Scotland 2017: Spirit of Speyside day 2

For our last day in Scotland we mixed several Spirit of Speyside events along with some drives and hikes through the beautiful countryside. I started off the morning with a photo session of the Craigellachie bridge.

Craigellachie Bridge  Craigellachie Bridge

Craigellachie Bridge

After a big breakfast at the hotel we drove south toward our first stop of the day, Glenlivet’s open house. But first we had one small detour to the old bridge of Livet, which looks like something from Lord of the Rings.

double packhorse bridge

Parking at Glenlivet was a bit confused, but after a few minutes someone left and we found a space. On our way to the party we stopped at their tiny still to try the raw spirit – lightly smoked and strong!

Glenlivet still

Inside there were several booths with cheese, spices, etc. Leandra really enjoyed the spice table with Ghilli Basan and came away with her own flavored nut mix. A food demo in the corner was quite interesting, with combinations of local foraged items paired with Glenlivet whisky. Of note: the gorse petal cocktail was really good, as was the cake and aloroso-barrel whisky pairing. In between their cooking demos the live music was also entertaining and surprisingly good. We each received a dram with our entrance, so we choose the Glenlivet 18 (very light, floral, not for me) and the Nadurra (oak and cedar, richer, but still lighter side. Fairly nice.).

making my own spice mix w/ Ghillie Basan @ Glenlivet  whisky and food pairings @ Glenlivet


Our next stop was the Whisky Castle in Tomintoul, our favorite whisky shop! We spent a happy 1.5 hours here chatting with Sam, the owner, and other patrons. Sam helped Leandra find a Glenrinnes while I tried a lovely 7 year red wine barrel Caol Illa – the tannin was noticeable so I switched to a Bruichladdich instead. The Gordon & MacPhail tasting rep also convinced us on the Benriach cask – lighter than ours, more vanilla and fruit. Definitely tastes better after sitting for 20 mins, and with water.

The Whisky Castle (our favorite shop in Scotland)

The drive from Tomintoul back north to Dufftown was beautiful and filled with farms with sheep and pheasants abound!

lambs at play

wild pheasant

Compared to the Whisky Castle, our stop at the Whisky Shop Dufftown was more crowded and less helpful. However, Leandra did find several more Benrinnes bottlings, so we did make a purchase before leaving.


We hadn’t yet seen Linn Falls in Aberlour, so we decided to try this pleasant stroll next.

Linn Falls

Done with driving, we parked at our hotel and went for happy hour cocktails at Quaich, then headed across the street to the Highlander Inn for dinner. Though bustling, they had a cozy corner table available without a reservation (yeah!). I ordered the beef pie while Leandra thoroughly enjoyed her smoked fish trio platter (which was a lot more filling than it looks).

dinner @ Highlander Inn

The Highlander also has a noted whisky list, so after dinner we tried a Bruichladdich cask no 3093 + 3095 – 23 year, and a Benrinnes Flora and Fauna – 15 year.

After a quick walk around town, we went back to Quaich bar for the end of the Lomond Campbell session, where we scored a free dram of the Craigallechie 23. Afterwards I also enjoyed an Octomore 6.1 (beautful smokiness) and we enjoyed conversing with several of the folks hanging around, not leaving till near midnight when a Swede started some card tricks… yet another lovely day in Scotland.

Quaich Bar  music @ Quaich Bar

Scotland 2017: Spirit of Speyside day 1

The Spirit of Speyside event registration opened right after our return from Malaysia. A few days before that we went through the events available for Saturday and Sunday and made a prioritized list; some events are quite exclusive and sell out within minutes, so we knew we needed a plan. When the registration opened at 7a EST were able to reserve each item we wanted (several were sold out within the hour!).

Given that background, we were quite excited to start the festival at Cardhu Distillery for the Stillman’s Tour with Willie ‘Buzz’ Hutcheson. This distillery, owned by Johnnie Walker, is quite an operation.

