Muschamp Rd

Scotland Trip 2024: The Whisky

March 26th, 2024
Whisky Souvenirs

Last year when I made the decision to finally visit Scotland. I knew exactly where on the map I wanted to go. I quickly figured out how I would get there, but then what do I do once I get there and where do I stop along the way? So of course, I ordered a guidebook: The Lonely Planet Scotland’s Highlands & Islands and began working on my itinerary. On my last vacation I took several single day group tours, but I missed out on a multi-day tour because I didn’t book soon enough. While researching tours I got the idea to try some whisky and tour some distilleries.

The Lonely Planet recommends several tour companies in the back of their book including: Discrete Scotland, Haggis Adventures, Heart of Scotland Tours, Rabbie’s, and Timberbush Tours. I reviewed all their websites then I started Googling. I looked into tours out of Edinburgh and Inverness. The North Coast or even further North such as Orkney was of particular interest to me. I also started looking into tours featuring whisky distilleries. I eventually reached out to a few tour operators. One that got back to me assured me they would offer tours in March and then tried to sell me a spot at their Highland Whisky Academy.

Whisky Blogging Tunes

I spent weeks considering and ordering songs for the play list I made after my trip to Scotland. However, it appears Apple Music, which I finally joined, won’t share the first song. I uploaded that song to the cloud from a CD my sister gave me which is a feature of Apple Music. They also chose to exclude two other songs I own on CD but not all of them. So if you could add three songs to this mix, which three songs would you choose? Leave a comment below.

Planning a trip to Scotland

I wouldn’t consider myself a whisky fanatic or a snob or a geek. I drink a whisky every now and then. I buy bottles and often they collect dust. However as I learned while planning this trip, some attractions are closed in Scotland between October and April 1st, but apparently not whisky distilleries. I also couldn’t find another tour that I didn’t think I could approximate by myself at my own pace or that could be covered by some shorter specialized tour operator. So after confirming I could get the time off and a flight, I signed up for the Highland Whisky Academy in Inverurie Scotland.

This of course meant a detour and seeing as how I was forced to fly to Heathrow anyway, I decided to then fly onward to Aberdeen rather than my original plan of traveling by train everywhere I could. After the academy was complete I figured I could get back en route, take the Far North Line to Thurso just like I planned. I considered other tours or even a second group tour but decided my time was spread thin enough and I put my trust in Mike and team to deliver an experience that would make my friends and coworkers envious.

While waiting for the final itinerary I actually booked another whisky distillery tour and eventually another one, as I was passing through the town anyway. However, when you look at the final list and figure each tour is several drams, maybe even more than several, I became concerned. I was actually concerned before booking myself into the Highland Whisky Academy. But I told myself it was educational, I had the same bed every night, I didn’t have to figure out how to get to or from any of these places. I couldn’t even pronounce some of names. Plus people kept encouraging me to go big.

This post after many edits and corrections may finally be over 10,000 words long! I took over one thousand pictures while in Scotland. I assembled a commemorative Apple Music mix, so perhaps I achieved whisky geek status. Eventually, I decided I needed an explanation on how whisky is made for people who don’t read good and weren’t at the Highland Whisky Academy. So you may want to watch the video before proceeding.

Iain Forteath of Glencadam Distillery

This YouTube video also contains a clip from “The Angel’s Share” but more importantly an explanation of the Spirit Safe which I needed after including a photo of one from a distillery I toured. Knockdu distillery still has the old lock used by the excise taxman in the manager’s office.

Touring Ten Whisky Distilleries

The itinerary of the Highland Whisky Academy may change every year. Not every distillery is open to the public and some are bigger more commercial operations owned by a publicly traded corporation like LVMH or Diageo. If you have an absolute favourite whisky distillery or region you should concentrate your visit to Scotland accordingly. I was planning to travel to the Northeast of Scotland so that made the Highland Whisky Academy a good fit for me.

