whisky distilleries

Whisky distilleries I have known, part two…

In October 2017, when I still had a lot of people reading my travel blog, I wrote a post entitled Whisky distilleries I have known. In that post, I wrote about the eight different distilleries Bill and I had visited on our multiple trips to Scotland since 2012. Prior to August of this year, we had only been to Lowland, Island, and Campbeltown distilleries. But then we took our second Scotch whisky cruise on Hebridean Princess and visited seven more distilleries, several of which were on the other side of Scotland.

Upon looking up the distilleries we visited, a couple of which still had whiskies in development, I’m not exactly sure what region some of them are considered to be from. We visited Old Pulteney, in Wick, Scotland, which is definitely a Highland whisky, but we also visited some smaller distilleries on islands. Thinking about it, I guess most of them would be considered Island whiskies, although they aren’t located in the same part of Scotland as are the distilleries we previously visited. And then there’s Glengoyne, which we visited in 2017, which is considered a Highland whisky, but has part of its operation in the area known as the Lowlands. In fact, the guide pointed out that we literally crossed into the Highlands when we crossed the street to go to the visitor’s center.

Anyway, I thought I’d make a sequel to my original post about whiskies, since writing in my blog prevents me from shopping on Black Friday. Just for the record, in my first post I included discussion on the following distilleries:

  • Springbank
  • Arran
  • Laphroaig
  • Glengoyne
  • Bruichladdich
  • Oban
  • Jura
  • Kilchoman

I have updated that post so that it’s much more readable. A lot of my older posts are harder to read since I transferred my old blog on Blogger to my new WordPress blog and the formatting was all messed up. It’s a tedious process to update the posts, especially since there are over a thousand of them, so I’m doing it as I have time and inclination. That one looks good again, so if you’re interested in any of the whiskies listed above, please have a look. This post will include a brief rundown on the distilleries we saw in August.

Here goes:

1. Old Pulteney Distillery Wick, Scotland

Old Pulteney Distillery is located in Wick, a town in northeastern Scotland. We happened to visit during its “silent season” in August, which is when the distillery’s production shuts down so that workers can have a break and equipment can be repaired. The silent season happens every year, so if you want to visit this distillery when whisky is being produced, be sure to look at the calendar first. Also, since tours are provided on a space available basis and at specific times, you’ll want to book ahead if you’re not with a group, as we were. A basic tour runs 10 GBP, while a tour with extra tastings is 25 GBP.

Old Pulteney’s whiskies are Highland single malts. They also offer a whisky based liqueur called Stroma that many of the ladies on our ship loved and quickly consumed. I didn’t find Wick to be a terribly beautiful or exciting place, but there is an interesting museum there that is worth a visit. Wick also has a lot of history to explore regarding World War II. If you’re a history buff, as well as a whisky drinker, it may be worth your time to visit Old Pulteney’s distillery.

2. Highland Park Distillery Kirkwall, Orkney, Scotland

Highland Park is located in Kirkwall, on the of Orkney Island Mainland in Scotland. Orkney has the distinction of once being part of Norway. Of the distilleries we visited on our last whisky cruise, I think Highland Park’s history was the most interesting. We had excellent guides to tell us all about how the distillery got its beginnings, all the way back in 1798. The buildings at the distillery show the signs of age– blackened by the centuries of angels’ shares wafting overhead.

Highland Park Distillery is one of Kirkwall’s most popular tourist attractions and has the distinction of being Scotland’s northernmost whisky distillery. Indeed, the morning of our visit, we were joined by a Silversea ship, as well as Oceania. The tour bus from Silversea arrived as we were leaving. Highland Park was also having its “silent season” during our visit, but that didn’t stop us from enjoying a few drams and taking home some souvenirs from their very nice shop. As Highland Park is a pretty major distillery, they have several tours available ranging in price and intensity from 10 GBP to 250 GBP a person. Of course, if you spring for the most expensive tour, your group size will be limited to six people, you’ll get three hours to visit, and you’ll taste some amazing spirits from the 60s and 70s!

