Sunday, October 15, 2017

Whisky distilleries I have known...

Although Bill and I usually make a point of going places on the weekends, he had to leave for Africa this morning.  Fortunately, I happened to be inspired to write today's post thanks to a thread in one of the local Facebook groups.  A woman wrote that her husband loves scotch whisky and was interested in visiting some in Scotland while they are living in Germany.

Bill and I have so far been to eight whisky distilleries, entirely thanks to our sailings on Hebridean Island Cruises' Hebridean Princess.  Since Hebridean Princess mostly sails around Scotland and only occasionally ventures to other lands, there is a heavy emphasis on Scotland's national drink on that ship.  Each of our four voyages on Hebridean Princess has included at least one stop at a whisky distillery.  We have even been to two of them twice.

Last year, Bill and I signed up for "The Spirit of Scotland" trip Hebridean was doing.  It was a whisky themed cruise, which meant we would be visiting different distilleries every day.  Last month, we cruised to Northern Ireland and Ireland and that trip also included a stop at a distillery in Scotland.  Although I don't expect my readers to visit whisky distilleries via cruise ship, I thought today's post could be a "one stop shop" for a look at the ones Bill and I have seen.  

One thing you will learn if you come to Scotland intent on tasting whisky, is that there are several different styles of scotch whisky: Highland, Lowland, Speyside, Campbeltown, and Islay.  Bill and I visited Edinburgh at the end of our first Scotland trip in November 2012.  Although we had already been to a couple of distilleries, it was at the Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh that we got a really good introduction to the different styles of scotches out there, as well as the many different whiskeys made around the world.  If your trip involves a stop in Edinburgh, I would highly recommend going there first and visiting the Scotch Whisky Experience for a primer on the different types of Scottish spirits you will encounter.  You'll also get to see a very impressive collection of scotches and even try a few.



Just some of the huge collection at the Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh.


The world's largest bottle of Single Malt Scotch Whisky is at the Scotch Whisky Experience.




Here goes...


The Isle of Arran Distillery is, naturally, located on the Isle of Arran in Lochranza, at the northern end of the island.  The area around the distillery is absolutely beautiful and remote.  Arran is the first whisky distillery Bill and I ever visited and we have since been there twice.  Founded in 1995, the Isle of Arran Distillery has a very nice visitor's center with a gift shop and a cafe.  Although you can drop in and take a tour, it is recommended that you book in advance, particularly during the summer.  Arran whiskies are excellent, but I am especially fond of Arran Gold, which is kind of like Bailey's Irish Cream.  Tours are conducted all day and cost 8 GBP each.  


The first casks of whisky made at Isle of Arran Distillery.  It was in 1998 when the first casks were opened, since it takes three years to make whisky.


Sorry my finger got caught by the camera.  This is the facade of the distillery.  We have toured it twice; both times, our guides were kilted gentlemen with delightful Scottish brogues who introduced us to their product.  When we visited last, in March 2016, the flags were at half mast because the founder, Harold Currie, had just died.  Harold Currie was the former director of Chivas.  


Springbank Distillery makes some of my favorite whiskies.  It's also the other distillery Bill and I have visited twice.  I always enjoy visiting Springbank, because it's one of just a few distilleries left in Campbeltown, Scotland.  There was a time when Campbeltown was home to many distilleries, but many of them closed at the start of the 20th century.  Today, Campbeltown is host to Springbank, Glen Scotia, and Glengyle.  

Springbank is a very old style distillery and uses a lot of old fashioned equipment to create its spirits.  It's also the only distillery in Scotland that performs every step of the whisky making process, from malting the barley to bottling the spirit.  For that reason alone, I think it's worth a stop.  An added benefit is that there's a great whisky shop just steps away from the distillery.  Tours are offered several times a day Monday through Friday and twice daily on Saturdays.  They have several different levels of tours available, too-- everything from a basic trip through to distillery (7 GBP) to one that includes a personal tour with whisky legend Frank McHardy and lunch (100 GBP).





A fewshots of the Springbank Distillery.  The picture of the barrels was from our 2012 visit.  Last year, they did not show us the warehouse.
     

3. Glengoyne Distillery

We got a pretty special deal when we visited the Glengoyne Distillery in Dumgoyne, just north of Glasgow.  The ship had arranged for us to be able to blend our own whisky.  A simple tour is 9.50 GBP, but apparently we were all booked on the Malt Master Tour (65 GBP).  We all sat around a table and took whiskys from five different cask to make our own individual blends.  Bill and I still have our own blends.  We did taste them a couple of months ago, but haven't had the heart to finish them yet.  Glengoyne is also notable because the distillery is located just north of the line that distinguishes Highland and Lowland whiskys.  Glengoyne's stills are located in the Highland region, while just across the street, the maturing casks rest in the Lowlands.  This is another place well worth a visit if you're into scotch.