The Academy is more than just distillery tours

The Highland Whisky Academy includes more than just distillery tours, there is instruction in olfactory and gustatory senses, led by the Whisky Doc himself, Paul McLaughlin. There is also advice and instruction on pairing, blending, bottling, malting, even the construction of barrels. It might be aimed at people who plan to enter the industry in some capacity or just the true whisky fanatic. Some instructors come back every year but this year new instructors were added such as Alasdair Stevenson of Turntable Spirits and Iain Forteath of Glencadam distillery and Tomintoul distillery pictured to the left or above depending on if you are on mobile or not.

What you plan to do on your vacation and what you end up doing are not always the same. I took a number of flights as well as trains, ferries and automobiles all over Northern Scotland. So I wrote part of this post before the trip took place. As things turned out, we never got to meet Alasdair for instance, but I managed to complete a tour of ten different distilleries and navigate from Calgary Alberta Canada all the way to the Northernmost town in Great Britain and back again, drinking the odd dram and beer along the way.

The best of my photos will be uploaded to an album on Flickr as that is probably cheaper hosting than what I pay for at Muschamp dot ca.

Whisky blending experiment
Carefully blending whisky at the Highland Whisky Academy
Glencadam Whisky
Seven different Glencadam whiskies
Serious Whisky Tasting Discussion
Post whisky tasting discussion at the Inverurie Whisky Shop
Iain Forteath leading a whisky tasting
Iain Forteath and his Glencadam whisky as Mike looks on

Iain Forteath has an Instagram account documenting his adventures as the @ScotchVoyager. He ended up teaching our blending class of which there is a picture above. He also brought seven bottles of Glencadam whisky for us to taste. This was one of the highlights of the entire academy as you can see by the pictures and as demonstrated by sales of Glencadam whisky which surely spiked at the Inverurie Whisky Shop that day.

Additionally at the Inverurie Whisky Shop, we also saw a presentation on one of the many new distilleries under construction in Scotland. This one is called the Cabrach, and it will be operated as a Community Interest Company. Craig Buchan did the presentation and he brought whisky. The first Cabrach release, the Feering. This whisky was made from donated Speyside casks and blended by A. J. Winchester. You can see his signature there on the bottle. The Cabrach Trust has big plans including a very limited cask program, but currently their distillery is under construction as we famously learned firsthand while driving through the Cabrach region on a rainy windy afternoon.

Craig Buchan of the Cabrach Trust
Craig Buchan of the Cabrach Trust

Knockdhu Distillery

Knockdhu first opened in 1894 in Banffshire. They brand their whisky as anCnoc, yes with the capital C in the middle. Both Knockdhu and anCnoc are Gaelic words. Banffshire is along the Moray Firth and North of Inverurie. As someone who lives in Calgary Alberta Canada, I can pronounce Banff.

This was both the first whisky distillery we toured and the one I remained loyal to every time I was asked about my highlight of the Highland Whisky Academy. I believe Johan also stayed loyal, he sat to my right and had to pour my whisky for me as I had a dog on my lap the entire whisky tasting. The dog would protest mightily if anyone tried to move them. I had a spare dog at my feet so I struggled to drink the whisky and may not have sampled as much as some on the tour.

Besides the five dogs that greet you when you open the door to the Knockdhu distillery, our tour guide was the now legendary Ian. Our tour was supposed to be led by the distillery manager Gordon but he was on lunch break so after some discussion it was decided Iain, who has made AnCnoc whisky for over thirty years, would lead our tour. Besides not having a visitor centre, yet, Knockdhu doesn’t have any official tour guides. Iain’s thick Doric accent and earnestness endeared him to our group. He’d look me square in the eyes and I’d dutifully try to repeat what he said. I could usually pick out the numbers, so I’d say something like “15,000 tonnes” and he’d be off again.

