Sunday, 22 May 2016

Epic Scotland Road Trip 2016 Diary (part three of three)

Springtime songs performed by the birds in front of our sleeping room window, a distant sheep baaahs a good morning to the world while the early morning sun is chasing the mist away from the fields, creating pearls of morning dew on the sprouting barley. There are worse places and moments to wake up, as in the Kingdom of Fife, mid spring 2016.

Monday, 16 May 2016

Epic Scotland Road Trip 2016 Diary (part two of three)

The first week of our 2016 trip to Scotland was a huge success. We met new people, shared a house with close (and new) friends, popped corks with complete strangers and drove around the Speyside region as if we were home. In short; we had a blast.

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Epic Scotland Road Trip 2016 Diary (part one of three)

Monday, April 25th 2016
As you might have read, we started our trip fresh off the boat at the Lakes Distillery in Cumbria, in the Northern region of England, only just a few kilometres South of Scotland. We drove up to Wishaw to meet up with the #whiskyfabric in the Artisan. Derek and Fiona had put something fantastic together from our idea of a relaxed and romantic dinner for two, that was hijacked by Eric and Laura and ended up in meeting with around 30 friends we knew from the interwoven online communities. A lot of food was ingested, accompanied by many drinks, both from the bar, as well as the BYO table that was set up for the meeting. Good times.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Victorian Dairy farm turns into Contemporary distillery

Day one of our trips to Scotland started as usual, with us getting on the boat from IJmuiden to Newcastle. A rather rough night at sea but somehow we got some sleep and arrived semi on time at the harbour in Newcastle. Quickly off the boat, we headed West onto the boring A69. At the Brampton bypass we decided to have our GPS guide us and took the A689, leading us through Carlisle, enjoying great vistas and luscious sceneries while driving. One could also be more adventurous and decide to avoid the main roads, abandon all hope and take a spaghetty of single lane roads through the “prettiest area of England”, or be even less adventurous as we were and take the (slightly longer) M5 and A66 route from Carlisle. Eventually one should be able to get to the target of this trip’s first stop at the Lakes distillery, which is well indicated and easy to find once you reach the general area.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

No Guts, No Glory

On the brink of our latest adventure into Scotland, we decided to visit the youngest distillery in the Netherlands. In Deventer - one of the oldest Hanseatic cities in the Netherlands, the Wagging Finger distillery is put together with a lot of experimenting, love and passion, is already operational and bottling their first batch of Gin.

The distillery sprouted from the mind of Erik Molenaar, a well known and loved personality in the Dutch whisky scene. He has developed a large following of disciples around his successful high quality independent whisky bottling brand “Kintra”, named after the beautiful Kintra Farm on Scottish island of Islay, where Erik asked his wife Mirjam to marry him.

Monday, 18 April 2016

Just act normal, that’s crazy enough...

The Netherlands. According to some, cradle of the modern spirits. Aged and unaged Jenevers, Gins, Corenwines, Maltwines, Vieux and sweet liquors, and for almost two decades already, there are also some quite decent Dutch whiskies on the market. Discovering the world of whisky, we - as many whisky enthusiasts, started with Scotland to explore distilleries, and almost forgot about our own country and its rich distilling traditions.

Like in the rest of the world, the global popularity of craft spirits and whisky is also found in the Netherlands and we can see craft breweries and distilleries growing as if they were mushrooms on a wet Autumn afternoon. Many of these distilleries are working with pre-bought neutral grain spirit and add their own flavourings during a final distillate. Not so with the distillery we have visited in the picturesque Vroomshoop, in the Eastern parts of the province of Overijssel.

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Clan MacMorland

Wullie & Gerie MacMorland
When you are alive and breathing in the Netherlands and are in one form or the other enthusiastic about whisky and passionate about good food, there is a good chance you have heard about Wullie MacMorland from Hielander Scottish Restaurant in Alkmaar. Besides running the restaurant & whisky bar, he is a founding member of the Ben Nevis Whisky Club and chief of operations at Hielander Whisky Festival in Alkmaar.

