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: 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

Netherlands 2015: Amsterdam food & drink


After a lovely overnight in Den Bosch, we headed back to Amsterdam, checked into our hotel and met up with friends for a walk through Vondelpark and beers.

Craft & Draft – For the first round Eric had the Dugges/All In Brewing Pear are you Jonathan? Berliner Weisse (Sweden) and I had the Brouwerij De Vriendschap NDSM Porter (Amsterdam). Since these were 25cl pours, we both opted for a second round, a pink colored Buxton Red Rye Raspberry (England) for Eric and the tasty and strong Redwillow Thoughtless Imp. Stout (England) for me. The selection of beers was quite impressive with several American craft beers represented.


Our friends wanted us to try a smoked meat place, Café de Klos, for dinner so we put our names on the list and headed across the street to grab a beer at their sister bar. We only had to wait 20 minutes or so for a chance to order some tasty dinner. After finishing up our La Chouffe from the bar across the street, we each enjoyed a house tripel, De Manke Monnik (The Lame Monk). Oh, and the meats were delicious too!

smoked ribs @ Café de Klos
smoked ribs (I barely touched the accompaniments!)

Later that evening Eric mentioned a whiskey bar he had found so we headed out to find it. Whiskycafe L&B was an awesome hole-in-the-wall bar with bottles everywhere! Definitely one of the best whiskey bars we’ve experienced, good enough that we returned the next night too. Both nights we went we were able to grab a seat and it never got loud or super-crowded. First visit: Benriach Curiositas (quite tasty nice light smoke, little sugar and sweet), Benriach Septendecim and Benriach Arumaticus Fumosus (both peaty and delicious). Second visit: Caol Ila 17 (1991) for Eric and the GlenDronach Revival 15 for me.

peated flight @ Whiskycafe L&B

Whiskycafe L&B  two more scotches! 


Sunday morning is rather slow in Amsterdam for food, but we weren’t interested in the relatively expensive hotel breakfast. Instead we grabbed two almond croissants at a nearby Le Pain Quotidien that was conveniently open for takeaway.

After our tour of the gardens we walked and trammed to get to Brouwerij ‘t IJ (pronounced Brewery TIE) where we had a nice shaded outdoor spot to enjoy two rounds of the Zatte (tripel) for Eric and the Natte (dubbel) for me with our friends.

Later in the day with a little time before dinner we stopped into one of our favorite little pubs in Amsterdam, Arendsnest, for Dutch beers. I went for the Emelisse dubbel and Eric tried the Folie a Duex saison. Then we split a small pour of the Two Chefs Dirty Katarina imperial stout and enjoyed conversation with the chatty bartenders.

draft list @ Proeflokaal Arendsnest

After a quick recharge back at the hotel, we met our friends again for pizza at Restaurant Antonio’s. We took a break from beer and opted for wine with this meal! Our pizzas were well crafted, simple and filling.


We had a few more choices for breakfast this morning, so Eric got us a tasty ham/cheese croissant and an almond croissant from Simon Meijssen bakery this morning. Yum.

After wandering around Utrecht for the day, we made it to back to Amsterdam right around 5:30p, so we stopped in to Restaurant Kartika for an early Indonesian dinner. We didn’t have reservations, but they were able to fit us in (as long as we vacated the table for the 7:15 reservation). Everything was really delicious. The peanut and chili dipping sauces were especially tasty and my lamb curry was falling apart and very flavorful. Eric’s beef rendang also hit the spot. Although not as spicy as the versions we had in Lombok and Bali because of the Dutch palates, the flavors were still fantastic.

We hit one last spot, In de Wildeman, before picking up our luggage and heading to the hotel airport. I had already enjoyed the Dirty Katerina from Two Chefs, so here I opted for their Howling Wolf imperial porter while Eric chose the Girardin Oude Lambik. I liked mine but unfortunately Eric found the lambic to be only mildly sour and a little bitter.

In De Wildeman

All told we visited a few of our favorites from last time and discovered a wonderful whiskey bar. A good trip for us!

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: Exploring Speyside

Monday was our day that revolved completely around whisky tasting in Speyside. We started off rather early with a 10am reservation for the ‘Essential’ tour and tasting at Benromach. Although we weren’t allowed to take photos inside the distillery itself, the storage area and grounds had some interesting views.

Benromach Distillery  Benromach Distillery

This tour included four tastings:

  1. Organic 6.5yr – nice wood richness (in an previously un-used cask).
  2. Benromach 10yr – more medicinal scent, caramel flavor increased as it warmed up.
  3. 100 proof cask strength 10yr – still medicinal, with a little more oak on the finish, noticed a floral scent after adding a little water.
  4. Peat Smoke – scent of light oil, very light peat. Flavor had medium peatiness, no iodine, light floral taste. Little more smoke and sweet scent with water, flavor also gets a little lighter though.

that's a lot of glasses!
me with all the tasting glasses!