This tour was truly complete, we saw the stills. We saw the barrels. We saw the mash tun, the wash backs, people even got to keep some spare bungs. Maybe this was all pretty standard for a distillery tour, but when we ended up on the roof and were encouraged to take a dip in the cooling tank. Well maybe not encouraged, but were informed that one Norwegian once allegedly did this, you knew you were not in Kansas anymore. I’m not sure the official tour when it is organized by the official tour guide from the official visitor centre will include ten adults on a gantry over the cooling tank. I wish I had a better picture but I am afraid of heights so I made sure to hang on to the rail for safety. You would have needed one of those selfie sticks or a drone anyway. As it was, you need to climb a lot of little metal steps and duck under a lot of pipes to tour some whisky distilleries, good thing we were well fortified.

After the Knockdhu distillery tour it was an uphill battle for every other distillery. We got to sample a lot of drams, which we could pour ourselves while we pet a dog and listened to Gordon explain that the bottle cost “1000 pounds”. People dutifully tried to negotiate him down. AncCoc is available in Canada but the whisky that has been aged longer may not be. Keep your eyes out for the 18 year old or the 24 year old which was one of the finest drams we sampled that you could actually afford to buy during the Highland Whisky Academy.

Knockdhu Distillery
A lovely day to tour Knockdhu Distillery
Iain giving us a tour of Knockdu Distillery
Ian leading our tour of Knockdhu Distillery
Knockdhu Distillery Dunnage Warehouse
Dunnage Warehouse at Knockdhu Distillery
AnCnoc whisky tasting
AnCnoc whisky tasting at Knockdhu Distillery

Glenglassaugh Distillery

Glenglassaugh is on the coast and the North Sea features prominently on their website. They opened in 1875 but like a lot of distilleries in Scotland they haven’t been continuously operating at this location since 1875. They are also in Banffshire and thus North of Aberdeenshire. Glenglassaugh have gone through a number of owners over the years, an entire book has been written about this distillery by Ian Buxton.

At this distillery I actually used my other camera. It does take notably better product photos but then you need to set it up the mini tripod on the table while tasting. My Panasonic Lumix G also does better at night time photography than my iPhone and does a good job at landscapes. But generally people just use their smartphones these days as they want to share images and videos quickly to Facebook or WhatsApp. However, looking at the photos I took during the Highland Whisky Academy I wish I’d used my actual camera a bit more to take product shots especially. Unfortunately, it is just quicker and more convenient to use my iPhone especially when I had a dog on my lap or we were drinking in a warehouse.

Glenglassaugh distillery is right by the beach so it is very photogenic. We didn’t have the perfect blue sky but we did enjoy a dram on the beach. The distillery has an interesting history having been closed and reopened and sold more than once. Thieves tried to rob the place and you can see where they tried to cut into the still to steal the copper. During the war the distillery was used by the military and there are bunkers and machine gun emplacements on the beach.

I think we were supposed to have a different tour guide and the one we did have also worked at a sister distillery in Speyside called Benriach as you can tell by the jacket she is wearing. Glenglassaugh counts as Highlands but they like to emphasis the costal nature of their spirt and the phrase “the spirit that can’t be tamed” was likely uttered more than once. This distillery also became famous as the distillery where Johan finished all his drams first. It’s hard to complain while having a dram on the beach.

Our Glenglassaugh tour guide
Our tour guide at Glenglassaugh Distillery
Glenglassaugh whisky
Glenglassaugh whisky bottles
More depth of focus whisky shots
Glenglassaugh whisky drams ready for tasting

GlenAllachie Distillery

After two days of travelling North to Banffshire, we finally visited Speyside proper and GlenAllachie distillery. This distillery is newer, built in 1968 but despite this it was still mothballed in 1985 when demand for whisky declined worldwide. Eventually production resumed under new ownership. One of their expressions won world’s best single malt at the 2021 World Whisky Awards. Billy Walker is the Master Distiller here.

This may have been the most popular distillery on the tour. We got to meet several staff members, Gordon did much of the tour, but we also met Juliette and Lindsay. GlenAllachie has a large social media presence for a distillery that hasn’t been operating that many years, but I think this is a reflection on it being independent and more like a startup than some of the distilleries which are part of larger corporate entities.

