Day 2 on Scottish soil started off badly. Well, maybe badly isn’t the right term, but let’s say that some of us rather would have skipped the morning half of this day altogether, as heads were still a little sore of last night’s savoring. As a result, some of us did experience more troubles as usual getting out of the bed, and only the smells of strong coffee and sizzling bacon could lure them all the way to the breakfast table.

That being said, the day couldn’t have been nicer: squirrels & pheasants & an occasional rabbit on our front lawn, the sun breaking through the clouds, and an agenda to look forward to: today we are not only going to have dinner at the Glengoyne distillery, but first we’re stopping at Strathearn, Scotland’s recent addition to an already impressive list of distilleries (and probably the smallest of them).

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So, breakfast behind us, our nose-counting revealed everyone was accounted for, we set out for the distillery. The lead car did have a GPS system fit for 4×4 cars and lead us over some rural roads (unfortunately, our cars weren’t 4×4), and managed to find the distillery in no time.

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We were welcomed by Tony Reeman-Clark, the owner, Stuart McMillan, the Distillery manager, and Zak Shenfield, the distiller (and at 22, recently named Young Distiller of the Year in the Scottish Craft Distillers Association Awards).

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We got ourselves a triple treat here, as you can see:

TREAT 1 – Full tasting of some excellent stuff

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The lads at Strathearn may not yet have whisky that has met the Scottish standards of selling it as whisky, but they have been busy nevertheless. They also make some excellent gin (one of which also got an award), and they have also built up some remarkable relationships with master distillers in the area, enabling them to put the hands on some rare and exquisite bottles. And (lucky) we got to taste them all: from the blank spirit right from the still, to some of the rarest whiskies found in the area, capping it with their own gins, drams were generously provided of each and every one of them.

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TREAT 2 – Distill a whisky

The entire group (in 2 teams, did I mention this is probably the smallest distillery in the world ?) was invited to help distill the next batch of spirits. While one team did some mashing:

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The other team helped decide on the cut:

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Or filled the casks:

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TREAT 3 – Enjoy our own cask

CaskAid purchased a first cask at Strathearn some time ago, and this was the first occasion we all could get around it. Even if the whisky is not yet ready and won’t be for another couple of years, there is something in “owning” a cask which brings out the love in each of us whisky-afficicionados:

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Alas, even this fine morning (and early afternoon) had to come to an end, and some pranks aside we set sail once again to our mansion, preparing ourselves for another road trip, to dinner this time.

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An unfortunate encounter with a rather sharp rock caused one of our cars to suffer a rather nasty tire puncture, and as the rental cars are not equipped with proper spare tires, we were delayed in coming to Glengoyne. Rather than rushing us through dinner, we decided to cut short on the whisky tour, visiting the main facilities and receiving a tour of the educational center only.

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The education center also hosts a rather impressive cellar of aged casks, but as our master locksmith wasn’t able to pick the entry gate lock, we decided to go for pre-dinner drinks in the guest house.

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The dinner would have been impressive to any standards, with a skilled chef preparing some food paired to several of the house whiskies. What made the evening memorable, is that the master distiller prepared us a special CaskAid bottle, a generous spirit indeed. Sláinte !

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Oh yes, there was a day 3 as well, where we acted more the proper tourist, visiting both the William Wallace monument and the town of Edinburgh. The only item worth mentioning (other than having enjoyed a rather superb burger) is the whisky shop on the Royal Mile, laden with fine whiskies, but at rather sharp prices.

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And yes, we did see the obligate piper and stood beside each of the obligate statues, but that’s another story.

Thursday October 22nd, a 13-strong delegation of CaskAid arrives on Scottish soil, travel-weary but looking forward to a long weekend of companionship but most of all discovering new whisky gems.

Our first evening (or night actually, as we reached our remote mansion past midnight) sets the tone, a couple of local pints and a good dose of “water of life” helps to put us in the mood & ensures a good first night of rest (for those lucky enough not being bothered by snoring companions).

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Day 1 starts probably a lot earlier than some of us would have liked, although the copious breakfast makes up for those craving extra hours of sleep. Lunch is loaded in the cars, and our little caravan sets sail for Inverness, a 2 hour drive to the Highlands, where we are expected for a rather exclusive tour of the Tomatin distillery. The day is rainy & windy, a typical great day in this part of the world, and although the road is long and narrow, our spirits are lifted when we pile out of our cars and catch a whiff of a different kind of spirits awaiting us.