I was standing in the Lowlands taking a picture of fellow passengers in the Highlands.


A shot of our "malt master" class.  It was pretty cool!



Different types of oaks used for the barrels.


And the resulting whisky...  Notice the bottles on the bottom have less in them.  This is known as the "angel's share", and it's part of the process of evaporation that occurs when whisky is made.


Laphroaig Distillery is located in Port Ellen, on the Isle of Islay, an island every scotch drinker must visit.  Islay is home to a whole bunch of whisky distilleries.   It's also a very beautiful place.  The Laphroaig Distillery and brand is currently owned by Beam Suntory, which is a subsidiary of the Japan's Suntory.  Of all of the distilleries I've visited so far, I think Laphroaig's visitor center is among the most impressive.  They have a really interesting exhibit you can look at while you wait for your tour to start.  They allow visitors to try the wort, too, which I recommend doing just once.  Just make sure they offer it to you in a disposable cup.  Trust me on this.  You should get a cup of your own at this distillery.

At the end of our tour, I distinctly remember they gifted us with souvenir whisky glasses.  A basic tour costs 10 GBP, though they have more detailed tours available at correspondingly higher prices.  You can even try your hand at cutting peat if you want to.




Barley being malted.  You will also see this at Springbank and Kilchoman Distilleries.


The Laphroaig Distillery also offers a great view of Port Ellen.



Kilchoman is one of the newest distilleries.  It opened in 2005 and is situated on a beautiful farm in a rural part of Islay.  It has the distinction of being the first distillery to be built on Islay in 124 years and, until recently, it was the westernmost distillery in Scotland.  That honor is now claimed by Abhainn Dearg Distillery on the Isle of Lewis.  Kilchoman also does its own malting and is one of only six distilleries in Scotland doing traditional floor maltings.  I really enjoyed touring Kilchoman, which also offers a liqueur as well as several different whiskys.  A basic tour at Kilchoman costs 7 GBP, while a premium tour runs 30 GBP and includes a tutored tasting.

One thing I do want to mention about this tour is that we were offered a taste of the wort there.  They passed around a communal container and, I'm pretty sure, that is where I picked up norovirus.  I got very sick with diarrhea and vomiting.  Fortunately, it happened in the wee hours of our very last night on the ship, so it didn't devastate our cruise.  Still, it was a really stupid mistake on my part and one I hope to spare others from making.  It's especially important to be mindful of hygiene when you're on a cruise.


Floor malting.


Our guide pours drams for us to try.  I remember enjoying a very fresh scone on the way back to the ship.  The distillery has a nice cafe where one can have lunch.


Jura Distillery is located on the Isle of Jura, a tiny community that has only one road, one pub, and one distillery.  Only 200 people live on the Isle of Jura, which makes it a very interesting place to visit.  I remember our guide explaining to us that at Jura, it's especially possible to see the effects whisky distilleries have on trees.  All of the trees near Jura Distillery were black.  Apparently, in the United Kingdom, the authorities can tell how much whisky is being distilled simply by looking at the trees.  Although I was getting a little fatigued of distilleries when we visited, I do remember thinking Jura's history was especially interesting.  Tours cost 6 GBP and afterwards, you can visit the one pub on the island.


Jura's Distillery.  I'm not sure they have a grocery store on Jura, but they sure do have whisky.



Oban Distillery was the last one we visited on our "scotch whisky" tour.  It's a very compact place because it was built next to a cliff.  Originally established in 1794, Oban Distillery is actually older than the town of Oban itself.  I distinctly remember our guide telling us about Oban Distillery's 14 year old malt, which is very well-regarded.  Three years ago, they also started selling a non age statement whisky called Little Bay.  Oban is one of the smallest distilleries in Scotland, mainly because when they were excavating the cliff behind the distillery, they found human remains.  Also, people started building on top of the cliff, which made expansion in its current location very difficult.



Oban Distillery also has a very informative exhibit available to peruse while you wait for your tour.


