“Can you come to the Scottish Highlands this week to visit a whisky distillery?” Amidst my inbox chaos, this specific message from lifestyle travel agency Clos19 caught my attention. Scotland? I LOVE the Scots. The Scots are kind, love the outdoors, indulge in fatty food and drink too much whisky – they are pretty much me!
“Our final destination is “Glenmorangie House”, the guest house from the iconic distillery of the very same name”
Three days later, my feet touch Scottish ground on the tarmac at Inverness Airport, a tiny facility in the Highlands that looks more like a bus stop than an airport and soon we hit the road. Our final destination is “Glenmorangie House”, the guest house from the iconic distillery of the very same name, with a legendary status in the world of whisky lovers and hence also one of my favourite single malts in my liquor cabinet
One hour later, we arrive at the house located at the end of a gravel road that’s lined with ancient trees and barley fields, an estate-turned-boutique-hotel closely connected to the distillery. A dozen bedrooms, none with a key or TV (brilliant idea) and a myriad of social rooms including he the morning room, flooded with light and the perfect place for an aperitif; and the Buffalo Room with its medieval-looking fireplace that invites you for hours of whisky-laden conversations. Then, there’s the place that ties the whole house together, the dining room, where breakfast and dinner are served by award-winning head chef, John Wilson.
Wilson is also the man who meets us at the entrance and hands each of us a basket. ”When is lunch served?” I ask him (flights always make me hungry), upon which Wilson answers me with a smile, “when you’ve picked it.” And literally, for the next 30 minutes, we walk between the barley fields foraging herbs under the guidance of chef Wilson before taking our greens down to the top of the beach where Wilson and his chefs prepare some fantastic snacks using our foraged greens. Scottish smoked salmon and some cooked periwinkles, freshly picked on the beach rocks during low tide, are (of course) served with a selection of matching whiskies. Food in one hand, a glass of Glenmorangie in the other and the stunning coastline in front of us stretching as far as the eye can see – what a start to the trip.
“Food in one hand, a glass of Glenmorangie in the other and the stunning coastline in front of us”
Scottish produce is, in my humble opinion, some of the most underrated in Europe. The Atlantic coast, which stretches along the Highlands like a furious kraken, is full of pristine coldwater seafood and the green pastures of the land provide formidable grazing grounds for cattle and sheep. Deep down, I’m truly hoping that this trip will provide the opportunity to eat something I’ve never tried before: haggis, the Scottish national dish and savoury pudding made of sheep’s offal. Will I finally get the chance to eat haggis this time?
Two hours later, I find myself part of a peculiar procession as we are walked from the garden and into the dining room following a Scotsman who’s dressed from top to toe in full traditional Scottish dress, kilt and everything, (underwear? Not sure..) playing the bagpipes. I get into the flow of it, wondering if this is how the Scots start every meal. After the bagpiper has put his instrument down, the chef appears from the kitchen and puts a steaming plate down in front of him. Could this be it? Could it really be time for haggis? The divine smell of lamb fat filling the room tells me my hunch is right.
“Could this be it? Could it really be time for haggis?”
Reciting Robert Burns’ legendary poem from 1787, “Address to a Haggis”, the bagpiper slices open the haggis in dramatic act, drinks from a quaich (a Scottish silver cup) and bids us farewell. After that, we are all served our own portion of haggis sourced from an award-winning butcher in the neighbouring town. I can only agree with Robert Burns on how haggis could easily hold its ground against many dishes such as “French ragout, olio or fricassée”. It’s a divine dish: peppery, rich and perfectly matched by accompaniments of gravy and mashed potatoes.
The rest of the dinner is a celebration of local produce in the likes of Scottish langoustines, shrimp and salmon.When the midsummer sun eventually sets on Glenmorangie House we take to the Buffalo Room, where Glenmorangie’s head whisky maker tells me all about Highland whisky making and the history of the room over several glasses of Glenmorangie’s finest. Eventually some local musicians join us, chairs are moved and in the dim light of the crackling fire Scottish folk music fills the room, animating spontaneous dancing and singing amongst us spectators.
“…a full Scottish breakfast, a meal that has enough calories to feed a herd of horses.”
Next morning, the kitchen gets me back on my feet again with its full Scottish breakfast, a meal that has enough calories to feed a herd of horses. It fills me well as we tour the formidable Glenmorangie distillery and get a behind-the-scenes look at this unique spirits producer. The mastermind behind every Glenmorangie bottle is the Director of Distilling, Bill Lumsden, who walks us through the fascinating history behind Glenmorangie and the myriad of ageing experiments happening within its cellars. From new/old oak to red wine, madeira, sherry and sauternes casks – Glenmorangie is an expert at creative whisky ageing and the result is one of the most refined and desirable range of bottles on the single malt market.
“Do we have time for lunch before we fly out?” is my obvious question as my growling stomach and I walk out of the distillery grounds. “Of course we do – we have something special planned” one of the Clos 19 representatives answers, with a smile, as we’re asked to climb into a couple of Land Rovers. After a bumpy ride on small roads we pull up next to a tent on the edge of a Loch (the Scottish word for lake), where a table has been set for us. We sit down and for the next hour we feast on a seemingly endless buffet of hay-smoked Scottish salmon, lobster, game meats, cheeses and more whilst Dr. Lumsden tells us war stories from his decades of whisky distilling.
As my plane takes off from Inverness airport hours later, I’m already fantasizing about my return to Scotland and my next journey with Clos19. Divine food, endless amounts of whisky and some of the most warm-hearted people I’ve met – the Highlands truly have it all. Whilst the coastline slowly disappears beneath the clouds a comforting thought puts me into a deep slumber: “I’ll be back Scotland!”