Category Archives: Scottish Whisky

Burn’s Night 2018

There are a number of factors mitigating against holding a Burn’s Night in the heart of Ireland.

One of them is the difficulty in finding a haggis for sale in Westmeath!

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Haggis! c/othewhiskeynut

Thankfully I brought some of the prize pudding back with me from a recent Scottish trip – along with some whisky I had in mind – which is my cue for a song!

So January 25th found me in Sean’s Bar – the oldest bar in Ireland – hosting an Irish versus Scotch blind whiskey tasting.

I’d decided to go blind –  the whiskey that is, not me – wrapping the bottles in tinfoil to disguise the brands – so there would be no bias in the results. The nose & taste of the spirit would be the crucial factor.

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Blind tasting. c/othewhiskeynut

I roughly paired the whiskeys into 4 categories.

‘a’ being grains,

‘b’ obviously blends,

‘c’ single malts &

‘d’ being undefined – which will become clearer later. I tried as far as possible to get pairs of equal cost, style, flavour & profile – with only 50% success. The idea was to get a winner for each pair – then a ‘best of’ for the evening – having some fun along the way.

Votes were cast at the end of the tasting round to get the 4 individual winners – as well as the overall winner – before any of the whiskeys were revealed to some surprised faces.

The first winner of the evening was Egan’s Vintage Grain.

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Egan’s Vintage Grain c/othewhiskeynut

I’ve featured this single grain previously in a blog here. For a grain whiskey Egan’s delivers some punch both in flavour & style which didn’t go unnoticed by the audience. Most of them assumed it was a Scotch. 1st surprise of the evening.

I’d cheekily paired this with McDowell’s No 1 – the 2nd biggest selling brand of whisky in the world. This is actually a blend of Scotch, malt & neutral spirit – as it says on the label. Guinness Nigeria is also on the label – although McDowell’s is distilled in India by a company founded back in 1898 by a Scotsman unsurprisingly named McDowell.

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McDowell’s back label c/othewhiskeynut

Some 90% of all whiskey sold throughout the world is blended. So category ‘b’ is the real battle ground. The winner of the evening?

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Sean’s Whiskey c/othewhiskeynut

Well – being held in Sean’s Bar what else would you expect? But remember – this was a blind taste test and not all the participants had tried either of the entrants before.

The other bottle was named after an Irishman. Ernest Shackleton was born in Co Kildare in 1874 and went on to became a famous Antarctic Explorer. This blend I found a rather weak representation of a whisky he took to those frozen lands in the early 1900’s. My audience seemed to agree.

The single malts also had a clear winner. It gives me great pleasure to announce the wonders of this whiskey.

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26yo Irish Reserve c/othewhiskeynut

Aldi 26 Year Old Irish Reserve just keeps on giving.

I’d paired this with the Dalmore Valour which delivers quite a nice rich, dry port & sherry finish to the palate. It’s youthfulness probably let it down when compared to the depth of flavour of the Irish 26yo. On a price front however – they are comparable.

The last category contained spirit which is not currently available in both countries. Ireland has it’s single pot still whiskey made with a mash of malted and unmalted barley. While Scotland has just released it’s 1st rye for over 200 years. The winning margin in this case wasn’t as wide as previous categories – but a winner there was.

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Scottish Rye c/othewhiskeynut

The cleaner, bolder, more upfront spice hit of Arbikie Highland Rye gave Scotland it’s only winner of the evening. There were a few surprised faces during sampling on this one – and even more when it was revealed – but clearly rye is a style to be reckoned with – and I can’t wait for that 6 year old Kilbeggan rye to be released. Unfortunately Green Spot just didn’t hit the high notes in this round.

Of all the category winners – in fact of all the entrants – I’d asked for a favourite for the evening. The 67% majority vote took me a little by surprise.

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Aldi 26yo wins out! c/othewhiskeynut

What else can I say but congratulations to Aldi & all the team that were behind this amazing release.

The bottle was drained, the haggis was shared out, and the participant that turned out immaculately attired in a kilt was duly given a bottle of whisky by way of a prize.

I’d like to thank all those that attended. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and from comments on the evening, everyone else did too! Big thanks also to Sean’s Bar for hosting the event. By the sounds of it – we’ll be back for more!

Slàinte.

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Daftmill Distillery, Fife, Scotland.

I visited Daftmill Distillery back in August 2017 along with some family members who happen to live nearby.

The visit left me somewhat confused and perplexed, as well as being very impressed all at the same time!

Daftmill is a fully functioning whisky distillery specialising in producing Scottish single malt matured in either ex-bourbon or sherry casks. There is no visitors centre – arrangements have to be made with the owner to gain access to the farm on which the distillery sits.

