|A scenic shot of the River Dee in the Scottish Highlands|
Jen's mom had reserved a private cottage exactly where I wanted to be… in the Scottish Highlands. There were a variety of reasons I was excited about this particular area of Scotland. The beauty of the countryside is well renowned. The area is an important part of the country's and the world's history. But I think there were two reasons more intriguing than all of that.
1) Many of the scenes from my all-time favorite movie, Braveheart were shot and took place in the Scottish Highlands.
2) Most of the world's fine scotch is made in the Highlands.
I needed no better reason than those above to break out the scotch and watch Braveheart (for the umpteenth time) with Jen's parents before we boarded our plane to Scotland. Jen's eyes rolled as I screamed "FREEEEEDOM" along with Mel Gibson for the 1,000th time since we've been together.
After a short flight from Milan, we landed in Aberdeen, Scotland famished. We had one important task to tackle before we would allow ourselves to eat lunch… re-training our brains to drive on the wrong side of the road (that's right to all you Brits, Aussies, Scots, etc. reading this blog… the wrong side). Jen's father, Dominic and I each rented our own car and narrowly missed colliding into each other as we took a few practice laps around the parking lot. Five minutes later and confidence at 100% - our plan was fairly simple; we would spend the day touring Aberdeen before driving north to our cottage in Ballater, a charming town in the Royal Deeside. By the time we had parked our cars for lunch, it became apparent that none of us had packed properly for the Scottish weather. We ducked into a TKMaxx (I suppose it's the Scottish cousin of TJMaxx) and bought jackets and warmer wears. I suppose it pays to read a few more blogs before traveling and arrive prepared.
|Old Blackfriars - the sign didn't lie, it was Good Food indeed|
|My fish and chips, served with peas (although not mushy peas as tradition dictates, still delicious)|
|The "Belhaven Best Steak Pie" that Diane ordered|
|Julia found time to fit in a few slots|
We wasted no time on our first full day in Scotland. The country is full of castles and Diane, knowing how much Jen and I love castles, was eager to share in the exploration of the country's historic beauties. She had spent many fruitful hours researching a few castles to visit. Our first choice was somewhat local to our location, Balmoral Castle. This particular castle was an excellent choice, because of it's direct and current ties to the Royal Family. It is the Queen's personal residence each fall and has been used consistently by Royals since 1852. The castle is closed to public tours from August through October each year while the Queen takes up residence.
For posterity's sake (and because I chuckle each time I think about it) I would be remiss not to mention a funny anecdote. When we purchased our tour tickets, I mentioned that my mother-in-law was of the Anderson Clan. The little old lady working in the shop proclaimed that "she knew many Anderson's in her day and they were a bit like the Drummond's… but nothing like the Cameron's…" and on and on until she arrived at, "but watch out for those Macfie's, they're sheep stealing bastards, they are!" with more conviction than I would have expected from such a sweet little lady on such an otherwise innocent exchange. Sheep… stealing... bastards. That absolutely made my trip!
|Balmoral Castle gates|
|The gatehouse and museum|
|Full view of the gatehouse|
|Julia prepares to go in the castle|
|But not without her audio guide|
|"I'm ready guys, let's go!"|
|Balmoral castle from the main courtyard|
|I loved the turrets of the castle|
|Part of the Queens garden - her bedroom overlooks a rose garden and then this beautiful, sunken garden|
|Julia was delighted to be in the Queen's garden|
|She found such wonderment in the fountain as well|
|We took a stroll along the river|
|As well as the adjacent pathway through the woods|
|The girls in the woods|
|I was so happy to be in such majestic outdoors|
|Julia was so happy, she broke out dancing|
|"What a day!"|
|All the whisky we got to taste|
"Greg, you referred to it earlier as scotch and now you're calling it whisky. How come? Isn't whisky different? And while we're at it - how does bourbon play into all this… isn't that in there somewhere? And is that stuff, rye invited to the party?"
If you already know the relationship between these spirits, please continue to the next section. If you're curious - please read on. First, I called it scotch earlier to simplify things and use the commonly accepted American vernacular for this drink. Scotch, is in fact a whisky. So is bourbon. So is Tennessee whiskey and Irish whiskey (those would seem obvious) as well as the often forgotten rye.
