We liked the bathroom at Muckrach House. Nice and big. (European bathrooms always seem too small.) We have had good food everywhere we’ve been. The only things I won’t eat are haggis and wood pigeon. I also opted out on the pheasant eggs, and I’ve had to get used to the idea that “bacon” here is actually a big chunk of ham.

Today our first stop was Tomatin Distillery, where we got a one-hour tour of their whiskey-making process. First the barley is harvested before anything sprouts. Then the barley seeds have to sprout at just the right phase (under heat), and then they malt or bake it at a certain temperature. Then it goes into the hoppers to be ground up. They stir in water to form “wart” to draw out the starches and separate it from the husks and chaff, and the wart flows down through tiny slits in the floor of a giant rotating mixing bin. This separated liquid is called the wash. (The leftover husks and chaff go to farmers for feed.) The wash goes into fermentation tanks where yeast is added and the starches turn to sugar. It becomes sort of a beer. This is later distilled in copper stills at a temperature below the boiling point of water. After a second distillation, all the impurities are removed and the liquid spirit (moonshine) is clear and ready for barreling.

The barrels are what actually determine what sort of taste and finish the whiskey will have. They use old bourbon barrels, sherry barrels, etc. Sometimes they steep the whiskey in charred peat to give some whiskeys that texture and taste. Over years, a large part of the whiskey actually evaporates through the barrel, which lessens the alcohol content. Hence, younger whiskey tastes harsher, older whiskey smoother. Scotch whiskey has to be barreled at least three years. Obviously the longer the barreling, the more expensive the whiskey.

We drove to Loch Ness, down the western side of the lake to visit Uruquhart Castle, which was awesome. It has a lot of history, going back and forth from Pictish to Scottish to English hands. Eventually it came to be owned by the Grant Clan, but they got tired of defending it. When the Jacobites were moving in to put it under siege, the Grant Clan burned it and left, marching to the sound of their pipes. Now all that’s left is ruins.

We didn’t see the Loch Ness monster, it being a glorious sunny day, but we snapped a photo of a half-submerged log that we decided would suffice. The water in the freshwater lochs looks deep blue from a distance, but is a strange color up close. Near the edge it’s kind of a weak tobacco-orange, then quickly turns to black, which you can’t see through at all. This is from peat. We could even smell peat in the air.

From Loch Ness we went to see Ivergarry Castle, another ruin on Loch Oich, further south. This ruin was in worse shape, fenced off so no one will get hurt, its inner walls reinforced with cross-timbers. It was near our hotel for the night, Glengarry Castle House.

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Day 7 – Whiskey Distillery, Loch Ness, Uruquhart Castle