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Step up to whisky! c/othewhiskeynut

The farm itself is off the main A91 Cupar to Auchtermuchty road, but there are no signposts pointing the way. When you do find the right farm track to enter, an impressive array of attractive stone built buildings – along with an almost obligatory glass fronted still house – greet you – as well as a welcoming Francis Cuthbert himself.

Our party of 4 were treated to a thoroughly full & informative tour of the premises. From the fields where the barley is grown to the bins used to introduce the malt to the mashtuns. Through the workings of the Forsyth stills and finally into the dunnage warehouse to sample the gorgeous whisky.

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Mash it up! c/othewhiskeynut

Francis was very open & honest about the whole operation and his passion for whisky shone through. Especially in the still house where I noted the squat bulbous stills and suggested the spirit would be heavy & rich because of that shape.

‘On the contrary’ I was rebuffed. Francis countered with a marvelous explanation of the distillers art that rather than still shape dictating the spirit style & flavour, it was down to the distiller by careful use of charge times, temperature control as well as the crucial spirit cuts that influenced the final distillate.

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Copper, steel & wood. c/othewhiskeynut

My praise of ‘farm to bottle’ distilling also took a bit of a knocking.

Originally Francis sent his farm grown grain to a local maltings in Kirkaldy. Sadly due to ‘rationalisation’ that plant closed & the grain had to go further afield. The new plant only accepted bigger batch amounts – which put more pressure on the farm – rather than batches from individual fields – it became batches from all the fields.

I mentioned Mark Reynier‘s plans for different malts from different farms providing a degree of terroir as well as differing taste. This was somewhat dismissed as a marketing ploy.

I don’t wholly agree.

Yes – it is a marketing ploy – but one that should be aspired to.

I haven’t tasted whisky from different barley – but I have tasted bourbon from different corn.

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Corn variety at Widow Jane c/othewhiskeynut

Widow Jane Distillery in New York used a variety of colourful corns to produce 4 bourbons with the same mash-bill, distilling process & maturation regime as possible. The only difference being the corn variety.  I must say I was extremely skeptical I would notice a taste difference. But I was proved wrong – it did make a difference – and a very enjoyable one at that too!

We moved into the still room. A magnificent shrine to copper, wood, glass & the mysteries (or not as the case may be) of distillation. Francis was in his element here. I was just a little perplexed that he clearly focused so much passion & attention to detail in this area of production as opposed to other areas.

Maturation in oak barrels is the final piece of the whisky jigsaw – or at least it was when I visited.

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One man & his whisky. c/othewhiskeynut

Now the wood policy at Daftmill was taken care off by a cooperage who supplied Grade A casks of ex-bourbon barrels from America & ex-sherry casks from Spain. What this means in practice is that the bourbon barrels are sourced from a number of different distilleries in America. There didn’t seem to be attention taken as to the source distillery for each individual barrel which would again result in slight taste differences.

This isn’t necessarily a problem. In fact by the time we got round to entering the bonded warehouse for that all important tasting, the 11 year old ex-bourbon single cask simply blew me away with it’s winning combination of rich vanilla & caramel notes combined with a lovely oakiness – as well as that gorgeous dry mouthfeel associated with cask strength whisky.

A similarly aged ex-sherry cask impressed even more with a soft sweetness contrasting with the oaky tannins of over a decade in wood. Francis suggested there was a musty note on the sherry cask –  which I found appealing – which should disappear with further ageing.

But here was the conundrum.

Daftmill is a wonderfully attractive distillery. It sits in the middle of a farm that grows the barley used for distillation of it’s stunning single malt whiskies, there is at least 12 years worth of stock AND it is run by the farmer that grows the barley who has a passion for that whisky. Yet there was no idea of a release date planned for the gorgeous spirit!

Or at least that’s what we were told at the time.

Because as of December 2017 an announcement was made to the effect that Berry Bros & Rudd – wine & spirits merchants, blenders & bottlers of good repute & reputation – had entered an agreement to release Daftmill whisky beginning in 2018!

Fantastic news!

I have every faith in the winning combination of Daftmill’s skills in distillation – together with Berry Bros & Rudd’s attention to detail in both ‘grain to glass’ ingredient control as well as a stricter wood policy – will not only release some stunning single malts in the months to come – but go on to produce award winning malts of distinction.

I eagerly await the first bottling.

Slàinte.

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I’d like to thank Francis at Daftmill for the hospitality shown during our visit. Congratulations to all at Daftmill Distillery & Berry Bros & Rudd for the partnership agreement. I doubt the negotiations were easy. Best wishes for the future success of all concerned.

