Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Sunday, Aug 8

For those of you who wish to know what happened at Binchester after we left you can find out at . This blog was written by some of the Durham folks and has a running account of the dig from a more formal point of view, as well as covering the time before we arrived and after we left. The “pit” it refers to is the one I was working in. Turns out that for all the difficulties, I worked in one of the most interesting features found during the whole season.
I know you all want to know the answer to the question, "Will I do it again?" I decided that I would not answer that question until sufficient time had past and I had a chance to let the adventure settle in. So check back in a month or so to find out.
Saturday, Aug 7

Today planes. We fly from Manchester to JFK and then to San Francisco. We get picked up by a too curious limo driver and taken home.
Home to two attention starved cats, piles of (mostly) junk mail and better weather. It has been 38 days since I left, the longest trip away from home since I graduated from college.
It is a little weird being home again. I find I had gotten used to my little room at St. Chads (and being in a string of hotels, 5 in all) and the size of the house is going to take some getting used to again. That and the TV, which I watched for all of 6 hours (World Cup soccer) while gone and have not really missed.
However, Winston has taken all of 10 minutes getting over being mad at me for being gone for so long and now he wants attention – LOTS of attention.

Friday, Aug 6
Today trains. First from Pitlochry to York. A quick change in York for Manchester Airport. In York we get on the wrong train, as the one prior to ours is late leaving. However, we are not the only ones confused and we all manage to find seats.

We arrive at the Airport and check into our hotel. Alex decides to rest for a while so I make the requisite trip to the Hard Rock CafĂ© in Manchester. Arriving in Manchester I don’t recognize anything, although I was here a few years ago. Deciding to take a cab turns out to be a good idea as I am completely turned around and would never have found the place on my own. I must have come into a different train station the first time.
Arriving at the HRC I find I don’t recognize that either. They have closed the casino and completely remodeled the interior. I have my drink, buy a pin and take a cab back to the station, driven by an Indian driver who is too curious about life in California. Back at the hotel I try to repack a little for the flight tomorrow and then call it a day.

About the images:
1 & 2. Night views of the B&B in Pitlochry.

Thursday, Aug 5

We begin our journey towards home today with a train ride to Pitlochry, a small tourist town along the River Tummel. By the time we arrive the sky is clearing and it looks like it is going to be a very nice day. We walk to our B&B, which turns out to be a little farther than we had thought. However, the place is very nice and we get a large comfy room.
After lunch we take a cab to Edradour, which is up in the hills above the town. I have been looking forward to this visit since that first taste back in Edinburgh. Edradour is the smallest distillery in Scotland, boasting just one set of stills and producing just three casks a day. The setting is gorgeous and the now fine weather with lots of sunshine only makes it more so. I take the tour while Alex sits in the tasting room having a couple of drams.

After the tour I try several malts. They have the typical 10 year old but the real treasure of their line are the ones that spend an additional six months in a wine cask before being bottled. They have 7 or 8 different wine finished malts and I try several. I really like the Bordeaux finished one and look longingly at the bottle trying to figure out if there is a way I can get it into my luggage. The bottle is packed in a small wooden box, great for safety but not for space. Finally, I have to pass, settling instead for the names and contact info of their U.S. distributors. The whisky is expensive here; I can only imagine what it will cost back home.

Alex has a conference call she has to attend so while she is doing that I take a walkabout around the town and down to the hydroelectric dam and fish ladder along the river. The resulting loch behind the dam and the hills around it remind me of Lake Tahoe, albeit in miniature. The fish don’t seem to be using the ladder today so I take some fishless pictures.

The owners of the B&B have suggested a nice restaurant for dinner and it turns out to be a great place. What a nice way to end the Scotch Tour, a fine malt and great food.

About the images:
1. The grounds of the Edradour distillery.
2. The (only) 2 stills.
3. A beautiful Scots day.
4. The loch behind the dam in Pitlochry.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Wednesday, Aug 4

Today we will be driving along the River Spey proper and visiting some distilleries that are the areas namesake.
Our first stop is Glenfiddich, a huge and well-known producer. The distillery is very large with very nice grounds and the visitor center is geared toward the tour bus crowd. We decide to skip the tour and just want to taste. This requires some negotiating and we agree to watch to promotional movie before tasting. The film is completely over the top and we have a good laugh about marketing run amuck! We are then given a tasting of three malts with a young lady who pours and gives us a description of each. I think that Glenfiddich is too smooth for my taste, an OK whisky for drinking but not for sipping.

Next up is another well-known producer, Macallan. While the volume produced by Macallan is about the same as Glenfiddich, the two places couldn’t be more different. The distillery is up in the hills above the river with pretty views of the surrounding countryside. Macallan has a much smaller feel and we are the only visitors in the tasting room while we are there. We taste a couple of 10 year olds and a ridiculously sweet liqueur. I am disappointed we can’t taste (or buy) any of their older malts, but so it goes.

