14 Nov 2014
Gale force winds whistled through our windows. “I’m not sure about walking in this weather, imagine doing a scree scramble is this wind”. Was I being a coward: it’s just wind.
The local weather forecast report:
Wind: southeasterly. 70mph/113kmph with gusts up to 90mph/145kmph
Effect on body: considerable buffeting from low levels, any mobility very difficult on higher areas. Severe wind chill.
Temperature: high of 4C, with windchill minus 10
Forget walking. These are ideal conditions to take a whiskey distillery tour!
Talisker Distillery is the only single malt Scotch whiskey distillery on Skye. It’s huddled on the banks of Loch Harport at the base of the Cuillin mountains, where we plan to walk if/when the weather changes.
The first part of the drive was directly towards the giant purple Cuillins. Clouds swirled and billowed above the peaks.
“I’m glad we’re not walking today.” David said leaning forward and looking up through the windscreen. At Sligachan, we turned onto a smaller road that wove along the valley floor skirting the range until dropping down to a wild and windswept Lochan. Choppy waves ripped across the surface and clouds moved overhead.
The distillery is tucked into a sheltered corner of the Lock, sitting over a rapidly flowing river, which is an essential part to the process I later discovered. We had a few minutes before the tour started so we wandered over to the shore. Gulls glided on the wind.
Our tour guide was a young Scottish girl with a lilting accent and an excellent understanding of the process and complexities of whiskey flavours. We walked through a series of different parts of the distilling process from the barley smoking and crushing stage through to the boiling, fermenting, distilling and aging stages. From one area to the next the smell went from warm and delicious, to smokey and amazingly intoxicating. We took in great lungfuls. It smelt so good.
The double distilling part was the most interesting, done in strangely shaped copper pots and pipes. I walked in with absolutely no idea about how whiskey is made and walked out with a much better idea.
At the end of the tour we entered the tasting room. Our guide poured out a sample of their new ‘expression’ called Talisker Storm. We were introduced to the flavours we would taste: Sweet warmth on the nose followed by peppery, briny and smoky peat. As instructed, I cradled the small bell-shaped glass in my palm and gently swirled the amber liquid around, to warm it. And then I took my first ever sip of a single malt scotch whiskey, from the mother source on the Isle of Skye.
Liquid fire singed my nostrils, a blazing trail roared down to my core and ignited a furnace. My eyes watered and I gasped for breath.
“It sure grabs your attention” giggled the guide.
“I’m buying some!” Dave said excitedly.
The bracing wind was the perfect contrast to the fire in my chest, as we left the distillery. On the road back we passed a short walk signposted to a hill top war memorial. We parked the car next to the local chapel and climbed into our waterproofs.
It was an easy climb up to the hilltop overlooking the loch and Cuillins. And the wind! Clouds raced, grasses whipped flat, great gusts ripped across the surface of the loch.
“I’m glad we’re not walking in this!” Shouted David over the thundering gale.
So this is what 70mph wind feels like. I loved it! It was exhilarating. On top of the grassy hill I leaned into the wind, arms out enjoying the pressure. Would it support my weight if I found the right angle? It felt like flying. Is this what skydiving feels like, I wondered giggling like a little kid.
Meanwhile David had continued onto the memorial and was wondering what was taking me so long. He turned and saw me playing in the wind and came back to join me. He looked like a base jumper.
On the walk back down to the car, it started to rain a little. Just a few drops but they stung like bullets when the hit my exposed cheeks.
“Ouch! Let’s get back to the car!”
Back home David cooked a delicious curry for dinner after which we sampled the 16 year old single malt David had bought: Lagavulin. I’m clearly not a whiskey drinker. It tastes like iodine to me. David was determined to understand it and to enjoy it. I’ll get back to you with the results.