Day 1: Taking some friends along for the ride

Over a year ago, we got the idea to organise a trip to Scotland with a group of our whisky friends and have some whisky-related fun. It would be our first experience as “travel-agents” and after many preparations and planning, the day had finally come that everybody gathered at our place for a pre-travel tasting. Glen Garioch (the distillery was sadly not on the schedule) had send us a threesome of drams to try with our whisky-friends via their #GGDrambasador programme, and what better moment to have a go at these than this evening.

The whiskies were paired with some nice chocolate, cheese and other fine food, and the guys enjoyed their evening and woke up their senses with the Glen Gariochs, and some other good whiskies from our shelves. A goodie-box with some of the Scottish survival necessities was passed around, and all of us checked our flights in online in the custom made shirts the guys had made. After a ridiculously early bed-time and short night, we all were up on time and ready for the taxi to bring us to the airport at 07:00. After the bird had been fed, the guys had a couple of coffee-shots and a sandwich or two, off we went – Scotland, prepare…

After a relaxed flight, we had arrived on schedule in Edinburgh, so we could retrieve our rental car on time and at a relaxed pace – were it not that one of the guys (unmentioned, you know who you are) had the bright idea to leave his e-reader on the plane. After an hour of waiting, delaying other flights and causing mayhem among the ground personnel (well, the waiting part at least), we finally found the bus stop where our shuttle bus was to pick us up to the car-rental company (honestly, go with one of the bigger ones, they are AT the airport). The bus stop was there alright, but no bus stopped there. Nor did the next. Or the next…

Eventually we were fed up with the complete lack of buses, and decided to ask one of the drivers of the buses that stopped at the other platforms, and one of them informed us we had been waiting at the wrong platform (“hur-hur, the sign must have blown away”), so we shifted to the correct one. Something with misplacing an email from the rental company that had managed to put itself in our email’s spam folder… After the two minute bus ride (really), we got out of the bus, slammed ourselves in the face and decided this would be the only fuck-up we would make this trip.

Happy to finally be on the road, the group enjoyed the scenery on the A9, following the west route past the Cairngorms National Park. A quick pit-stop at a supermarket en-route gave us the lunch we all were craving for and after we all had waved at our backup-plan Dalwhinnie, we almost automatically ended up at our first stop of the short week: the Tomatin distillery, only just outside the Speyside region.

Slightly later than planned we arrived at the distillery, where Visitor’s Centre Manager Scott Fraser welcomed us with open arms and marketing manager Jennifer Masson had made some time from her busy schedule to say hi to all of us. Because of our bad timing, Scott started the very special VIP tour the wrong way around at the filling station and the cooperage, so that all of us could still see the crew at work and we participated in filling and closing some of the casks. In this case it was an (unnamed) spirit from another distillery, the distillery trades in bulk and fills at their own filling station – in their own casks for their own blends. At the small cooperage, we were shown around and received an explanation about different cask and wood types and their influences when making the several types of whisky.

The guys – some of them at their first distillery – fired loads of different questions at Scott which he happily answered and from certain moment on, he felt as one of the group while he toured us around the distillery. As we already mentioned in our blog of our previous visit, the “obsolete” machines at the distillery are excellent displays available to introduce everyone face-to-face to a malt mill, the inner works of a full-lauter mashtun and an open worked shell-and-tube condenser, where Scott got to elaborate on the techniques and backgrounds of making whisky.

When we were below the stills with the spirit-safe, one of the group noticed with a “what the fuck is this?” when he saw a picture of the both of us in a printout of WhiskyLassie‘s recent blogpost about our joint visit back then, with our faces on the front print. Blushing giggles between the two of us, and a heartwarming feeling thinking back at the best day of the trip a couple of months before.

After some time in the stillhouse it was time to have a look around the warehouse and have a look at the #whiskyfabric roadtrip cask Johanne filled couple of months earlier. It was still there, right where she left it, resting until it would be time to be opened. Having a stroll around the warehouse touching some casks and smelling the air, we enjoyed a great dram from an unknown cask, and it was time to get over to the shop and warm up a bit with more whisky, where Scott was very generous too with what he served us. Anyone wanting to organize a trip to whisky-distilleries; have a good look at Tomatin, they know how to give you a good time and treat you as VIPs.

Giving Scott a big hug and thanking him for the amazing reception we went back to the van and discussed the great time an reception we had received at Tomatin during the one-hour drive to Dufftown. We all wanted to have something to eat, and most of us were “into” visiting a good bar to have a dram. Thinking of combining the two, we mentioned we might know a good place, phoned ahead if there was place for the eight of us and ended up in the only possible place in the area; the Highlander Inn in Craigellachie, and after dropping off our suitcases at the cottage we rented for the week (Parkmore Cottages, another WhiskySpeller recommendation) we headed that way.

Fraser Elphick tended bar this evening, welcomed us back and invited our friends to our table where we had a great thee-course meal. and a dram or two of something nice and fitting with the meals.

With eight happy bellies, we headed to the 24/7 Asda in Elgin, to arrange some breakfast for the days to come and back in the cottage, WhiskySpeller had their first dram of the day; a Tomatin Cù Bòcan, after which all of us went to bed rather early, because we had been up far too long already.

Day one of this trip had started with a smile on everyone’s face, the following days looked promising, but had to be really special to top the first…

More pictures of this day can be found here
The next day explorations can be found here

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