Finally, we have Bruichladdich, another Islay distillery located in Port Charlotte on the Isle of Islay.  Bill and I visited Bruichladdich last month while we were on our Northern Ireland cruise.  We were originally supposed to visit Bowmore, but that got cancelled.  Then we were going to visit Lagavulin, but then our itinerary got switched around.  So that's how we ended up at Bruichladdich, which also makes The Botanist gins.  This distillery is another one I think is well worth seeing if only because of the very cool old equipment they still use.  One of the mashtuns is from the Victorian era and is one of only a few still in existence and the only one on the island.  They also use a still from 1881, which was when the distillery was founded.  And they have a still called Ugly Betty that is used for making gin.  This distillery also has a very colorful and interesting history best told by someone who sounds like a Scot.

We found the distillery to be very liberal about allowing tastings.  Our guide told us that if there was anything under 200 GBP we wanted to try, just let her know.  They have a really nice shop, too.  I brought home a beautiful wool blanket from there.




Very old equipment... this is from the Victorian era.



The two pictures above show the different ages of the washbacks.


Ugly Betty



1881!

If this post inspires you to visit any distilleries, I encourage you to bring a designated driver or hire a cab.  You don't want to be driving drunk, especially in a place like Islay, which has a lot of narrow roads with tons of potholes.  Also, presuming that most of my readers are not used to driving on the left, it would be especially risky to drive after tasting whisky at the distilleries.  

I think the way Bill and I visited these distilleries was pretty much ideal.  We had a coach that took us to them, so we were free to enjoy as much as we wanted.  On our whisky tour, we enjoyed the services of John Harbour, a professional tour guide.   Mr. Harbour was engaged by Hebridean Island Cruises for us and was with us the whole week, but you can also book him privately.  I would highly recommend him because he's very knowledgable and will handle the driving.  Here's a link to his Facebook page.     

Although I'm not sure if Hebridean Island Cruises is going to be offering the Scotch Whisky tour again, I would recommend looking to them if your budget allows.  It's a marvelous way to see Scotland, albeit not kid friendly and very expensive.  We did have a blast, though, and I don't think I will ever forget how scotch whisky is made after seeing all of those distilleries!  

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Shrimp salad and brats at Luz Bistro in Nagold...

Apologies for the fact that today's review is of a place Bill and I have enjoyed several times since we've been living near Nagold.  We had really beautiful weather today and Bill decided he needed to drag me away from the computer for lunch.  It was late in the afternoon and we knew Luz Bistro in Nagold would offer food for those of us who don't eat lunch at noon.  We have eaten at Luz enough times to know that the food and service would be good.  With the unseasonably warm and sunny weather, we knew we couldn't go wrong today.  Bill is also leaving for a business trip tomorrow and will be gone a few days, so we knew we had to do something this afternoon.

We decided to enjoy the terrace, which was open and unshaded.  Personally, I would have liked it if a couple of umbrellas had been open for those of us who are light skinned, light haired, and light eyed. I am generally rather sensitive to the sun, but I'm particularly sensitive right now.  For some reason, my eyes have been giving me a lot of trouble.  I think it's due to allergies.  My dog, Zane, has the same problem and actually went to the vet today because one of his eyes is all puffy and bloodshot.  I have the same problem, but I haven't been to an eye doctor yet.  We're still looking for one, if anyone has suggestions  ;-)

It was about 2:30pm when we got to the restaurant.  That's when they have their short menu, which basically consists of lighter or simpler fare.  They have Wiener Schnitzel, a couple of salads, bratwurst, and flammkuchen, as well as desserts.  I was a little hungry, but not ravenous.  For the second week in a row, I went with a salad.  What an interesting trend for me!


We ordered a bottle of gray burgundy (a pinot gris) from the restaurant's proprietor.  It was nice enjoying white wine in the sun, even if there was a guy smoking a stogie near us.


I think Bill had been planning on having beer, but I talked him into the wine, which he enjoyed.  It was 26 euros for the bottle.

There was a lady sitting behind me who was speaking rapid fire German with an Irish accent, which Bill immediately picked up on.  I was reminded of earlier this week, as I watched old ER episodes on iTunes and a guy was on there speaking Armenian with an American accent.  I don't pretend to be fluent in Armenian by any stretch, but I did live there for over two years and had to use the language. It's funny to hear it spoken with an American accent, although the actor speaks better than I ever will!  He was clearly born and raised in California, though, where there are many Americans who are ethnic Armenians and learn the language.  I ran into quite a few of them twenty years ago when I lived in Armenia.  They were coming there to go to dental or medical school.  "Western" Armenian is different than "Eastern" Armenian, though, and I was kind of proud to be able to tell the difference.  Especially since I have both a former Armenian teacher and one of my former Armenian students as Facebook friends.  

