August 2012

The sun’s orange arms hold the Ring of Brodgar’s weathered megaliths in a nostalgic embrace. Tall shadows stretch toward a central swath of heather the color of a fresh bruise. The nightly convocation of the stones’ inscrutable souls. I feel like a raccoon that, clutching a shiny bauble, cannot remove its paw from the spiked pit trap. A fierce wind makes roiling mountains of Orkney’s clouds beyond the circle as I amble its inner circumference. I have shut out everything but the gentle, gritty sensation of antediluvian craftsmanship running beneath my fingerprints. Romantic notions suffuse me. Maybe I will sense some connection to the past, something…different.

I sit on the bumpy, wet turf and lean back against one of the monoliths. Is there another sense…
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Deanston Distillery's Stock of Barrels

It’s not yet noon and I’m sipping on a dram of Deanston Virgin Oak in my office. A small yet annoyingly loud part of my brain is busy chastising me for the indulgence, but it fades away behind a wall of lemon, barley sugar, and green apple as I nose the dram. The aromas work their time-traveling magic and I’m back in Doune on that sunny early May day with my dad after a gorgeous drive from Pitlochry.

Deanston may not be in the collection of distilleries that spring to mind when someone mentions single malt Scotch, but if my rambles across Scotland’s highlands and glens have taught me anything it’s that… Read more...

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The earth spins and flings North Sea winds into our car like daggers into a hay bale as we cross the bridge over the Cromarty Firth. My dad points out the left side of the car at the unfolding vista, and I hastily park in a pull-out designed for just this moment. Layers of elevation stack one upon the other: pocked water, thin strand of beach, puffy trees, barren foothills, cyclopean snow-bearded peaks, and the misty heavens. Cars and semis scream past our turned backs in stark contrast to this silent and primordial view. We snap a handful of photos and stare. Read more...

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The Famous Grouse

I began my foray into the world of Scotch whisky by starting at the top with single malts. My first bottle was an Oban 14 and for several years prior to that bottle I’d tasted my dad’s single malts from time to time. Over the last 10 years I’ve kept my Scotch indulgences firmly within the single malt realm. After all, life’s too short to drink cheap whisky. Right?

It didn’t take a psychologist for me to realize I harbored a certain prejudice toward “cheap” whisky, which in my mind meant blended whisky. It’s an unfair stance, especially given my history of near-total abstinence from blends. Sure, I’d had Johnnie Walker, Bell’s, Clan MacGregor, and even Famous Grouse, but those had been mere dabblings. Just recently blended red wines have been a staple in our house – they’re delicious. Wouldn’t blended whisky be similar? As I planned my most recent trip to Scotland I figured what better way to ground my hot air balloon of blended whisky ignorance than to visit the site of Scotland’s most consumed blended whisky: Glenturret distillery, home of the Famous Grouse. Plus, my dad seems to really like the Famous Grouse and he would be my companion.

Twenty miles west of Perth, just outside the small town of Crieff, hides the Glenturret distillery. Read more...

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The firths of northern Scotland tick by like epic mile markers: Moray, Cromarty, Dornoch. Each bridge leads to another span of rugged grasslands and gorse-daubed hills sloping up to the ever-present low sea clouds. On my way to a distillery appointment at Clynelish, I explore the tiny town of Brora on the east coast of the northwest highlands. It doesn’t take long to find an empty stretch of forlorn coastline running north-south far beyond the strength of eyes to see its terminuses. A line of characterful boulders, their angled sides sharp and sheared like petrified gray matter, form a last defense against the daily tide. Looking north, I see every color of the Scotland in my mind: xanadu, slate, ultramarine, periwinkle, fern, feldgrau, mauve, taupe, mustard, and turmeric. Read more...

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