 

Sheep Dip, 8 Year Old Pure Malt, 40%

Driving back down from the ferry terminal at Larne after my latest trip to Scotland, a meal break was in order.

Using the old Portadown, Monaghan, Cavan N55 route found us entering the Greville Arms Hotel in Granard for an early evening feed.

I was hoping they might have an old Michael Collins whiskey to sample given the Kitty Kiernan link. No such luck on that front.

They did have a bottle of the original 8 Year Old Pure Malt Sheep Dip blended malt however!

This is a soft, sweet, smooth & gently malty approachable blended malt that has proved popular over the years. It’s had as many owners as changes in labels during that time. This is an early incarnation with the MJ Dowdeswell & Co label before Spencerfield Spirit took it over then latterly Ian Macleod Distillers.

A lovely accompaniment to my fish and chips.

Sláinte.

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Arbikie Highland Rye, 48%

Scotland 1     :     Ireland 0

At least that’s the situation when it comes to the race for rye.

Despite Kilbeggan sitting on a wonderful 6 year old pot still rye – as tasted at Whiskey Live Dublin here – Arbikie have released a 2 year old Highland Rye.

Being relative newcomers – Arbikie are not bound by ‘tradition’, ‘custom’ or ‘expectation’. This Highland Rye exists outside of the box that is Scottish Whisky Regulations – time for a musical interlude!

As such there is no mention of ‘whisky’ on the label.

Yet rye has always been an integral part of the whisky scene both in Scotland – as well as Ireland – and what Arbikie have done is simply to re-interpret a ‘tradition’ that has been neglected for over a century.

As a self confessed ‘rye head’ I couldn’t pass this up. A bottle was duly ordered.

It’s a bit pricey for 500ml – but the proceeds of the first 100 bottles go to a Motor Neurone charity here.

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Scottish Rye c/othewhiskeynut

I like the simplistic clarity of the no nonsense label – including the large Arbikie logo common throughout their Gin & Vodka range.

I like that Arbikie are a ‘single estate distillery’ using ingredients grown on the estate farm & fields.

And I like the additional information shown on the attractive label; grain variety, field grown in, cask type.  Shades of Mark Reynier at Waterford’s terroir here.

But most of all – I simply love the whole drinking experience of this rye.

4 of us variously sampled this first Scottish rye for over 100 years – so the following is an amalgamation of our findings.

A wonderful floral bouquet on the nose, hints of varnish, a soft to medium classic white peppery rye spice, warming vanilla & caramel notes from the charred American oak casks.

The taste was suitably smooth, the youthful rye punch delightfully muted by the barley content which added a gentle malt & slight oily influence to the drying rye spices in the well balanced mix.

The finish coated my mouth in that invigorating warm yet dry prickly feel I so enjoy after a great dram.

Superb.

If you only drink one rye this year – make it Arbikie Highland Rye.

Not only does it encapsulate all the classic rye attributes I love – it also adds a unique Scottish mix with the homegrown rye & barley.

A stunning return for Scottish rye.

Sláinte.

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The Ship Tavern, Anstruther, Scotland.

When over in Scotland earlier this year I popped into a few bars to see what whiskies were on offer.

The very attractive Ship Tavern – which appropriately sits only a stones throw from the picturesque harbour in the fishing village of Anstruther on the East Neuk of Fife – didn’t disappoint.

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Ship Tavern whiskey selections c/othewhiskeynut

A pleasing variety of Scottish blends & single malts adorned the shelves – as well as a sprinkling of Irish blends,

Being in Fife – which has a few new distilleries waiting for their own spirit to mature – I was keen to sample a sourced blend for the local Eden Mill distillery near St Andrews.

And being in Scotland – you have to have a bit of tartan!

The Art Of The Blend is a trio – a 4th bottle was released later – of very attractively presented blended Scottish whiskies from unnamed sources that Eden Mill are using to showcase & practice their maturing and blending skills on.

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Art Of The Blend c/othewhiskeynut

No 1 is a bourbon cask matured blend of malts & grain. It didn’t really do much for me. A fairly soft, sweet standard entry level offering with subtle tones. Approachable I suppose.

No 2 was far more entertaining. Mainly as smoke had been introduced with the use of ex-Ardbeg casks in it’s maturation. This raised the whole character of the blend with distinctive peaty notes I enjoy very much that balanced the sweeter tones.

No 3 offered an even more powerful peat influence and was the most attractive – at least on paper – expression I was keen to taste. Clearly this corresponded with many other whiskey drinkers  thoughts as the bartender informed me the bottle they did have sold out almost immediately!