A lot of money was spent at their gift shop and this was the distillery where Mike forgot we went back upstairs to Gordon’s office for an impromptu presentation and tasting of Meikle Tòir, the five year old that was finished in Chinquapin barrels. At GlenAllachie under the leadership of Billy Walker a lot of money, time and effort goes into finishing the whisky in various casks. We smelled maybe a dozen different oak casks. I told Mike of an Oak that is only found in Cascadia, apparently it has already been used to age whisky but maybe not by Billy Walker.

Besides single malts, whisky from GlenAllachie is used in blends, they produce a house of brands with Meikle Tòir being the peated version of the whisky made at GlenAllachie distillery. This is not uncommon in the industry. Also on sight is a bar where we had our lunch. I believe the food we had was made offsite but I’m not sure, however it is a bar so of course you can buy another dram should you be so inclined. As the person who was being disciplined about buying bottles, trying to just buy minis or some other souvenir at distillery gift shops, I am not above paying for more whisky. I forget which cask finish I tried, one we hadn’t already tasted that is for sure, I think a rum cask finishing. It wasn’t peated.

I believe some additional sampling was also done in the gift shop, but after I bought my book I think I moved on to the bar quickly, though out of politeness I waited for my tour mates before eating, not wanting to be accused of eating all the best sandwiches. I was also pressed into service as a photographer for another guest touring GlenAllachie. There were bottles for sale autographed by Billy Walker himself and these were a popular purchase on our tour. The other two brands Billy is the master blender for are McNair’s and White Heather. We never tried those on this tour.

The GlenAllachie whisky distillery
The GlenAllachie whisky distillery, Speyside Scotland
GlenAllachie whisky
GlenAllachie whisky we sampled on tour in March 2024

Glenfarclas Distillery

Glenfarclas might be the most famous distillery we toured so far. Glenlivet or Glenfiddich or Glengarry Glen Ross may be more famous amongst the glens at least in the New World. This distillery has been owned for five generations by the Grant family and has been in operation since 1865. It is also in Banffshire.

In the tasting room I famously described this distillery as having “low hipster factor” contrasting it with Glenglassaugh where particular attention was paid to the shade of “sea foam” on the walls. I was even informed it was some other blue and not in fact sea foam. For hipsters in the audience this is Guy Ritchie’s favourite whisky and he features a bottle of it in every single one of his movies. So now you have an excuse to rewatch Guy Ritchie’s movies while enjoying a dram.

This is very much a classic sherry cask Speyside single malt. The distillery is big and old and they’ve done things the same way for a long time. They have a lot of old whisky in bottles and even some still in casks. They are trying to age it so it can be released or sold in the cask as a 75 year old or even an 80 year old Glenfaclass Speyside single malt. The casks date to 1953.

Obviously they don’t let people try that particular cask, but we got to try bottlings from two Family Casks and one dram from a very small cask, an Octave, which is a finishing style I particularly like. However it is hard to beat a 31 year-old, the reason for the odd number, is every year for over a decade, Glenfarclas has released the family casks. Some years are rarer than others, the 1991 which we sampled retailed for 1500 pounds a bottle.

Glenfarclas have quite a nice gift shop and I bought some miniature bottles then I went outside to take some more pictures while others lallygagged and took more photos inside. Most seemed to prefer GlenAllachie which we saw earlier in the day, but I enjoyed this tour. I think it is hard to have a bad whisky distillery tour and tasting. Mike certainly doesn’t want you to have a bad one during the Highland Whisky Academy and I don’t think the distilleries do either with the way social media is these days. I of course have good things to say about all the distilleries I toured, however I was perhaps the least critical taster on our tour.

