The SNS Trip to Scotland Pt.2

There are so many small details from Scotland that I can’t put into words but I’m going to try my best. As powerful as olfactory senses are, we haven’t figured out a way to transmit them over the internet so you’ll have to settle for descriptive words based on my experiences that might not match the same words you’d use based on your own experiences. Thanks to pictures and your imagination though, hopefully you’ll feel like you’re at the distillery having the time of your life. But in case these aren’t enough… just go to Scotland. It’ll be amazing, I promise. 🙂

The drive to Old Pulteney involved a two and a half hour drive up the coast to a city called Wick. The coastal landscape is littered with “Whin” [link bushes so you get this gorgeous yellow landscape contrasting with the gorgeous blue waters of the ocean against a white cloud sky. The ocean was dappled with random sunlight that made a magical ocean surface where you were sure scotch would rise from the depths and call to you. I’m not sure we have any coastal areas like this in the states considering how quickly people flock to waterfront property. You could see sporadic houses in the middle of nowhere on this drive. Many of them with roofs that had vegetation growing on top of them. The water in the air and the ground seemed to be on heck of a catalyst for plant growth.

Hopefully you have all of that pictured in your mind because I couldn’t take pictures while driving on the left side of the road. 🙂

We arrived in Wick and headed to the Distillery to meet up with Malcolm Waring, the distillery manager. Malcolm welcomed us and dove right into what would become information overload. There are so many aspects of crafting whisky that are the same at every distillery but there are so many details that make each distillery unique.

Walking out behind the visitor center, we can enter the actual distillery.

The first thing you’ll meet in the distillery is a Porteus mill. You’ll meet malt mills like this at every distillery and many are in fact, specifically, Porteus made. The company made a name for itself by building mills so well that it put itself out of business. Very few parts in the mill ever need to be serviced and upgraded which is amazing but it makes you wonder about the amount of engineer obsolescence we live with today.

Once we’ve milled the grain to retrieve the starch, it’s time to mash it! Generally three temperatures of water are applied to the grain to convert the starch to sugar.

Now that we have our sugar, it’s time to ferment it!

Old Pulteney uses stainless steel washbacks. (Some welder out there is pretty good at walking the cup!)

Let’s try a little wort!

Tons of draff (all of the leftover parts of the grain that aren’t used) can be mixed with pot ale (we’ll get to that later) to create feed for animals or biofuel for some larger distilleries looking to go greener. Nothing is wasted!

These stills aren’t small. One will accept the wort to create low wines (wash still, first distillation) and the other will accept low wines (spirit still, second distillation) and create new make spirit!

The wash still at Old Pulteney has a flat top O.O . The shape of the copper plays a large part in the flavor and viscosity of the spirit. We also learned here that the stills are originally created with 5mm thick copper but as the boiling spirits rage inside and the copper chains clean the pot ale, eventually the copper wears down. Still can actually collapse on themselves after a few decades of use so many times they’re repaired in sections.

Some distilleries still use worm tubs to condense the vapors of the spirit and many now use dedicated condensers to cool the vapors.

Ahhhh. spirit safes. This is where the spirit is rockin around 70% ABV depending on the distillery. This is also where the distiller picks out the head, heart, and tail or foreshots, heart, and feints. Malcolm also explained how the locks worked when each distillery had a tax man on site.

Malcolm’s retirement barrel! It might be a 2007 Cask #444 with Alligator char in an exMadeira cask 😉

A little tasting that included their new whisky liquer Stroma.


On a fun side note, Malcolm is a big fan of Whistle Pig and Stranahans!

Oh the day isn’t over?? You mean we saw a second distillery on the same day?

Ladies and Gentlemen, Balblair.

John MacDonald is the distillery manager at Balblair and he’s another wealth of knowledge. He was the best part about Balblair. He’s full of stories and history and he’s lived a life that many would envy BEFORE he ever became a distillery manager. That’s the richest part of this trip and the richest part of whisky, without a doubt. The people.

