Yesterday I found myself drinking Scotch whiskey at approximately 11 in the morning. I know you must be thinking I am either a raging alcoholic or just living out my Scottish University fantasies. The latter is probably closer to the truth: I was on the “Whiskey Tour” with the International Student Centre, a wonderful resource for seeing Scotland on the cheap. I also was not initially meant to leave at 8 am, by the way – the afternoon trip, which would have given us all a more appropriate cocktail hour – was cancelled.
And so, at the crack of dawn, myself and about 30 other students who had paid the 12 Pound fee for the trip boarded a bus bound for the Highlands. We drove about 2 hours to Aberfeldy, where we went to the world famous Dewars Whiskey distillery. The drive was almost ridiculously picturesque. The trees are all changing colour here now, and the large bus ambled up rolling hillsides dotted with cows, sheep and cottages. At one point, we climbed so high that a thick fog descended all around us, eerily covering the sunshine that had been visible just moments before.
When we finally reached the distillery we were taken on a short tour of the whiskey making process. As our guide led us among the various vats and distilling machines, he kept barking at us to turn off the flashes on our cameras, as there was so much carbon dioxide and alcohol in the air that the flashes could apparently blow us all up. We were shown how whiskey begins as barley, which is then fermented, distilled, and aged. During the fermentation process, which takes place in huge vats that are constantly turning, the barley becomes a sort of high alcohol beer. When the distillery still employed workers to manually stir the alcohol, they had to institute a strict no-cup policy: the mischievous young men would bring along “coffee mugs” and then proceed to fill them with the strong beer (which supposedly tastes like paint-stripper). After the ban, they found their workers still having a bit too much fun on the job, and also banned them from wearing shoes, which apparently served as a good substitute in the absence of any mugs.
At the end of the tour came the bit we were all waiting for – the actual tasting. I’ve tried whiskey before, but I’m pretty sure the 3-dollar variety that is usually consumed lukewarm in somebody’s basement doesn’t really count. At Dewars I tasted their 12-year signature blend, as well as some others that I can’t remember (after several servings you wouldn’t be able to, either). Unfortunately I realised I will just never like whiskey; anything that causes you to grimace after drinking it is probably not for you. However, I did buy some lovely whiskey fudge from the gift shop. I also picked up some bottles of their White Label Scotch for my heartier friends back home.
At noon, we all boarded the bus back to Edinburgh. The two-hour trip provided ample time to sleep off the effects of the tasting.