A few weeks ago, I flew up to Glasgow with the lovely Michelle Dickson of Sainsbury's Magazine and the brilliant people at LVMH - Antonio and Mary. The reason? We were off to get drunk on whisky! Well...not quite; we were there to explore the wonderful world of whisky for the January issue of Sainsbury's Magazine to go alongside a Burns Night feature. It was a real treat to eat a delicious, early 'Burn's Night' dinner courtesy of Glenmorangie House where we were staying the night (complete with a Piper, haggis and many a dram of whisky). The house has a really cosy home-from-home feeling with a snug 'front' room and lots of little nooks and crannies to explore. I was lucky enough to have the room Ewan McGregor stays in when he visits - one of the best in the house. When staying at the house, one must have a Whisky Zest or 4, essentially 2 parts whisky, a dash of angostura bitters, a touch of sugar syrup and a top up of ginger ale followed by the key ingredient (as well as the whisky, of course); a twirl of orange zest, set on fire briefly, to release the aromas before finally being rubbed around the rim of the glass and twisted into the drink...christmas in a glass and very, very moreish.
Cadboll Beach is on the doorstep of the house which made for a stunning late evening walk after travelling for most of the day. We were lucky enough to have two very glorious days of sunshine but a walk in Scotland wouldn't be complete without wellies, regardless of the weather. Luckily, the hotel had a plethora of Hunter wellies in every size along with Barbour jackets to borrow. If only i realised i wore one size 6 and one size 7 boot before we left the house. Suitably windswept, we settled down to a delicious Burn's Night dinner where i tried my first haggis. Much like my sushi experience in Japan, i think the only way is down after trying haggis of this calibre...i loved it. Karen Fullerton, Glenmorangie's Global Brand Ambassador (what an AWESOME title) joined us and completely won us over with her extensive whisky knowledge in front of the roaring fire as we tried the new Glenmorangie Christmas Blend (available in Sainsbury's stores NOW!)
Well rested and full of Scottish breakfast, we took another walk to Cadboll and met the carver/designer/creator of the Cadboll Stone before heading over to the distillery where we were given a whistle-stop tour of the processes involved in making whisky including the vast barrell hall where they're aged over a lengthy period of time.
Next up was a 3 hour drive to Glasgow for an overnight stay at The Blythswood Hotel before we flew to Islay the next morning. The spa at this hotel is pretty impressive, if somewhat maze-like and dark. It was quite busy at 5pm but as the Rhassoul Chamber was empty i decided to go for a self-treatment. After some explanation as to what i needed to do - scrub down, chuck on a load of mud, wait for various lights to come on to indicate mud drying time, steam time and shower time, I found myself waiting in the room for said lights to come on...sitting down was tricky as i kept slipping off the high-backed stone seats and standing up got a little boring. Just as i was about to head out to find the attendant to ask if he had indeed turned the whole process on, the green steam light came on and soon i had mud slipping off me, straight into my eyes. Ouch! Finally the shower came on but as it was above the seats, i had to get on the seat and stand, eyes sore from the mud and unable to see, to shower off. I was actually relieved when the whole thing was over although i did find myself chuckling at the hilarity of what was going on, thankful there were no hidden cameras in the room. Dry and mud-free, we ventured into Glasgow and went for a delicious dinner at Porter and Rye steakhouse although i was slightly let down by the coleslaw which sounded promising with the inclusion of hazelnuts and coriander but sadly, to me, it just tasted like gone-off meat. Still, the rest of the dinner was pretty good and we trotted off back to the hotel for an early night.
Up early, off to Glasgow airport and sitting on a tiny plane ready for the 25 minute journey to Islay and we were thankful the weather was brilliant. I heard that when visibility is reduced even by a small percent, flights are delayed and sometimes cancelled for safety reasons. The beaming sun meant it felt warmer then normal but with no driver there to pick us up, Jackie Thomson, Ardbeg's manager of the shop and winner of the Best Global Icon Visitor Centre of the Year, (what an accolade) swung into action and bombed down to greet us. She's a demon at the wheel so we were glad to get there alive....Jackie may have been driving Formula 1 and not a people carrier as we literally flew down the Postman Pat style lanes. En route to Ardbeg are other well-known distilleries such as Lagavulin and Laphroaig but Ardbeg, situated right on the coastline was pretty impressive. We took to the hills for a walk to the peat and water source (water being one of the most important initial ingredients of any whisky and peat for Ardbeg is the most characteristic thing about this brand) and had our tasting outside in the wilderness, with Jackie producing two very special, unlabelled whiskies, one from 1976 (and the other whose name i couldn't pronounce, let alone write down) which we sipped on as we basked in the sunlight. The afternoon flew by as we were taken on a tour of Ardbeg Distillery and had lunch at their brilliant cafe as we watched so many people come in and buy the Ardbeg Supernova wisky, a limited edition bottle, one of the peatiest ever, and the product of an experiment involving the whisky ageing process, zero gravity maturation and Ardbeg's experiment in Space, which is now a UK sell out.
Flight booked in for 6pm, Jackie sped us back to the airport in her make-believe Maclaren for check in and finally, our flight back to Glasgow and eventually, London. It was a whisky whirlwind that provided me with an appreciation for Scotland and of course, whisky.