Panoramic Glenfarclas
Panoramic Glenfarclas
Glenfarclas Warehouse Number One
Glenfarclass Warehouse Number One
Glenfarclass Whisky Stills
Glenfarclass whisky stills

Ardmore Distillery

Ardmore is another whisky that may not be that well know. It isn’t served across the street from my condominium but a few whiskies on this list are. This distillery is 600 ft above sea level and right next to the train tracks. Ardmore is not one of the ten single malts the Lonely Planet recommended in the back of their book, though Ardbeg was. Only one distillery I toured made Lonely Planet’s list of ten. However, I’m not sure a lot of people go to the Lonely Planet for whisky buying advice.

The whisky made at Ardmore distillery mostly goes into blends. The most famous blend, at least in the olden days and why the distillery was built was Teacher’s. Ardmore is quite old and has an onsite museum. Normally they don’t offer tours, but as they are now part of Beam Suntory and we were seeing another of their distilleries that same day, they allowed us to tour and do a warehouse tasting.

Ardmore whisky is lightly or medium peated if the Internet is to be believe. However, after they switched their stills from direct fire to indirect fire, they tried some unpeated malt as a test. That is now sold as Ardlair if you can find a bottle. Only one actual bottle of whisky is being sold onsite and apparently that is running out, but you can sometimes find independent bottlings of Ardmore and Ardlair.

Our tour was lead by Whisky Cat, actually @the_distillery_cat but we also had another fellow who did our warehouse tasting. He must have taken a liking to me as he insisted I try one cask first after I made a particularly witty comment about Psychosemantics, ambience, and the company you keep affecting your perception and the recollection of the whisky. Or perhaps he liked my Canadian Drinking Toque. After that I was always Johnny on the spot to try whisky first, upon which I immediately took my still dripping glass to Mike, so he could nose the whisky before I slobbered all over it. Meanwhile, I subsisted on the whisky covering my hand and arm.

Ardmore Stills
The many stills of Ardmore
Yet another Scotsman who liked me
The leader of our warehouse tasting at Ardmore
Whisky vatted in 1978
Ardmore whisky vatted in 1978 sampled from the cask
The first Ardlair
Ardlair distilled and vatted in 2008

Glen Garioch Distillery

Glen Garioch was the last official distillery we were scheduled to visit during the Highland Whisky Academy. Our guide on this tour was still Cat, how is that for a pun Todd? Glen Garioch, which is pronounced Glen Geery, is one of the oldest operating distilleries having been founded in 1797 in Oldmeldrum. It is owned now by Beam Suntory along with many, many other brands of whisky you may be familiar with such as Jim Bean and Knob Creek. Those are definitely for sale across the street at the Comery Block.

Besides being the most difficult to pronounce distillery that we toured it was also the oldest. Oldest distillery in Scotland or distillery age and provenance is a subject of much debate. Glen Garioch has a seven as their second digit, not a lot of distilleries have a seven as the second digit. Bushmills has a six, but is it truly the world’s oldest distillery?

Beam Suntory has invested a lot of money into Glen Garioch. They even had Prince Charles pop in when they upgraded the stills. They’ve also reintroduced floor malting which we got to see demonstrated. They have a gift shop which has biscuits and miniature bottles of whisky. We tasted a lot of new make spirit, but of course we tried some actual whisky from the cask. You could even bottle it yourself directly from the cask. Big things may be coming from this distillery, but of course you may have to wait ten or fifteen years to taste the change yourself.

At this distillery I may have actually gotten out my other camera, though I didn’t go for the full mini tripod setup during our tasting. I did however take some video which fellow tour participants may want. I think I have some video form Little Brown Dog too.

Floor malting in full effect
Actual floor malting being done at an actual whisky distillery in Scotland
Glen Garioch whisky spirit safe
The Glen Garioch Spirit Safe
Not a bad looking dram
Whisky directly from the cask at Glen Garioch
Glen Garioch
Wow, Glen Garioch! (in Swedish)

Wolfburn Distillery

One place I was always planning to visit in Scotland was Thurso, that is the end of the train line. Thurso is famous for many things but it also has a whisky distillery. Thurso has been inhabited since viking times and a distillery used to exist along the stream which was originally built in 1821. The new Wolfburn distillery was built in 2013 making it the newest distillery that was initially on my itinerary. Prince Charles visited this distillery too in 2019 perhaps while getting in a little fishing. He seems to visit a lot of distilleries while he is in Scotland.