Whilst chatting – I asked how the Irish whiskey was going down.

Now there were only 3 offerings on the shelf from the Emerald Isle – the ubiquitous Jameson Original – which effectively is the brand on which the entire rise of the modern Irish whiskey revival started with – The Pogues Irish Whiskey by up and coming West Cork Distillers in partnership with Halewood Wine & Spirits and West Cork’s Bourbon Cask.

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The Pogues Irish Whiskey c/othewhiskeynut

‘Och The Pogues is a great wee dram, canny get enough o’ the stuff.’

If that’s not a testament to the resounding success of the new breed of Irish whiskey companies, blenders, bottlers & distilleries – I don’t know what is.

Sláinte.

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Hankey Bannister Original, 40%, Blended Scotch, NAS

After my previous experiences with entry level blends I was a bit apprehensive to approach this one.

But Hankey Bannister is widely available and having passed it by in my local Dunnes stores on numerous occasions my curiosity was eventually piqued – I also found a use for those 5 euro back vouchers!

I got a dose of the Whiskey Shivers before I tasted this one – which happens to be the name of this blogs featured band.

But this entry level blend wasn’t as bad as expected.

The nose is a bit corny. Which befits the high grain content used in the mix. Not my favourite flavour profile.

The taste is soft & smooth with a slight oiliness.

But the best bit is at the end where a decent hit of malt shines through on the palate with a lovely soft spiciness.

Just about makes this bargain purchase worthwhile.

Sláinte.

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Smokehead, Islay Single Malt, 43%

I always try to pick up some new whiskey – for me at least – when I’m out & about. I popped into the local Oddbins whilst in London recently & came out with this Smokehead miniature – well – it’s air travel friendly.

Contrary to a lot of what has been said regarding transparency in the Irish whiskey world – this bottle of Islay Single Malt doesn’t say which distillery made it. It does say who bottled it – Ian Macleod Distillers – who do own distilleries – but not on Islay.

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Smokin’ c/othewhiskeynut

Islay is renowned the world over for it’s peaty whisky and Smokehead is a brand which exudes that quality. It’s also proudly a mystery malt – along with others like Finlaggan & Aldi’s Glen Marnoch – in that the actual distillery isn’t disclosed – leading to much speculation & guessing – which is part of the fun.

I also crave a bit of peat influence in my whiskey. It adds a bit of punch & vitality to the glass. Much like these French rockers who also go by the name Smokehead.

The nose has that lovely rich peaty smoke which enwraps me with it’s charms. A hint of caramel jars with me however and I immediately get suspicious of added e150. This was later confirmed by an internet search here.

There’s quite a nice oily mouthfeel on the taste. It reminds me of a dark heavy Bunnahabhain – although most pundits reckon the malt is Ardbeg – with a lovely spiciness too.

The smoke lingers on the finish & just makes me want to dive in for more.

Overall it’s a decent smoky peat dram. The caramel gives it a dark & heavy feel rather than the crisp & clear taste of Peat Monster by Compass Box. It’s also way more balanced than Glen Marnoch where the smoke only  just rises above the morass of caramel in the mix.

Sláinte.

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Compass Box, Peat Monster, 46%, blended malt.

A 60th birthday party in London was the excuse to pop over the water for the weekend.

The balmy weather – which Storm Ophelia had pushed up from the South – allowed us to have our Sunday lunch alfresco. Our chosen venue was the recently refurbished Great Northern Railway Tavern in Hornsey.

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A fine facade! c/othewhiskeynut

A few of us recalled one of our last visits to this grand venue – a 30th birthday party – and wondered where all the years went.

Along with the expected Fullers offerings – the Great Northern is now a Fullers pub – there is a varied range of fine craft beers too. What tempted me however was the Compass Box Peat Monster whisky which was situated on the back row of the small yet varied spirits display.

The bottle label itself is a very attractive piece of work & the rich clear peaty aromas emanating from my glass certainly pointed to an equally attractive whisky inside.

Compass Box is the well respected blending & bottling whisky making company of John Glaser who sources the best malt & grain whiskies from around Scotland – ages them in barrels – also carefully selected – and expertly blends them together to produce a range of fine tasting whiskies highlighting the art of the blender.

The Peat Monster is certainly an angel of a whisky.

The familiar peat nose is crisp and clear – but not overpowering.

The taste is suitably smooth and silky. The peat pulls you in & opens up into some beautiful spice notes.

The long & gentle finish wafts all the perfectly balanced notes around in your palate before they fade away.

Bottled at 46% with no chill filtering & no added colour – Peat Monster certainly raises the bar for how good a blended malt can be.