Enough about my time in Armenia... on to the food.  I didn't take a lot of pictures today because I was updating my phone during lunch and I prefer to use the phone for restaurant reviews because it's somewhat less conspicuous.  Maybe it's because I was born in the 1970s, but I feel weird taking pictures of food in restaurants.  But I also know they are an essential part of my reviews.  So feast your eyes...


This was my huge shrimp salad, which came with garlic bread (which wasn't all that garlicky).  The salad was really nice, though.  It included four perfectly clean, generously sized, grilled shrimp.  I couldn't finish this.  It was a lot of roughage covered with a very pleasing creamy dressing.  It reminded me a little of Ranch... perhaps slightly more delicately flavored.  I had lettuce, cucumbers, and corn to go with the shrimp.  I don't usually go for a lot of dressing on my salads, but this was pretty perfect.  Not too much and not too little.  It was priced at just under 16 euros.


Bill had bratwurst with potato salad.  I tasted his sausage, which was grilled to perfection and came with mustard and bread.  It was very good, although perhaps a little heavy for such a pretty day.  This would be great in colder weather.  Bill said he wished he'd had the salad, although the sausage and salad were tasty.

All told, our bill came to about 61 euros before the tip.  The ladies who took care of us have waited on us before and were very professional, as usual.  It's always a pleasure dining at Luz Bistro/Alte Post in Nagold.  We're going to have to go back soon for an evening in their full scale restaurant like we had last spring.

If you live near Nagold, Luz Bistro is a nice place to have a "grown up" lunch at any time of the afternoon.  It's really nice that they're so close to where we live.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Using travel reviews to decide when to book a place to stay...

Last night, I decided to do a little shopping for our next trip.  There are several places I want to visit.  Some places are more urgent than others are.  For example, I really want to get to Berlin before we leave Germany.  Other places are more "bucket list" type spots.


Hmm...

One place I was really considering visiting was a B&B in the Champagne region in France.  I had found the B&B the last time we lived here, but we never got around to visiting.  Years later, I see they're still in business and they have more reviews than ever.  Most of the reviews are glowing, though they did get a few that were less than stellar.

I do pay close attention to comments left by previous guests, but I pay even closer attention to the responses left by the hosts.  I believe that anyone in the hospitality business should realize that sometimes people aren't going to like what you offer.  Sometimes they will leave negative comments.  No one can please everyone all the time, so it is what it is.  However, when a host's comments are snarky our overly offended, I tend to want to steer clear of that property.  Such was the case with the B&B I mentioned earlier in this post, a place that currently has an overall score of 8.2 on Booking.com.

Have a look at this comment left by a guest.


A review from 2012...

As someone who has been mistaken for pregnant before, I could definitely feel this lady's pain.  It's just one of those things better left unmentioned.  I can't blame her for being upset.  Maybe some would accuse her of being overly sensitive.  Maybe I might even give the owner the benefit of the doubt, too.  But then I read his response.


Clearly, her review pissed him off and he felt the need to retaliate by referring to her as "sensitive" and vaguely accusing her of stretching the truth.

I have to admit, reading the "sensitive lady's" review made me decide not to book this particular B&B.  When I go on trips, the last thing I want to deal with is offensive remarks from a host.  I see similarly snarky remarks the owner left on other lowly rated reviews that make me think he may be a bit of a jerk.

I made a similar decision not to book a highly acclaimed property in Amsterdam because of comments left by the proprietors.  Here's an example.


And the manager's response is below.


There are actually a number of snarky comments like this one on Trip Advisor for this particular hotel.  The manager seems kind of "colorful".  

I can totally understand why people in the hospitality business want to defend their product.  However, being in the hospitality business means actually being hospitable.  Sometimes that means biting your tongue.  I distinctly remember reading reviews of this hotel and wondering if I should book it just to see if the manager would get "snotty" with me.  Then I realized that Amsterdam has lots of hotels to choose from and why would I book one in search of a really bad time?

Granted, sometimes people do complain about stupid shit.  But when a hotel proprietor gets caught with their pants down, it's probably best not to get too snippy about the guests who catch them.  We once stayed at a B&B in Key West, Florida.  It was not a bad place.  For awhile after our stay, I read the reviews left by other guests.  One guy, a man from Australia, took pictures of the mattress in the room where he stayed.  It appeared that someone had peed on it.  He posted the picture on TripAdvisor and one of the proprietors came back very defensively instead of apologetically.  Basically, he claimed he was too poor to either have the mattress cleaned or replace it.  That may very well be the case, but the guest's complaint was entirely valid.  I see now, it's been removed from the reviews.

