ABERLOUR, Scotland (AP) — Forget the three Rs. I went to Speyside, Scotland’s “single-malt capital of the world,” to brush up on the three Ws: whisky, wool and walking.
And it was while striding beside the River Spey on a misty afternoon, a warm sweater from a local mill wrapped around my shoulders, an even warmer dram of whisky awaiting me at my hotel ahead, I realized I’d reached peak Speyside status.
Educational mission accomplished. Or, to quote Scottish poet and noted whisky fan Robert Burns, “Gie me ae spark of Nature’s fire/That’s a’ the learning I desire.”
Dreaming of drams and doing a little whisky wandering of your own? Here are a few pointers to the Speyside region’s must-sees.
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I was in Cognac one hot summer day, trying to make conversation with a producer who spoke about as much English as I do French, and the situation was getting sticky in every way when he suddenly asked me whether I had been to Scotland.
Yes, I had.
Well, then, he asked, how did I feel about haggis.
“I LOVE it,” I replied. “It’s the perfect pairing for whisky.”
“Madame,” he said. “It’s the only reason to drink whisky.”
I would not go quite that far but I do feel that haggis is a sadly misunderstood comestible.
The name doesn’t help – Is that a disease or a dish? – and no one can claim that the product in its natural state is a beauty.
And then there’s the offal truth of what goes into haggis, at least in the traditional recipe – sheep’s pluck, which is not about spunky sheep but rather refers to the heart, liver and lungs. Recipes vary, but often the meat is minced with onion, oatmeal and suet (animal fat) and is mixed with stock and spices and baked as a kind of sausage, or savory pudding. Back in the day, the casing was the sheep’s stomach, conveniently to hand, but modern haggis comes in artificial casings.
And it is delicious!
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As you know, Dear Reader, I’m not much for bucket lists. But if I had such a thing, visiting Islay, home to more than a half-dozen active distilleries and cradle of smoky, briny, in-your-face, peated scotches, would be on it.
I first heard of Islay (EYE-la) in 2002, while writing about wave energy projects of all things, and have been captivated by its remote, romantic setting in the Inner Hebrides ever since.
So, I was chuffed, tickled pink and generally delighted when I recently got the chance to visit Islay as part of an international group of writers brought in for the 200th anniversary of Laphroaig.
As is my wont, I have commemorated my visit with this slick and highly professional slideshow. Which is to say, maybe one of these days I will graduate beyond Windows MovieMaker. But not today.
Laphroaig is the best-known of the peated scotch whiskies and has a loyal following. If you buy a bottle, you can follow instructions inside the packaging and register your own 1-foot-square plot of land on the property, which you can then visit and demand rent of a miniature bottle of whisky.
There’s a cool story behind the land (there’s a cool story behind a lot of stuff at Laphroaig). Back in the day, a rival was obsessed with duplicating Laphroaig’s taste, to the point that there was an attempt to divert the distillery’s water source, Kilbride Stream. Laphroaig secured the stream and bought up lots of land all around it to make sure it stayed that way, hence the room for plots. When you visit, you get a pair of loaned wellies, GPS coordinates and a little flag to stick on your land.
I’ve got a plot, naturally, which means that while I may look like a poor, broke freelancer on the outside, I’m actually a Scottish landowner. Chew on that.