Cardhu Distillery

Buzz was a hoot, providing lots of interesting anecdotes along our tour. We were amazed at how automated the plant is – they can run the whole production with a single Stillman!

Cardhu Distillery

Cardhu Distillery  Eric posing with a 31 year old cask whisky
Beautiful stills!; enjoying a 31 year old whisky

Our tour took us into the storage room where we got to try samples of a very dark 31 year malt (1986) straight out of the barrel. The second dram from a reused barrel (1987) was much lighter, so the 31 was my fave.

Buzz showing off the old casks

We ended the tour with a small tasting in the Johnnie Walker house, which features a beautiful wood-covered sitting room. Even better, they had tubes so that Leandra could take her samples to try later!

Cardhu Distillery

This tour was definitely a worthwhile experience and a great way to start the festival.

Knockando Woolmill is just around the corner so we stopped in to explore. This old wool mill has been renovated to once again run on water power! It wasn’t in operation on this Saturday, but it was fascinating to see how they process raw wool into yarn.

weaving some yard @ Knockando Woolmill

Mind Yer Heid

Knockando Woolmill  Knockando Woolmill

shop @ Knockando Woolmill

Our next stop was Dowans Hotel on the outskirts of Aberlour for lunch. Unique in our experience, we sat in the lounge area to peruse the menu and order our drinks, then seated in the restaurant when our food was ready. The decor and our sandwiches were both memorably good.

Dowans Hotel

lunch @ Dowans Hotel

We made a quick stop in downtown Aberlour to check out a gallery, then the The Spey Larder for their whisky flavored foods event before driving on to Craigellachie. We had just enough time for a quick check-in before our second event, a blind whisky taste-off between the towns of Rothes and Dufftown. This event was amazing, filled with laughter as each town one-upped the other with stories and good-natured ribbing.

Rothes vs Dufftown blind tasting

speeches in between tasting flights  interested bystanders

Over the course of two hours we tasted 10 whiskies.

Round 1: Glenrothes Vintage Reserve vs. Glenfiddich Project XX
Round 2: Glendullan ‘The Singleton’ 12 year vs. Speyburn 10 year
Round 3: Glen Grant 18 year ‘Rare Edition’ vs. Mortlach 18 year
Round 4: Glen Spey 21 year vs. Balvenie Portwood 21 year
Round 5: Cadenhead’s Cask Ends Caperdonich 1992 vs. Wm Grant and Sons Kininvie 1990

In the end Dufftown prevailed 4-1 and we both choose the winners in 4/5 rounds!

Following the blind tasting, the Craigellachie distillery hosted a free tasting under the bridge in town. Each person was allowed one dram, so Leandra choose the 31 year old and I went for the 21. Unsurprisingly, quite a few people turned out for this event! The crowd was quite fun too, as we bumped into several people that we’d met at the earlier events.

having a dram under the Craigellachie Bridge

Craigellachie Distillery options

Leandra had made a 7pm reservation for dinner at the Copper Dog several weeks earlier, which was a really good idea given how busy they were on this festival evening. I went for the fish and chips which were perfectly done and tasty. Leandra couldn’t resist the oysters and, wow, were they intimidatingly large! For her main she went with the venison.

"Whisky is liquid sunshine."  venison loin @ Copper Dog

And of course, we ended the evening in the Quaich bar. It was busy, but we snagged chairs in the far corner so were tucked away a bit. These were the whiskies we sampled:

  • Dalmore 15 – not as good as 12, brown sugar nose but more of a burn.
  • Benriach 20 – light coconut, tropical notes,  cocoa, sharp alcohol. Very nice.
  • Edradour 12 Caledonia – bit of a burn, brown sugar and citrus on nose, vanilla and honey. Good dram.
  • Ancnoc Rascan – nice smokiness, intense. Burnt marshmallows, very nice
  • Inchgower 14 – sea salt smell, pear and lime, bit of a burn, but Leandra’s fave of the night.
  • Kilchoman Sanaig – ashy! Dry, med finish with some iodine on finish. Really strong.