John showing us how a peat cutter works! He’s got a lot of horrible memories tied to them as a kid so let’s not linger!

Wooden washback being filled at Balblair.

Traditional dunnage. Notice the exposed ground 🙂

So there you go! Two gorgeous distilleries in Scotland and that was just day two!

The SNS Trip to Scotland (part 1)

Six days in Scotland

Sniff here. And oh yes… it’s finally time to talk about the legendary trip to Scotland. Before I really dig into the trip, I have to warn you that the story will not end in any way you are probably imagining. Obviously we didn’t die in a plane crash to or from Scotland but a trip like this really reveals interesting idiosyncrasies and even invokes some curious paradigm shifts in the way life operates.

To be completely transparent, I think it’s important to disclose how we went about booking this trip in the first place. We had planned (for quite some time) on visiting Scotland sooner, but due to our nutty schedules, it couldn’t have happen any sooner than it did. Luckily for us, the week we happened to be free to go overlapped with the end of the Spirit of Speyside Festival. This is a weeklong shindig in Scotland when the distilleries, industry folks, and locals, join together to create an amazing week of whisky inspired adventures. From whisky paired dinners to distillery tours to train rides with whisky tastings, this is definitely a week that any enthusiast would want to visit!

Originally, I had drawn up an itinerary for the entire week that incorporated much of the festival activities but [Scotch] thought it would be an awesome time to heed the advice of the brand ambassadors: “if you’re planning a trip to Scotland, talk to me first!”. Credit that quote to a handful of ambassador friends we’ve made in whisky industry (Gemma, Miles, Nicola, Cam, Matthew, and everyone else I’m unintentionally forgetting!).

After reaching out to them, our itinerary got thrown out and replaced by a dream trip. There’s no way we would have had the time and energy to organize the amazing visits the way that these friends came together to create, and for that, we’re eternally grateful.

We went from a speyside focused trip to a crazy whirlwind adventure that included 700 miles of driving, spanning from Wick to Inverness to Knockdhu and everywhere in between.

We visited Tomatin, Old Pulteney, Balblair, Glenfiddich, anCnoc, Glenfarclas, Glenlivet, Cardhu, and Macallan between Tuesday and Sunday! There was so much to see, learn, and do in just a few short days!

From a driving perspective, it’s important to note that Scotland has a zero tolerance for driving and alcohol. I’ve read that the limits are so low that most distilleries won’t risk giving a driver samples even by accident. Take sample bottles with you if you plan on driving! Some distilleries DO have “driver packs” which are just ziplock styled bags with samples bottles inside them but you really should bring your own if you plan on driving. If you’re staying in speyside the whole time it might be possible to taxi back and forth from your hotel the whole time but there is no uber out in the middle of what is essentially the Podunk of the UK. 🙂

Also of note, many of the roads your GPS will take you on to get into and out of speyside are single lane or single and a half lane roads. Negotiating with cars headed in your opposite direction is sometimes a chore. The speed limit on many of the roads is 60mph but there are plenty of places where 60mph is impossible to do so give yourself extra time to get where you’re going. Driving on the left is always fun but you definitely have to keep your wits about you if you’re used to driving on the right. Oh, and the signs are in MPH and there are speed cameras (and average speed cameras) up and down the highway.

From a regular ol’ tourist’s perspective, the landscaping is beautiful and covered in what locals call “Whin bush”. Wiki says it’s actually called “Ulex” but it’s a strange and brightly orange colored bush that litters the areas around the ocean side roads. It’s visible from planes flying into Inverness so if you see it, that’s what you’re looking at. Also near Inverness, if you’re into the magical story of the Loch Ness monster, you’re not far from the actual Loch when you hop off of the plane. There are castles around the country side too but we didn’t have any time for castles, unfortunately. Some of them did look beautiful from a distance. The food was good too. 🙂

The rest of the Scotland trip will be posted in separate parts after this one since they’ll be much more focused on specific distilleries and the details of those distilleries. Here’s to a handful of posts after this one!