This distillery was not part of the Highland Whisky Academy, madman that I am I pushed further North into the Highlands as I swore by the old gods and the new to visit MacKay Country and if I had to visit another whisky distillery along the way that was a sacrifice I was prepared to make.

Wolfburn is a newer distillery, but they do have a ten year old whisky which was my favourite from their tasting. They’ll release a fifteen year old sometime in 2028. Wolfburn also has a cask program if you fancy storing your own personal cask at the Northernmost distillery in Great Britain. The tour was actually really good, I paid extra and had many many drams of whisky, in fact I think the most of any distillery I toured in Scotland. The other thing I really liked about this distillery is it was all in one room, so I could take a panoramic photo inside the distillery.

Panoramic photo inside Wolfburn distillery
Panoramic Wolfburn Distillery
The first new cask of Wolfburn
The first cask of Wolfburn whisky made in over one hundred years
Wolfburn Distillery Thurso Caithness
The seawolf at Wolfburn distillery

Highland Park Distillery

Having reached Thurso I could not think of a reason not to push on to the Orkney Islands. I knew they had a brewery, because I’ve had their beer in Calgary, but the Orkney Islands also has two whisky distilleries. The most famous of which is Highland Park. It took a lot of planning to get to the Orkney Islands and back safe to Calgary, so I had high hopes for this part of my trip. Highland Park distillery was built in 1798 and still turns their malted barley by hand.

Highland Park is a sister distillery to the Macallan. When I toured it in 2024 they were just about to replace their washbacks with stainless steel ones. Staff were worried that management from down South would change the place. The other oddity about this distillery besides them still doing floor malting was you could not take a picture of the whisky stills.

When I toured the distilery, the door to the still room was open but I honoured the spirit of our agreement and took no photos of the stills. Our tour guide was extremely experienced and was particularly a fan of a bottle of 45 year-old Canadian Club he had bought at auction. Pro whisky distillery touring tip, straight up ask to try more whisky. After our official tasting was done, in the gift shop, the Germans asked if they could try a particular bottle, not the 54,000 pound bottle mind you, but still a rarer bottle. The staff said if one was open in the back, we could. So I got an extra dram.

Highland Park like a lot of distilleries in Scotland is concerned about their carbon footprint and their consumption of oak in particular. To offset their usage of wood, they own forests in Europe and American replacing all the European and American oak trees they need to cut down in order to make enough casks of Highland Park Whisky for the entire world. When I did my tour viking mythology was still used in their branding, but that is to be phased out as Highland Park is to become more like the Macallan aka even more up market.

This is Highland Park
Welcome to Highland Park distillery
Not a bad place to taste whisky
Pull up a chair
Bonus Dram
Have a dram or two

Holyrood Distillery

After I left the Orkney Islands I thought my whisky distillery touring was finished, but while walking to the oldest pub in Scotland, the Sheep Heid Inn, Apple Maps took me right by one of the newest distilleries in Scotland. So of course I popped my head in and of course a tour was starting in ten minutes and had a spot open for me. Holyrood has barely been open three years so they have only produced a very limited amount of whisky. I got to try their latest.

This was also the smallest distillery I visited, even smaller than Wolfburn if you go by the size of the stills. This distillery is also set up to make gin and seems designed around doing a lot of tours unlike some of the older and more remote distilleries I visited. The tour guide was good, he said 99 combinations of barley and yeast had been tried so far, but they actually don’t seem to have a mill, so they buy their malt already milled which is unique among the ten distilleries I toured in Scotland.

You would think after the first nine distilleries I toured, I might have a pain in me Gulliver governor, but you can’t spell legendary without whisky, trust me the math works.