We stop at Aberlour, a medium sized producer with a small tasting room. To my surprise we can taste anything we want. I try a cask strength 10 year old with an alcohol content of 57%. This is the typical strength of whiskey when it comes out of the cask after it is finished aging. It is then cut with water to bring the alcohol down to the typical 40%. The alcohol is too strong for my taste, simply overpowering the taste of the scotch itself. I also try a 24 year old, which is quite nice.

After a quick lunch, we go to our last distillery of the day, Glenfarclas. A somewhat smaller distiller, we again skip the tour and just taste. We are given the standard 10 year old, which is a little stronger in taste than what we have had today and is a nice change.

On our way back to Inverness, Andy gives us a drive-by tour of Tomatin. This was originally on our schedule but I dropped it after doing some research. Tomatin was the first distillery to be bought by a Japanese firm who then spent a lot of money expanding its production capacity. Today it is a major producer of whiskeys used in making blends and bottles only a 10 year old under its own name. The place is huge and rather soulless. We’re glad we didn’t stop.

As we are driving back to Inverness the weather begins to improve and is quite nice by the time we get to the B&B. We thank Andy for his driving; which saved an adventure that appeared was not going to go well.
We have another quiet evening as we have a train to catch in the morning.

About the images:

1. Glenfiddich.
2. Fishing in the River Spey. Look closely to see how much line he has out!
3. Macallan.
4. A display still outside Glenfarclas.
5. Nighttime in Inverness along the River Ness.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Tuesday, Aug 3

We are to begin our scotch tasting tour today, with a hired car picking us up at 9.30. At 9.50 the car has not arrived and the phone calls start. After many calls a car finally arrives. I am not happy.
However, our driver, Andy, is a good conversationalist and a scotch drinker himself and things begin to improve.
We drive along the Forth of Moray, a huge inlet that basically cuts the Scottish landmass in half. The weather is mixed, with some blue peeking out occasionally, but we enjoy some nice views.
Our first stop is a now closed distillery called Dallas Dhu. A self-guided tour around the site gives us our first look at how the distilling process works.

Next up is Benromach, a small distillery where we pass on the tour and just go with the tasting. While here we ask about the ability to ship our purchases back to the States. They don’t and advise us that few, if any, will. Dealing with customs just got to be too much trouble and they have stopped shipping as a result. This is a big blow, as my plan was to buy and ship some bottles of stuff we really liked. We cannot carry this back in our luggage and the smaller distilleries products are difficult to get in the States.

It is here we learn about a company called Gordon and MacPhails, who have a shop in the town of Elgin, just up the road from where we are. We stop there and ogle the great selection of Speyside malts they have as well as some well-known Islays. In addition to being a big distributor, they also own a couple of distillers, including the just visited Benromach. We taste a couple of private labels that are only available in the shop. The malts are pretty good and we are disappointed that we won’t be able to buy any. We get the contact info for the corporate office so we can find out whom they sell to in the Bay Area.

A quick lunch and its on to our final stop, a small distillery called Ben Moray. Here I take the tour so I can see (and smell) a working distillery. It’s a good tour and we get to taste a couple of malts at the end.

This look at Speyside malts (although, technically we have not been on the River Spey today) shows whiskeys with lot of mild flavours but not the strong peat and smoke flavours of some other parts of Scotland.
Andy takes us back to the B&B and we arrange to hire him again tomorrow. I do some research on the places selected for us tomorrow. I decide to drop a couple and add some different ones.

About the images:
1. Looking thru a cask with a glass top plate.
2. The barley bins at Glen Moray.
3. The tops of a couple of stills.
4. The cooling coils inside a still.
5. Inside a maturation warehouse at Glen Moray.

Monday, Aug 2

On to Inverness today. At the last minute the railroad changes the equipment they are going to use for the run to Inverness and the train is packed and all seat reservations are canceled. Chaos ensues. There is not enough room for all the luggage but safety regulations must be followed and the poor porter spends nearly an hour trying to get it all organized. It is not a pleasant ride.
A short cab ride takes us to our B&B, a lovely house alongside the River Ness. (Yes that Ness. It is the only river that drains out of Loch Ness. We took a boat tour of the Loch many years ago and will not be trying to find Nessie on this trip.) The river is wide, shallow and fast moving. It is also popular with fly fisherman. It used to be full of salmon, but over fishing has severely reduced their numbers and fishing for salmon is now highly regulated.
I do a quick walkabout to see the center of town, and then it’s off to dinner. Generally, a quiet night.

About the image:
The River Ness from outside our B&B.