Another long day, but one that was quite memorable.

Scotland 2017: Exploring the Highlands

Our second day in Scotland involved lots of driving, several waterfalls, one particularly rainy hike, and a few drams of whisky (naturally).

We headed north out of Inverness along the A835 to Rogie Falls. It was a short hike to the powerful cascades with a child-friendly interpretive sign about the life cycle of salmon.

hike to Rogie Falls  Rogie Falls

Rogie Falls

While driving along, we saw a parking area near another falls that wasn’t on our list, but Blackwater Falls and the pretty roadside falls around the corner were a nice photo stop.

Black Water Falls  falls off A835

The Falls Of Mesach are located in Corrieshalloch Gorge National Nature Reserve. The large parking lot was nearly empty when we arrived (yeah!) and there was a food truck selling burgers and other snacks near the first entry gate. The gorge itself was surprisingly steep and the view from the limited-person bridge was breath-taking (or terrifying depending how you feel about heights or swaying bridges).

swinging bridge capacity

Corrieshalloch Gorge  Corrieshalloch Gorge

selfie w/ Falls Of Mesach

A little further up the road is this spectacular view of the Scottish highlands…

peekaboo view of Loch Broom

Our next stop was the Lael Forest and although we weren’t entirely sure we had the correct parking lot, we decided to go exploring. Thankfully the cows didn’t seem to mind.

hello cows!

After about a mile, we found a small waterfall next to a water-driven hydro station.

Lael Forest Falls

Feeling hungry, we stopped at the Arch Hotel in Ullapool for lunch. I had the blue cheese tart while Leandra opted for the (traditionally Scottish) Cullen Skink (cream-based soup with smoked haddock, potatoes and onions). Everything was tasty.

downtown Ullapool

On our way out of town, we took a quick detour to the Rhue Lighthouse and then continued on to Knockan Crag. The views from the top were spectacular but the drizzle that changed into rain halfway through the hike was not so great.

Knockan Crag National Nature Reserve

panoramic views

Given the weather we decided to begin our return back to Inverness along A837. In Invercassley we stopped at a small turnout for Achness Falls, which we had all to ourselves.

Achness Falls

Further down the road are the Falls of Shin, which appear to be recently developed with a parking lot and a new ramp and viewing platform. Unfortunately, the view is of top of falls, so it is not a great photo spot – hopefully they will complete a second viewing platform a little further downstream that will provide a much better vantage soon.

Falls of Shin

Given the time we decided to have dinner at the Dornoch Castle Hotel, which is known to have a nice whisky selection. Leandra had the mussels and I had the (very light and fluffy) goat cheese fritter salad (which was larger than expected, and quite tasty). Leandra had a few mistakes happen during dinner, including the wrong wine delivered to the table and leaving off the toasted bread on the mussels, but thankfully, everything was fixed quickly.

Dornoch Castle  mussels @ Dornoch Castle

After dinner we were lucky to snag a couch in the Whisky Bar while we perused the whisky list. Leandra tried a Clynelish 15 year cask in her long-standing challenge to identify a whisky like her beloved Benrinnes. Eric started with a local, Glenmorangie 12 year port finish, then went for a Laphroaig Scotch Malt Whisky Society‎ 29.175 16yr. This was lovely, with chocolate, burnt marshmallows, light fruit, nice smokiness.

scotch by candlelight @ Dornoch Castle

All in all, a long but satisfying day exploring Scotland.

Scotland 2017: Loch Ness

Upon landing and waiting for the rental car, the weather changed multiple times… sunny, pouring rain, cloudy, back to sun, etc. So, welcome to Scotland! We were waiting behind a couple who were having a few prepayment issues but once we got to the front it was smooth sailing and we were on our way in a brand new car.

