London Heathrow, Terminal 5. The nonstop flight from SFO to Heathrow took 10 hours. Here I'm waiting for a connecting flight to Glasgow.
Terminal 5 is like a huge multi-story mall with shops and restaurants. British Airways is the sole airline at this terminal.
If you like airplanes, you'll love Terminal 5. Great photo ops.
Sign at Glasgow airport. Our "fact finding" itinerary included 11 single malt scotch distillery tours in 11 days. We split our time between the island of Islay in the Inner Hebrides off the southwest coast of the Scottish mainland and the town of Rothes in the north Highland area known as Speyside. We sampled a cross-section of scotch styles while absorbing as much culture and history as we could.
Misty countryside on drive between Glasgow and the ferry at Kennacraig.
The Isle of Arran car ferry. We took this from Kennacraig to Port Askaig on Islay. We had pre-scheduled single malt scotch tours of Ardbeg, Bowmore, Bruichladdich, Caol Ila, Lagavulin and Laphraoig on this island of roughly 3,500 inhabitants.
Inside the ferry.
Our rental car on the ferry. She was practically brand new with less than 400 miles on her.
Even on the ferry, many signs in Scotland are in both English and Gaelic.
Approaching the dock at Pt. Askaig on Islay.
Shaggy Highland cows.
Scottish Blackface sheep. Both sexes have horns (we were wondering why all the lambs seemed to be following rams!).
The wording may be different, but the message is familiar...
While on Islay, we stayed in the town of Bowmore at the Meadowside B & B; a great place!
Meadowside was cozy and warm.
Typical Bowmore architecture.
The Kilarrow Parish Church at the top of Main Street in Bowmore. Legend says it was built with a circular floorplan so the devil wouldn't have a corner to hide in.
A view down Bowmore's Main Street from the top of the church steps. Loch Indaal is in the background.
A Jewish school or meeting place in Bowmore. An historical landmark? The town also boasts an excellent Indian restaurant.
This is the Bowmore distillery.
The Bowmore Craftman's Tour is a very in-depth look at how scotch is made from start to finish. Here, we're on the malting floor standing ankle deep in barley grains with our guide.
Part of Bowmore's "Mission Control" where the entire whisky making process can be monitored.
Their beautiful mash tun.
It's hot in there!
The inside of the mash tun. Water is added to barley grist in progressively hotter stages to extract a sugary solution known as wort.
Wooden washbacks. After being cooled, the wort is pumped into these and yeast is added to begin the fermentation process.
As fermentation of the wort progresses it can get very violent and gaseous with CO2.
Our guide let us sample directly from a different washback where the fermentation had progressed further and calmed down. It tasted similar to unfiltered wheat beer. At some distilleries (not this one), after everyone had taken a sip the guide would pour the unfinished sample back into the tank!
Bowmore's beautiful stills!
Another view of the stills from above.
Coppersmiths make the rounds at the distilleries and maintain the stills. You can see the weld seams and the shine from being lacquered.
ID plate on one of the stills.
When the stills are fired up and full of liquid it's hot as hell in the room!
Alcohol evaporates at a lower temp than water and the vapor travels up the still funnel where it's collected and cooled.
A shot of the still room. The two gentlemen are standing in front of the spirit safe.
Bowmore's spirit safe in more detail. Clear liquid from the stills is analyzed and measured for content and alcoholic level as it passes through this device. The first portion (the foreshot) and the last portion (the feints) are set aside, while the middle part (the body) will be used to make whisky from this batch . At this stage and before aging in barrels, it's known as New Spirit or New Make Spirit.
Crystal clear elixir...
A dark, chilly warehouse. To be legally referred to as scotch, the whisky must be distilled in Scotland and aged for at least 3 years in casks before bottling. Most distilleries don't release much under 10 years old to the public, though. Note the age statements of the casks' contents in the top row.
A rustic tasting tableau among the barrels in the warehouse.
Upstairs at Bowmore's formal tasting room.
Our guide lining up the goodies...
Main gate at Bruichladdich.
Inside the courtyard.
Smokestack painted to imitate a bottle of Bruichladdich.
Display outside the distillery. Those are two fake feet sticking out of the top of the still.
Another view of the display.
The insides of an empty mash tun immediately after cleaning. The geared assembly keeps the barley/water mixture in motion.
Copper still with fittings.
Typical of most stills, a major portion extends beneath the floor.
A wide variety of Bruichladdich bottlings for sale.
An historical display.
Detail of commemorative and special edition bottlings.
Some of Bruichladdich's awards with examples of their ultra-peaty/smokey cask strength expressions on the shelf below.
You could fill your own bottle from this single barrel of scotch referred to as "Valinch". Only available in person at the distillery -- no shipping, even to other locations in Scotland.
Caol Ila, one of the Islay distilleries especially known for its peaty character.