So, all these delicious brown drinks are considered whisky.
|Dominic drinks with his new English pal|
Can't promise to speed it up, but let's continue. The differentiators are [mainly] their geography, the ingredients/process used and their spelling (notice the "e" comes and goes). Let's start with geography. Whisky made in Scotland is, Scotch Whisky (even though we call it "scotch" they just call it "whisky" and laugh at anyone that calls it scotch. It would be like ordering an "American" when you really meant to order a "Budweiser"). If it's made in Ireland, it will be an Irish Whiskey (think, Jameson). If it is made in that young country we call America, it will either be a Bourbon, Tennessee Whiskey or Rye. Bourbon is made (to my knowledge) exclusively in Kentucky while Tennessee Whiskey (think, Jack Daniel's) is made exclusively in Tennessee. A few years ago I sought to unravel this web and found a blog that rumored the only difference between Tennessee whiskey and Bourbon was that the Tennessee folks didn't want to claim the same name of anything made in Kentucky, and so Tennessee Whiskey was born (as I'm doing a little boning up for this piece, I'm learning that there is more to it). In any event, it turned out to be a wonderful marketing angle for Jack Daniel's. Oh yeah, and then there's Rye. It's made in America and Canada, but as far as I'm concerned - it's really only prevalent in Canada (think, Crown Royal). Rye is nice and all, but a bit forgettable at times (just like our nice neighbors from the north).
As far as the ingredients, they use malted barely on the more formal side of the pond, while us swashbuckling American's distill from corn (heck, why not - we have a lot). Oh yeah, and that forgettable rye drink - you guessed it; it's distilled from rye (although in Canada it doesn't have to be… yeah, that makes a lot of sense, Canada!).
|Our instructor, Gordon Muir pours some malted barley into my hand|
I really will fit this one into a nutshell (as I have a lot more typing left to do). A single malt is whisky that is all from the same distillery. The distillery will usually blend many different barrels to make their final product, but it will all be from the same distillery (think, Glenmorangie 18). A blended scotch whisky is the final product of whisky from two or more distilleries (think, Johnnie Walker - yes, all of them from Red to Blue). I didn't know Johnnie Walker was a blend either (yeah, I'm talking to you), until my time in Scotland. If you want to read further on the subject, check out this guy's blog - he does a far better job answering this particular question than me.
|Me and my boy after a fun tasting|
OK - whisky lesson over. WAKE back up!
|Dominic walks Julia back home after the tasting|
|The Falls of Feugh (pronounced almost like the naughty F word)|
|The Scottish-Irish crew|
|Scottish countryside - absolutely breathtaking|
|There were sheep everywhere|
|Dominic and I pause for a photo along the path to the suspension bridge|
|My "artsy" shot with my muse|
|I felt like we were taking engagement photos|
|View from the bridge|
|The view from the other direction|
|Queen Elizabeth opened the bridge in 1988|
|A Scottish thistle (emblem of the Scottish nation) not quite in bloom|
|Digitalis Purpurea or Foxglove Flower|
|The sign out front|
|They had Highland Cattle out front|
|The breed was developed in the Scottish Highlands and Western Isles|
|I couldn't get enough of these guys|
|Apparently, neither could he|
|Fields in front of the distillery|
|I've never seen a more welcoming front door|
|Jessica stops to welcome us|
|A display of some of their finer whisky's|
|If you want to buy a good whisky - just consult this group above, you can't go wrong with any of them|
I snuck all the following interior shots. We were not allowed to take photos inside the premises… but they didn't realize I had a BLOG to write!!
|On the left - peat (a wood burned to add smokey flavor), barley both natural and malted and an old scale|
On the right - an old fashioned kiln that would be fed with peat
|Copper pot still used during the distillation process|
|Barrels used during the aging process|
|The distillery always sets aside some of the best for a special whisky released in limited quantities|
|Our guide demonstrates how to property seal a barrel|
|Look at the mugs on these two - guess no one taught either of us how to smile|
|Water is a critical element in the process - this is the reserve that Royal Lochnagar uses|
|Another thing I learned - this is the "official" design of a proper whisky glass adopted somewhat recently|