There was a light tingling on all four, and medicinal notes too. After our tasting we had a small bonus taste of the single cask (61%) they had available. While it had a little of the medicinal flavor, it was balanced by an interesting chocolateness. We bought a bottle of it and filled it ourselves, including the cork. Since Leandra was driving they gave her “to go” bottles of the tasting, a nice touch!

Eric's name is in the book! filling his own bottle from the cask

After our tasting we drove out to the nearby Findhorn beach for views of the coast. Big beach, lots of very smooth rocks.

path to Findhorn Beach

Findhorn Beach

Hungry, we made our way to Elgin for lunch at The Muckle Cross. Fairly typical pub fare, so Leandra went for a salmon bagel (since she didn’t have it for breakfast!) and a Hobgoblin ale (which probably wouldn’t work well with breakfast…), while I had the classic ham and cheese panini and a Stowford press cider.

Two of our friends really wanted to visit Balvenie, so we drove over there only to discover they didn’t have a proper tasting room. For that, we needed to go to nearby Glenfiddich, as their cafe serves both Glenfiddich and Balvenie. It was quite an interesting difference from the small Benromach to the massive Glenfiddich! I tried the Caoran Reserve 12, which had good smoke, well balanced and smooth, a nice dram.

Glenfiddich Distillery

Glenfiddich bar

Given that this area has the highest density of distillers, it’s probably not surprising that it also has several world-class bars too. Our first destination was the Mash Tun, in Aberlour.

whisky barrels!  The Mash Tun
stopped for a photo of towering casks on the way; The Mash Tun

Tucked down a side lane, I was excited to try this famous bar. Perhaps it can be blamed on being Monday, but we were underwhelmed – the bar staff weren’t too enthusiastic and it lacked a cozy atmosphere, so we only stayed for one drink. I tried a local Tomintoul 16 (distilled only 15 miles from the bar), which had a clean scent and a smooth light orange and honey flavor. More Leandra’s style! Ever the careful driver, Leandra split a bottle of the Black Gold stout with Andrew and skipped the scotch.

carpaccioFor dinner we decided to stay in the heart of Speyside, trying our luck at the famous Craigellachie Hotel where we were lucky to snag an open table in their Copper Dog Grill. There were many tasty choices on the menu and most of the menu items are sourced within a small radius of the restaurant. I decided on the burger which had a great tomato spicy relish sauce and Leandra ordered the local beef carpaccio with a side of wilted spinach. We both ordered a glass of rose ,which was a bit sweet compared to a typical French-style.

Our dinner was great, even when we overlapped with a memorably drunk table of six that had all the servers rolling their eyes!

After the girls split a cheese plate (with homemade shortbread cookies!) for dessert, we headed upstairs to the famous, and quite beautiful, Quaich Bar. Rich wood, leather, a fire in the corner, and hundreds of bottles… this was practically whisky heaven!

The Quaich Bar @ the Craigellachie Hotel

Eric started with a Benriach 17 heavily peated port finish. Nice smoke, good richness, very tasty dram, this is one of the bottles we ended up seeking out in Edinburgh two days later to bring home. My second was the Kilchoman Loch Gorm (2013?), a beautiful peated whisky finished in sherry casks with lots of depth and complexity. This is another bottle I sought out to bring home with us!

Leandra sipped the Tomintoul 12 yr oloroso sherry cask finish. It was pretty good but she heard later from the Whisky Castle lady that the port finish was better.

Altogether, we had a wonderful day tasting whisky across Speyside; our only regret is that we didn’t have a few more days to try more!

UK 2015: Grantown-on-Spey

After our long day in the car, I needed to get a quick walk around town to check out the snow.

Grantown-on-Spey street

Baptist Church Grantown-on-Spey  Baptist Church Grantown-on-Spey

As I was taking photos of the church, the pastor’s wife waved me over and invited me for post-church tea. Turns out they were Americans that had been there for years!

After a lovely conversation I had to return back to the B&B to get ready for dinner at The Craig Bar, just a few blocks away.

Craig Bar  blue cheese and steak pie @ Craig Bar
not a good night for outdoor dining; tasty meat pie

Craig Bar is known for meat pies, and they did not disappoint! Leandra ordered the blue cheese and steak, while I couldn’t pass up the ‘Chicken of Aragon.’ Both were very tasty, and very filling. I paired mine with an amber beer from the nearby Cairngorm Brewery, a good match with a little spice. Leandra paired her beef with the ‘house red’ from Jackrabbit – which was inexpensive and fine.

After dinner we each ordered a whisky. I ordered the Tormore 12, which had a light maple syrup and nutty scent and was quite easy to drink! Leandra went for the Glenfarclas 10, which was fairly mild and semisweet.