Hungry, we made our first stop in Drumnadrochit, home of the Loch Ness Monster. Fiddler’s Restaurant is a laid back, typical Scottish pub but the food was even better than expected.  I had forgotten that the Scots cook their hamburgers to death so I opted for the cured meats instead. Everything was tasty, but the venison terrine was outstanding. Eric went with a cheddar burger and a bottled Black Isle Scottish wee heavy aged in an Ardbeg barrel. It was two years old and funky with a hint of sour, yum. I got a half pint of the local stout, also good. We might have had a dram after lunch as well…

absolutely tasty meat plate @ Fiddler's  a dram with Nessie


Although we really wanted to see Dog Falls, I vetoed the hike due to time constraints and my energy level. Plodda Falls wound up being a good choice, it was a short and easy hike to several cascades and viewpoints and once a French family cleared out we had the place to ourselves.

falls on Abhainn Deabhag

Plodda Falls  Plodda Falls

On the drive back we stopped to photograph a roadside falls for a creek that feeds the larger Abhainn Deabhag.

falls on Abhainn Deabhag

We also passed through the village of Tomich, which we learned is the area Lord Tweedmouth created the golden retriever dog breed. So there you go.

Continuing to retrace our path back toward Loch Ness, we tried to get a look at Urquart Castle but due to trees and a carefully placed parking lot, there wasn’t much to see from road, so we continued on. Our next stop was Invermoriston when we both spotted a small ‘waterfall’ sign near a parking area. A quick u-turn lead to Invermoriston Falls (lovely, but really a set of cascades…)

falls in Invermoriston

We rounded the south end of Loch Ness and started heading north again, stopping at the Suidhe Viewpoint. And, well, wow. The top of the hill gives you 360 degree views and it is stunning.

Suidhe Viewpoint

Suidhe Viewpoint

Suidhe Viewpoint

We had one more waterfall to see before we headed back to Inverness to check in and grab dinner, and the Falls of Foyer did not disappoint.

Falls of Foyers

Parking and check in at the B&B went smoothly and we decided on the nearby Rocpools for dinner. Really, any restaurant in town was within walking distance as the Eskdale Guest House was in a great location.

Greig St Bridge, Inverness
Greig St Bridge, Inverness

We split a pork belly appetizer (nuttier and more meaty than NC pork belly), then Eric had the pumpkin sage gnocchi and I had the beef cheek. Both were great and paired nicely with a Provence rose wine. At least four staff members stopped by the table to refill our wine glasses and chat – definitely my kind of place! :)

Not quite tired yet, we strolled across the river to Black Isle for a beer and a whisky. I had the Ardbeg barrel oatmeal stout with a dram of the Dalmore 12. Loved both! Eric went for the Rauschan marzen and the Old Pulteney 21 – nice smokiness to the beer and a complex orange and honey on the whisky. Reminded him of a Bruichladdich. Lovely way to end our first evening in Scotland.

Inverness @ night

Scotland 2017: waterfalls and whisky!

Back in late November, whilst enjoying the end of a warm day in New Zealand, we discovered some great deals to the UK. After some discussion we booked two trips, one to London in February, and a second that had us flying into Inverness, Scotland in late April.

With tickets in hand we knew we’d want to spend one or two days at the Craigellachie Hotel so we emailed a reservation request (yes, they don’t have an online system…). A day after an initial confirmation we received a notice that the hotel prices were higher for our weekend of interest due to a whisky festival, the Spirit of Speyside. This was the same festival we had just missed on our April 2015 trip, so in a stroke of serendipity, we had now had a chance to try it.

Of course, we also wanted to see some new parts of Scotland, so we planned two daytrips from Inverness, followed by two days of whisky events from Craigellachie. Altogether, this latest trip to Scotland lead to some beautiful views and amazing experiences.

where we were in Scotland; a detailed driving map (click image for larger version)

Plus a few new items for our collection…

our haul from Scotland!