3. Scapa Distillery Kirkwall, Orkney, Scotland

Like Highland Park, Scapa Distillery is located in Kirkwall, but it’s on the on the shore of Scapa Flow, giving it a beautiful natural setting right by the water. Scapa, located a half mile south of Highland Park, is Scotland’s second northernmost distillery. Scapa is currently owned by the Pernod Ricard, though it was founded in 1885 by Macfarlane & Townsend, and was later acquired by Hiram Walker & Sons Ltd (now part of Pernod Ricard). In 1994, Scapa was “mothballed” and it remained so until 2004, when there was talk of closing the distillery for good. The decision was instead made to resume production, so the first whisky since 1994 began production in November of 2004.

Scapa Distillery offers three different tours ranging in price from 12 GBP to 45 GBP and running between 45 minutes and one hour. Pre-booking is highly recommended.

4. Harris Distillery Tarbert, Harris, Scotland

Located on the Isle of Harris, Harris Distillery is currently making a name for itself by producing gin in beautifully designed etched bottles. Indeed, Bill and I were introduced to Harris Gin on our first Hebridean whisky cruise, the Spirit of Scotland, in March 2016. Harris is a new distillery and, by law, whisky cannot be called whisky until it’s been aged 3 years. Harris Distillery’s whisky is just at the point at which it can be legally considered whisky, so for now, the emphasis is more on the gin. Still, I think this distillery is worth visiting because it’s visitor center is so beautiful with its fireplace (around all that alcohol, no less!) and it’s right next door to the Harris Tweed store. Visits costs 10 GBP and include gin and whisky tastings. Children between the ages of five and 18 may take the tour for 5 GBP, without tastings. Children under five are not allowed on the tour.

5. Raasay Distillery Kyle, Isle of Raasay, Scotland

Raasay Distillery, like Harris Distillery, is a new business and is still developing its whisky. Gin is being produced for now, and there’s also a single malt available called While We Wait, which was made by blending two expressions from one distillery– one peated, and one unpeated. Raasay’s whisky will make its debut in 2020. Raasay Distillery also offers accommodations which overlook the beautiful grounds. Tours can be booked for 10 to 15 GBP and run for about an hour.

I think this may have been my second favorite stop on our whisky cruise. I enjoyed the staff at this distillery and the strong sense of community they shared as they spoke of revitalizing the economy in stunning Raasay. I also really enjoyed their gin. I wish I’d bought a bottle. Right next door to the distillery is Raasay House, a historic hotel which offers accommodations that may be somewhat less fancy than those at the distillery.

6. Torabhaig Distillery Armadale, Isle of Skye, Scotland

This was another interesting stop on our cruise. I enjoyed hearing about Torabhaig’s fascinating story– basically, it was a partnership between investors and whisky makers who spent four years turning a historic property into a new business venture. Our guide, Hans, was a great speaker. Originally from the Netherlands, Hans is fluent in several languages and conducted himself like a college professor. This tour edged out Raasay just slightly, in part because I ended up bonding with a really kind taxi driver during our visit. I forgot to collect my sweater after our tour and he was kind enough to take me back to the distillery to pick it up. We had an interesting talk about religion and politics.

This distillery, like Harris and Raasay, is also just now developing its spirits. However, while the spirits are being aged, Mossburn Whisky is available– these are whiskies that were made before the distillers had a home in Torabhaig Distillery. Because the brand’s whiskies were made at different locations, they have different types available, since as Islay and Speyside varieties. This distillery also has a gorgeous gift shop selling lots of Harris Tweed items. I bought a beautiful bag there.

Tours can be booked between 10am and 4pm Monday through Friday. The distillery doesn’t offer tours on weekends. Children under 12 are not allowed, and the tours run 45 minutes and cost 10 GBP.