Simply stunning.

Sláinte.

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Aberlour, A’Bunadh, Highland Single Malt, 61.2%

Cask strength whiskies have a certain appeal – that full blown mouthfeel & explosion of taste – but should come with a bit of a warning that perhaps plays the old Electric Six classic ‘Danger! High Voltage’ as you pop the cork!

At 61.2% this Oloroso matured monster of a single malt certainly packs a punch.

It’s one of those whiskies that hit the back of my throat & numbed my tongue with the high alcoholic strength before subduing to deliver some of it’s rich dry sherry notes.

With water I found it a rather muted sherry bomb of a dram which lacked the shine of the collective high praise this bottle attracts.

When I can enjoy other cask strength offerings neat which deliver their rich flavours without the burn –

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Cool Corsair Triple Smoke c/othewhiskeynut

like Corsair Triple Smoke at 62.7%

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The joy of peat! c/othewhiskeynut

and Octomore 10yo 2nd Edition at 57.3%

being two that spring to mind – then I’m afraid when I find one that needs water – I’ll mark it down.

Neat I found the A’Bunadh rather raw.

With water I found it a bit bland.

When it comes to whiskey reviews – Don’t Believe The Hype!

Find out what you like for yourself & stick to it.

I think I got sucked in by all the hype on this one & left feeling disappointed.

Sláinte.

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Pittenweem Arts Festival, Whiskey & Beer, Fife.

We’ve been coming to the Pittenweem Arts Festival for well over a decade. We being Mrs Whiskey & myself.

It holds a certain draw for the both of us ever since we stumbled upon the event whilst up visiting friends & family.

Nestled as it is in the picturesque & historic fishing village of Pittenweem in the East Neuk Of Fife about an hours drive from Edinburgh – which is visible on a good day across the Firth Of Forth from the harbour walls.

Strolling through the numerous venues my eye was drawn by all the whiskey & beer connections within the varied art on display. Scotland after all is the world’s top whisky producing nation as well as having some fine beers.

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Ovenstone109 c/othewhiskeynut

A new venue for the festival opened this year just a short drive up the road from the village in a place called Ovenstone. Formerly a tractor showroom, the space is now the home to Ovenstone 109 Brewery – the East Neuk’s newest craft brewery!

For the duration of the festival there was a rich diversity of art on display – paintings, jewelry, sculpture & for my delight – craft beer. Well isn’t brewing an art?

I got chatting to Nick – the man behind the brewery – and the video above – and sampled his dark IPA beer. Now I have to admit IPA isn’t my style – but it was crisp, fresh & hoppy & went down well. It was so fresh it hadn’t even been bottled or canned such was the rush to get it out for the festival. I certainly look forward to developments in the years to come.

Back in Pittenweem itself we made our way to the harbour area & the always amusing and entertainingly attractive ceramic designs of Craig Mitchell. One of his pieces caught my eye.

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Scooter still? c/othewhiskeynut

I’ve seen some micro distilleries in my time – but this one perched on the back of a scooter definitely takes it to a different level.

Just don’t drink & drive kids. It’s not big & it’s not clever – ceramic man might fall to pieces!

A little further along the shore Susan McGill had a stunning larger than life modern interpretation of the popular Oor Wullie cartoon character.

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Oor Wullie c/othewhiskeynut

I just had to go in for a closer look!

Some of the intricate design work seemed familiar – then it dawned on me – that lovely bottle of dark, malty & heavy Scotch Ale I had the other night from the St Andrews Brewing Co?

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Eighty Bob c/othewhiskeynut

Not only does Susan do the artwork for the brewery’s lovely range of beers – she has also collaborated with independent whisky bottlers D R Scotch Whisky to release Ae Fond Kiss. A whisky celebrating the writings of Scotland’s favourite national poet – Rabbie Burns.

And if you were in the market for some glasses to drink that whisky with – glass blower Elin Isaksson just happened to have a pair of hand blown chunky whisky glasses for the job. As well as her own whisky pairing to boot!

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Fill ’em up! c/othewhiskeynut

I didn’t indulge on this occasion – but all this art was making me thirsty. So we repaired to the nearby West End Bar for a display of the art of distillation!

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West End Bar whisky shelves c/othewhiskeynut

Bowmore 12 won out in this contest.

I was expecting a peatier punch from this Islay single malt. What I got was a smooth, lightly smoky, sweetly sherried approachable dram. More of a kiss from Bowmore!

If you haven’t been to the Pittenweem Arts Festival before – do visit.

You won’t be disappointed!

Sláinte.

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Cow at top by Kev Paxton!