SVS: Sagamore Rye vs Sagamore Rye Cask Strength

Wait, a rye from Baltimore?

There are a handful of articles out there about this new local hooch and how it’s sourced from MGP but the water used to bring it to proof is actually retrieved from a spring at the actual Sagamore Farm but that’s not what we’re going to talk about today. As usual, we’re about helping you to save a few bucks on a dram that you might not enjoy or encourage you to drop your wallet on a bottle that you definitely will love.

The biggest surprise about this bottle are the number of reviews out there that don’t talk about the vegetal notes that are RIPE throughout this bottle. If you’ve ever had the Brenne Ten year, this bottle will instantly bring back some memories for you as it boasts (suffers from?) those same vegetal notes that make you wonder if you’re not actually eating grass and weed clippings from a yard. We’re not even joking. But NO ONE ELSE is talking about these notes on the nose and flavors on the palate.

That said, let’s get to the review and maybe (if you’ve had it) you can comment and let us know if you get the same flavors going on in your bottle.

If the Sagamore Rye Standard (SRS) is a tarnished brass color, the Sagamore Rye Cask Strength (SRCS) is a shade of brown darker of the same tarnished brass.

The SRS is noticeably more vegetal than the SRCS. Where the SRS smells like peppery grass and rides an earthy wave all of the way into the ground, the SRCS actually shares a healthy hint of those notes but envelopes them in layers of rye spice (like the bread, not like dill) and sweeter notes typically found in whisky aged in American oak barrels. If you’re a fan of the dill rye flavors in Midwinter’s night dram, you might like the flavors in these brother bottles. If you’re not a fan of the MWND, you might need to cleanse your palate with Pikesville Rye (6) or Michter’s Barrel Proof rye. Both of which exude awesome rye flavors with no dill and no grass clippings.

The SRCS rolls onto the tongue with heated authority and washes the tongue in more rye bread spices with just a touch of vanilla. The vegetal notes from the nose bowed out of the palate which is a pleasant surprise. The SRS on the other hand tastes muted against the SRCS and is not much more than the vegetal notes from the nose on your tongue. Everyone can appreciate a dram that delivers a palate in line with the nose but in this case, the SRCS abandoning the nose might be the more enjoyable way to sip this. With water the SRS is even weaker in terms of flavor and does little to mute the sharp grassy notes that soak the pour. A bit of water on the SRCS and the palate gets drenched in tannic dryness and exposes an almost candy sweetness subtly lingering around waiting for you to notice. A very interesting palate trick!

Where the SRCS leaves the tongue awake and alive, the SR is its weaker sibling that suffers from sheer laziness. With water, the SRS is even weaker of a finish but the SRCS finds a bit more interesting complexity.

Well there you have it. Oddly enough, if we HAD to choose a bottle to have between the two, the SRCS would get the nod. Not because “whiskey at cask strength is better” but because the whiskey actually tastes better.

Have you tried either of these? Both? Let us know what you think so we can think we’re a little less crazy than we might be. 😀

Video Review of the Kavalan Vinho Barrique!!

Salutations fellow scotch lovers! We’ve been busy recording a whole new set of videos for your ears and eyes to enjoy so we’ll go ahead and post about a new one here. It’s on the Vinho Barrique from Kavalan which seems to have knocked the Hibiki 21 from the top of [Scotch]’s favorite list!

We’re also working a few new written reviews on some newer offerings from Glenfiddich (the XX from the experimental collection) and Glenmorangie (the letdown that is the Bacalta) and maybe a few others. 🙂

Until we get that posted, here’s that promised video. Slainte!

Japanese whisky under $100? Let’s!

We’ve got a new video for you! It’s about Japanese whisky in everyone’s favorite price range! (We had a problem with the microphone on the next THIRTEEN videos we recorded but we’re working on a permanent fix for next time so it doesn’t happen so please excuse the camera mic audio!)  Let us know what you think!