Friday, June 10, 2016

Scotland 2015 Day 5: Whisky Tasting and Kinkell Byre barn dancing

Scotland 2015 Day 5: Whisky Tasting and Kinkell Byre barn dancing

Up for an awesome Scottish Breakfast at the hotel. The bread was so soft with a crusty outside... I am having that again tomorrow, for certain!

We started off the day by figuring out our plan of attack for getting to Edinburgh. St. Andrews is a bit remote and without a car rental it made most sense to take a taxi to the train station. The train is quite fast to Edinburgh (only 1 hr) so better than a bus or taxi all the way to Edinburgh. This seemed like it might bit a bit roundabout but actually was quite simple and straightforward.

Upon arrival in Edinburgh we went to the Mary King's Close tour, a tour of the underground streets of Edinburgh. This was a tad scary, given the crazy history of Edinburgh, poverty, plague, etc. Kinda nuts. But, it was a very well-done tour and we were glad to take it (yep, tour guides in costumes and all!)

After this, we went straight to the epic Royal Mile Whiskies, a spot of note from last year's Scotland tour with Matt. I chatted for "a bit" or so I thought, Michal said we were in there for like 30 minutes at least. I asked about the epic Fraoch beer in Auchentoshan Barrels that we had at Lee's Wedding in 2014 and of course they were sold out. The dudes there were cool though and it was fun to stop by. The next place though, oh man oh man oh man. We went to the Scotch Whisky Experience... what I *thought* was only the shop that Matt and I had seen the last time, and we checked it out in great detail (a very patient girlfriend I have!) I looked around the shop but other than some crazy old bottles, there was nothing overly special. But then... oh man... we went to the Whisky Bar downstairs... now THIS was AMAZING. How in the world I missed this when I went to Scotland with Lausch I have no idea. This place ROCKED immensely. They had over 400 bottles, a very knowledgable server, and it was just a crazy epic selection. I swifly freaked out like a kid in a candy/whisky store.

The crazy thing is they had all sorts of unusual bottles and special editions but they were all single-pour options. Crazy. The concept of getting to try all these different unusual bottlings but only having to pay something minuscule like £3.50 a pour was just amazing. Ughhhh this place was ammaaziinng.

First up I HAD to try the Glenmorangie Taghta -- a "by the fans" bottling that I had heard mixed reviews of, and didn't want to pay $100 for a bottle at home given the mixed reviews, but nonethless never had a chance to try it since no bar in SF would ever have this on the menu. And certainly they wouldn't give you a pour for $5! It was so great to try it. I thought it actually rocked pretty hard, and I found it quite similar to the LaSanta, I suppose.

Telling him I liked Sherried whiskies made him then recommend the Ardbeg Uigeadail :) Nope, had it. How about Highland Park Dark Origins? Nope... had it! He then suggested the Tomatin Cu Bocan -- ok! It was nice, smooth, not life-changing, but good.

For my 3rd dram I told him how much I loved Glenmorangie Ealanta (New American Oak) and he recommended I try Auchentoshan Virgin Oak. This was a great suggestion and actually one I had been looking to try for a while, hoping to find another whisky to replicate the incredible flavour and subtleness of the Ealanta. This was certainly niec to try, but no one can be Dr. Bill but Dr. Bill :) It was not insanely well-balanced like the Ealanta at all, but it was still fun to try nonetheless.

For my 4th (!) and final dram for the afternoon, I tried the Talisker Skye. This was a new Talisker, I was keen to try it as it was described as a "softer, rounder" Talisker. That sounds like a perfect combo, and it sure was. (Upon a later re-tasting of the Talisker Skye, I decided I much prefer either the Talisker Distiller's Edition or the standard Talisker 10. The Talisker 10 is such a stunning dram and really balances an amazing combination of sweet and smoky. Oftentimes whiskies are referred to as "complex" but they aren't and it's just a whole lot of marketing mumbo-jumbo -- I find that the Talisker 10 is actually a really accessible but still nice, interesting, complex whisky. I thought at first taste that I really liked the Talisker Skye, but upon re-evaluation, I felt like it was actually kindof a muted version of the Talisker 10, and why mute something so fantastic?)

This was SUCH a fun time and Michal was a very good sport. From there we walked swiftly back to the station and grabbed 2 glorious Cornish Pasties on the platform on the way out. Totally fantastic. We got HP "Brown Sauce" with it, which is pretty weird, but good.

Back to St. Andrews and then back to the room, and there was a new gift waiting for us!! So spoiled. Wow. Michal got an awesome scarf and I got an AMAZING Scottish Tartan tie, I LOVE it!!!

From here we went to the 2nd night Launch Party/Dinner. We started at an opening reception with some sushi, as well as there being seafood for folks as well. There were some amazing fish-based ice sculptures!

From there we went to Kinkell Byre, which is a neighbouring farm to the Fairmont St. Andrews... and also the farm we had asked permission to walk through yesterday!!! That was so funny. On the way in, there was a bagpiper there and he told me I should "give it a go!" It was so hard. I got the hum going but I "couldn't-a-get-a-soound-oot"! It was so fun to try but was really hard. Please now laugh at my fail in this video.

There was also a falconer in there with an owl you could catch on a glove! I saw it and instantly went over... that was so cool. He was intense. He looked a bit like a "wee cat".

The room was set up absolutely magnificently, with amazing lighting and tables for all of us, and the food preparation was stunning.

There were some "Vatted" whiskies at a Whisky Tasting station to try. They were pretty good. It was tough to compare to previous experiences since I wasn't sure if I'd had vatted whiskies before, they aren't blended, as such, but similar. Fun times!

The food was amazing. Salads, and all the meats! There was a guy there who was very proud of the whole setup, I think he must have been the butcher. There were beef burgers, lamb chops, salmon fillet was particularly excellent. Potato salad... and more and more. A huge cheese plate too. And... more whisky? The bar opened up and they had some great choices there too -- Caol Ila 12, Glenrothes 1995, Macallan Gold, plus they had many others. Insanely epic.

Then came the incredible entertainment. This was "Modern Highland", definitely a guitar pedal attached to the Bagpipes!! The music was super awesome, and the Highland Dancers super good too. There was lots of group dancing encouraged, line-dancing style, and it was so fun. People had a blast.

Wait for it... time for dessert!!! Unbelievably, still there was more and the dessert was incredible as well. They had Cranachan!! It was very rich and very good. Also, orange sherbet ice cream AND a chocolate fountain.... um... WOW. This was really amazing. More group dancing was good after this to work down the desserts. What a night!

Not to be outdone, this evening kept on giving. Biscuits and Lemon curd awaited us at teh hotel. What incredible service here and a truly amazing once-in-a-lifetime experience. I loved it, and incredible night, and such fun people and good energy.

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