You can see one of the stills through the windows.
The open gate beckons...
This would be an impressive view from arriving supply ships.
Caol Ila is a beautiful distillery.
Shot from the pier. Note the rain drops on the railing. It rained off and on during our entire time on Islay.
"Mission Control" from a different angle.
Washbacks made of Oregon pine.
Beautiful copper stills.
People in the shot give a sense of scale. These stills are huge.
A rare view inside an empty still.
Caol Ila's spirit safe.
Souvenirs and bottles; many of which are only available at the distillery. I acquired a special bottling of Caol Ila 8-year old "Unpeated" (64.9% abv!).
This is how barrels were weighed in the old days.
Ardbeg is also known for its typically well-peated products.
Ardbeg's double pagodas. This design was common throughout Scotland. It efficiently vents heat from the malt drying process while preventing rain from entering the malting room.
An almost solarized photo effect...
A retired still on display.
Long ago, the giant letters allowed supply ships to easily tell which distillery they were approaching.
Another view of those giant letters.
Hot water being added to the mash tun.
The spirit safe.
We tasted two extremes from Ardbeg: "Supernova", their peatiest scotch to date; and "Blasda" which is only lightly peated. I purchased a rare bottle of 8 year old "Still Young" (56.2% abv!).
Ardbeg is just a stone's throw from the water with a great view.
Shot from the grounds at Ardbeg in the other direction. Islay has a stark beauty that's timeless.
Just up the coast from Ardbeg is the Kildalton Cross and the ruins of a church and cemetery. This was an informative placard on site.
The Kildalton Cross.
A smaller cross, much more weathered with moss and lichen.
Walking around these ruins, you are drawn back in time and can almost feel an ancient presence.
From another angle.
A gravestone shows the ravages of time.
A touching memorial.
Deer grazing along the road.
Nestled between Ardbeg and Laphraoig is mighty Lagavulin!
Lagavulin also tends to be very peaty, yet it and Islay's other peaty distilleries create very different tasting products.
The pier didn't extend far enough for me to lean out and shoot the name unobstructed.
Different washbacks hold liquid in various stages of fermentation.
Lagavulin has 4 stills.
Bulbous and squat, shorter stills allow heavier components to travel up to their tops and be incorporated into the final product.
Copper stills develop a dull patina over time. After being periodically lacquered they glisten as though brand new.
Lagavulin uses proprietary software and a very high-tech graphics display to monitor everything.
This is how casks are individually filled.
Lagavulin's readily available 16 yr. old; limited availability 12 yr. old; and their special Distiller's Edition.
Telephoto shot of Dunyvaig Castle just offshore from Lagavulin on a rock outcrop in the sea. Built in the 13th century, it was originally a stronghold of MacDonald Lord of the Isles.
Laphroaig, one of the best known of the peaty malts.
The malting floor is at the top level.
Inside the malting floor.
Spreading the moist barley on the floor to germinate.
The smoke and heat from the smoldering peat fuel dries the barley to stop the germination process and also imparts that signature Islay smokiness.
Laphroaig's "Mission Control".
Inside the Mash Tun.
The stills, just humming right along.
This shot gives a sense of scale to the stills. Compare their size to those at Caol Ila.
Detail of still.
Dark and brooding.
The gift shop and tasting room.
Yes, I was salivating!
Here's where we sampled a few drams.
Vintage Laphroaig...the price is in pounds (multiply by approximately 1.54 for the equivalent in U.S. dollars).
Special archives containing gallery quality photos and records of every registered "Friend of Laphroaig".
Part of the archive library.
Prince Charles is a big Laphroaig fan and visits the distillery on occasion. Too bad there was so much reflection on the glass, but here the Prince and Camilla are about to enjoy one of Islay's best.
Bunnahabhain was closed on the Saturday we had some extra downtime from our schedule. We decided to stop by on impulse.
A view from the pier.
You can see the Isle of Jura from Bunnahabhain. The cloud-shrouded mountains are known as the Paps of Jura.
The town of Port Ellen.
Fishing boats at rest.
Crab or lobster(?) traps stacked on the dock.
Port Ellen was our ferry point of departure from Islay back to Kennacraig on mainland Scotland.
On our return from Port Ellen to Kennacraig we sailed on the Hebridean Isles.
Port Ellen's lighthouse bids us a fond farewell.
A indelible image of Islay.
Onward to the mainland. When we landed back at Kennacraig we drove over 7 hours north to Rothes in Speyside.
We didn't have much time to explore Loch Ness or its environs as we drove by.
Infamous Loch Ness.
Grant Tower of Urquhart Castle at Loch Ness. The castle visitor's center was closed by the time we got there in the early evening and we couldn't get any closer. This is a telephoto shot from the parking lot.
