Categories
Moving to Scotland Travel

Notes from Islay and Jura

Took a trip over to Islay and Jura with my Dad last week for a few days, which was a fittings cap for his trip here during the month of February. Here are some notes and pics.

  • Islay and Jura are isles (islands) off the west coast of Scotland known for the number of distilleries (9-10 depending on how you count) within relatively small distance between each. Because of their location, they take some time to get to, but the driving is great from Glasgow through the Trossacks National Park and the along the lochs, both for scenery and for the fun of the winding road. It’s approximately 2.5 hours to the remote ferry terminal of Kennacraig and another 2 hour ferry ride to Islay.
  • We stayed in Port Ellen, on the south-end of the island, at the Trout Fly Guest House, which served a great breakfast and was an ideal location for hitting the whisky trail.
  • The whisky trail (aka the three distilleries walk) starts in Port Ellen and connects Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Ardbeg distilleries with an excellent walking trail that totals about 4 miles total. This was the first days excursion, hitting all three with walking in between tastings was perfect for evening things out for a day of drinking. The weather was cold but our bellies warm. Nae bother as they say.
  • The second days excursions were more adventurous, as we set off to go to the isle of Jura and the Jura distillery. This meant getting on a tiny ferry that fit about four cars which somehow they managed to get six on at times. Oh, and you had to back onto it, which made things much more interesting. Glad I didn’t have any whisky beforehand!
  • The Jura ferry was unexpectedly closed for the morning, which only meant we had time to visit another remote distillery, Bunnahabhain, located at the end of a 4 mile single track road just north of the ferry terminal. This was the best tasting we had by far (generous drams doesn’t begin to describe the size of the pours) and we got to see some highland cows on the way, bonus!
  • Our nights were spent retiring to the local (only) hotel bar for a couple of beers and a big dinner, before heading back to the guest house to play cribbage, sample more of the whisky we obtained during the day, and listen to music (The Essential Merle Haggard, Best Tracks from Tarantino Films, Dave Brubeck Timeout).
  • I had a basic enough understanding of whisky, and specifically scotch whisky, before the trip but had never tasted as many of such caliber and variation and am still very much a beginner in this world of spirits. In order to understand the drink you have to, well, drink it. Let’s just say I have more work to do.
  • I did learn quite a bit of random facts about whisky throughout the trip:
  • Peated water is also a source of the smoky flavor in whisky, particularly in Laphroaig. Dad grabbed some water from a stream on Islay in a bottle and you could taste the peat in it when we got home.
  • Peat, the source of smoke in Islay whisky and fuel for homes as well, is just earth cut into bricks. A soft earth fossil fuel: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peat
  • Whisky is only considered whisky after it’s been aged for 3 years and one day, the one extra day being added to account for the leap year that happens every 4 years (side note: this may or may not be true based on some brief looking online ¯\(ツ)/¯).
  • Whisky is aged in all kinds of barrels, but most common is bourbon barrels of American white oak that are shipped over, sometimes whole, sometime in pieces to be reassembled by a cooper. The other most common is sherry. The barrels are recharred/recharged after use, and can only be re-used 6-7 times max, typically more like 3-4 (in the case of Bunnahabhain).
  • Sherry barrels are very popular for maturing and finishing whisky and since sherry is no longer a popular drink, these casks are becoming increasingly expensive and will be harder to come by as time goes on. The link between sherry and whisky goes back a long time, with sherry being made in Spain in British colonies and imported to great Britain.
  • The bottle date of a whisky matters, but it’s generally not listed. The bottling of an 18 year old scotch will vary over time as the barrels (and other factors) change.

