After a mostly uneventful flight – save for the screaming night terrors – I safely arrived in Glasgow, Scotland via Dublin, Ireland some time on Sunday morning.
Sadly, my friends Rob and Rita weren’t so lucky. Their plane, which was to land about an hour before mine1, had to be turned around after approximately 1 hour into their flight from Philadelphia due to a mechanical issue. The good news is that they safely returned to Philly, had their flights rebooked, and finally made their way to Glasgow about 4 hours after me.
And just like that, we were off, heading towards Edinburgh while carefully navigating the left is the new right roadways. To be honest, I can’t exactly recall when we arrived in Edinburgh. I was too busy staring out the windows watching the beautiful greenery pass by. And maybe it was a lack of sleep, or perhaps some sort of old country magic, but the greenery seemed to be intensely greener here than at home. It was almost electric.
Edinburgh turned out to be one of those places that all of us wish we had more time to spend exploring. The cobblestone streets, the stone buildings, the people, the food – all somehow managed to make a large city feel like a small town. The vibe reminded me a lot of Guelph. It also didn’t hurt that very near the apartment we rented was a rather fantastic scotch shop.
I’m pretty sure I looked like some sort of kid in a candy store the minute I walked in. Everywhere I looked grabbed my attention. It was all a little overwhelming. The most fantastic find was when I stumbled on the Ardbeg selection; Ardbeg being my favourite scotch. While they had the various bottles I’m familiar with from the LCBO (10, Corryvreckan, and Uigeadail) and the more recent Ardbeg Day releases2 including Ardbog, and Dark Cove, they also had bottles I’d never heard of. Most were older Ardbeg Day releases, which meant that they were substantially more expensive (ranging from fifty to several thousand British pounds). The woman who was serving us informed us that the most expensive bottle she had sold was on the order of twenty thousand British pounds. Given that I left my big wallet at home, I opted to buy a bottle of the Ardbeg Dark Cove.
Sadly our stay in Edinburgh was short lived. After a much-needed sleep and a traditional Scottish breakfast (complete with haggis and blood pudding), we were off to Inverness and The Glenlivet Distillery. After missing a turn suggested by our GPS, we found ourselves traveling the bulk of the distance on winding (and at times very narrow) country roads. We briefly chatted about making our way back to the highway but opted to enjoy the scenery instead.
The country rolled by as we wound ourselves ever closer to Inverness. The hills were dotted with sheep seemingly enjoying the beautiful weather while munching on grass and shrubs. We passed fields of cows, and highland cattle, as well as a small herd of bighorn sheep. We had to pull quickly into passing spots to allow both us and any oncoming cars to navigate the single lane road. The rest of the time we raced along the road, hugging the turns and feeling a little like we were taking part in some sort of rally race. I couldn’t help but think how unforgiving the roads would be if we were to make a wrong turn.
But we had no time to delay. We had a scotch tasting set up at The Glenlivet distillery and we couldn’t be late. After a brief stop to stretch our legs and catch our breath, we were off again.
We arrived at the distillery about 15 minutes after our tasting was supposed to begin. Of course, since scotch can’t be rushed, James our tasting guide didn’t seem to mind. We guessed that James was about 21 years old. He was dressed as one might expect a Scotsman to dress – not in a kilt – but in a tweed vest and dress shirt. Initially, I was a bit skeptical about a 20-something-year-old scotch tasting guide but he soon put my skepticism to rest.
James grew up in the area around The Glenlivet with a mom who’d also worked in the industry, and he very clearly knew the history of the region. He was also quite familiar with the ins and outs of the scotch making process, but also peppered in stories about the makings of The Glenlivet – from reasons why the head, heart, and tail of the scotch were padlocked, and a related story about the phrase walking the dog. He toured us through the distillery and then brought us to one of the storage sheds. The distillery was modern and very clean; almost sterile except far warmer and welcoming than sterility would dictate. In contrast, the storage shed was a cool old stone building covered by a tin roof. The room was very simple and had a faint fruity aroma. Its walls were aged, and while not dirty, they were definitely earthy. It was exactly what I’d expect of a room that would house barrels of aging scotch for numerous years.
We ended this part of the tour with a dram of scotch that was barreled in 1977. Given that this was the year that Rita was born, she was given the honour of drawing our drams from the barrel with a massive scotch-only pipette. The scotch was a rich amber colour and was entirely heavenly. It was light but full of fruit flavours and I may or may not have wanted to have a second helping. Fortunately, Rita didn’t want to finish her share, so I helped her out.
As I savoured my second helping, I smiled at the thought that I was now standing in The Glenlivet distillery enjoying a dram of scotch that very few people have ever been able to try. Of all the places I’ve been, I think that Scotland truly is the mothership calling me home.
1 Which would have provided them sufficient time to claim their luggage and collect the car prior to my arrival, thereby minimizing the logistical portion of our travel.
2 Ardbeg Day is celebrated June 1 on the distillery’s anniversary.