Perhaps it was because I grew up with a father who has always been a single malt aficionado; my experience in Scotland has definitely been a whiskey flavoured one.
My father drank whiskey, and I always held him to be a classy distinguished man, so I immediately categorized whiskey to be the same and by extension, Scotland as well. As a family we’ve always been the type of people to try and experience as much of the country we visit as possible, at our own pace, so we rented a car, loaded up our baggage, and headed north from Edinburgh into the Scottish highlands.
Much like the world of whiskey, Scotland was a completely new and uncharted territory for me. Not only was it my first time in the country, it was also the northern most latitude I had ever travelled to. As scotch sits in a glass with its rich and bold colour, so does the landscape of the Scottish terrain. The very geography of the country is unlike any I have ever seen. There were rolling hills and lush greens, but driving through the countryside, it felt as though I had never seen such landscape in my life. Unlike the picturesque mountain vistas of Switzerland and Austria that tourists over the years have flocked to, the nature in Scotland seemed both raw and tender at the same time with a roaring pride which made for quite a unique viewing experience. Whether it was the rugged green valleys like Glen Nevis or the expansive and rippling lakes like Loch Ness, there was always an otherworld like quality to the scene, an almost dark fantasy like quality with its softened light from overcast skies and rolling dramatic fog that engulfs everything in its path. Whiskey is a strong drink, and from the sheer awe-inspiring beauty of the Scottish topography, you can tell that Scotland is a country with strong features too.
As a fairly inexperienced drinker, I was told that first time drinkers of the liquor would find that it gives way to a slight burning sensation down the throat. Not in a painful way, but in the sense that it was a drink to keep you warm in the winter months. This warmth wasn’t only found in the drinks though. On our way around the highlands we found genuine warmth in the kindness of the people we met. Whether in big distilleries like the Macallan or the small Oban distillery, people were accommodating and clearly very passionate about their whiskey. But it wasn’t just the employees of the distilleries that were educated on all things whiskey.
While driving we stopped in a small town between Aberfeldy and Elgin where we met two men in a local pub who gave us a complete rundown on the best whiskies to try, and the subtle nuances which distinguishes one from the other, from the view of a native Scotsman, and even answered questions we had, like why the Macallan 10 was discontinued (it wasn’t, Macallan just didn’t expect it to be such a popular bottle so their supply wasn’t enough to meet the unexpectedly high demand!).
Some people say that adding water to whiskey dilutes the experience. These are usually the same people who get very upset when it starts raining while they’re out on holiday. Personally, I’ve never minded a little bit of extra water thrown into the mix. When on holiday I’ve always thought that the rain makes things seem softer, buffs out harsh edges and gives the world an almost romantic haze. There was a light drizzle as we reached Portree, a small fishing village in the Isle of Skye and as we walked past the fish and chip shop and the local pub, the rain almost gave the experience of an authenticity that would have been remiss otherwise.
As the local bagpipe band adorned in their kilts came down the main road for their weekly march, the rain coupled with the distinctive skilled sound of highland bagpipes made for an incredibly genuine viewing of Scottish culture.
In all I found that Scotland is a must for anyone with a real thirst for travel. Just as one peg of whiskey invariably leads to a second, I left Scotland with a strong urge to come back for a second round. Drinking in the sights and sounds of Scotland and the locally made delicacies was an unparalleled experience. Scotland is as intoxicating as its whiskey!
Written byAslesha Kumar
Currently a rising second year at the University of California, Berkeley with an intention of majoring in Political Economy and a minor in Peace and Conflict Studies, with an interest in pursuing a career in international law, international relations, politics or the public sector, human rights, or social welfare.