Map of some of the main destinations we visited on our way to and from Islay and Jura. (Glasgow on the right, Islay and Jura on your far left)

Categories
Moving to Scotland Travel

Notes from St Andrews

Spent 72 hours in St Andrews with my Dad and the family last week, here are some notes:

  • The golf courses (there are seven that are part of St Andrews courses) the club houses, the Royal and Ancient club, and the British Golf Museum are all iconic and of course a must see for anyone the plays or is interested sports in any way. The sheer size of the space that the courses occupy and the open style of the links style courses are wildly different than anything I had seen before. It was crazy cold and windy and then snowy and then sunny and back again, but no matter, the courses remained busy throughout.
  • Speaking of cold…St Andrews is cold! Granted, we did have Storm Ciara to contend with and it’s a coastal town (and Moscow and Labrador in Newfoundland lie on the same latitude), so this is expected, but respect due to what the students and golfers there contend with in the winter months.
  • The cathedral and castle ruins almost stole the show from the golf course. The size of the ruin and the fact that it was built in the 1400s (with tombs and stone coffins concealed under massive stone planks) made it a great site to visit. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Andrews_Cathedral https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Andrews_Castle
  • Lavulins Bottle Shop – great selection of beers, whisky and wine. Picked up a draft liter-to-go of The Kerner’s Foeder Beer and a bottle of the Dalmore 15 year to keep us company upon arrival. https://www.luvians.com/
  • There are a ton of great pubs and restaurants. Here are some highlights:
    Rocca Deli for great coffee and lunch – https://www.roccadeli.co.uk/
    Forgan’s was great for a family dinner and very kid friendly – https://www.forgans.co.uk/
    The sister restaurant to Forgan’s, called Mitchell, was equally good for breakfast – https://www.mitchellsstandrews.co.uk/
  • Speaking of golf and good pubs, we spent some time in a few.
    The Dunevegan (aka the 19th hole) is impressive simply for the backstory and all the pictures covering the wall of the famous players and celebreties that have been there – https://www.dunvegan-hotel.com/
    The Greyfriars Inn Pub was another classic British pub and St Andrews Brewing and Brewdog St Andrews offered very different experiences, the former more classic and warm, the latter more modern and cool.
  • February was pretty empty and we enjoyed being able to get in and out of everything with ease, something we wouldn’t be able to do in the summer months.
  • The town is bigger that most people realize and the golf courses are just one part. There are nearly 10,000 students that attend the university, a bustling little downtown of restaurants, shops and pubs, and two large beaches.
  • It’s way closer to us than I realized, only an hour and forty-five minutes from Glasgow and there are some great roads and views along the way.

We didn’t have much time and I didn’t get any drawing in but I’m looking forward to my next visit.


Here’s a map of the journey:

Here are some pics from the sites referenced above:

Categories
Moving to Scotland Travel

First visit to Amsterdam

Spent my first time in this city last weekend, hanging out with my good friend Chris. Here are some notes.

  • Nothing planned at all except for the Van Gogh museum (learned the hard way about museum booking in advance after Paris).
  • The Van Gogh museum is absolutely worth it and one of my favorite museum experiences to date. Something new I learned was that he started seriously pursuing painting later in life and studied, practiced and struggled to improve for years to develop what would eventually become is signature style. One of his earliest works (The Potato Eaters) was heavily criticized because the figures had “tons of mistakes”, and one of his idols wrote to him “you can’t be serious” when he saw a print.
  • Now I understand the bike thing in Amsterdam. I love it and am jealous that the city it built for it, but it does make it hard to be a pedestrian at times.
  • The beer is superb and we sampled many, some of my favorite spots from the trip (with many other still to get to):
  • I enjoyed the architecture and the canals and the cafes and alleyways. Something new everywhere you looked. It felt dense but not claustrophobic.
  • Went to plenty of “coffee” shops to sample the wares and it was nothing special after living in the states where it’s legal to buy. Not as many options seemingly and the quality could be excellent or just ok.
  • Food was good, but I didn’t really get a chance to go to any spots I would consider particularly amazing. Bakers and Roasters was a particularly good brunch spot and the pancakes were good at De Vier Pilaren.
  • Amsterdam airport is 👍🏼. Easy to get into, out of, and through.
  • I heard Maxwells Urban Hang Suite multiple times at different place while there. 🤔
  • People were friendly but not overly so. Not a lot of chat.
  • There is a colony of parakeets living in Vondelpark: https://theculturetrip.com/europe/the-netherlands/articles/a-colony-of-wild-parakeets-is-flourishing-in-amsterdam-heres-why/