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Of course we get to see the making of the whisky (and who would pass on such opportunity, if only to learn of the differences which makes this distillery different from any others), but on top we went “all the way”:

  • taking a sip “straight from the tanks”

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  • visited the inside of a mash vat

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  • were invited to visit the secrets of the production process, a rare treat
  • got our heads around (and for some of us, inside) some of the casks used for finishing these spirits (an Ardbeg cask especially drew our attention)

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  • visited the antiques collection, with casks spanning the full life of this distillery (or at least, as far as casks could be found back from each of those years)

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  • and finally got a tasting of 5 excellent spirits (6 for some of us who had the right amount of persuasion)

As people gathered their purchases (and in some minor cases, some of their wits), we climbed back into our vehicles and sped back to our mansion. A brief and unscheduled stop was done at Dalwhinnie, and albeit the settings were good & our moods lifted, no spirits were consumed nor bought (maybe because our posse was more on the lookout for the really unique finds, leaving the flasks in this shop for the busloads of tourists deposited on a daily basis).

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All cars managed to get back in one piece, leaving plenty of time for a “real Scotsman’s meal” to be prepared: haggis freshly made by the local butcher with some roast veggies & potatoes, and a dram for those faint of heart.

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To prove time can fly fast when you have good companions & some wee drinks, get a look at the clock:

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Soon: day 2, a laboring day at Strathearn & a dinner at Glengoyne

Woensdagavond 9 december, ergens in Rotselaar. Bijna een jaar na het opstarten van CaskAid kunnen we deze avond eindelijk onze eerste flessen afwerken. Na het proeven en selecteren van de whisky, het ontwerpen van de etiketten, de proefdruk en de finale goedkeuring door de Cask Selectors rest ons nu alleen nog de afwerking. Na met de nodige bibberende handen het nummer van de botteling en de fles op de etiketten te hebben aangebracht werden deze met de nodige zorg op onze eerste 90 flessen aangebracht. Onder het goedkeurend oog van de aanwezige Cask Selectors bracht Jan het eerste etiket (001001, botteling 1, fles 1) aan op de geselecteerde fles Stratclyde waarna de rest van de aanwezigen ook aan het werk ging om op artisanale wijze de 30 flessen van de eerste 3 bottelingen af te werken (meer informatie elders op deze website). Na het avontuur waarmee deze eerste flessen tot stand zijn gekomen rust ons nu het genot van deze whisky’s en de vernieuwde uitdaging om nieuwe pareltjes te vinden zodat CaskAid niet enkel zal gekend zijn omwille van het goede doel dat we hiermee steunen maar ook door de whisky’s waarmee we dit doen…

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At the first Cask Selector gathering this year we were discussing about interesting new concepts which we could develop with our whiskies and the idea of a cheese – whisky pairing experiment came to mind. If you can match wine or beer with cheese, why would this not be possible with whisky as well? We already had the whiskies, still needing the cheese we contacted the people from Kaasmeester Elsen and they were very interested in joining in this new endeavour. At the first gathering of the ‘KaasAid Taskforce’ there was cheese and there was whisky but finding the right combination seemed not that easy. While some whiskies just did not allow you to taste any cheese other cheeses completely supressed the rich taste of the whisky. Although already some acceptable combinations were found a second gathering had to be setup to further tune these. As the first gathering had also been an introduction to whiskies for the cheese experts from Kaasmeester Elsen they were now better prepared and the selection of chees available on this second meeting allowed, in combination with the previous experiences, to find some nice combinations, both with CaskAid bottlings as well as different general available bottlings. The slight despair that had been present with certain people within the ‘KaasAid Taskforce’ after the first gathering turned to surprised appreciation of the newly found combinations which were confirmed by a slightly bigger panel afterwards. The final test of our new concept was then held at the 3rd Cask Selector gathering of the year in September which was hosted by Vinotheca in Everberg. 16 whisky enthusiasts were presented with 8 different cheeses, each served with a selected whisky. In addition 3 other cheeses where available for experimental tasting but again, finding new successful combinations proved to be very challenging. The already established combinations however proved to be successful and as the evening progressed various other bottles of the library were sampled resulting in a very successful Cask Selector gathering and the unanimous approval of our new cheese and whisky tasting concept. The development of the concept had been much more challenging than anticipated but the results were, in our opinion, certainly worth the effort…

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