We are finally wrapping up the Highlands and slapping a bow on its sexy ass! Scotland is breathtaking and mystical, and I’m convinced my spirit animal is the wild haggis. The only stress you’ll encounter out here is in deciding which direction to walk and for how long.
Thanks to the “freedom to roam” or “right to roam” here in Scotland, you can pretty much walk, cycle, horseback ride, canoe, or camp in a tent anywhere, without the fear of some crotchety ol’ man waving his shotgun at you and yelling, “Stop pooping on my lawn, ya’ lil bastard!”
Well, believe me – I took full advantage of this right, and it was the freest I think I’d ever felt. There was an indescribable calmness, awe, and just an overall sense of appreciation of the world. Just me and the dirt beneath my paws…and one human that insists on tagging along.
* Gma, Jo wanted me to tell you that if you see a triangle on a picture, it means it’s a video. Press play. We both know how techno challenged you are. 😀
The Water of Life
There was no way Jo could visit the Land of the Whisky and not do a couple of tours, along with dabbling in some tastings, of course!
The Malt Whisky Trail is the world’s largest concentration of Scotch malt whisky distilleries and is made up of nine locations in the Speyside region (area near the River Spey), one of which is not a distillery at all, but a cooperage. And, yes, it is whisky spelled without an “e” here in Scotland.
I wondered aloud if there happened to be a Kibble Trail for me to enjoy instead. Jo said I was being selfish. So I begrudgingly agreed to come along in exchange for the promise of long walks and snuggles while Jo looks lovingly into my big brown eyes and hums the theme song to Flash Gordon, one of my favorite movies.
The Gaelic term for whisky is uisge beatha (pronounced ooshka beh-ha), the “water of life.” Jo says that’s befitting. Every time she sits back and savors the aroma of whisky, taking in all the barley, the smoky peat and oak, the notes of vanilla and caramel, she contemplates life for a bit.
Then she takes a swig, whereupon blood rushes to her face and she sprouts chest hair.
Occasionally, she lets out a few Tim Allen Home Improvement grunts and is overcome with the sensation that she could invariably defeat a shark in hand-to-fin combat, save an entire litter of puppies from drowning, and build a house with her own hands, made from trees she cut down with lasers that shot out of her eyes. Whisky. It’s powerful shit, man.
While whisky, in some form or another, has been around for ages, the earliest official record of distilling dates back to 1494! And in the 1880s, when a certain beetle destroyed many of France’s vineyards, folks turned to whisky to fill that void.
Some claimed it to be a cure-all too.
Body odor? Splash some whisky on your pits!
Dysentery? Send those gastrointestinal demons back to Hell by guzzling some whisky!
Husband not helping out enough around the house? Wait, wait – sorry, there’s no cure for that.
* We toured the Glen Moray Distillery
FUN FACT: Glen Moray Distillery is right next to Gallow Crook Hill, where folks were “brint to the death, hanged by the craig, or droont,” then left to hang on the gallows until they fell apart piece by piece or were removed to make way for more. And all because they wouldn’t buy a box of cookies from their local Girl Scouts.
Okay, maybe the fact they were really murderers, thieves, and witches had something to do with it.
Later, during renovation in the 1960s, seven skulls were even excavated from the hill!
* Some of the rooms we toured included the mash tun (above), the stills (below), the warehouse, and the room where Augustus Gloop is propelled up a pipe by a river of chocolate
* Looks a bit like the sorting hat from Harry Potter. I’m obviously a Ravenclaw. Jo might be a Hufflepuff.
The warehouse smelled amazing, and my nose enthusiastically scanned the room. It was a sweet fragrance with earthy undertones.
Jo couldn’t help but not pay full attention to the tour. She wanted to hurry up and get to the part where she actually drank the whisky! So, once again, I saved her ass and took notes for her.
Most of the barrels come from the U.S. after being used only once for the purpose of bourbon. And I use the term “barrel” loosely, since technically there are many different types of casks, a barrel being just one of them. There are also casks called Hogshead, Butt, and Firkin. The origin of Firkin was fairly simple and completely accidental. One day a heavy barrel rolled across a guy’s big toe, and he yelled out in pain, “Somebody get this firkin barrel outta heeere!”
But I miiiight have just made that up. 😉
So the inside of the oak barrel is charred. This breaks the wood down into sugars, which in turn releases vanilla and caramel/toffee flavors from the oak into the whisky. From here, they cha-cha-cha in the barrel together for at least three years while the magic happens! Freakin’ science, man!