Where we stayed

Eskdale Guest House – Inverness

A small B&B on the corner of A82 and a few blocks from the river and the downtown restaurants. Our room was comfortable and a good size, though a little loud given its location on the corner of the main road (earplugs helped there). The owner was very friendly and provided a tasty and quite filling breakfast – especially the banana bread, which was amazingly good.

eggs and salmon @ Eskdale Guest House 

Also, off-street parking was a great perk. We would return on our next trip to the area.

The Craigellachie Hotel

As mentioned above, this hotel is a little quirky with regard to reservations, as we had to email. That may be in part due to their location in a tiny village along the river Spey. The hotel lobby had a lovely little fire going while we checked in, and we were given a heavy salmon key fob with directions to a room above the lobby. The rationale for that became clear when we headed up the stairs to find no numbers on the doors!

Our room was smallish and sparsely decorated but had enough space with a closet and desk on one side, and the firm but comfortable bed on the other. Of note, both places we stayed provided Walkers shortbread biscuits, a nice treat. The bathroom was nicely appointed but the shower was a little too small, and it was hard not to bump into the sides.

'snug room' @ Craigellachie Hotel  our bathroom @ Craigellachie Hotel

Breakfast was served in a bright room off the lobby, and included pastries and other cold items on a small buffet along with menu items made to order. Very tasty and filling!

Of course, we had chose The Craigellachie Hotel for its location in the heart of Speyside and for the Quaich bar, and it’s hard to beat either! We certainly hope to return in the future.


Hilton Garden Inn London Heathrow Airport – London

A good spot for our overnight given its location one tube stop from the airport along the main Piccadilly line. We’ve stayed here several times previously, and they’ve renovated since our previous visit. This time we were assigned a king room on the 7th floor. As usual, the windows are great at keeping sound out, and the room is great for an overnight. Since our Heathrow lounge access has changed, this time we tried the breakfast buffet, and it was quite good with a range of hot and cold items. Overall a nice stay.

UK 2015: Edinburgh


We dropped off the car after a long day of driving and walked back toward the airport’s tram station. For 5£ each we were in the heart of Edinburgh in about 20 minutes. Thankfully the key was left under the mat for us so we could drop off all our stuff and head to Brewdog for pre-dinner drinks. Unfortunately for us, many of the taps were empty – apparently their shipments come in on Wednesdays. We settled for the ‘This is Lager,’ which was solid and quite German, and a red ale, which had some hops to it.

Wildest DramswildpateOur reserved table was at the far end of the restaurant which involved several stairs and turns. There were only a few other occupied tables so we more or less had the full attention of our impressively bearded waiter. I was late to dinner dealing with the flat owner, and by the time I got there the girls had ordered a bottle of tempranillo. I opted for a saison that was strong, a little hopped and quite interesting. Leandra’s appetizer of wild game pate was a bit bland and she didn’t love the oat crackers. Thankfully, tasty plain bread came out later so she used that instead.

For my entree I ordered the brisket of Scottish water buffalo – the meat was very firm, but fell apart like a roast, and I rather liked the interesting texture. Sauce was needed, and thankfully it was quite good too.

Leandra ordered the haunch of Ardgay Estate venison. Prepared medium rare, she did not leave any leftovers! She also liked the Stovie croquettes that came with my dish.

Not ready to head home (literally across the street) we stayed for whisky afterwards in the bar area; the bartenders were friendly with many suggestions, and we closed the place down.

Bar drinks:

  • Ledaig (le-check) – small medicinal nose, 54% alcohol.  Vanilla and a little heat taste. Tasty. [Eric]
  • Caol Isla 2003 – hickory-esque smoke, marshmallow and popcorn scent. Lovely char taste. Really good.  [Eric]
  • Longrow – mild fruit and honey nose, medium burn with sugar and smoke.  [Leandra]
  • St Erik’s Rauchbier – yum. Tastes like a smoked beef jerky. Unique for sure.  [Leandra]


The rest of our group had tickets to see the castle, so we had the morning to ourselves. We started with a quick breakfast from Piemakers down the street. Leandra’s coffee was passable (and very hot) but the classic Scottish pie was tasty and rich. I went the sweet route with a cherry pie.

