My Introduction to Scotch


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.

Scotch on display

Scotch on display at Oban Distillery

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.

Welcome to Inverness

Welcome to Inverness

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 

Welcome to Ness Vegas

Welcome to Ness Vegas

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.

River Ness, Inverness

River Ness, Inverness

Live music at Hootananny, Inverness

Live music at Hootananny, Inverness

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! 

Lisa meets a long haired Scottish cow

Lisa meets a long haired Scottish 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.

Fairy Glen landscape, Isle of Skye

Fairy Glen landscape, Isle of Skye

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.

The Old Inn, Carbost, Isle of Skye

The Old Inn, Carbost, Isle of Skye

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.

Hanging on Loch Harport, Isle of Skye

Hanging on Loch Harport, Isle of Skye

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.

Jump for joy, Fairy Glen, Isle of Skye

Jump for joy, Fairy Glen, Isle of Skye

Rock formations, Fairy Glen, Isle of Skye

Rock formations, Fairy Glen, Isle of Skye

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.

Fairy Pools waterfalls, Isle of Skye

Fairy Pools waterfalls, Isle of Skye

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.

Fish and chips in Portree, Isle of Skye

Fish and chips in Portree, Isle of Skye

Oban (O-bin)

Sunset in Oban

Sunset in Oban

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.

Green seafood stall, Oban

Green seafood stall, Oban

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.

Oban Distillery

Oban Distillery

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 ***
  • Belvenie
  • Bowmore
  • Bunnahabhain
  • Dalmore
  • Glenmorangie ***
  • Highland Park
  • Jura
  • Laphroaig
  • Oban 14 ***
  • Scapa
  • Talisker 10
  • Tomatin Legacy
  • Tomatin 12
  • And many more I can’t remember

 

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Cycling Marlborough

Cycling the Vineyards of Marlborough, New Zealand


Two of my favorite things include sunshine and wine. Throw me on a bike on a cloudless day and give me a map of the boutique vineyards in the heart of the Marlborough wine region and honestly, it was one of the best tasting experiences I’ve ever had.

Lisa in Marlborough

Lisa in Marlborough

Tasting in Marlborough has long been on my list of wine regions to conquer. In fact, considering its remoteness in a quiet northeast corner of the South Island, New Zealand, I was starting to fear I would never get an opportunity to go. Partially because I think my appreciation for its world-renowned Sauvignon Blanc grape outwore its welcome on my pallet years ago. Secondly, it’s just not super convenient to get to.

I have a special fondness for New Zealand. I’d even go as far to say I love it. If you asked me to live there for a short while I’d be hard pressed to say no. Another reason it was crucial that I get myself to Marlborough. My favorite part about New Zealand is flying over it. With the terrain ever changing, lush green contrasted against snowy mountain peaks and azure water, it’s absolutely breathtaking. Every time, I’m reminded again of my first time, looking out of the airplane window in 2011, and it’s always equally as majestic.

North Island Volcano

North Island Volcano

In terms of getting to Marlborough my friends took the Interislander Ferry across from Wellington to Picton. At the same time I witnessed from above the stunning alcoves of the tiny islands their boat wove between while flying down from Auckland to Blenheim. Knee deep in my inflight magazine I took a quick break to gaze out of the window and my mouth involuntarily dropped. Just below the clouds sat a volcano. This was just before I passed from the North Island down to the South Island. Shortly afterward the striking coastline came into view.

South Island Northern Coast

South Island Northern Coast

My three Australian friends greeted me at the Blenheim airport with a big “Welcome to New Zealand” as if they were locals. And while Blenheim isn’t much to offer up socially, it is just on the cusp of the vineyards and has a range of accommodation and a few noteworthy bars and restaurants, such as Scotch. We stayed in a small cottage in the back of a B&B called Tresco. The owner Ian and adorable terrier Dudley were friendly and accommodating and it was only a short 10-minute walk to town. At night, the residential streets were quiet and the stars shone bright. It is true the Milky Way can be seen on this side of the world.

Drinks at Scotch: Blenheim

Drinks at Scotch: Blenheim

But enough of Blenheim (jokingly termed phlegm-em). Let’s talk wine.

Wine Tours By Bike have a great thing going. Family run by Steve and Jo Hill, they made it all so easy. That’s the thing; the day was more or less completely on our own terms. We booked in advance to be picked up from one of the three 5-hour long timeslots and were greeted with a big smile and handshake from Fred, Jo’s dad who drove us to the bike shed in Renwick. Set on a beautiful B&B property Hillsfield House, we were instantly asked to pick a bike from the lot parked out front. Told that just like a person no bike is the same, we tested them for height and seat comfortableness before analyzing how large each of our heads actually was during a helmet fitting. The award went to Rob.

Wine Tours by Bike Crew

Wine Tours by Bike Crew: Courtesy of Ceri

Steve gave us an amazingly detailed, yet brief overview of the vineyards in the vicinity of Renwick while we, along with some locals which are always a good sign, observed as he pointed them out against a white map pinned against the wall. My group then huddled together, our paper copies in hand and highlighter at the ready, mapping out how to tackle the afternoon and fit in all of our top spots. Water bottle, check. Lunch reservation, check. Social media post, check. And we were off!

Wine Tour Group Selfie

Wine Tour Group Selfie: Courtesy of Wes

Wobbling a bit when we set out, we eagerly headed to our farthest destination first, yet the most boutique. Te Whare Ra’s small quiet property impressed us with both their Riesling D (dry) and M (medium) so much that none of us left empty handed. In fact, it was my most favored tasting of the day and my only regret is not purchasing a case.

I traveled on, steadied on my African cruiser bike, with a smile from ear to ear. We dashed through the back of a vineyard on our way to another, taking shortcuts on dirt paths as we were hugged by the vines and the monstrous mountain peaks at the perimeter towered over us. The sun was hot, but in a good way. Then, the wind picked up and it was so strong, peddling against it turned our leisurely cruise into a battle of resistance.

Cycling Marlborough

Cycling Marlborough

At Giesen we had a delicious vintage platter for lunch yet an offensive wine host ruined the experience unfortunately, so much in fact I wouldn’t recommend a visit.  At Hans Herzog it was worth the cost of a tasting to be blown away with their exquisite presentation. It was the only Sauv Blanc I purchased in Marlborough, and for the cost it’s a keeper. Framingham won our hearts with free shipping to Australia so of course we bought a case between the four of us, but not without Mary Jo’s amazing attentiveness in pouring our Riesling flights.  We finished the day lounging on bean bags on the lawn at Forrest, where fellow American Katrina won me over with their 2011 Chenin Blanc.

Peddling back at the end of the day, still smiling while taking in the landscape, the pureness of the area and of the wineries really took hold. In fact, while I had a general distaste for what I had assumed was the mass production of sauvignon blanc, biking through the region and seeing the smaller farms and family vineyards gave me a whole other appreciation for it. But also, more impressive was the execution of other varieties likes riesling, pinot gris and pinot noir. I’ve done a lot of wine touring, but cycling and tasting through the vineyards of Marlborough takes the cake! Settling in around the picnic table back at Tresco later that evening we barbequed local fish and vegetables while sipping some of our favorite wins from the day.

Wine Tours by Bike

Wine Tours by Bike