The Hielander festival in Alkmaar is always a nice place to go to, as you might have seen in of our posts in the years before (2013, 2014 and 2015). We can tell you all about the festival with the 3000m² venue in a lovely church in Alkmaar, attracting over 3000 visitors each year, with the tables with clothing, books, knick knacks and lots of whisky, Describing this would be confirming that this is just another festival, and we are pretty sure that this is not what you want to read about. Looking at what makes this festival different from the large amount of other festivals, we decided to go back to where it all started.

In 1989 Wullie and his wife Gerie became owners of the restaurant and have gathered many awards for their hospitality, gastronomy, and their very well stocked whisky bar over the years. Wullie, unmistakable Scotsman with his (fading) red hair, although trained in French cuisine, most of the restaurant’s dishes are influenced by his Scottish heritage. Add 1400+ bottles of whisky, hundreds of knick-knacks and hunting trophies, and you are almost sure you just stepped into a small restaurant in the Scottish Highlands.

Dennis Mulder & Isobel Gardiner
In 1994, together with some whisky friends wanting to share their love for whisky, Wullie started the Ben Nevis Whisky Club, sharing his passion for whisky beyond his restaurant and bar. In 2011 Willie and Ebbo Voorhout, proprietor of the big Church in Alkmaar, decided to organize a whisky festival to broaden their reach even further. During the festival the restaurant closes since the food served at the festival comes from the restaurant’s kitchen, and the Ben Nevis club volunteers to lend a helping hand. This sharing passions has reached a new high, now Wullie is being inaugurated in the Order of the Keepers of the Quaich in April 2016.

So, when entering the festival, Wullie, Gerie, the whole MacMorland Clan including the restaurant staff, the Ben Nevis club and the proprietors of the Church bid you welcome to their domain. You are one of the family the moment you walk into the door, get a glass that is kept wet during the remainder of the session. Tables were set modestly, without bouncing castles, half naked women or loud audiovisuals. There were quite a few people in the church, but because they keep far below the maximum allowed, the atmosphere was good, we could reach most tables without any trouble and have a chat with the good humoured exhibitors.

The aforementioned food was great again, and although the servings could have been a tad warmer, we helped ourselves to a second serving. At the main ‘food court’ a nice band was playing at a pleasant volume during the sessions, which added to the already relaxed atmosphere. Besides the snacks for sale at the main area, there were girls with balls, platters with cheese, and a chocolatier for Valentine’s day (optional), there was an ample and continuous supply of bread slices, and water coolers to rehydrate yourself or rinse your glass at just about every pillar.

Rachel MacNeill &
Wullie MacMorland
This year, the masterclasses were provided for by three Scottish redheads; Isobel Gardiner, Rachel MacNeill and Ginny Boswell, quite possible a first ‘ladies only’ company at a Dutch festival, for sure a first ‘redhead only’ panel of whisky women. We have heard that all these sessions were marvellous, just like their presenters. Timetables of the masterclasses and maps of the church of where to find these masterclasses and the location of the many exhibitors, were clearly visible throughout the venue.

Wullie asked us to write something with all scars and pimples, which seemed very hard to do, when everything is clearly taken care of and completely under control by a professional staff. No improper word, obnoxious drunks or falling bottles and glasses. It was just relaxed and fun. All our expectations were met. Again.

Photo's Hielander Whisky Festival 2016

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Mouth of the River

On our earlier visits to Islay, we had already been to Bunnahabhain distillery, but somehow we had never come around to do a tour or stay longer than an hour or so to take the obligatory panorama picture at their pier, and walk to the wreck a little further on. Last year, we had the plan to change this, and booked a standard tour and a warehouse tasting while we were there during the festival. The distillery itself is only reachable by a long winding, single lane road, and for the distillery day they had decided to close down the road for normal traffic, and have the visitors park on a nearby field and transport them with a mini bus.

There are not that many roads on Islay, and there are only two ways to get to the distillery; from From Port Ellen and Bowmore, go to the crossing in Bridgend and follow the A846 towards Port Askaig, stop for a new cap, scarf or tweed anything at the Islay Woollen Mill while you are there anyway, or have a look at the Finlaggan ruins, where the Lord of the Isles used to life. Driving on, you will see the signs at the side of the road pointing you in the right direction. From the ferry in Port Askaig, the road leads you towards Bridgend, and then it is the second distillery-sign pointing right. 

