Editor ‘arris concludes his quest for scotch by getting to Oban and getting a tad wobbly. The ride home proves to be every bit as good as the ride there, despite his achy head.
Last week ‘arris took the Ducati GT up to Edinburgh and then over into the Scottish Highlands on the way to Oban to sample some of the local distillery’s fine scotch. In part 2, ‘arris gets his scotch and eats it … or should that be drinks it?
Missed part1? Fear thee not, just click here.
The grim past of Glencoe only adds to the aged desolation of the valley. Despite being a warm May’s day, it’s high enough for there to be patches of snow filling north-facing crevices of the mature craggy hills that surround. Millennia have rounded off the sharp edges, arced the valley floors and then covered it all in a brown blanket of heather.
My ‘quick’ photo stop blends seamlessly into half an hour as Glencoe holds me still for a while.
My Coe experience comes to an end when what I think to be another loch (lake) smells uncannily salty and signifies the shores of the Firth of Lorn and ultimately the Atlantic ocean. Here I head south on a charming (but significantly less dramatic) coastal road.
A brief stop at a café overlooking Monty Python’s famous Castle Aaaarrrrgggghhhh from the Holy Grail film (otherwise known as Castle Stalker) serves as a startling reminder of the cost of visiting Britain as the equivalent of C$22 gets me soup, sandwich and a cup of tea. The bounty of Rob Roy’s grave would have been quite useful just about now …
Dropping into Oban feels a bit odd as although it’s a relatively small and quaint port, it’s also a bit of a tourist magnet and even early May brings out a reasonable crowd, serving as quite a juxtaposition to the desolation of the Highlands through which I’d just traversed.
Still, I has here for a reason and one reason only – scotch – and after dropping off the bike at the Bed and Breakfast, it was off to the Oban distillery for a wee dram … or three.
THE OBAN DISTILLERY
For six pounds (about C$12.00) you get a one hour tour of the distillery which follows the scotch making process from partially germinated barley (which is dried, smoked and crushed), through to the mashing and brewing (which ends up with a weak type of beer) to the final distillation process where the ‘beer’ is heated to draw off the alcohol.
The resulting liquid is then put into casks (Oban uses casks used for American Bourbon, which helps to produce a mellower taste) and stored for 14 years before being bottled.
Something I didn’t know is that the duration of storage does not necessarily equate to quality. Each distillery has found the ‘perfect’ number of years to mature their scotch for the best taste. For Oban, that’s a lengthy 14 years, although I had to wonder if there’s ever a trade off between the best and almost best (but it’s a tad quicker) as I’ve come across some mighty tasty 18 year olds (scotch as well).
Other interesting facts;
- Want a slightly sweeter flavour? Use a sherry cask for the last 6 months of maturing (also known as Double Maturing).
- Ever wondered what Single Malt actually means? It’s a product of only one distillery (as opposed to a blend of several – usually inferior products).
- Like a peaty scotch? Well, that’s due to how much smoking of the barley occurs using peat (as opposed to the peat in the water supply). For example, Oban uses 2 ppm peat smoke whereas a much smokier Lagavulin uses 30 ppm.
Walking around a distillery can be thirsty work and the tour ends with
two samples – one straight from the cask, which is ‘cask strength’
(about 56% alcohol by volume), and very nice thank you very much, and
then a final out-of-the-bottle dram (43% alcohol – which is cask scotch
Being the journalist I managed to snag an extra sample which served me well as I wobbled my way through Oban in search of the best pub in town, which turned out to be the Oban Inn FYI.
I must confess, the rest of the day ended up all a bit blurry.
FRIDAY – THE LOW ROAD HOME
Brilliant sunshine, only a mild hangover and deserted spectacular roads. It’s a rare combination and one that I was very thankful for as I started my long return leg to base. I’d decided that I now had my story in the bag and so there was no need to stop and take notes and photographs every time something happened. I’d even pretty well covered all the elements of the Ducati (test ride to follow), so my mind switched from journalist to motorcyclist and the GT’s speed rose and rider’s head tucked.
The roads from Oban to Glasgow were a real treat. Some hugging of coast followed by a sprint over the tops and a spectacular pass or two through awe inspiring Glens. Sadly the road past Loch Lomond (famous for the song “The Bonnie Banks o’ Loch Lomond”) was as painful as the song and then a missed exit saw me riding into and through Glasgow – instead of around it – at a seemingly endless 30 mph.
Never mind, the M74 south of Glasgow proved to be a surprise winner, blowing out the cobwebs as I decided to hook up behind a car topping the ton and kept it at the 100 mph mark for most of the 60 miles before my turn off. It all seemed very natural and acceptable, but I patted my chest pocket to make sure that my Canadian driver’s licence was on hand, just in case.
Even fast motorways over pretty hills have their time, and an exit at the southern Scottish town of Lockerbie (yes, that Lockerbie – see below) was rewarded with a spirited ride through some to-die-for country roads that kept on slapping the happy button non-stop for the last 200 miles. Amazing!
Eight hundred miles (1,280 km) and three days later and a taste of the Scottish lowlands, highlands and fine single malt had been accomplished. It was as much an eye-opener to all that Scotland has to offer as it was a real pleasure to ride the roads and take in the scenery (and all without rain to boot).
It’s tinged with a slight regret that despite spending my first 8 years of motorcycling life just to the south of this oasis, I never ventured north of Yorkshire. Still, maybe it wouldn’t have been such a good idea on that old CB200; as the Ducati GT1000 and a developed taste for scotch was worth the wait.
THE LOCKERBIE AIR DISASTER
At 19:02 on the 21st December 1988, Pan Am flight 103 from London Heathrow on route to JFK airport in New York city changed from being a single dot on the Scottish air traffic control radar to four, then to many, drifting slowly eastwards with the wind, as they dropped the 30,000 feet back to earth.
About two minutes later, the wings – containing 200,000 lbs of aviation fuel – hit number 13 Sherwood Crescent at speeds of up to 500 mph. The resulting explosion created a crater 155 ft long vapourizing several houses and instantly killing the 11 people within them. The fireball extended onto the nearby A74 Glasgow to Carlisle road, scorching cars in the southbound lanes. The impact was measured at 1.6 on the Richter scale.
In all, 270 people on the aircraft died as well as the 11 on the ground. Although passengers who survived the initial explosion would have quickly lost consciousness due to lack of oxygen, the forensic pathologist who examined the autopsy evidence believed that most may have regained consciousness before impact. The inquest into the crash heard of one flight attendant and a passenger who were found alive at the scene, but died before medical help arrived.
Thirteen years later, a Libyan Intelligence officer, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, is convicted in a Scottish court of the crime and sentenced to life imprisonment. Libya denies that it was directly involved with the bombing but admits that it must “accept responsibility for the actions of its officials” and agrees to pay out US2.7 billion dollars to settle claims by members of the families killed – $8 million per family (after legal fees …).
The payments only occur once UN and US sanctions on Libya are removed.
Oban Distillery for the guided tour and samples
Ducati UK for the GT1000 loaner
Ducati Leeds for the delivery and collection of said bike and the loaner bungees.