Scotland Adventures – Highlands

It’s hard to believe holiday is almost over! We lucked out with another morning and early afternoon filled with sun. Today’s adventures took us back to the Pitlochry area of the Highlands.

We stopped at Blair Castle and its gardens. An interesting thing about Blair Castle is that it has been altered and extended so often over its 700-year history that it provides a unique history and insight into the changing tastes of the aristocratic life in the Highlands.

When you drive up to the Castle you see a beautiful white brick exterior that looks more like an extravagant mansion than a castle. Eric made a comment that the castle looked more like a weekend escape because it probably wouldn’t survive a siege. Of course, while on our self-guided tour, we learned that it was sieged in the early 1700’s by the Jacobites and was almost abandoned before it was restored.

We also learned that Queen Victoria visited the castle in 1844 and conferred on its owners, the Dukes of Athol, the distinction of being allowed to maintain a private army, which is still in existence today. The Duke and Duchess were close friends of Queen Victoria, and when both women were widowed, the Queen visited Duchess Ann frequently.

Unfortunately for us, the exterior was under a fair amount of reconstruction/repair so our pictures after not as satisfying as I had hoped.

After our self-guided tour of Blair Castle we made a lunch stop at the House of Bruar. There you can have a gourmet cafeteria style lunch and shop for organic groceries. Also, attached to the food section are cashmere and tweed shops. It definitely reminded me of some of the shopping centers you might find in the Chicago-land area.

Our last stop of the day was to Blair Athol Distillery, the home of Bell’s whisky, where they offer guided tours in the art of whisky making. Here, we had a wonderful tour guide name John.

I’ve gone through a few whisky tours now, but this one was the best I’d been on so far and learned a lot! One thing I learned about the process was that when you use peat to heat the malted barley, it does not actually catch fire, rather it emits the smokey fumes that give some scotches a peaty flavor. However, at Blair Athol, they do not use any peat in their scotches.

I also learned that in order for a whisky to be Scottish, it needs to a) be made in Scotland, b) needs to be produced in oakwood casks (at Blair Athol, they primarily use ex-european oakwood sherry casks), and c) be barreled for a minimum of 3 years because anything younger is considered a spirit (at Blair Athol, their youngest whisky is 12 years old). Can you imagine starting up a business in whisky and having to wait 12 years before you were able to make some form of profit from your product? Talk about passion and dedication.

Also, the difference between Irish and Scottish whisky is that Irish whisky is distilled 3 times, while Scottish whisky is only distilled 2 times. John joked that the reason they only distill whisky twice is because they are too impatient to wait another round of distillation.

I also learned that that when you put whisky in the barrels, “Angle Share” occurs as it matures, which means the malted whisky evaporates at the rate of 2% every year it is in the barrel. So if you have a whisky from 1968 in the barrel, Angle Share takes about 40% of the whisky!

Last, we learned that Johnny Walker uses Blair Athol’s 40 year old whisky in their Blue label.

Taking the whisky tours in the Highlands has been a great experience. You can tell the Scottish are passionate about their whisky making process. They take pride in their history and single malt is the “only” way to go.

I’ve truly enjoyed every day here in Scotland. The people are genuine and friendly, the history is rich, and the scenery everything I imagined and more.

Of course, by the “end” of the day we reached the pumpkin time of 5 pm and made our way back to Dundee, for another amazing family dinner, laughter and great times!

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3 thoughts on “Scotland Adventures – Highlands

  1. Glad you’ve enjoyed it dad! I’m starting to sift through the pictures I also took on my camera. So many to go through!

  2. In the early 1800s the area north of the River Dee was popular among illicit distilleries. Even after the reduced duty of the Excise Act in 1823, many moonshine distillers considered those who took out licenses as traitors and rivals. The former illicit distiller James Robertson took out two licenses and twice his distilleries burnt to the ground in myserious fires. The first in 1826 and the last in 1841 called Lochnagar, not named after a loch but the mountain that dominates the countryside. Four years later, John Begg built a new distillery called New Lochnagar, South of the River Dee close to the Balmoral castle. The castle is summer residence of the Royal family. After a visit by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1848 they allowed John to rename the distillery “Royal Lochnagar”, which had an immediate effect on the sales. However in the late 1800′s, most of the whisky was used in the famous VAT69 blend. The distillery remained in the family and was rebuilt in 1906. In 1916 the distillery joined the DCL (Distillers Company Ltd) and subsequently later became part of Diageo. Paraffin lamps were used until 1949 and power came from a waterwheel well into the 1960s. Thus most of the distillery was totally rebuilt in 1963, although the malt-barn and the kiln from 1906, out of use since 1966, still stand.

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