7. Ardnamurchan Distillery Glenbeg, Scotland

Beautiful Ardnamurch Distillery is Scotland’s westernmost distillery, located on the Glenmore River. This distillery was founded in 2012, so its whiskies are still developing. Still, the distillery is located in a beautiful area, and I quite enjoyed our guide, who told us he’d moved from Glasgow because he liked the island life. Having looked around at Scotland’s stunning islands, I can’t blame him in the least! If I weren’t so old and crotchety, I might consider getting a job at a distillery myself, so I can enjoy the beautiful scenery and good nature of the Scots. Although this is a new distillery, it might be worth visiting just to stay in one of the many beautiful, historic hotels nearby.

Tours at Ardnamurchan Distillery can be booked in advance, range in price from 8 GBP to 40 GBP, and run from 45 to 90 minutes. I can attest the visitor center is rustic and charming, if you like looking at deer heads mounted on the walls.

8. Tobermory Distillery Tobermory, Isle of Mull

I must confess that I wimped out on visiting this distillery, which was the last on our whisky cruise. Bill went on the tour while I hung out on the ship, mainly because there was horizontal rain that day and I was simply “whiskyed out” at that point. It turned out the tour was more of a tasting anyway. The guide was a retired police officer and singer-songwriter who took a job at the distillery and offered stories and songs over a wee dram or two. When Bill told me about his visit, I wished I had sucked it up and gone with him. Tobermory also looks like an adorable town and is probably even more so when there’s no rain. The distillery is open every day from 10am til 4pm. Call them for more information.

So… that makes a grand total of 16 distilleries we’ve seen courtesy of cruising on Hebridean Princess. Personally, I think whisky cruises are an ideal way to visit distilleries. You don’t have to worry about driving anywhere and a lot of times, the ship arranges more in depth tours than you might otherwise get. But I can also see the appeal of arranging these tours on your own, taking your time, and getting to know the delightful locals. And even though there are a bunch of new distilleries on this list, they’re still worth a look. A lot of them make wonderful gin and may soon make a whisky you can’t live without. Scotland is one of my favorite places on earth, even though I seem to have bad luck when I go there. But that’s a rant for another day.

Hebridean Island Cruises

Tasting whisky at Ardnamurchan Distillery, hitting the wall at Tobermory, and wanting to hit a guide…

Monday morning, we visited Ardnamurch Distillery, Scotland’s westernmost distiller located on the Glenmore River. This distillery was founded in 2012, so like many of the others on this cruise, it’s very new. I have to admit that by the time we reached this distillery, I was a bit whiskyed out. I didn’t even drink a lot of it on the ship. However, I am glad I visited this distillery if only because it’s located in such a beautiful place. We took the tenders to a floating pier, where we were met by a man with a thick Scottish brogue who came up from Glasgow because he liked the island life. Can’t say I blame him.

Here are some pictures from Ardnamurch Distillery, whose parent company is Adelphi Distillery. I found it very interesting when the guide told us the casks from Jack Daniels in Tennessee were “rubbish”. This distillery gets them from Woodford Reserve instead. I noticed Jack Daniels casks at other distilleries. He told us that the focus was on perfection, since they are not able to produce as much whisky as the really big distillers.

After our tour, we went back to the ship for lunch, then sailed to Tobermory, Isle of Mull. Lunch on Sunday was the cold ham buffet, which also has always happened on every Hebridean cruise I’ve ever taken. It’s basically a buffet with the beautifully carved ham, oysters, smoked salmon, and lots of fresh vegetables.

I confess, although Tobermory looked like a very charming town and the Tobermory Distillery was very close to the ship, it was raining horizontally and I didn’t feel like going out in it. Bill visited Tobermory Distillery, which turned out to be just a tasting… the man doing the tasting was a former police officer turned whisky hawker. He was also a singer-songwriter and he performed a few songs. Dammit… I missed another musical experience. Oh well. I came home inspired to make my own music!

