I’ve been drinking whisky for a few weeks now. Well, sipping it and moaning that it tastes like liquidised bandage, but, anyway… For the fully authentic whisky drinking experience, I decide that I need to immerse myself more in the world of the single malt. I need to get some wind in my face, I need to get some drizzle in my hair, I need to get some petrol fumes up my nose. Yes, it’s time to get out on the A9 and go visit a distillery.
I remember being bored by distillery tours from an early age. On a family holiday, we took my grandmother to the Famous Grouse Experience at Crieff. She didn’t like whisky but, for some reason, she wanted to visit the distillery. Maybe she was overcome by guilt at not doing enough touristy things in her own country. Or maybe she liked walking around looking at big metal pots. Either way, the whisky obligation seems to run in the family.
I’ve also been to a couple of distilleries on Islay. So memorable were they that I can’t remember both their names. One was Ardbeg and the other may possibly have been Bowmore. I’ve definitely done some laps in the pool next door to the Bowmore distillery, though. A lovely place.
And now may also be a good time to admit that I even have a wee shot glass purloined from Ardbeg distillery, circa 1998. What can I say? I was 23 years old and utterly hilarious.
Anyway, today’s plan isn’t to head as far afield as Islay. One day, when I’m a grown up whisky drinker, I will go back and apologise. But today we are going to travel just a couple of hours up the road to Perthshire. And we are also going to go camping. This way I can realise my romantic drinking-whisky-in-the-great- Scottish-outdoors fantasy. As well as my peeing on a guy rope at 3am fantasy.
Now, I’m not actually a huge fan of camping. Probably because my parents used to take me and my brother on quite a few camping trips when we were younger, so my instinct was to rebel against that and develop a preference for five star hotels with pools. But I want a cheap change of scene for a few days. And, as with the whisky, I like to give things I’m not fond of a chance to work their magic on me. Sushi succeeded, as did dogs (I like them, I don’t eat them) so surely camping can come out a winner too.
This camping trip turns out to definitely not be cheap when petrol, equipment that we don’t already own and food are factored in. But the campsite has a stunning setting, on the banks of Loch Tummel. It was Queen Victoria’s favourite place in Scotland (the Loch, not the campsite) and you can see why. I can clearly envision myself having a wee dram by the loch side. In fact, it’s so beautiful that I forget I could have had a night at The Balmoral for roughly the same budget.
There are quite a few distilleries in the area, but having done a wee bit of research, we decide to visit Edradour – Scotland’s smallest distillery, which is tucked away in the hills behind Pitlochry.
En route to Edradour we drive past a sign signalling The Highland Chocolatier. Now, I don’t know much about this area, but I know that there are hand-crafted artisan chocolates in that building. In that building which is over 100 miles from my house in Edinburgh, but which we are driving by right now. So, I get quite excited and exclaim, “Ooh, The Highland Chocolatier”. But, Mr M keeps on driving, clearly missing my far too subtle hint to stop. Oh well, so sad, but I focus on the upcoming whisky sampling instead.
When we pull up at Edradour distillery, I am surprised at how pretty and polished it looks. I have clearly been quite naive. Because it is Scotland’s smallest distillery, I expected it to be in some sort of ramshackle old barn with a bearded old man in dungarees running the show, one handed (perhaps even literally). But, of course, the smallness is Edradour’s USP and, as such, it seems the distillery works hard to stay pretty and attract a healthy amount of attention. Things are kept quiet but quaint.
We do the distillery tour where the smallness factor is driven home quite a few times. In a good way, though. There is a nice feel about the place, and the guide, Leon, is very enthusaistic and informed. I also like the fact that the tour starts with two drams of whisky. None of this making you look at 12 different mashing tuns before you get a whiff of a drink.
In the tasting salon, or whatever it is called, Leon asks us to work out what kind of casks we think the whiskies were stored in. I have a guess at sherry for one of them. Turns out it’s Barolo, a type of Italian wine. Hmmm, close-ish. The other whisky is the Edradour 10 year old which is aged in rum casks. Leon also asks us to try and identify other smells in the whiskies. I’m not too good at this yet, but he says whatever we think it smells of is fine – there are no right or wrong answers. Grrr, Leon. I want to be told what it might smell of, then I can search for those scents. I need something to go on.
I sniff into each of the glasses, thinking that maybe this time I will be overcome by the intoxicating scents that whisky lovers smell. But I don’t get much apart from vanilla, and, truthfully, that’s because Leon chucked that word out there. And, like a life preserver, I’m clinging onto it.
When it comes to the drinking, the two whiskies taste OK to me, but they’re not moreish. It’s not like having a big mouthful of sunny Chardonnay streaming onto my taste buds and imbuing them with apricots and peaches and oaky wonderment. I just can’t prise apart any flavours from the alcohol to turn whisky into amber prose. The burn is still the main sensation.
However, I find the whole aesthetic of whisky fascinating. I think the bottles, each with their own distinctly crafted labels, are beautiful, and the warm spectrum of colours of whisky – amber, barley, caramel, demerara – is mesmerising. The reams of words which can bring whisky to life on the page have my fingers all a flutter at the anticipation of writing it all down. This is why I want to like it. Why I want to love it. Whisky seems like it has so much to give.
I won’t go into the details of the tour. Partly because I can’t remember much and partly because I’m not sure it is interesting to read. Instead, allow me to fast forward to the shop at the end of the tour where, considering the size of the distillery, there is still a significant amount of whisky to choose from. We buy a bottle of Edradour 10 year old single malt, and I can’t wait to be really Scottish and drink it by the loch later. I’m chuffed that we get to keep the tasting glasses from the tour, too. I didn’t really fancy drinking whisky from my blue plastic soup beaker.
Back at the campsite, once we have reinforced the tent to prevent it from blowing into the loch, Mr M gets to work on cooking dinner on our £2.99 Tesco BBQ and I decide to open the whisky for a pre-prandial aperitif. I also open my whisky tastings journal to make some notes. I don’t get much on the nose or palate apart from the old faithful, vanilla, but I feel there is a buttery finish to the whisky. The Michael Jackson book (a camping essential) doesn’t really match my thoughts: the nose is “floral with vanilla, caramel and faintly earthy notes,” the palate “rich, sweet and fruity” and the finish “lengthy and sweet”. I am either clueless or a total maverick.
I suspect that the whisky doesn’t really go with burned Quorn sausages, so I have no more until after dinner when, as dusk is approaching, Mr M and I take the bottle and sit up on the hillside overlooking the loch. It is slightly calmer now that the wind has dropped, and the setting sun gives a whisky coloured glow to the landscape. Ok, there’s no sun, but if there were that is what I think it would look like. It is beautiful though, and I think that this is where whisky should be drunk. I may not learn to like it by just continually tasting it, but maybe I could learn to like it by association with places like this. Memories of the great Scottish outdoors will be evoked every time I knock back a dram in a musty pub somewhere. I will just try to block out the part of the soundtrack which includes other people’s children being called in for bed, or asking for “more toilet paper, Mummy”. I’m sure the alcohol aspect of the whisky will help with that.
Single Malt Female travelled to Pitlochry courtesy of her parents’ Honda Jazz and camped at Ardgualich Farm. Pitches start from £15 per night. The Honda Jazz starts from £11,695.