Showing posts with label Scotland. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Scotland. Show all posts

Thursday, January 16, 2014

A Genuine Scottish Send-Off with Royal Salute

Waking up in a castle was certainly not something I’d experienced before and Ballindalloch was all about the royal treatment.

I was dressed and ready for breakfast in the formal dining room bright and early. I enjoyed some yogurt with fresh blueberries and pancakes, with a few cups of brewed Earl Grey tea to get me going for a full day in Scotland.

Clare Russell took us on a brief tour of the castle, exploring the hidden staircases and beautifully decorated rooms, which included an old nursery with toys that dated back to the 19th century. We also saw invitations and photos from the royal family at many occasions (like the wedding of Kate and William) she had attended.

After the tour we headed into vans and went to the Glenlivet Distillery. It was much more modern than Strathislava had been, even offering spectacular views from the top floor. The new visitor’s center had just opened in 2009 and Prince Charles actually came for the official opening.

When we finished the tour with Master Distiller Desmond Payne did an informal tasting and learned about how Josie’s well provides the mineral rich water that gives Glenlivet its unique taste. My favorite was the 2010 Founders Reserve, with floral notes and a bit of caramel, but not as nutty as many whiskies, perhaps due to the fact that it’s aged in Spanish oak.

We were back to the castle for lunch and a glass of Jacob’s Creek Steingarten Riesling. I enjoyed the chicken with vegetables, but not as much as the dessert, which I was not embarrassed to be the first to grab seconds of. It was the most delicious apple raspberry cobbler, covered in meringue instead of a crust to keep it light and fresh.

As we ate our dessert and sipped coffee, we discussed the plans for the afternoon. We were offered the opportunity to go fishing or shooting. Everyone agreed with my sentiment that we wanted to see more of the estate and more of Scotland, so we headed out on a tour that included checking out the prize winning cattle and rose garden of Ballindalloch, as well as the llamas and alpacas.

We also were able to preview the beginnings of the new distillery that will be owned and operated by the estate.

After the tour we warmed up in the Russell’s private library with for afternoon tea and warm cookies before I headed to my room to change for dinner.

The itinerary I had been given requested that I bring a black dress that would be covered with a sash. The men were all given traditional Scottish kilts.

Dinner was once again in the formal dining room, but this time we were treated to a story on the Scottish delicacy haggis and had a local band playing during the meal. I even got up at one point for a bit of Scottish dancing.

There was plenty more scotch whiskey with dinner, from Royal Salute to Glenlivet, each one was smoother than the last.

We finished with a homemade cinnamon ice cream with banana and a drink in the library. I didn’t stay long as I had an early flight back to the States. I bid farewell to my new Scottish friends, vowing to come back as soon as I could.

It was a long trip home, from Aberdeen to London, London to Chicago and then Chicago to Champaign, but the inclusion of a lie back seat in American Airlines Business Class at least gave me eight hours of relaxation (and good food).

The trip was much too quick and I hope to discover much more of Scotland – and scotch – in the near future. 

Friday, December 27, 2013

Mixing Scotch with Royalty

My first day in Scotland was a very long one, especially since I had traveled nearly 24 hours to get to Linn House, the property owned by Chivas Regal. I was more than ready for my first meal and the lunch was a glimpse into the gourmet dining to come.

The table was beautifully set for lunch. I sipped the just released 2011 Brancott Estate Pinot Gris (delicious). It reinforced my desire to fit in a trip to New Zealand sometime soon.

The pork loin with turnips and potatoes was prepared perfectly and we finished up the meal with a plate of cheese, fruit and crackers.

Colin Scott, Master Blender at Chivas Regal, escorted me, along with Lauren Nodzak of Pernod Ricard, and Mahesh and Nina Patel (more about them to come), across a bridge and beyond the waterfall to Strathisla Distillery, where they make Chivas and Royal Salute scotch whiskey.

Strathisla Distillery dates back to 1876 and is the oldest distillery in Scotland. They use malted barley here, using a slightly different type for each whiskey. The water comes from Broome Hill Springs, just four miles away.

We walked through the production room before going into the barrel room and through to the Royal Salute vault, where the very best scotch in the distillery is kept.

The first Royal Salute Scotch Whiskey was created for the celebration of the Queen’s coronation in 2003 by Scott. It was aged again once he blended it. There were 255 bottles of Royal Salute 38 and they started at a selling price of $10,000. The last one was purchased in 2009 for $35,000.

We were able to taste some, with its rich vanilla/caramel notes, as well as a bit of gingerbread. It had certainly picked up a lot of flavors during 10 years.

As Scott acknowledged, “Scotch whiskey has more different flavors than any other spirit.”

Before we left the distillery we tasted quite a few of their other whiskies, including their 25 year old Strathisla, with a bit of a nutty taste; 21 year old Chivas, with sweet floral notes; and Royal Salute 21, made for the Queen’s birthday with a bit of apricot tones in a smooth blend.

