Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Scotland Day 3: Getting to Islay

Here comes my retarded and unorganized day fueled with too much anxiousness. I misread my citylinks itinerary and I got to the Buchannen bus station too late from the Perth Scott rail! The rail arrived 10 minutes late, which didn't help me out either; then I had to wait for the 1:30 bus and walk over to the Ingram Pub (which is located at 136-138 Queens Street Glasgow.)

At this pub, I met 2 great bartenders named Toni and Kalye. I had local brews: T ( lager), Behaven (Best Original), Ossian, from Perth. The "T" was supremely golden, with a A.B.V of 4.1 percent, and they nicknamed this beer "The Heart of Scotland". I also had their old fashioned Haggis, Neeps, and Tatties, along with fried mushrooms... what a treat! Toni then poured a drizzle of Laphroaig 10 year on my haggis to bring out the flavour, and it was awesome! I also met Mr. Allan Caldwell an AC News Investigator from BBC and we shared smokes, beers, and great conversations. Upon the 1PM timeframe, I had to dash back to the station to my journey to Islay.

The bus from Glasgow, which is the Buchannan to Kennacraig took about 3-3 1/2 hrs, and the views on the countryside were astonishing. The castle, hills, and fresh air took me away. I sat next to a lovely woman who was on her way to the Isle of Jura to visit her parents for 10 days, I don't remember her name, it was something like Jacqueline, but she was such a pleasant woman. I regret I didn't get her contact information.

The bus ride was so amazing. I laid my head against the glass window, and took a nap. I woke up to take our break. There I was taken aback again by the beautiful waters and hill with the lush vegetation and beautiful calm waters. It was such a beautiful sunny day in Scotland. I got about 2 sunny days there... and that was the first full day of no rain. I was just sitting there on the wooden bench with Jacqueline smoking, so at peace and relaxed. Everything was standing still. After the break, we were headed back to bus for last hour trip, and there we approached Kennacraig. We got off, went to ferry gate to buy our tickets. Then the winds started gusting, then this huge ferry comes into dock. And when the passenger was exiting, huge doors opened up and semi trucks, cars, motorcycles came out of nowhere. I had no idea that a ferry could hold so many tons of cargo. This is where Jacqueline and I separated.

At boarding, as I was smoking my fag, I met 3 young girls from the Glasgow area named Christine and 2 Sarah's. "The Glas Girls" were of course friendly, and great company on the ferry. We had Cider Beer "Black Thorn" made from apples, lightly sweet on the nose, with a sweet and fruity taste, which is from Shepton ,Mallet, somerset England (I give it two stars but if you like sweet beer, then it is 4 stars) and I sampled beer from the Islay Isles Company, which was Laphroaig's Islay Mist. That is a blended whiskey from Laphroaig, which is lightly smokey, smooth, and lightly sweet, which I'd give 4 1/2 stars. Next I had 1992 Connoisseur's Choice, from Jura, and which whisky is sexy and spicy, and on the nose, it's peppery and sweet, I'd give it 5 stars. Then to finish off the great whiskys I had, I had the Black Rock Ale, and this was dark and delicious, almost like a stout. You can find all of the Islay local beers at http://www/islayales.com

The atmosphere on the ferry was relaxed, happy, and almost everyone was so darn merry while drinking their whisky. Everyone was sharing stories, joking around, and the staff was extremely professional and pleasant. I sipped on local whisky that I never had before, but I knew the distilleries, the Islay Mist was a pleasant surprise due to the fact that it was a blend. Normally, the only blended whiskys to my liking is from the Yamazaki Distillery, and Compass Box blends.

As we drew closer to Islay, you can see the Isles of Jura, and it began to become very cloudy and misty as the wind picked up even more, but Jura looked so breathtaking.

Arriving at the gate at Islay. Me and my new Glas girlfriends shared a cab from Fiona's Taxi Service, in which Fiona was very nice , very courteous, and made us feel very comfortable... she is reachable at (01496-30-2622) 24 hour service, distance is no object.