In Speyside, we stayed at the Eastbank Hotel in the town of Rothes. This was our base of operations as we checked out several distilleries in this region of Scotland.
The Eastbank is a marvelous place!
The main road through Rothes.
In both Islay and Rothes, life moves at a much slower and strangely satisfying pace.
Roundabouts are the norm as opposed to traffic lights. These signs in Elgin indicate how to navigate a nearby example.
The Mash Tun in Aberlour had an incredible display of Glenfarclas family cask whiskeys.
The Highlander Inn in Craigellachie contains a world class bar run by acclaimed whisky expert, Tatsuya Minagawa. His selection of exotic and vintage scotches was staggering.
Another view of the bar. We enjoyed a few drams on the outdoor patio.
The welcome sign.
The visitor center.
Another quaint structure.
In Speyside, many distillery buildings and even nearby foliage harbor a black fungus that literally feeds on alcohol vapor!
Ubiquitous malting trucks delivered raw barley to the various distilleries.
Next to our guide, a vintage print of Aberlour workers (including 2 dogs and a little girl).
Too bad these doors were locked.
Tasting of various years and expressions. The clear liquid in the glass near the center is new make spirit.
For a fairly hefty price, you could fill and label your own personal bottle from one of two very different casks.
Balvenie, located in the Glenfiddich complex. Our tour guide picked us up in an old Land Rover to take us to the Balvenie sector!
Balvenie's buildings from the courtyard.
Tons of barley on the malting floor.
Balvenie's mash tun.
The sugary water, or wort, has to be cooled before the yeast is added to start the fermentation process.
Balvenie has its own cooperage. Here, workers refurbish and rebuild casks for future use.
A stash of casks.
The infamous warehouse #24.
All set up for a tasting session!
A closeup. Highlight was a taste of their 30-year old scotch!
Old samples of new make spirit .
"Signature" is now Balvenie's basic expression.
Balvenie's commercially available lineup, plus clear new make spirit on the right.
Legendary Balvenie Rose. Only available at the distillery and only one to a customer (at roughly $150 US).
What a beautiful color...
The story behind Balvenie Rose. Magnify the image to read the saga.
We were given a very brief tour and tasting. Cragganmore is a member of the Classic Malts.
Unfortunately, no photography was allowed, inside. Major bummer! Most of the other distilleries had no photo restrictions at all, while one or two just prohibited flash photography.
The visitor center. When we first arrived, a very large bussed-in group had just finished their tour and it was very noisy and chaotic. But by the time our own tour was finished they were long gone and we literally had the whole building to ourselves. We were able to really soak up the vibe and sense of history. Glenfarclas is one of the very few independently family owned distilleries in Scotland and they had a lot of great stuff on display.
A used still on display.
The milling machine that transforms partially germinated barley grains into grist for the mash tun.
A view of the mash tun and washbacks.
The stills from a different angle.
Another view of the spirit safe.
Everyone's got a duty free warehouse....
A display case full of memorabilia.
Mouthwatering display of the "Family Casks" series in sequence.
A display of their current lineup.
"Monkey Shoulder", a reference to the back-breaking labor involved in shoveling and turning the barley on the malting floor.
Fill your own.
A shopping center in Elgin with two converging roads -- although they were primarily off limits to cars.
Unidentified castle shot from the road on the way to Glasgow.
Pitlochry, an enchanted town with numerous shops, quaint eating places and myriad souvenir shops. This was on the road to Edradour, our final distillery stop.
Casual and formal wear for sale in Pitlochry.
Three guides waiting for their next tour groups.
The distillery buildings.
Additional buildings. This is a really beautiful setting.
A tiny rally car sponsored by Edradour.
Edradour operates on a dramatically smaller scale than any of the other distilleries in Scotland.
Our guide. Note the smaller size of the stills on the right.
One of the two stills.
Different expressions and bottlings.
A wide variety of cask types are used to finish the different expressions of Edradour, imparting unique characteristics to the whisky.
Close up of some of the finishes.
Signatory, an independent bottler, has a strong presence at Edradour with many different brands of single malt scotch (often at cask strength) available for purchase.
Close up of 3 for sale.
Quite a selection!
Time to go home. Flight from Glasgow to Amsterdam on KLM. Yes, this was backtracking. Onboard announcements were in both Dutch and English. This beautiful Airbus was practically brand new. Winglets on modern airliners improve aerodynamic efficiency (and look futuristic and cool!).
Welcome to Amsterdam. This airport is a hub for destinations all over Europe, the Middle East and Asia. The terminal bustled with people from all over the world in all styles of dress.
Getting ready to board the 8 hour flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on the "Spirit of Lindbergh". Then, finally, a 5 hour flight to SFO on a different aircraft. Scotland was fantastic -- an experience of a lifetime -- but it was also good to be home!