My past four international trips have all concluded with a magnificent final act. In 2010, our Italian honeymoon finished with a dazzling three days in Positano. Our 2011 Ireland trip wrapped up with a real Irish wedding. I walked into the bar of my dreams on the ultimate night of my Kyoto voyage last year. And on our final full day in Scotland, Kristen and I went to Campbeltown. We toured the Springbank and Glengyle distilleries, did a tasting in one of Cadenhead's warehouses, knocked over Cadenhead Whisky Shop, then walked to the Ardshiel Hotel bar to relieve them of their best Springbank-related single casks.
I didn't travel to Scotland to buy whisky bottles. But because the whisky selection in that small nation embarrasses that of this large nation, and the Pound was its weakest since the early reign of The Baroness Thatcher, I was going to buy a lot of whisky. My restraint was admirable -- I declare -- at the beginning of the trip as I departed shop after shop after shop empty handed. I knew Cadenhead was coming.
Some of you seasoned whisky vets can tut-tut, but I actually didn't know that the whole purpose of the warehouse tasting was to buy bottles. I just wanted to try casks alongside my beautiful wife. I thought the whole point of this whisky thing was to appreciate the experience, rather than possessing glass bottles. But just before I left for my trip I started hearing stories of people walking out of the warehouse with a case or more of single cask bottlings under their arms. These claims may have just been masculine bluster, which seems to be in generous supply these days, but having seen the whisky buying addiction consume many intelligent healthy individuals firsthand, I knew there was some truth behind the tales. I don't have that desire to own every last thing. In the Cadenhead casino, I am not the whale. I'm a hedonist guppy.
Our warehouse chaperon was Ronan, Mr. Business, rocking the suit.
A sterling guide, Ronan was relatively new to Cadenhead at the time, doing a lot of work as a sales rep to Western Europe. And though Scotland is his home, he spent a few years in Georgia (USA), not too long ago, playing footie for a local university (Emory, I think?). Here are the casks we generously tapped:
A super duper fruity summer malt with a serious bubblegum note. Perfectly drinkable at this strength, no water needed.
2. Arran 19 year old 1996, ex-bourbon cask, 44.7%abv
3. Caperdonich 20 year old 1996, 17 years in ex-bourbon + 3 years in ex-sherry hogshead, 48.9%abv
Excellent. My second favorite of the bunch. Loaded with rich malt, with the sherry cask perfectly integrated, it felt as if it spent its whole life in a 2nd-fill sherry cask.
4. Auchentoshan 17 year old 1999, 10 years in ex-bourbon + 7 years in ex-Chateau Lafite cask, 53.8%abv
Long time readers know I have issues with this sort of wine cask. Yet I wanted to give it a go since, perhaps, my palate had changed. But, nope nope nope. Kristen liked it even less than I. It's not the worst use of a Lafite cask (thanks Murray McDavid!), but due to the length of the secondary maturation the wine was very aggressive, stomping down the light spirit.
5. Springbank 19 year old 1996, ex-sherry cask, 59%abv
WINNER! Full power Springbank spirit meets full power sherry cask, it rips through senses and nerve endings. Everyone wins. Probably the best whisky I had during the entire trip. Kristen liked it too. I bought a bottle. There's a video of me filling the bottle by hand, but I decided not to include it here since it's mostly two minutes of my rear end. Also, the dunnage is too shadowy to get a real good look. At the whisky, you dog you.
6. Bowmore 15 year old 2000, ex-bourbon, 60%abv
Herbal, mineral, and with a lighter peat than most indie Bowmores, it couldn't compete for my attention after that Springbank.
7. Guatemalan Rum 8 year old, 60+%abv
Salted caramel ice cream and a cigar. Impressive and not grossly sweet. But, again, Springbank.
8. Mark Watt's secret aged gin in a kilderkin, approx. 80%abv
Gorgeous. Maybe the most aromatic booze I've ever experienced. Sadly not for sale.
After the tasting we did indeed go to Cadenhead Whisky Shop where I bought a number of other bottles. It's impossible to be fiscally responsible after consuming eight cask strength spirits, but don't worry, I left a few bottles on the shelves.
If you make it to Campbeltown, try to give yourself one full whisky day with no driving on either end. Schedule the Springbank/Glengyle/Cadenhead tour combo a few months in advance. Hydrate well on the day of, eat a full Scottish breakfast beforehand, and hide your good credit card. You will have a quality experience.