As we arrived to Port Askaig, where we was picked up from Fiona, I was taken to my Bed and Breakfast, called the Oyster Catcher, which is on the other end of the island. The schedule on that Saturday could only take me to Port Askaig, instead of Port Ellen(which would of been closer). That ride would cost you about 35 pounds, and would take about 30 mins.

Fiona dropped the girls off first, then me down the street. When I walked to the Oyster Catcher, later than schedule. I knocked on the door, no answer, no doorbell. But, I wondered if the door was unlocked, due to the safe and relaxed community. I was right, and I walked in. No one was around, and I checked the dining area, and there was Lynn, the manager of the B&B.

She knew exactly who I was, and greeted me by saying my name, "Hello Carmen, I thought you was going to get here a little bit earlier." I felt so welcome, because not only did she welcome me by my first name, but she greeted me as though I was someone familiar. That minute, I knew I was at a very special warm, cozy, homelike atmosphere. Lynn then briefed me about transportation, breakfast, then she returned with a coffee tray prepped for my liking for the rest of the evening.

As I settled in, I got on the Internet, and the next thing I knew, the Glas Girls were tapping on my window (cause I left the shades open) as they was walking past the B&B they saw me and shouted, "Let's go drink!" I gathered myself, headed out the door, and we headed to the Ardview Bar, which was about 4 buildings down the same block of the B&B. It was absolutely superb. There, I had Bruichlladich 21 year, which is unavailable in the US. It was released to my belief, last year, at the Islay festival only. The Queen had partnership with this distillation and approved it for consumption in Scotland. And it only cost me 8 pounds. Next I had the 'Black Bottle' whisky, which is a 7 blend from the 1879 distillery. It has a lightly sweet and smokey aroma, very smooth, spicy, short finish with a great punch at the end.

**As a side note, if you're in Scotland, you must have the McCoy Crisp, the two flavors I favor is the salt and malted vinegar and the cheddar and onion. These crisps are so darn tasty!

Back to business. Next we headed over to another whisky bar, where I had the Mackey and Whyte blended whisky, from the highlands. Since I wasn't much of a blended whisky drinker till I got there, I found this brand a decent dram.

Nightcap: As the night grew late, I returned to my B&B and prepped for the distillery tours in the morning. And this was my day 1 in Islay, hell, I give it five stars, even though I was terribly late.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Scotland Day 2:The Whisky Society tasting..Part 2

After a great day of sightseeing and whisky sampling at the "Experience", It was time for me to head back to St. Andrews to gather some things and change into my evening wear for the whisky society. After I've dressed in the restroom, I headed over to the Society (28 Queens street), which wasn't too far away from the bus station. I'll say I'd walked it in 10 minutes or less in high heels.

As I entered the great Scotch Malt Whisky Society, I was warmly greeted at the front desk and checked in. The Society looks kinda like a mix of a old Victorian/ brownstone house. The ones I usually see in Brooklyn and on the upper east side of NYC. It is large, bright, and beautiful! It has about 4-5 floors and each one had rooms for different events, the bar/lounge, and etc.

I walked up the spiral stairway to the 4th floor for my first experience with the society. As I walked into the room it was a diverse age group of members and a young gentleman already conducting the tasting. If you know your Libation Girl, I just dived right in to catch up on the first bottle, which was the "A Girl Band's Latest Hits"-13 years-Cask No. 125.19-out turn:244 bottles(52 pounds). I give it 4 stars, because the nose was intense with toffee, chocolate, orange peel and a bit oaky. It tasted sweet like a pecan pie and hints of coconut. This whisky is worth every pound, because it's full of flavor and not complex. I would drink it with my brunch and/or dessert. Bravo!!!!

Second, is the"Burnt Sugar and Fried Eggs" -10 years-Cask No. 78.38-out turn: 793 bottles(39 pounds). I give this one 2 stars, because the nose on this whisky has an in your face, FUNKY, complex, and egg-y smell and taste! It wasn't appealing to my palate and I'm the type of maven that enjoys the unusual dimensions of whisky. Just think about the title of the bottle, It tastes exactly like that!

I think the nose of having a buttery custard,creme brulee, gun powder smoke, and matches is ok, but when you taste the sweet(burnt sugar) and fried egg-y taste (too much of sulphur )it is absolutely un-appealing to the Libation Girl!

