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Touring the Glengoyne Distillery

UNITED KINGDOM | Saturday, 27 June 2009 | Views [467]

Standing in the Glengoyne Distillery (under maintenance): Dumgoyne, Scotland, UK.

Standing in the Glengoyne Distillery (under maintenance): Dumgoyne, Scotland, UK.

The day started out with a bus ride from the docks in Greenock where our cruise ship, Jewel of the Seas, parked to Glasgow, Scotland, UK. Setting out apart from the rest of the family and friends, it was me, Rebecca, and our friend Andrea who were going to the big city for the day. The one thing that impressed me was the sheer quantity of kilt shops and kilt supply shops. I've since been assured that this is a phenomenon entirely localized to the densest part of the city--toward the edges it's less common and, out in the countryside, almost entirely unheard of. But around all the areas where we walked, it seemed there were more kilt stores here than there were Starbucks in my own city, which seems hyperbolic but I'd lay money on it.

I'm afraid I didn't stay in Glasgow: I got a cup of coffee with the ladies and toured briefly, taking in the exterior of several impressive-looking buildings and a military recruitment campaign, but this was not my destination for the day. The cruise was to include a day's jaunt out to Dumgoyne to tour a scotch whisky distillery, but as it happened there had not been sufficient passenger interest to justify it and it was canceled. On the other hand, among those of us who were interested, the intensity of our interest was enough to band together (passengers and crew alike) to rent a taxi and take off on our own.

Brunno, Nada, and Tiago were working on the ship, Alex was a tourist from Romania, and they were my compatriots for the afternoon. Our driver had such a thick brogue we could barely understand him, but he understood well enough where we were headed. Well, mostly: after a couple wrong turns and a conversation in the middle of the street (a passing motorist, clearly distressed, called out, "Ye canna park there, mate!"), we did find our way to Glengoyne Distillery.

I consider it fortunate, actually, that the distillery was down for maintenance: one of the huge copper chambers was being replaced and cleaned on the day of our tour. That meant there were fewer fumes in the air and, therefore, flash photography and electronics were permitted in the area! My only wish was that I knew more about distillery and the production of alcohol prior to this tour, as the finer points of the manufacturing process were lost on me. (Years later, as I got into homebrewing, I would have especially appreciated the point in the tour where our guide indicated the malted grains and the wort were essentially a form of beer. No idea what he was on about, then.)

Our guide was a friendly old man with a bright, cheery purple plaid tie. He led us from where the enormous casks were stored, through the distillery, taking great pride in every point of the scotch-making process. It was lovely to see an authority figure with such a clear love of the craft, rather than a sullen and inexperienced guide giving a begrudging and perfunctory recitation of half-understood facts. I tried my best to come up with questions for him, to show him how engaged with the tour I was: I'm a nascent scotch-lover, still learning how best to appreciate this complex and well-storied beverage.

When we were done, we breezed through the gift shop and received a few shots of scotch that came with our admission (Alex and I suspect we were shorted a shot, an oversight on the guide's part rather than outright malice), a walk-through of what it means to age a scotch over decades. Stunning material, stunning results.

We hailed our cab driver and instructed him, as best we could, to high-tail it back to the ship. It seemed we had cut our timing a little too close, what with our engagement in the scotch distillery tour. It would be bad enough for me, if we missed the boat: I'd be on my own to find very expensive improvised travel plans to hustle me to the next port. But for the crew members, it was a different story. The cruise lines have a very stringent screening and hire policy, and they maintain very low tolerance on crew behavior. To miss the boat for them would have spelled disaster, possible eviction--the air in the cab was particular tense on that ride back. All we could do was look at each other and attempt to distract ourselves with myriad stories from our discrete pasts.

We reached the outskirts of civilization, warehouses and garages, and we were a little encouraged, but when we heard the ship's horn bellow across the landscape, we cheered our driver with tremendous enthusiasm--it meant we were close enough to hear the horn. Pulling in with scant minutes to spare (we managed to pass one tour bus on its way back, so we were guaranteed a little more time), we pooled all our money together, tipped the driver heavily, and clambered aboard the Jewel of the Seas as fast as our scotch-wobbly legs could carry us.

Tags: cruise, distillery, scotch, scotland, taxi, tour

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