Sorry, I can’t seem to start off a blog about whiskey without channelling Father Jack, although in all accuracy he’d probably be extolling the virtues of Toilet Duck and not the finest single malt. Probably due to the weather, drink is of course a very British tradition, much to the despair of government health types who think we’re all bingeing knickerless on a park bench somewhere, rather than being trustworthy and sensible enough to imbibe the stuff in moderation. Hic.
Ale from Oxford, cider from Somerset and even tonic wine from Buckfast Abbey are all traditional in England, drawing visitors from around the world as well as from within the country. Further up in Scotland and Northern Ireland, however, the harder stuff like whiskey tends to be the drink of choice. This could arguably be down to the climate. Here’s how to go about your whiskey trail:
The best, and only, malt whiskey specific tour in the globe has to be the imaginatively named Malt Whisky Trail, based in the Scottish Highlands. The trail takes in eight working distilleries all around Speyside, which is the centre of Scotland’s whiskey industry and where half of all Scottish malt distilleries are based. Camping in the area is as plentiful as the whiskey there are almost 100 campsites in the Highlands and Islands area listed on Pitchup.com, with two directly at Speyside. Stay for about a week to really get a feel for the Highlands and a taste for the whiskey. Take a hike around Glencoe or Glen Nevis, spot golden eagles at the Cairngorms or, for the believers out there, have a go at finding the Loch Ness Monster.
Moving across from the Highlands to the Hebrides, we end up at the next port of call for our drinking adventure on the island of Islay, which is host to eight distilleries. All of them offer guided tours, from the large distilleries such as Ardbeg to the small farm of Kilchoman which malts, distils and bottles its whiskey onsite. (There’s also a brewery on the island producing seven different types of real ale.) As with the Highlands, the Hebrides are a good place to stay for a week to take in all the distilleries as well as everything else in the area try birdwatching on the Isle of Colonsay, sailing around the Isle of Mull or go to the Whiskey Galore festival at the Isle of Barra, named after the book and film of the 1940s and based on the real event of a shipwrecked WWII cargo vessel loaded with whiskey… which was quickly consumed. There’s a choice of over 30 sites in the Hebrides on Pitchup.com, and two on Islay itself.
Next up is Edradour, the smallest whiskey distillery in Scotland and with a staff of just three, who distil the whiskey in the same way it’s been done since Edradour opened in 1828. Only 12 casks are distilled per week, ensuring the whiskey has a more bespoke taste. Edradour is in a glen above Pitlochry in Perthshire, where there are five sites, with 39 available in Perthshire itself. Take a break from the whiskey to stay for a while and explore Perthshire the Cairngorms National Park is nearby, and Perthshire is known for its outdoor activities if you’re feeling brave, such as canyoning, cliff jumping and microlighting.
Finally, take your campervan on the ferry or get a cheap flight with your backpack across the Irish Sea to check out the Bushmills Distillery in Co Antrim, the oldest working distillery in Ireland and producing whiskey since 1608. There are two caravan parks in the Bushmills area, and 25 in Co Antrim, an area popular with visitors from all over the world check out the Giant’s Causeway or the coastal towns of Portrush and Portstewart and the villages of Cushendun and Cushendall, or just take in the Causeway coast or the Glens of Antrim.
One last suggestion: print out what you’ve just read, leave it somewhere (casually) around the house, and you may get treated to a whiskey trail tour that you had no idea about. Just be sure not to include this bit. Hope is a many-splendored thing.