Last, is the "Smoked Fish and Black Leather"-10 years-Cask No. 33.69-out turn: 267 bottles(52 pounds) I give this one 4 stars! I absolutely loved the ashy, heather, salt-water, and smoked fish aroma on the nose! Later on I even smelled lavender and a smoky ash tray. On the palate, it was sweet at first, then salty, and then came the smoke kicking in later on. Boy-o-boy did I enjoy this whisky! WELL DONE!
*Note: The whisky was graded on a scale from 1-4 stars- 4 being the best.
*Note: The footage of this tasting will be edited for the TV show, "Libation Diaries with Carmen" and broadcasted on one of the sneak peak half season shows on the YouTube channel.

After the tasting, I chatted it up with the members and then we finished all of the remaining whisky. I was famished after enjoying all of those drams! I headed downstairs to the members lounge/bar and had a delicious haggis dinner with my Laphroaig 16 +18 years. I sat across from two very sweet Scotsmen. We shared a great conversation and I listen to their stories they offered about general Scottish life. I was in heaven!

After my meal and conversation, I headed back to Perth to get some sort of sleep. I jumped back on the ScotRail and chatted it up with some nice people, took a brief nap, and then jumped into a cab and returned to Nick's house.

When I returned, he was there with a beautiful woman drinking some Macallan and talking. I joined in and spent the next hour or so enjoying the company, the stir fry Nick had made, and the whisky.

Night Cap: At this point in my trip, I felt like someone needed to pinch me, because I was the happiest I've been in a long time! This is like my Mecca that I've finally pilgrimage to and everything was going so beautiful. It was times that I had tears in my eyes of pure bliss and other times with my heart thumping so hard out of pure anxiousness.

Even though I don't have one drop of Scot in me (Irish that I have is close enough), I feel like I was in my homeland! I assimilated into the community easily and no one looked/stared at me differently, and everyone embraced me 100%!

I was feeling the same feeling when I was on the plane flying over Ireland. I said to myself, "I'm coming home, I'm coming home"! I LOVE SCOTLAND!


Sunday, September 20, 2009

Scotland Day 2: Castle and Whisky Time! Part 1

It was finally my turn to take a semi-personal day in Edinburgh! I got up early and Nick dropped me off to the ScotRail. I took the train to the Waverly street station in Edinburgh, which is the center of the city. That fare from there cost me @12.90 pounds.

Upon arrival, I stopped at the "Upper Crust" cafe and had a cheap and small breakfast. Americano, veggie baguette with 2 bottles of water(@5ponds).

FYI: make sure you bring an UK converter or two, because I'd brought a standard Euro converter and it didn't work. I had no idea that the UK had a different power socket, therefore I had to stop at the "Boots" dept. drug store, (Boots is like a NY Duane Reade drug store chain, but on steroids) once I'd reached town.

Next, I headed over to the St. Andrews bus station, which is @a 5 minute walk from the rail station. There I locked up the heavier items and clothing I had in my backpack. I had a long day ahead of me and I came complete with every item I thought I would need for the event later on. It will cost you anywhere from 3-6 pounds to store your items for 24 hours(with ONLY a 1 time access), depending on the size that you need.
After getting everything together I headed over to the castle and had a good time touring myself through out the castle. I saw the St. Margaret Chapel(the oldest building in Edinburgh), the Crown Jewels(where everyone crowded around and stared at the jewels intently. It was a glass incasement that was positioned in the tiniest room in the castle! Wow, wouldn't you think that they would of put that site in a larger room???? Next, I saw the great hall,Queen Mary's chamber and the "prisoners of war" dungeon(that I might say that they kept they're captured decently).
I would have to say that the views from the castle top at the Argyle tower is absolutely stunning! It's probably the best in the city! After experiencing sunshine, showers, fog, and a rainbow in just 2 hours, which changed about every 15 minutes, It was time for me to get to the whisky museum and sip and learn about some whisky!