It was just as well that I missed the tasting, since I caught rainbows. I’d been waiting for them all week. Scotland and Ireland have never not delivered on rainbows. Here are a few photos.

Monday night was also the evening of our farewell gala. This is where, unfortunately, things went a little south. I apologize to anyone reading this and thinking I shouldn’t mention it. I like to be truthful as much as possible and, I have to admit, we were let down in a big way on the last night. We had a wonderful dinner after the last champagne reception. I wore a somewhat less matronly purple velvet dress… I know, weird in August, but it was chilly and beat the alternative. Bill wore his kilt again. Right before dinner, a passenger commented on Bill’s tendency to sit with his legs slightly apart. He’s a guy, after all, and doesn’t often wear skirts. But, bucking the tradition of not wearing underwear under the kilt, he did wear thigh length underwear. It was kind of embarrassing that someone commented on the way he was sitting, but he shrugged it off. Practice makes perfect.

We had our haggis, neeps, and tatties. I had turbot filet and Bill had lamb. After we ate, we visited the galley and thanked the kitchen staff. Some readers might remember that I didn’t visit them in 2017 because in 2016, I was a bit traumatized by a fellow passenger who barged in as I was talking to the staff. I had suddenly felt really intrusive, even though I knew I wasn’t being intrusive. I just happen to be very sensitive to certain things and I noticed annoyance on the faces of some of the staff, though it probably wasn’t necessarily because of me. In fact, one kitchen staffer in 2016 remembered me from 2012.

Anyway, this time, we did go in and thank the staff and the same dude who remembered me in 2016 said it was nice to see me aboard again. That really delighted me, so I was in a great mood when we went to the Tiree lounge. We were at the bar enjoying our last evening on the ship. Bill and I were in fine spirits. At that point, one of the guides came up to Bill and started talking about his kilt. I didn’t immediately notice it at the time, but the guide seemed like he might have been a wee bit drunk. Or, at least that’s how he appeared to me. It’s the only way I can explain his behavior.

He leaned over and whispered to Bill about his tendency to sit with his legs apart. That was embarrassing enough, but would have been easy to shrug off. But then the guide seemed more emboldened, and suddenly went off on a strange tirade about how he didn’t want to see anyone’s “knickers” or “balls”. He wasn’t whispering, and I could tell that Bill was humiliated by his comments, especially since he’d already gotten the point and Bill was wearing knit boxers that reached to his mid thighs. I can assure everyone that no one saw anything private. Bill is a sensitive man, and he’s easily embarrassed, yet much too polite to tell anyone who deserves it to go take a flying leap. Besides, the guide’s very nice wife was sitting nearby and Bill would never swear in front of a lady. I’m no lady; I’m his wife, so he does swear in front of me.

I told the guide that he was doing his best to ensure that Bill never wore his kilt again, which would be a real shame. I worked hard to get him in that kilt, and he looks gorgeous in it. Or, at least I think so… and my opinion is the only one, besides Bill’s, that really matters. In retrospect, maybe I should have snarled at the guy… but then, too many people already seem to think I’m a bitch when I stand up for myself.

Bill was visibly upset when the guide finally went away. I was also a bit pissed… both in terms of annoyance and drunkenness, since my bartender friend Louis had kept me in Armagnac and Calvados. I was trying to talk Bill down, reminding him that the guy had seemed pretty intoxicated to me (which he may not have been). I have a feeling one of the staffers heard me and clued in the excellent purser, who did ask Bill if he was alright the next morning. There wasn’t time to really address the issue. I’m wondering if maybe they should get one of my trademark letters… but maybe it’s best to just let the incident go.

We did end the night on a good note, though. The Danish guy came to the bar and we had a nice chat. At the Danish guy’s suggestion, I ended up singing to Bill, which may not have been as beautiful as it could have been, since I’d been drinking. He does love it when I sing to him, though.

Last post is up next.