3750 litre still
3750L Spirit Still
Wee dram of whisky
The latest dram of whisky from Holyrood Distillery

Little Brown Dog

LBD are an independent bottler but they also distill spirits. We actually toured their facility and sampled some of the casks in their warehouse too. Andrew was a gracious host and insisted I remove the bung from a cask which he then let me keep. You can look for Little Brown Dog bottles of whisky, gin, and potentially other spirits in independent liquor stores worldwide. You can also follow their antics @lbdspirits.

This blog post became extremely long but even more was done during the Highland Whisky Academy. One thing we did was buy bottles of whisky and take them back to our lodges to sample. Some may have sampled more enthusiastically than others, Mike was also very accommodating at his shop. So unofficially we tried even more whisky including drams from Islay and Cambletown. I personally visited the lowlands and Orkney so I covered the most ground, however I was in Scotland twice as long. Next time I’ll have to do the Western Isles. We also had a sherry tasting which I should have taken notes during as it cost me the trivia contest, well that and getting a cow’s name wrong. I did however remember one whisky we officially tasted which even Mike had forgotten.

Andrew of Little Brown Dog
Andrew explaining how things are done at Little Brown Dog
Little Brown Dog
Little Brown Dog Distillery 2.0
Little Brown Dog casks
Casks in Little Brown Dog Warehouse One

Crisp Maltings

Our itinerary also featured a tour of an industrial malting facility. So now I know more about barley than I likely ever need to know. This tour may have been lead by an Iain and a Gordon too. One thing about this tour was no Scottish accent, certainly no Doric accent or Peterhead, however the facility was in Moray mom. Fellow tour participant and famous Austrian, Todd particularly enjoyed this part of the tour so I have to included at least one photo of this key part of the whisky supply chain. Barley along with casks and water is all you need besides yeast and time to make whisky in Scotland. Well you also need hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of equipment. I believe the Cabrach invested 1.5 million pounds into starting their distillery. Holyrood might have been started up for less, but they are not in an obscure corner of Northeast Scotland.

Malt Storage
Industrial scale malt and barley storage
Crisp Maltings
Barley and Peat come in, Malt goes out

The Balvenie Cooperage

Eagle-eyed readers will notice the one full-size bottle of whisky I bought was the Balvenie. It was a travel exclusive which I picked up at Heathrow’s World of Whisky and it is finished in a Pedro Ximénez cask. We actually visited the Balvenie distillery and toured their cooperage. We even saw some new casks which may or may not have had tequila and/or mescal previously in them, which may now be allowed to age Scotch whisky according to the Scotch Whisky Association. I’m not sure we spent much money at the Balvenie gift shop, but a lot of people enjoyed the tour and perhaps even the puns. Todd famously did not find the geocache.

Whisky Casks
Casks at the Balvenie whisky distillery
Coopers hard at work
Coopers hard at work in the cooperage

Cardhu Distillery

This was more of a whistle stop, which was much appreciated by me as I very much had to use the bathroom. There is famously no visitor centre yet at the Cabrach distillery, nor did we get Walker’s biscuits on this fateful day, eventually I took the initiative and bought some biscuits ASAP ensuring no one perished. We also sampled more shortbread later in our travels which I picked up at the Glen Garioch gift shop. Cardhu whisky mostly ends up in blends, most famously Johnny Walker. I neglected to go to their experience in Edinburgh focussing on more historic sights, I mean the oldest pub in Scotland is just behind a hill you can’t shoot an arrow over.

Cardhu’s gift shop was enthusiastically visited by more than just me, apparently it is hard to find Cardhu whisky before it goes into a blend. This distillery was also famously started by a woman named Helen Cumming making her a whisky pioneer. Cardhu is also famous for the photogenic highland cows: Treasure, Diesel and Fluffy for which you need to plan ahead and have biscuits in order to feed them, proving the importance of biscuits once and for all.

