A Dram With A View
Drinking on the road is encouraged during Whisky Co.’s personalised tours of Scotland’s finest whisky distilleries
Scotland is a wild country. Its windswept heaths, untamed glens and deep black lochs have moulded generations of tough Scotsmen whose reprieve is profoundly elemental: Settling down, in front of a blazing hearth, to a wee liver-warming, head-lightening dram.
The joy of this reprieve has spread beyond Scotland’s borders. Each year, more than 1.26 billion bottles of whisky are shipped abroad. In return, droves of whisky connoisseurs, enthusiasts and neophytes inundate Scotland’s peat-rich terrain in search of the perfect “liquor guid to fire [their] bluid”, as Scottish poet Robert Burns called it.
However, with more than 110 active distilleries scattered around Scotland, each with different operating schedules (not to mention new distilleries popping up all the time), getting to your desired elixirs could be as fraught as Macbeth’s quest for the Scottish throne. Until now.
Enter Whisky Co., a concierge service launched in May 2016 offering bespoke whisky experiences in Scotland. From transfers and tastings, to distillery visits and blending master classes, the service tailors trips to each client’s interests, handling the nitty-gritty of a whisky-themed experience so you don’t have to.
Founder Kirsty MacGeoch takes a deeply personalised approach to planning itineraries for her clients. She caters to couples and large groups, novices and connoisseurs. Each trip begins with an in-depth conversation wherein she susses out favourite whiskies, tastes and distilleries of interest. She even weaves in other sightseeing activities such as fishing trips, short hikes and castle spotting on request.
“Everyone has different tastes in whisky and it’s the same when it comes to holidays,” says MacGeoch. “I created Whisky Co. to allow people to tailor their Scotch whisky experience exactly to their taste.”
When it comes to the golden elixir, MacGeoch knows her stuff. She grew up in bucolic Speyside, a stone’s throw from Scotland’s most famous distilleries—Glenfiddich, The Glenlivet, and The Macallan. In fact, half of the country’s distilleries are located here, producing smoky, fruity single malts beloved for their elegance and complexity.
MacGeoch also boasts formidable industry chops. Before setting up Whisky Co., she spent five years in PR and marketing for whisky brands, organising and hosting tours for VIP guests and bartenders. In a nutshell: MacGeoch’s treasure trove of insider knowledge puts her in the enviable position of knowing the bottles that shine and the people who matter in the whisky world.
And what a wide world it is. In Scotch parlance, Scotland is carved up into five whisky-producing areas—the Highlands, Lowlands, Campbeltown, Islay and Speyside, tucked away in the northwest. Subtle variations in each region’s peat, air quality, temperature and climate impart unique characteristics to their single malts. To wit: a briny, smoky Laphroaig from Islay is immediately distinctive from the fruity, spicy notes of Speyside’s Balvenie.
An experience under the guidance of Whisky Co., then, would distil this world into a few expertly planned days. Though each itinerary is thumbprint-unique, MacGeoch divulges a few highlights that would appeal to any whisky lover. A visit, for example, to The Scotch Malt Whisky Society on Queen Street, Edinburgh, is obligatory. The global whisky club boasts the world’s largest collection of single malts, single cask whiskies, as well as knowledgeable recommendations from in-house whisky ambassadors. An evening here begins with dinner at The Dining Room, where the best of Scottish produce—organic Peelham pork, farmhouse cheeses, local venison—is paired with (what else?) premium whiskies. Unsurprisingly, the same evening ends with a nightcap—or five—at the recently refurbished Kaleidoscope Whisky Lounge.
Those itching to get their hands good and peaty will find distillery visits the way to go. Further south, on Islay, the iconic Laphroaig distillery sits in all its grizzled splendour amongst bucolic rolling hills. The island’s singular geography—with its briny coastal peat, crystal clear streams and salty sea air—has produced a smoky, assertive dram that has been variously described as “dark, salted chocolate”, “as if seaweed could sweat and smoke could cry”, “rugged men in a kilt” and “a battle from hundreds of years ago”. Guests can immerse themselves in the dram’s history with a tour that includes a run through the distillery, peat cutting, a trek to the whisky’s water source and a requisite bottling session.
Finally, any trip to Scotland would be remiss without a day at the distinguished Balvenie Distillery amidst Speyside’s rippling barley fields. More than a century old, the estate is a vision from the past, boasting one of the last remaining traditional malting floors, a resident coppersmith who maintains the stills and a team of barrel craftsmen who maintain each cask. Visitors are guided through the painstaking process involved in producing The Balvenie’s distinctive smoky, fruity notes and invited at the end to pull their own bottle from a resting cask—the boozy version of farm-to-table cuisine.
Unsurprisingly, this is one of MacGeoch’s personal favourites. “The Balvenie was the first whiskies I tried and is still one of my favourites today,” she says. “My dad has one waiting for me every time I come home. It’s really a special dram for me.”
By Samantha Lee