Do you know the difference between whisky and whiskey? It’s just one of the many things I learned on a recent trip to the Scottish Highlands to wet my palate with a dram or two…or three. So, if you don’t know, the Irish and Americans spell it with an ‘e’; and the Scots don’t.
Immediately after getting off the plane in Inverness I was hit with really strong winds and fresh air. Oh Scotland, how I’ve missed you. I didn’t mentally prepare for the feeling of being brought back to when I lived in Edinburgh for a month when I was 20. But this time was different, I was deep in Lochness Monster territory after all, and there strictly for the whisky.
I met up with four friends from Australia for the ultimate road trip. There would be lots of driving through lush, beautiful remote areas, hiking and frolicking amongst nature, and of course, my first proper introduction to the world of Scotch.
So what makes a scotch a scotch? Well, the production of water and malted barley which is matured in oak barrels for a minimum of 3 years within Scotland and made to a specific law. Easy enough. Oh, and single malt means it’s from the same distillery.
Inverness & Lochness
If you’re in for some entertainment head to Ness Vegas and check out the decor at B&B Gleninver Guest House. Our host Mandy was friendly, offering suggestions of where to go in town (Hootananny for awesome live Scottish music, bagpipes and all). She greeted us with champagne, as the five of us huddled into one room with black and white Marilyn Monroe wallpaper, and we left her after a full Scottish breakfast, black pudding and haggis included. But aside from the welcoming stay, Inverness was surprisingly a party city.
We instead made our way to Lochness to search for Nessie, the famed Lochness Monster and explored the ruins of Urquhart Castle while playing with old swords before setting on for a four-hour journey heading off of the mainland. There’s only one way to road trip in Scotland, and that’s with mini bottles of whisky to taste in the back seat, bypassing waterfalls and stunning scenery and dancing to the bagpipes of upbeat Scottish band Red Hot Chilli Pipers. Don’t forget to slow down when there’s sheep on the road though and keep your eyes peeled for a long haired highland cow!
The Misty Isle
The Isle of Skye is a magical place. Remote and desolate, it’s brimming with natural beauty and enchanted, rugged landscapes. Calm lochs, towering mountains, and scenery you only see on postcards made the whole journey jaw dropping.
We stayed at the Old Inn & Waterfront Bunkhouse in Carbost, set overlooking a beautiful loch with the Culillin Hills in the distance. The location was a convenient two-minute walk to Talisker Distillery, who provided a very educational tour and a dram of their rich, and evenly balanced sweet and smoky Talisker 10.
While we received a bit of a cold welcoming from one particular staff member at the Old Inn, who remained that way for our two-night stay, I still would highly rate the visit for both their amazing, locally sourced menu, including fresh mussels, mackerel, juicy steak, scallops and more, as well as bartender Calum, who patiently poured me whisky after whisky each night while I educated my palate. Not that I’m impartial to a cute bartender or anything. We sat around listening to the sound of live fiddling performed by locals in the bar while chatting to friendly old Scottish men, bitter that the English have taken over the Isle.
Another reason for being on the Isle is to explore the great outdoors. My favorite spot was The Fairy Glen; majestic, spongey grass, unusual and lush cone-shaped hills above the village of Uig, perfect for exploring on a sunny summer’s afternoon running around like school children. In more recent years, visitors come to move the natural rocks around to make spiral shapes on the ground, or piled high into pyramids, which provide a stunning view from the top of the grassy hills.
Further on the topic of fairies are The Fairy Pools, a beautiful natural waterfall phenomenon in Glen Brittle. We were lucky for another sunny day which made the hike along the small and stunning rock pools a glorious way to spend the afternoon.
After road touring the Quiraing mountains, we somehow missed this popular hike, we stopped off in the harbor town of Portree. At the Merchant’s Inn, a pint of Isle of Skye Brewing Co’s IPA made me melt, followed by fresh fish and chips on the pier in front of pastel covered shops. I definitely recommend a stop through Portree.
What a town, this “little bay” (translated from Gaelic), truly is. Cute and picturesque, with striking views over the Firth of Lorn to the Isle of Mull. The perfect place to grab a sunset snap. Even better, it’s the seafood capital of Scotland! The place to be is the green seafood shack out on the ferry pier where they shell out plate after plate of fresh lobster, oysters, mussels, crab, fish, you name it, and oh is it deliciously fresh.
Skip McCaig’s Tower, the random fortress at the top of the city to commemorate John Stuart McCaig, whoever he is, as the most interesting thing is the view. Instead, check out Alice Strange Gallery on the way down the steep hill for some interesting screen prints and funky crafts.
Otherwise, spend your time at the Oban Distillery who gave a stand out tour (shhh, it was way better than Talisker). Young Euan cracked jokes as we learned why this small distillery is so stand out, and one of my favorites to drink. Their signature takeaway was a complimentary tasting glass, definitely a keeper, as well as the crystallized ginger we tasted along with the Oban 14.
Free whisky! If you register on Discovering Distilleries you receive a friend of the distillery voucher that gets you into both for FREE!
So what did I try? A lot! Neat, on the rocks and with a drop of water just to get a feel for how the taste can change. Good whisky is so cheap in Scotland there’s no reason to go expensive. A decent one is the cost of a pint. But these were a few of my favorites in no particular order, however, those (that I remember) are my favorite are starred. I like both a balanced whisky with some sweetness, but also something smoky and peaty is hard to say no to now as well. What can I say, I’m a convert.
- Ardbeg ***
- Coal Ila 12 ***
- Glenmorangie ***
- Highland Park
- Oban 14 ***
- Talisker 10
- Tomatin Legacy
- Tomatin 12
- And many more I can’t remember