All day there was a mix of rain, wind and occasional sunshine, so we ducked in and out of stores along Prince Street, working our way up to Rose Street to peruse restaurants and shops.

Rose Street  which glass was it?Saint Andrew's and Saint George's West Church

Eventually, we made our way back to the apartment via the covered train station to familiarize ourselves with the layout for the next day.

Reunited with the group, we grabbed a leisurely lunch at Whiski. Leandra ordered her mussels (again) and the Edinburgh Castle ale, and I ordered a Caesar chicken sandwich with the Thistle whisky cask cider. (The cider was a bit too sweet for me but they were out of the other options I wanted.)

Next was whisky shopping along the Royal Mile street where we found several good options to take home with us.

Cadenhead’s was unique – they primarily sell their own independently casked and bottle whisky. You could fill one of three bottle sizes from their selection of casks, and we came home with some mid-size bottles.

hand-labeling @ Cadenhead  barrels @ Cadenhead

Our next stop was Jeffrey Street Whisky. Besides a nice selection, they also offered complimentary tea (One staff member had been to the same sherry bar in Malaga that we’ve been to!)

tea @ a whisky shop

Our third stop was Royal Mile Whiskies which had the best selection and prices of those we stopped in, so we ended up returning a little later and purchasing two bottles here. They proactively offer a tax rebate form that ended up saving us an extra $15 (after processing fees) too. We had also tried The Whisky Shop, but it was a bit of a disappointment with higher prices and strange music.

For dinner we returned to a favorite from our earlier trip, Mums. I ordered the chicken pot pie and a Holyrood pale ale, and Leandra choose the beef stew (basically the pot pie filling without the crust) and dumplings with a Carbon Smith Le Chien Noir stout. The service was scattered and slow on this visit – it took over two hours for our meal – but thankfully the food was still tasty.

Across the street is Sandy Bells, famous for live music, so we stopped in for an after-dinner drink. The pub was crowded but we found a spot on the end near the band and enjoyed the music.Leandra took the advice of the bartender and ordered the Glenrothes select reserve whisky – light in color with nice sweetness and a bit of burn, fruity and easy drinking. I had the Bruichladdich (brook-la-dee) Port Charlotte – light smoky nose, a little of the Bruichladdich cheesiness too. Good smoke on the palate, a little burn with the cask strength.

As with our last trip, we could have easily spent more time on the lovely old streets of Edinburgh, and we can’t wait for our next return.

UK 2015: Speyside to Edinburgh

Our group discussed a few options for what to do along the way to Edinburgh, and Eric and I were outvoted in favor of a trip to the east coast for castle and shore views. Our first stop was in Tomintoul for The Whisky Castle, a whisky shop with 6-7 independent bottlers of one-off casks and quite a few samples available for tastings. Because of the location, they specialize in Speyside distilleries and most offerings are 50-100 pounds per bottle. After trying a sample, I couldn’t pass up a bottle of a 17 yr old scotch that smelled (and tasted) just like the coast – coconut and salt spray. Delicious.

Whisky Castle!  tastes just like the speyside coast
easy street parking first thing in the morning; my tasty speyside scotch

Heading east through some of the Cairngorms National Park along the River Dee, we eventually reached Stonehaven after about 1.5 hours. Grabbing a parking spot in a small pull-out, we hiked up the hill to great views of the village below.

Stonehaven from the Coastal Tourist Route

There was also a beautiful war memorial at the peak of Black Hill.

Stonehaven War Memorial

Eric and I hiked along the cliff-side trail, enjoying the coconut-scented gorse bushes, to get some panoramic views of Strathlethan Bay and Dunnottar Castle.

Strathlethan Bay

Dunnottar Castle

Strathlethan Bay

Although there were storms in the bay, we stayed dry on shore. Very lucky for us! After a nice hour-long hike, we piled back into the car and started our journey to Edinburgh – then no more driving for me!