The Whisky Experience Museum, is located almost right next door to the castle on the Royal Mile. This museum was created with Diageo and Clive Vidiz. The collection started around the 1970's, which they own the oldest bottle's in the world and the largest collection! These bottle's originate from the 1880-1900's!
In 1991, they released the century old bottle of the Strathmill(1891) and they own the Pinch, which is a blended whisky that was worth $1000 USD in 1969, when they possessed that bottle. This museum owns over 3400 rare whisky bottle's of all kinds, which alot of them have a considerate amount of whisky inside!

I had the privilege to film some footage for the TV show! Only media is allowed to do that and I was honored. Now lets experience. The first step once you've paid your admission is the "Barrel Ride", which gives you a hieroglyphic visual tour of the history of whisky making along with some installations.

Second, you will find a small room with the whisky process adorning the walls with pictures and information, such as the maturation process and coopering. I liked the "Life of a cask" piece. It was informational and educational for me.
Third, you will walk through the hallway that is titled, "A Sense of Scotland" and then your directed into the "Sensory Room". Cowwum Logan(the instructor) started out with a PowerPoint sort of slide show explaining alittle bit about Scotland's distillery, history and the regions that they will focus on.

Next, as we sat around this large round table that has 4 smelling bottles, 4 colored coded circle's in the center to represent the main regions that the experience focuses on for your senses.
First, was the Lowlands, which I smelled mainly freshly baked biscuits. Second: Highlands, I smelled oak, mull, heather,honey, nuts, roses and various florals. Third: Speyside: I smelled pears, bananas, raisins, dates, pine, and apples. Last: My beautiful Isaly, which of course I smelled the dominant young coal(peet).

After the smelling exercise, you get to pick out which whisky you liked best from the smells that intrigued you the best. I picked the Ben Nevis, which I've had so many times in the past. I wish they had a wider selection for folks like myself.

Fourth, is the "how to drink whisky" room, which is the place that they hold their 3400 bottle collection (Up above in the top pix are the two sides of a 6 sided room that holds all of those darling bottles). In this portion of the tour, Cowwum tells you what to look for in the glass, such as the legs of the whisky as you swirl it around some. IG: If your whisky has slower legs, then it is thicker and have a tendency to have more body. If the legs are faster, then it is thinner and possibly has less robust flavour, which doesn't means that it isn't a good whisky or lacks flavour.

Last, after we walked out of the collection room we had an opportunity to go to the bar and sample some more whisky! At the massive whisky bar, I sampled 4 whiskies and 3 of them I've never had!
The first was from Highland, the Glengoyne 10 year(grown in the lowlands).It has a golden yellow color, it's fruity on the nose and have a hint of oak. It has a fresh, soft, and mellow taste that I'd enjoyed so much and will give it 4 stars!
Second, the Royal Lochnagar 12 year, which is also from the Highlands. The color is full gold and it has a light, subtle and malty scent on the nose. It tasted a little sweet and a little smoky with some malty flavor. I give it 3 1/2 stars, because I like my whisky to be smoky and not sweet! Not even a hint, but I can't deny that it is a good whisky.
Third, is the Strathisla 12 year from Speyside. This whisky packs a punch people! It has a bite-y, strong, smooth, dry, and malty taste! It's bright gold and has hints of sherry on the nose! I give it 3 1/2 stars overall and then an extra 1/2 star for the surprise attack..ha-he!
*Note: This is the base malt for Chivas Regal
Last and not least! The Laphroaig 10 year from Islay! If you don't know it by now, I love whisky and I hold a special place in my heart for Islay. I absolutely adore and enjoy the peat and smokiness it give to the whisky! My lovely Laphroaig is full gold in color and has a medicinal and phenolic aroma on the nose. It tastes salty, oily, and VERY SMOKY!! Of course I give it 4+ stars!!
*Note: When it comes to Laphroaig or any whisky from the Islay region it will primarily have these features/characteristics. It's rather you LOVE it or HATE it(in my opinion)!
*Note All of the whiskies was judged on a scale from 1-4 stars and even though I'm partial to Islay, Glengoyne gets the award for the best unknown whisky to meet my expectations. I now have another lover on my whisky list.
Slainte Mhath!
To be continued.................