and is considered one of the world’s foremost whisky experts. To be honest, though, I wasn’t all that impressed with Charles MacLean. I found him pompous and snooty. I wasn’t at all sad that he wasn’t on our cruise this time, even though I know at least one other passenger who had also been on our first whisky cruise was sad that Mr. MacLean hadn’t joined us.
I didn’t actually attend any of Mr. Allan’s talks, since they were given in the afternoons instead of during cocktail time as MacLean’s talks were. The fact that Allan gave his talks during the afternoon immediately made me like him a lot more. That, and he and his wife just seemed like much nicer and more approachable people. They were down to earth and relatable, rather than cliquish. I managed to get some pretty photos during our cruise through the Minch.
After dinner, we hung out in the Tiree Lounge, where I got rather friendly with the bartenders, John and Louis. They had very different styles, but both were equally charming. John hails from Glasgow and has a thick Glaswegian accent. He has sort of a cuddly quality to him, like a big teddy bear. He’s very friendly and kind and I really enjoyed getting to know him.
Louis is also friendly, but has his own unique charm. He’s originally from southwestern France, but was raised in Scotland. If I hadn’t noticed his lapel pin that had the French and Scottish flags on it, I wouldn’t have known. He has a Scottish accent, but is yet very, very French. Like the rest of the staff, he quickly learned my likes and dislikes and he surprised me by knowing my name almost immediately after we boarded. I must admit, it was a thrill having a dashing young Frenchman with a Scottish brogue bringing me my favorite champagne on demand. He also introduced me to the wonders of Janneau Armagnac. Just what I need! Another brandy to add to my favorites!
If you like to try different alcohols, Hebridean Island Cruises is a great place for taste testing. I sampled several different gins, as well as brandy and Calvados. I’ve had Calvados before, but Louis kind of reacquainted me with it.
Next up, Isle of Raasay.