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We set out just after dawn. Our boots steadily scrubbing the well weathered pavement as we crossed the faces of the white wind-rattled harbourfront homes. The sun shone down gloriously from a pristine blue sky as we turned left onto Lennox Street, now heading uphill with a quickening pace. It was a perfect Islay spring day in every way imaginable, and yet somehow all of this was secondary to the destination.
There were just the three of us alone on that road. Marching over the hills; past the stone-walled fields; beyond Laphroaig. The only sounds: our footsteps, the wind, and the ocean. Then, past the old croft on the left, while rounding the bend to the right around the hill, it came into view. An alabaster visage as though conjured from a dream. Simultaneously surreal and hyper-real.
We had arrived at Lagavulin.
Its 10:30 PM on a mild May night in the highlands of Scotland, and I am gazing out towards the North Sea as I stumble in the dark through the walled garden of Glenmorangie House. Picking my steps carefully in the wet grass, a camera tripod in one hand and a wide tumbler of Ardbeg Uigeadail in the other, I am grateful for the wellies I have been provided by the staff as my fellow travel companions get situated for some stargazing and photography. It is our last real night in Scotland, the end of a whisky odyssey that began 12 days earlier, and has taken us from the tasting lab of The Whisky Exchange in London to the Spirit of Speyside festival in Dufftown, from the island distilleries of Islay and Jura to the peak of Ben Nevis, and ended here at the Glenmorangie House outside Tain.
The Glenmorangie House is a 17th century country home 45 minutes north of Inverness, situated among the ruins of Cadboll castle, which is now owned by the Glenmorangie Distillery and provides guests with luxury hotel amenities in the atmosphere of a relaxed country house party. For a whisky traveller, Glenmorangie House represents the pinnacle of Highland hospitality, receiving visitors with open arms and offering an unmatched experience of stunning landscape, Scottish tradition, and opulent comfort. Not to mention the full range of Glenmorangie and Ardbeg whiskies to be enjoyed, paired skillfully with locally sourced, Michelin-star cuisine. Our group was generously offered the opportunity to experience a stay at the house before our tour of the distillery itself the following morning, where we would witness the production of the spirit itself.
I have never seen anything like it. Wall-to-wall whiskies in sample bottles of all shapes and sizes. In the middle, a lab table set up with eight capped nosing copitas waiting. The scene played out as though there was an invisible metronome clacking out a rhythm to pace his movements, and then it ended before I could fully comprehend what I was watching. Eight whiskies nosed in 30 seconds.