By the time we finished the castle, we were tired, footsore and cold. So we headed back to the hotel. After a shower and a nap we headed out for a pint and to find some dinner. Steve found a nearby pub with real ale, so we headed over there for a drink. It was crowded and loud and everything you expect from a local hangout. We had a pair of very nice ales and went out to find some food.
There was a street fair down at the Princes street gardens. Games, rides, food stalls, all the proper fair things. We discussed going to find a sit down place to eat, but when we’d walked through the fair earlier we’d noticed a stand cooking up local heritage pork roasts over open coals. Yum. We decided that we wanted pork sandwiches for dinner. And they were so good. So very, very good.
I’m not really sure why so many people tell me British food is awful. I’ve been over at least half a dozen times in the last 10 years, and I’ve never had really bad food. Different than American food, sometimes just “meh” food, but never actively bad food. Maybe it’s because I’m with a native. Maybe it’s because we look for local food, not places catering to tourists. I don’t know, but I do know I look a bit sideways at people who tell me how horrible the food in England[sic] is… that’s just not my experience at all.
After some of the best roast pork, and cracklins! I’ve had, we wandered around the fair a bit, bought Steve a nice wool hat and headed back to curl up in our warm hotel room.
The next morning we got up, ate breakfast in the hotel and headed back up towards the castle. Near the castle was the Scotch Malt Whiskey Experience and Tartan mill tour that we wanted to visit. The tartan mill tour had some neat souviners and lovely wool cloth and clothing. We wandered through a bit, found a tea cozy for Steve’s mum, but didn’t buy very much.
We headed across the street to the Whiskey experience. They had a number of tours with the more expensive tours providing more tastes at the end. But when we tried to buy tickets to one of the tours that came with 3 or 4 tastes the clerk explained that today was one of the two “Distiller Days.” That meant there were representatives of distilling companies providing tastes upstairs. Four tastes came with each tour.
We bought our tickets and were herded into the next room. The best I can describe this bit of the tour is think of a cross between Disney and Alton Brown. We were loaded into a replica whiskey barrel for a ride through a model of the whiskey making process. Along the way, we had a narrator, who I can best describe as a Scottish John Cleese, explaining models that were straight out of Good Eats. It was silly and fun, and captured the whole process in a very Alton Brown sort of way.
After the ride was over, we were introduced to a tour guide, an actual human this time, who showed us a film explaining the 4 major styles/regions of whiskey. Then we got our first taste of whiskey that day and a chance to see the world’s largest collection of malt whiskeys. It was impressively large, thousands of bottles from different distilleries and years.
That was the end of the official tour and we were sent up to the tasting room where the distillers were. There were 6 different distilleries represented, most of which had 4 or 5 different whiskeys to taste.
Stonedean was one of the more interesting ones. It wasn’t actually a single malt, it was a blend. But it was a blend resurrected from the owner’s grandfather’s notes. We talked with the distiller and he told us that his grandfather had dozens of different blends, but this was the one blend where all the ingredients were still available.
Tomatin has a number of really interesting whiskeys, and the distiller there was doing “flight” tastings of all of them. It was interesting to taste how a 12 year was different from a 15 year was different from an 18 year. They also had one called “decades” that was done by someone who had worked in the distillery for 50 years. He blended this whiskey using his favorite from each decade. Just as interesting was listening to people react to the different pours. Some folks liked one year, others liked another.
We also tried a whiskey liqueur from Inver House: Old Pultney. It was sweet and smooth and, oh boy do I want to see if we can find it in the states.
After all that, it was just gone noon. We still had hours to kill before collecting our torch and marching with the torch bearing mob.