Some of the barrels in the warehouse even had “windows,” where we could see the varying ranges of color caused by the degree of char and what spirit was hanging out in there prior to the current batch of whisky.
When some of the alcohol evaporates, that’s known as the “angels’ share.” Well, I know those angels must be feeling pretty damn good right about now!
We were allowed to pull the cork and inhale the inside of these particular casks. Prior to whisky, they held port, sherry, chardonnay, and even rum. Therefore, the whisky now inside them will take on some of those aromas/flavors as well. The smell was intoxicating!
After the tour, Jo nearly trampled the guide to get back to the shop and sample some “water of life.” Meanwhile, I played the humiliating supporting role of the hump on Jo’s back. Throw a sheet over my head, and we would have made a pretty convincing Quasimodo.
While I sat and pondered how I would exact my revenge on Jo for dragging me on this tour, she tried some whisky, drinking it both neat and with some water. The water tends to allow the whisky to evolve, and as you swirl it around inside your mouth, it undresses itself, shedding each layer of flavor more seductively than the last.
It’s full-bodied, warms your heart, and slaps ya’ in the face as a reminder of who’s boss.
Kinda like Jo. 😉
Check this place out at: Glen Moray Distillery
The True Heroes in the World of Whisky
We also visited Speyside Cooperage, the only cooperage in the UK with a visitor center. Before now, Jo had no idea what the heck a cooperage even was! Here, you can witness coopers on top of their game as they make/repair and re-fire casks to be used in whisky production.
Aside from a little help from machinery, the coopers are still using traditional hand tools and methods, and a whole lotta brawn. This trade takes years to master, and frankly, Jo and I both think these guys are the true heroes in the whisky industry. Without them, well, millions of people would be even more miserable than they already are because there’d be no damn whisky.
Or monkeys in a barrel, for that matter.
That’s the kind of dystopia that truly terrifies us! Forget you, Hunger Games.
* When the casks can no longer be repaired, they are turned into furniture or pieces of art
* The video introduction gave us some background on the cooperage, what exactly they do there, and includes Smell-O-Vision! When this fire scene played, the scent of burning oak was piped into the room. Awesome!
* And I behaved myself…for once.
* Some of the guys were on lunch break, but what Jo did see…she liked! What better way to spend the day than drinking whisky and watching sexy Scotsmen use their hands! Wowser. 😉
* Old-school picture of the coopers and some of the guides
This place was fascinating! Jo can’t seem to remember exactly how many barrels these guys bang out, but I think the guide said something to the tune of 30. Whether that was a week or a day for each guy, we can’t remember.
Unfortunately, the art of coopering is dying out in many places due to metal beer casks replacing wooden ones. Jo read there is only one master cooper left in England, but thanks to a thriving whisky industry, there are around 200 coopers in Scotland.
So keep drinking your whisky, folks – tradition and jobs depend on it! 🙂
As for the price of a tour at the cooperage, you can’t beat 3.50 GBP. There’s also a coffee shop and gift store, and you can pay extra for a behind-the-scenes tour, including trying your hand at building a miniature barrel!
Check this place out at: Speyside Cooperage
* Jo had an amazing time at Speyside Cooperage, and on the way home, we found this kickass bridge!
* Now closed off to traffic, but you can still walk across it
* A “hairy coo!”
Another place we visited was the ruins of Elgin Cathedral, known as the “Lantern of the North,” established in the 13th century!
* The garden next to the cathedral
* Funny lil story about the sculpture below
* And, indeed, one can spot the naughty bits!
* Spotted this guy while driving around town
And, finally, our month-long trip in the Highlands came to an end with a relaxing afternoon in Forres at Brodie Castle after it had closed and all the tourists had left. Also nearby is a small hill where it’s said Macbeth encountered the Weird Sisters/Witches.
The castle was erected by Clan Brodie in 1567, with the family remaining there all the way until 1980. You can still get tours inside as well as enjoy a tearoom, gift shop, playground, and nature trail. We even saw campsites!
* Another cool Pictish stone near the entrance to Brodie Castle
* Today I really let my hair down! Wiggled in the grass and ran like the wind.
* Nature trail!
* No Ryan Gosling here, sorry ladies.
* Went off trail and came across the Clan Brodie burial ground!
* Crest of Clan Brodie
That’s all for the Highlands!
Up Next: The Lake District in England