Whisky tour van at Cardhu distillery
Yes Cardhu distillery will do tours and tastings
Highland Cow
Be sure and feed the Highland cows

Whisky Bars

Our academy concluded at the Highlander Inn where at least three rounds of whisky were drunk. I know I bought the third and final round getting off reasonably easy, as people were tired and we resisted the temptation to try something particularly old and rare. Besides the Highlander Inn, I went to the Malt Room in Inverness where they definitely push the Tomatin. In Kirkwall I went to the Royal Cask and made sure to try Scapa after it was recommended by my Orkadian tour guide. Finally in Edinburgh I went to the Caley Bar at the Caledonian Hotel which is right across the street from the Johnny Walker Experience. The first two whiskies I picked were out of stock so I had some Old Pulteney from Wick, Caithness which the locals in that royal burgh recommended.

One of the fellows on my Highland Park tour recommended I do a lot of drinking in Edinburgh including going to the Scotch Malt Whisky Society club of which he was a member. I don’t know if I know the secret handshake, but there is a Canadian chapter and a Canadian connection to Holyrood which I learned from Toddish McWong after the fact. I assure you I went to many drinking establishments in Edinburgh and elsewhere in Scotland, even going on the literary pub tour. While in Scotland I set multiple records according to Apple for walking all over cobblestones and muddy fields. I’ll detail more of my travels in subsequent blog posts.

Bruichladdich at the Malt Room
The Malt Room
Some of the whiskies at the Royal Cask
The Royal Cask
Beer and whisky at the Carley Bar Edinburgh
The Carley Bar

Will there be another whisky tour?

The Highland Whisky Academy will indeed run again as will other whisky academies and tours. It is boom times once more in the Scotch whisky industry and the industry is a boon to local tourism. Though I don’t know why people don’t come back to Dunoon. The whisky industry brings in over 7 billion U.S. dollars to the U.K. economy and Scotland is shipping over 1.3 billion 700ml bottles overseas. Most of that goes to the good old USA. The yanks are the number one buyers of Canadian whisky too. We don’t have an “e” in our whisky either. I spent more time documenting it on Facebook and here beforehand. Next time I visit Scotland, I will likely visit Islay or Skye. If you have a favourite whisky distillery to tour in Scotland, please leave a comment below.

If you need even more whisky content, I once toured Yoichi distillery in Hokkaido Japan, but I wrote considerably less words about that experience. A couple of the photos above were taken by another member of our tour group, though we talked about sharing photos more than we actually did. I was able to liberate a few photos from social media. As it stands, I took over 1000 photos while in Scotland, spread over my smartphone and Panasonic camera. I will be uploading a lot more to Flickr beyond what is included in this blog post. There are definitely posts on Facebook and the Gram about the Highland Whisky Academy, check out @highlandwhiskyacademy and @thewhiskydoc.

If you thought this was a lot of typing, I assure you it was also a lot of drinking. Remember the old adage, write drunk, edit sober. I’m still typing and uploading photos from this trip, but after completing the Highland Whisky Academy I went to Inverness.


  • Stefan says:

    I missed this post.
    After reading I might have to have a whisky tonight.
    I had a Highland Park bottle a while ago and enjoyed it. The other brands besides Ardmore and Highland Park are not familiar to me.
    What a great trip you had.
    Looking forward to enjoy one or two glasses on the West Coast or somewhere else with you in the future.
    Thanks for the post.

    • Andrew McKay says:

      All my whisky except one bottle my mom just found which isn’t mine but belonged most likely to my grandfather is in Calgary. Maybe I’ll buy a bottle to stash next time I’m on the Island. That was one of the appeals of the tour, it went to less common and more independent distilleries. Speyside and Islay are more famous than Aberdeenshire, but we did go to Speyside. We just didn’t go to every distillery in Speyside. Dufftown alone has seven distilleries. I would go again, maybe even to Islay or just the Western Islands. I’m not as picky as some.

  • Hey man, glad you enjoyed your visit to Scotland. Next time you come, and if you’re over in Glasgow, we’ll go on a pub crawl to some of the best we have to offer.

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