After the distillery tour we headed to Ballindalloch Castle. It was about a 20 minute ride before we arrived at the 25,000 acre estate. We went past beautiful rolling hills, gardens, cows, and even an area of alpacas and llamas.

When we finally arrived into the circular driving, I couldn’t believe how stunning the castle was.

Claire Russell, who owns, runs and lives at Ballindalloch along with her husband, greeted us and helped me up through the passageways and staircases to my room.

The room was royally decorated with a large bed, vanity and chairs, as well as a big bathroom with an extra-long tub.

I didn’t have long to shower and change for our Black Tie dinner. I picked up a glass of Royal Salute downstairs and went out to the lawn for photographs.

Our dinner was extremely formal in a magnificent dining room that looked like it belonged in a castle! I sat in my assigned seat, next to the Duke of Argyle, along with Lauren, the Russells and the Patels.

The first course was a scallop appetizer and since I am allergic I was lucky enough to have to most amazing cheese soufflĂ© I’d ever eaten, with tidbits of pears and broccoli. I was happy to see the Brancott Pinot Gris once again being poured, along with a flight of Royal Salute whiskies.

Venison was served as a main dish, accompanied by scalloped potatoes. I’m not much of a venison eater and the site of the (sterling silver) buck in front of my plate confirmed that it was not for me. Instead I ate every morsel of the potatoes and vegetables, and had plenty of room for dessert – ice cream with caramel and banana.

After dinner, we had the presentation that I had come for. Mahesh Patel, whiskey collector and CEO of Universal Whisky Experience, was to become the first American to buy the Royal Salute Tribute to Honor.

Mahesh was presented the bottle (which cost him about $250,000) in a beautiful case, and he and Nina were handed white gloves so they could pick it up without damaging the 413 white and black diamonds on the bottle! I was speechless as I looked at it with the beaming new owners.

Everyone stuck around for a few more drinks, but I had been up for about 40 hours when I excused myself to get some sleep before another big day in Scotland

Friday, December 20, 2013

Scotland Surprise

Most of my adventures are planned in advance, but every once in a while I’m offered a last minute trip that’s just too interesting to pass up. This was the case when the public relations agency for Royal Salute Scotch contacted me and asked me to go to Scotland.

I had traveled with Pernod Ricard in England (Beefeater & Plymouth Gin), Cognac (Martell) and even Australia (Jacob’s Creek), so I knew this would be first class fun, but this trip surpassed my luxury fantasies.

It all happened so fast (within days) that I really didn’t have a chance to ask too many questions. I just knew I was the guest of Royal Salute, Chivas Regal and Glenlivet. I was also told that I needed to bring an outfit or a black tie dinner, which involved a castle, a Duke and the passing of a bottle of scotch. I figured that was all I really needed to know.

The adventure began on a Sunday with a flight from my local airport to Chicago. Once there, I enjoyed the British Airways Executive lounge. I was flying business class so I knew a big meal was ahead on the plane, but I had a few hours so I snacked on some hummus with pita chips and a small brownie with coffee while I caught up on a bit of work.

On the plane, I settled into my own little “cubby.” I had only experienced BA business class once before and it was even better than I remembered, with an outlet and two USB ports to keep my electronics charged. I often wonder what it is that British Airways does that makes First Class even better than this – and worth thousands more.

I was happy to accept a glass of the Tattinger Brut Reserve Champagne pre-dinner, but skipped the nuts in anticipation of the meal.

The starter was an excellent heirloom tomato and mozzarella salad with balsamic vinaigrette. I chose the Black Truffle Tortellini with chestnut sauce and morel mushrooms for a main course and it was superb.

The ones were equally good and I was happy with what I had, a 2002 Bordeaux Blanc Sec.

I decided to skip the dessert that came with my meal, a lemon tart with honey mascarpone, and instead asked for the warm white chocolate chip cookies with some chamomile tea. As I watched two films (Admission, very good; Great Gatsby, awful).

I’m often asked how I can sleep on planes. The truth is that I’ve learned with this job to sleep whenever I’m given the chance! I often find it most difficult on European flights because you really only have about four hours to sleep before they are waking you up for breakfast.

In the case of British Airways business class it was a cantaloupe, honey and lime smoothie, a warm croissant and a warm bacon (I thought it tasted more like ham) roll.

When the plane finally landed I was ready to really stretch my legs, but I had forgotten just how much walking you really need to do in London’s Heathrow Airport.  There were also the stops (which I don’t remember from my last trip), where they took my picture twice.

Despite my “fast track” status, it still took me over an hour to get to my gate for my flight to Aberdeen, Scotland.

Even though there was only one class of service on this hour and a half light, British Airways once again impressed, with a cheesy egg burrito and morning cocktails, though I didn’t imbibe.

Once in Aberdeen I found that there was also a film crew making a video for Chivas and the lack of room would have me staying in Ballindaloch Castle instead of Chivas’ Linn House. I certainly wasn’t going to object to staying in a castle, but I was glad I got to at least have lunch at Linn House.

There was only a short time to freshen up before I met with Colin Scott, the master blender at Chivas Regal, to begin my introduction to scotch.