From this sign, there is only one never-ending single lane road meandering to the distillery, leading you through picturesque little cottages, mesmerising vistas and the lonely white painted cask every now and then confirming you are still on the right track. These casks prove to be very useful, but if you still think you lost track, just look at the electricity lines at the side of the road which confirm there really must be civilisation at the end. Also, there is the road itself, as a dead give-away you have not reached the end of the world. Yet.

When you finally get to the end of the road, you will see a grey and somewhat desolate little village, that - upon closer inspection - turns out to be the Bunnahabhain distillery. In 1881, when the distillery was built, besides building the expected distillery buildings and warehousing, also housing and a school for the 50-75 distillery workers and their families were built. Many of the houses were left in the 1960’s, and have an aura of never having been entered since. 

When walking on the pier, you watch across the water of the Sound of Islay towards the Isle of Jura with her magnificent Paps, and - weather permitting - you might even see the third largest whirlpool of the world, the Corryvreckan, just to the left past Jura. Turning towards the distillery for a second look, she doesn't look too shabby at all, with the gate leading towards the courtyard and the large letters on the side of the warehouses, you might even consider her to be close to photogenic. Now that you are facing the distillery, walk to the left, where a small footpath leads to the wreckage of the Wyre Majestic, a little less majestic as the name suggests nowadays, but a nice picture moment - as long as it lasts.

On their “distillery day” during the festival, it is quite a busy place to be. We could tell the tempo of the distillery is normally a little different. Setting up the event (tents, benches, food trucks, etc.) seemed to be built only when the visitors actually had arrived, as if they had not realised what the day was. One after another, everything popped up and opened, music started to play, rain started to pour, as did the liquid. Umbrellas were opened for the people waiting in line for their festival bottling and all of a sudden the complete staff seemed to be in overdrive, which added to the atmosphere. 

During the festival day, we were treated to probably the fastest tour we have ever had at a distillery. We started with a dram, were shown into the millroom with the 1960’s Porteus mill, on to the 12.5 tonnes shiny, copper top mash tun (they sold their old smaller open top mash tun to Bruichladdich around the 1900’s, where it is still in production - sort of), passed the six Oregon Pine washbacks (55-80 hours) into the stillroom, where four huge stills were crammed into an impossible small space, connected with cables, pipes, hoses, tie wraps and duct tape (well almost). We learned that the four stills (2x 35000 liter wash still and 2x 15500 liter spirit still) have a capacity of producing 2.7 million liter per year, of which only 1.5 million liters are actually created in the ratio of 90% / 10% unpeated / peated spirit. There was even time to learn that only in 2014 the malt floor was converted into another warehouse. All this in about 20 minutes. Some sort of record for sure.

Time for us to catch some breath, sit down in the sun (Islay can have all four seasons in one hour, so enjoy while you can), have another dram and a very well made grilled cheese sandwich, before it was time to get ready for a separate tour through the warehouses, since these are not included in the standard tour. With many stories about how this tour was not to be missed, we went in with quite an expectation, and came out again with a slight disappointment. Fun, nonetheless, but with a too large group and only one warehouse to see, we got to stick a finger in a butt (the Sherry version, you perverts) every now and then to taste, and once we were outside again, three samples of their bottle your own, where we could purchase a 20cl bottle of, straight from the casks (after a little persuasion).

All in all the day was a complete chaos, but that made it feel real too. We could see the passion and on-the-fly reacting of the staff, who came up to the people in line for the bus back, in order to treat everyone with yet another dram. Good times. Go there when you are on Islay and try not to be held back by the first looks of the distillery as we did. The buildings may need some Tender Loving Care, the people seem to be genuine and full with passion, and they make a great dram. And that is what it is all about in the end...

Photos visit 2015
Photos visit 2013

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

N 58 58 4.3 / W 2 57 19.9

Far up the North of Scotland,on the same geographical latitude as the Swedish Stockholm and Norwegian Stavanger, there is a group of British islands called Orkney. On their voyages, the Vikings landed there centuries ago and according to the many Orcadian myths and sagas, they most likely used Orkney and the Shetland islands as their base to raid Scotland, England and Ireland.