I’m not a whisky drinker. I tried a sip once and to me it was like drinking antiseptic. Not that I drink antiseptic …
I was told that I’d tasted the wrong type of whisky for my first time experience. What? Don’t they all taste the same? A silly thought I know as lager and wine all have different tastes. I don’t know why I thought this.
So, what triggered me to try it again? Well, a Facebook friend from My Peak Challenge messaged me recently asking me what’s a good whisky, also sending a photo of a selection of Arran Single Malts to choose from. The Isle of Arran caught my attention straight away.
My reply was that I don’t drink whisky but I’d like to think that island whisky will be the best. Less pollution, fresh air and the purest of water. She couldn’t believe that I’m Scottish and don’t drink whisky! It really got me thinking though and planted a seed that I need to visit a whisky distillery to see what all the hype was about.
The closest whisky distillery to me is … drum roll … The Isle of Arran 😍. The island has its very own whisky distillery in the pretty village of Lochranza. The whisky is made on the island using its own water source from a loch in the mountains called Loch na Davie.
That was me on a mission to find out more about whisky. It was something totally different for both of us, Alan doesn’t even drink alcohol! We did squeeze in a hike to the water source though… more on that later.
I am sailing … again
It was an early morning rise of 5am to get ready and catch the 7am ferry from Ardrossan to Brodick in Ayrshire. It cost us £4 to park our car at Ardrossan ferry terminal for the day, then £7.50 each return to sail as a foot passenger.
The sea was calm. The sun was waking up slowly showing its warm happy face, lighting up the island ahead. You can’t really see clearly in the photo below, but the villages on the island were twinkling like flashing torch lights.
We enjoyed our breakfast on the ferry, then a tranquil 50 minute sailing across the Firth of Clyde. Once I’m on that ferry I relax and let the day unfold. As we approached the island the reflections were so pretty! The new Brodick ferry pier was look very comfortable in its new home.
We were going to be heading to the north of the island today to the Arran whisky distillery in Lochranza. The bus stop is beside the ferry terminal, so we waited in a large queue for the 324 bus to Lochranza. At 8am on a Saturday morning the bus was jam-packed. Many travellers were also visiting the island making an early start for a day’s walking or hiking. We paid £5.70 each for a day-rider.
We arrived at Lochranza about 8.45am. I’d booked our whisky tour for 10am, so we had some time to wander and take photos. We walked down towards the castle ruins. Alan brought his drone and it wasn’t windy for a change, so this looked like a perfect opportunity to capture some aerial photos. Yay!
Wow! I didn’t realise that this was how the land was shaped. You can just make out the sheep on the peninsular.
Lochranza is such a pretty little village surrounded by mountains. The last time we were here was when we walked the Arran Coastal Way. It was pouring with rain though!
We didn’t have a lot of time for photos, so we quickly packed up the drone and walked up the road to the distillery.
The visitor centre is really nice inside. It has a gift shop and licensed cafe. The photo below shows Loch na Davie, the water source for making their own whisky. I was excited to see this as we planned to hike here after our tour.
The distillery tour
We opted for the combined Distillery and Tutored Tasting Tour at £20.00 each. You can choose from a variety of tours. Check out the Arran Whisky website for more details and how much they cost. We were guided through the grey door into the bothy.
We sat on some benches where the tour guide told us about the history of the Arran distillery. This is a very young distillery of 22 years old and is the proud home of the Arran single malt whisky.
The island itself has a very unique geology, as I found out myself walking the Arran Coastal Way in June. I’m not too familiar with rocks and geology but I found it interesting that the water source for making the whisky comes from the remote Loch na Davie. The purest of water rises from a spring and flows over red granite through hornfels into cambrian rock.
We were given a 14 year old single malt whisky to sip while we watched a short video about Arran and its distillery. You can also watch this video on Arran Whisky’s YouTube Channel. I didn’t drink all my whisky though, just a sip. Twas a bit nippy for me.
After this we walked to the where the single malt whisky is made.
The grain used by Arran distillery is 100% malted barley, mostly from the east coast of Scotland as it contains more starch. For a peaty whisky the barley is smoked with peat, but whatever the type of grain, it’s ground to bring out the sugars. These sugars are then extracted by hot water and sent to a washback where yeast is added.
The round washbacks below were brewing beer … I was confused. I’m easily confused … 🤔 I asked: “why do you call it beer when it’s whisky?” I must have totally missed this part of the talk earlier. I really need to listen better!
You need to brew beer first. The definition of whisky is separating alcohol from the beer.
Wow, I didn’t know that! So, the sugars previously extracted from the barley, water and the yeast makes a simple beer.
I looked inside and saw the frothy head. I really wanted to taste it. This beer is around 8% or 9% alcohol and is called wash.
Then it was over to the shiny copper stills. It was starting to look like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to me. No chocolate in sight though!
The beer is sent to the first set of stills to separate the alcohol by boiling it. For the second stage, the alcohol then transfers to the spirit stills. It follows the same process until the alcohol is the correct strength to be extracted.