It's not as easy to find reviews of self-catering places.  I do pay close attention to what people say on Booking.com when I use that site to reserve a place.  I am even more careful to pay close attention to any management responses.  Fortunately, when I have left negative reviews, most of the responses have been professional.  I am not too hard to please anyway, though, even though I do enjoy writing the odd vent now and again.  It's probably best to keep things civil by all means.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Sausages at the Sindelfinger Paulaner Bar...

Today, Bill and I decided to take an exciting trip to Panzer to pick up a few things.  I bought some new makeup, a couple of dog toys, a couple of picture frames to replace two that broke, and a new Bose SoundTouch 20.  I am now fruitlessly trying to entertain myself getting the new SoundTouch working and wishing things were as simple as they were when I was a kid.  Back then, we pleased ourselves with cassettes and CDs.

After we did our shopping, we decided to go into Sindelgfingen and try the Paulaner Bar.  It's right across the street from the big Stern Center and close to the Turkish supermarket on the main drag into town.  I had spotted the Paulaner Bar on an earlier visit to Sindelfingen and thought it looked interesting.  The restaurant doesn't have much of a Web site, but we did notice that it's open from 11:00am until midnight every day.  It also has some dedicated parking spots in a garage around the corner.  The spots also appear to be free of charge, although you must use your Parkschein.


There's a pleasant looking outdoor area that I suspect will be history as the weather gets colder.

So, anyway, we showed up at about 1:00pm.  We opened the door and noticed a few tables were occupied.  A cheerful looking young woman sporting a dirndl greeted us as we took a seat.  We were invited to choose whichever table we wanted.  I noticed there was a cozy looking bar, but since the place wasn't very busy, we took one of the smaller tables.  It appeared to seat about six people.


The vantage point of the bar from our table.

The inside of the Paulaner bar is kind of dimly lit and, if I'm honest, a little depressing.  It could be because it was so quiet today.  A lot of people are probably enjoying the last day of the of Canstatter Volksfest and, let's face it, there are plenty of places where one can enjoy a German repast in these parts.  Nevertheless, although the ambiance was a little depressing today, the inside of the restaurant is kind of quaint, if not a bit grungy.


Bill and I enjoyed a couple of weizens while we decided on what to eat...

Naturally, this restaurant has the kind of food you'd expect at a German beer bar.  There are sausages, salads, schnitzels, schweinsaxen, sauerbraten, soups...  yeah, it's pretty much a plethora of German specialties beginning with the letter S.  Bill was thinking about having a Hawaii Toast when I told him I wasn't feeling like having a big lunch.  But then the waitress told him they couldn't make Hawaii Toast today.  We both settled for sausages.


Bill had brats with brot. pictured below.  He said the brats were actually pretty nice.  They were well seasoned and fresh and there was plenty to satisfy him.  



I went with the Weiss Wurst.  These two little white sausages were served in broth with a pretzel (pictured below).  The only thing missing was mustard.  Likewise, this was plenty, and cheap, to boot.  I think my selection was under five euros.


I noticed the Paulaner Bar participates in the Nette Toilette program.  Basically, what that means is that they don't mind if you come into the restaurant to pee if you're walking around town.  Some towns in Germany have adopted this program.  Restaurants get paid by the city to let people use their toilets.  That way, the taxpayers don't have to pay to build and maintain public toilets, restaurants get more people coming in and possibly ordering something, and fewer people pee outside.  I think it's a great program.  The only other local area I've seen the Nette Toilette signs is Calw, though I know this is something that is done around Germany.  


This sign is from Calw, but the ones in other areas look the same.

After our round of beer and sausages, we decided to head home.  On the way out of Sindelfingen, we ran into a large crowd of motorcycle riders.  Below are a couple of pictures I snapped of the action.  Unfortunately, I missed getting one of the guys dressed in pink bunny suits.  You just never know what you're going to see when you drive in this area.



Anyway, our lunch today was pretty low key.  The food was fine and the service was cheerful and pleasant.  The mood in the Paulaner Bar was pretty downcast, but that could have to do with extenuating circumstances.  It's probably a lot livelier on a Friday or Saturday night.  I'd say it's not a bad place to go for cheap eats in Sindelfingen, although Funzel probably has more selection and better quality food.  If I were taking someone to a German place in Sindelfingen, I'd probably pick Funzel over the Paulaner bar in Sindelfingen; the Paulaner Bar in downtown Stuttgart is a bit better.