The UK Beercation Day 6: Scotland!
Here I’ll continue an epic series of blogposts about our trip to the British Isles this summer. Much like last year’s trip to Germany and the Czech Republic, this was a self-organized tour with our friends Jim and Lori Stroner, as well as my wife Sarajo (Sj) and myself. I’ll be posting a day-by-day travelogue of the trip as I organize and go through my multitude of pictures. While the posts won’t be fully about beer–there will be a focus on good pubs, real ale, distilleries, and food! So here goes: enjoy!
The day started like most on our trip with and amazing breakfast. The food at our B&B Ella’s Crag was out of this world. We started with porridge with a whiskey cream sauce and fresh fruit, followed by a mushrooms in a flavorful vermouth sauce over toast. Yum!
Once breakfast was done, we headed out from our temporary Lake District home on a long 4.5 hour drive (for Jim anyway) to Scotland. Along our route, Jim had planned for a stop at Fyne Ales–a farmhouse brewery founded in 2001. This place is located across a cool old stone bridge and has a small modern craft brewery taproom. They had a few light lunch options like meat pies and sausage rolls that were quite tasty and paired well with their large selection of house brewed ales.
Many of the beers were hoppier and more American in style like APA and IPA, but some were closer to traditional UK beer styles. After a slight misstep of the Cider tap actually being an IPA (Sj was not liking that cider I’ll tell you) everything was great! They had a little bottle shop including their own beers in bottles and cans, and some guest beers. We stocked up on bottles, including some interesting sours for later in the trip. We could have joined in on a brewery tour but time kept us from doing so. Plus, we’ve seen a million (OK a hundred) breweries before. We later found Fyne Ales all over our Scotland trip and even back into England later. Well worth a visit.
Not too long after entering Scotland we stopped for a castle photo shoot. This was the ruins of a castle across a pretty loch with rolling hills behind it. We had to walk across some fens to get to the shore of the loch. With the amount of rain recently, the nominal “trails” across this marshland were washed out and muddy. Despite warnings to stay on these water hazards or risk being bit by adders (seriously there were signs warning about snakes) we tried to make our way across land. Within seconds, all four of us had stepped at least ankle deep in the mire. At that point we were in for a penny, in for a pound, so kept on going. We were getting this castle shot. Eventually we squished our way out of the swamp and back to the car.
Our final destination for the day was our new base–the Scottish coastal town of Oban. This city is an interesting mix of old working fishing town and more modern tourist spot. Shops range from small local retailers of pets, toys, and matresses, to more kitchy tourist junk. A small fishing fleet brings in fresh fish to the warf and there are several seafood restaurants clustered around the coastline. The skies were leaden and brooding with periodic sprinkles so photography was hindered a bit. I love the feel of this town. Luckily Sj had encouraged me to bring a set of Keen sandals, so I was able to change out of my squelching wet shoes and put some warm dry socks on as well. This was a fantastic look for me, but I’ll take silly and dry to squishy and cold any day!
After stashing our gear at the B&B the Sandvilla Guesthouse, we headed up the hill overlooking the city to see McCaig’s Tower. This is a circular structure modeled after Rome’s Colosseum that was never completed due eccentric millionaire John Stuart McCaig’s death. Like many large monolithic constructions by rich folk this would probably qualify as a folly. Still, it is cool looking and overlooks the whole of Oban from atop Battery Hill.
Exhausted from our trek up the hill and rapid descent, we made it back into town and to our scheduled tour of Oban Distillery. This is a distillery founded in 1794, predating even the actual town of Oban. Technically this is a Highland Scotch (or just whisky to the Scottish) but is a bit less sweet and has some mild peat compared to most from the region. This was a well run tour and our guide Gordon did a great job with the technical aspects. At the end of the tour we got to try 9 year aged whiskey right from the barrel, pulled out with a large metal whisky thief that looked like a civil war saber. We then moved to the small tasting room and tried the regular 14 year Oban and got to see the change that 5 more years brings to the boozy beast. Upstairs they have a fantastic whisky bar, but the hours are limited and it was closed by the time we were done with the tour. We made up for this the following day. Seriously, who closes a whiskey bar at 6:30???
Across the street was a small boutique liquor and wine shop and we got to taste a couple more whisky’s there–coming home with the best one I’ve ever tried: Kilchoman Loch Gorm. This thing tastes like sweet and smoky leather and I’m going to have to hide it from Sj before she drinks it all.
Denied in our desire for more whisky, we walked a bit down the main drag and ended up at Aulay’s Bar. This was a very old-school nautical themed pub filled with a mix of tourists and locals. The old faded ship photos taking up most of the wall space was a nice touch and added to the seaside and aged feel of the place.
We finished the evening with a fantastic, though somewhat slow, dinner of seafood madness at Waterfront Fish House. I gorged myself on tasty oysters and fish chowder with a not-so-good Belhaven stout that tasted like I had been gargling rusty coins.
Coming up next: Seasickness, Islands, Puffins!
If you want to hear the episode of A One Pint Stand where Dan and I recap the entirety of my UK Beercation, click on the link below. If you like the podcast, subscribe so you don’t miss an episode!
Neolithic Stone Circles: 3
Ruined Abbey/Churches: 3
Unesco World Heritage Sites: 3
Nearly being bit by a (Black) Adder: 1