Strathisla and Knockdhu, Speyside
Jun 13, 2009
|Well, we finally woke up to some bonified Scottish weather – overcast and rainy.
The breakfast in the dining room was a buffet of cold cereals, porridge, fruit, yogurt, cold meats and cheeses, and a hot buffet of eggs, sausages, haggis (yum) and grilled tomatoes, and my nemesis, baked beans. I never eat so much as when I’m traveling!
We left for our visits to two distilleries today – Strathisla and Knockdhu. Strathisla was our first stop, after driving for over an hour past fields and fields of cattle and sheep, and also a few horses for good measure. I heard that this area of Scotland is quite fertile, and true to form, I saw fields of potatoes and others that had just a faint fuzz of green on the freshly tilled earth. What crop was in it, I don’t know.
This area of Scotland is chock-a-block full of distilleries, and many of them are set amongst pretty grounds and gardens, which is true of Strathisla. It is set in a little hollow of land, surrounded by immaculate lawn, mature trees, and tidy landscaped gardens of flowering shrubs. The low stone buildings are topped by the quintessential pagoda roof of a distillery.
We entered the visitor centre, and were immediately offered a glass of Chivas Regal, a blend which is made at this distillery from the Strathisla malt whisky. The reception area had a pretty seating area beside it with low, comfy couches, dormer windows and old photographs of the distillery and employees at work.
We were divided into two groups, and we went with an older fellow named John, who said he was Scots through and through, but had an English accent. As we toured the various areas of the distillery, John told us the story of how whisky was made, but as I said before, we already knew this, and were a little disappointed that his commentary wasn’t more about the particulars of Strathisla itself. We were also not permitted to take photographs anywhere in the buildings, just from outside through an open door. They say it’s because there are alcohol vapours that a camera flash may ignite, but I don’t see how a digital camera flash can be of harm. I suspect it is more a company policy regarding trade secrets.
One area that did stand out for me from the rest was the still room, which had stone walls and a low wooden roof. The necks of the stills were fastened to the beams, and John told that when they recently repaired the neck on one of the stills, they actually had to dismantle the roof above it, including the slates, lower the part in with a crane, and then rebuild the roof. He said you could tell a little from how the slates were a little uneven from the outside.
We went back to a tasting room which was very attractive, with slate floors and framed Chivas Regal advertisements lit with halogen spotlights, and a large wood and mirrored bar. They served us the Strathisla cask strength, then the Chivas Regal.
We had time to go to the shop afterwards, and I bought a navy blue lambswool sweater with the Chivas Regal logo embroidered on in navy blue, and the sweater only cost ₤10.
We were on our way again to our next distillery, Knockdhu, about a 20 minute drive away. Apparently, this whisky used to be available at the LCBO, but not any more.
Knockdhu was obviously a less commercial distillery, apparent right from the start, because it was normally closed on Saturdays, but the owner and one of the still men came in especially to open it up for us and give us a tour. They weren’t producing any whisky that day, but the tour was still interesting, because Gordon, the owner, explained what Knockdhu was all about. He also took us to the warehouse to have samples from several of their casks, of different ages of their whisky.
When we went into the fermentation room, all of the lids were open so we could have a look inside at the beer bubbling away with the yeast (it still amazes me how much the liquid moves just with the yeast – almost as if it was being stirred vigorously). He had shut off the ventilation fans to be heard during his explanation, so the CO2 made me a little bit dizzy after a while!
We went into a little room that had been turned into a tasting room, and had a wee dram with the other group. I sat outside and enjoyed listening to the birds sing in the hedges.
It was getting on 3:00 pm by now, and Morag decided not to stop for lunch, as we were eating early at the hotel at 5:30 pm, as there was a team of shinty players coming for supper later on. She managed to negotiate a few bottles of free wine per table and a couple of free drinks per person for the “inconvenience” of it. (I’m not complaining!)
It was about an hour and a half back to the hotel, and I tried to have a short nap, but Morag was playing a CD of traditional Scottish music, and it was annoying after a while. So, when I got back to the hotel, I was good and grumpy, and decided to have a nap.
One funny thing happened though during our nap. Earlier on before we had left the hotel for the day, I sent some pants down to be laundered. So, during our nap, I thought I heard knocking, but assumed it was next door and went back to sleep. About 10 minutes later, our door opened, and a hotel employee named Ian came in to drop off my laundry and was so embarrassed and apologetic when he found us sleeping in the room! When we saw him downstairs in the lobby, he apologized again, and we laughed and reassured him that we had no hard feelings.
I felt much happier after my nap, and we went down for dinner, and sat by a door out to the courtyard and the sun was coming in. I had duck pate with salad and oatcakes for starter, porcini mushroom risotto with parmesan cheese for my main course, and sticky toffee pudding with vanilla custard for dessert. Our table sure enjoyed our bottles of wine!
We went out in the lobby area for coffee afterwards, and saw the shinty team come in with their shiny silver cup (I guess they won?) and celebrate in the bar. I was expecting hooligans, but they were smartly dressed in uniforms of dress pants, shirts and ties with a v-neck sweater with their logo embroidered on them.
Apparently, there was a rock festival on in Inverness this weekend, so we didn’t see much evidence of it at first, although we were told that some of the bands were staying in the hotel. We did see a few “rock musician types” getting into a cab with their instruments, but that was about it (at least until later on – more about that tomorrow!)
We went up to bed and read for a while, then turned out the light around 11:00 pm.