On the way back to the visitor centre we stopped to look at the original 1995 oak barrels. Different sizes of casks which previously contained other types of alcohol, such as port or bourbon, are used to store the clear alcohol. The maturation process over the years gives the whisky its flavour and colour. No two casks will produce the same whisky.
This was a very educational tour for me. Alan knew quite a bit about the process already, but I’m ashamed to say I was clueless.
We walked into a small bar where the tour guide showed us the clear alcohol and different types of whisky that are made from the casks. I tasted Arran Gold Cream Liqueur. It was quite nice, similar to Baileys. I would probably drink it with a few cubes of ice.
You can also buy your own cask and let it mature for as long as you want. The actor Ewan McGregor visited the distillery when it produced its first legal cask and tasted their whisky. He has his very own cask still maturing, as does Prince William and Prince Harry!
Our tasting session was next. It was only Alan and myself that was in the tasting room with the tour guide. As we walked into the room for some reason it felt like that scene from The Shining when Jack Nicholson sat in the empty bar at the Overlook Hotel …
So the tasting session began … I tasted Alan’s share too.
The first taste I totally messed up. I sipped too much at once. To taste it properly you need to let the whisky touch your lips, then use your tongue to spread it around your palette.
I tried different years and flavours of whisky. Some were too strong for me and I kept going back to a young bottle called Lochranza Reserves (7-10 years). The strange thing was, when a few drops of water was added to the whisky it tasted stronger to me. It can take three or four tastes to really know if you like it.
The tour guide said that whisky tastes different to everyone. What I might think is a nice whisky, could be a completely different experience to someone else. This makes total sense to me. Also, you might have a favourite whisky, but depending on what you eat and drink that day, it could taste different to the last time. You need to take the whisky path and experiment to find what suits your palette. Oh, and did you know whisky has legs?
Is it hot in here, or is it just me? Whisky is a very warming drink. I could feel my face getting hot and I didn’t even drink much. Look what I left below! This was a tasting session not a drinking session. I had a loch to hike to next so I couldn’t have too much anyway.
I was amazed at how much of a science whisky making and tasting is. Even though I’m not a whisky drinker I thoroughly enjoyed the tour and tasting. I’d definitely recommend it.
The tour guide was very knowledgeable, passionate and proud of what they make here. So much care goes into creating this top quality whisky. What could be better than using fresh mountain water from a Scottish island?
Hike to Loch na Davie
It was time to leave the distillery and find the water source. I wasn’t prepared for what was ahead though. I didn’t have my walking boots on, only my light walking shoes.
The walk through Gleann Easan Biorach to Loch na Davie begins just a few minutes up the road from the distillery. It’s clearly signposted and three miles each way. There’s a pipe in the riverbank that pulls the water into the distillery but I’m not sure exactly where that is.
The path was good to start with and I loved seeing all the Arran mountains from a different angle. Two golden eagles nest in these hills and we were hoping we would see them.
This part of the walk was so pretty. I felt like I could have been in a movie like Lord of the Rings, but I wasn’t, I was really walking through this amazing glen.
The terrain started to become more challenging though. The path was now boggy and not well defined at all. My light walking shoes were not the best at dealing with this when I was ankle deep in water and bog.
Alan kindly gave me one of his walking sticks. I don’t usually like using these but it did help me for a little while as my knees were starting to ache. It took us longer than we thought walking up to the loch. We had to negotiate crossing the water a few times as well.
We made it though! There was Loch na Davie, the water source for Arran’s finest whisky. The mountains just looked stunning from this angle. I love the feeling of finding somewhere new on the Isle of Arran. Pure magic.
I was surprised though, the loch was small and looked more like a large puddle to me. It didn’t look very deep at all. It was really windy so we never got to take a drone photo sadly. That’s what happens in the mountains, usually always windy at the top.
I started to feel quite tired all of a sudden and my knees felt weak. This was very strange as normally I can manage fine. I really struggled on the way down, losing my balance and falling quite a few times. Possibly because I didn’t have my walking boots on. I couldn’t wait to get back on to flat, dry ground.
My head was down watching where I was walking almost all the way back. I tried to stop and look up at the scenery a few times which made me feel a bit better.
Then we spotted a bird flying high near where the eagles are supposed to live. Alan tried zooming in with his camera, but it was too high to capture a good quality photo. It was definitely one of the eagles though!
Those rocky cliffs look like you could carve a few faces on them, don’t you think?
It was a relief to get back on to a path again, and such a beautiful one at that. I was still wobbly though. It wasn’t the whisky, honestly!
I didn’t get to buy any whisky as we would have to carry it on our walk. We’d planned to pop back into the distillery on the way back. We took so long it was closed by the time we came back down the from the loch.
So, we made our way to the bus stop at Lochranza to catch the bus for the last ferry home at 7.20pm. We were both tired after all that and hungry for some food and a cold drink. Dinner on the ferry was very welcomed indeed.
Even though I was exhausted, I still enjoyed my adventure and I also have this story and photos to share with you all.
Check out my wee video of Lochranza Castle on my Scotland from above page
Watch a short video on Vimeo of my fun tour and hike!
Thanks for reading!