Quick Stops in Ireland, and a Scotch-Filled Week in Scotland September 2021
I came in super hot to Ireland from my vacation in Portugal, ready to taste dozens of whiskies. Arrived straight from Portugal into Dublin, where I was picked up by one of my counterparts in Ireland. We did the 1.5hr drive to Kilkenny on a dreary afternoon. Kilkenny is a very cute small city - in basically the south-central area of Ireland. Not all the way south like Cork, not all the way west like Galway- so an area I was excited to see! Very Irish picturesque, castles of course in the middle of town, a river running through, cobblestone streets and tons of pubs and restaurants. We arrived at the Kilkenny Hiberian hotel - about a block from the castle in the heart of town. Not the nicest hotel I've stayed in- we had meetings the next morning at the Butler hotel right down the block, and that seemed like a much nicer hotel. From there, my work team and I did a walking tour of the small city with a company called Shenanigans. They kept it only to an hour (apparently they can be up to 2 hours)- lots of stories of liquor, drama and witchcraft coming out of Kilkenny's history. I liked the tour, it was entertaining the guide was very engaging. After our tour of the city we had dinner at Butcher- pretty nice restaurant - all within a few blocks of the hotel. That night I opened the windows of my hotel room to let in the cool Irish air, and fell asleep to dozens of men across the street all singing in unison at the top of their lungs. To me- that's Ireland in a nutshell.
Monday: Started off the day in Kilkenny with a run around the castle. There was a really nice tow path along with river - a few folks were out there with me walking their dogs. Then a pretty boring day- breakfast at the Hiberian hotel, meetings and lunch at the Butler hotel, a quick Warehouse visit to taste some Irish whisky barrels, followed by drinks at Dylan Bar (this place was big and super cute/typical Irish pub with lots of room to watch games) and then dinner at Rive Gauche. Rive Gauche, great meal, would recommend if you need some dinner in Kilkenny.
Tuesday: Off to Scotland! Which I was ready for. I feel like now exploring a good amount of Ireland with a previous trip, and going back and seeing Kilkenny, its just not my bag. We caught a super early flight out of Dublin - supposed to connect in Bristol- then head to Inverness. We had a little flight drama, because of the fog in Bristol the pilot couldn't land the plane, so we flew to Cardiff airport instead and were let off there. Super panicked, there were no flights from Cardiff to Inverness, and we were worried wouldn't make our connection in Bristol and be stuck somewhere in England. However, luckily our connection was also delayed. We grabbed a taxi van and drove from Cardiff airport to Bristol airport (1.5hrs) - and were actually able to make our delayed connection to Inverness. This ended up only putting us back like 2 hours on our itinerary. So- landed in Inverness, which is on the northeastern part of Scotland- middle of nowhere type place. There is a actual town called Inverness- but we did not spend any time there. From the airport straight to our first distillery- we were all exhausted and looking a mess, but the show must go on. Took us about an hour to get to the Balblair distillery. We had a 3 course late lunch paired with their scotches, and got an hour long tour of the small distillery. From there, we finally were off to check into our castle accomodations. Auchegarin Estate- this place was ridiculous. The grounds were huge, and not only had a castle option for lodging, but several large private homes. Our group had this huge estate all to ourselves which was amazing. My room was gigantic with a wood burning fireplace and extremely large comfortable bed, the bathroom was the size of a NYC apartment- with a huge jacuzzi tub right smack in the middle. Our supplier partners arranged the dinners each night, and since we were all worn out from traveling, this night was an informal bbq of seafood and steak skewers paired with various gin and scotch cocktails.
Wednesday: Had to get my run in. It was so dark when I started I had to carry my phone with flashlight on me so I didn't trip running up and down the grounds. Breakfast was at the hotel naturally, and after we hopped in our van and drove 2.5hrs all the way north to Wick. It doesn't get much more north than this in Scotland, bordering the North Sea, if you cross it the next stop is Norway. But the weather was actually beautiful and the sea was surprisingly calm. Which was great, because we did a boat tour of the coast with Caithness Seacoast for about an hour- and they made it seem like we should prepare to be soaked. Luckily, we emerged dry and headed to lunch nearby at Captain Galley Seafood. From there, we went back to where we began the day, and toured the Old Pulteney Distillery. Made the drive back, where we freshened up big time because our supplier partners held a Scottish gala for us at the estate. Guys got fitted kilts and outfits, the ladies wore some sashes, there was bagpiping, a speech about Haggis, children performing traditional Scottish dances, amazing food and drinks, and we ended the night all learning some Scottish dances usually done at weddings. This was probably my favorite night- I did not dance well but had a ton of fun.
Thursday: Run and breakfast - then we had options. The guys ended up doing a 1.5hr canoe ride of the river Spey. Me and a couple others opted for a lunch at Copper Dog in Speyside, and then met the guys on the banks of the river. From what they told me, the canoe ride was pretty fun, a little shallow so a few bumps and scrapes along the way, but no one fell out which is why I decided not to go. Copper Dog was fantastic though, I made the right choice. After the hang on the river, we went to Speyburn distillery, the Knockdu distillery to taste some Ancnoc scotches. The suppliers arranged a fish and chips truck to come to the distillery for dinner, and also an ice cream purveyor - which had ice cream flavors infused with Caorunn Gin as well as Ancnoc scotch. This day was cut short slightly (which was needed, I was going on very little sleep up to this point), because I had a video appointment to take a covid test - so we headed back to the estate around 7pm to get there in time for my 9pm appt.
Friday: Run and breakfast- and one last distillery tour just on the way to Edinburgh. We checked out the Caorunn Gin distillery, which is on the same grounds as the Balmenach Distillery, so of course we got a tour of that as well. Our van journey from the north all the way down to Edinburgh was a long one (3+ hours)- so this tour, and a stop at House of Bruar for lunch and shopping, helped break it up. House of Bruar was packed - it reminded me of a high end outlet mall- a very fancy cafeteria with tons of upscale food options, and then high end shops (clothing, souveniers, plants, really everything). Finally, we made it to Edinburgh and checked into the Fraser Suites - located about 2 blocks from the castle. This was an ok hotel, the location made it desirable, the rooms were definitely not as big as my estate room but I didn't spend much time in it anyway. This was our big night out in Edinburgh- and I was so so hungover the next day. We had dinner and cocktails on a street behind the hotel at Devils Advocate (the food was not great here), then grabbed an uber and went to Usqubae for more cocktails, then walked to Tiger Lily for apparently bottles of champagne. Tiger Lily was very pink, and very young, I would have felt a little out of place if I hadn't been so drunk. At some point - we took ubers back to the hotel (however the next day I realized we were only about a mile from the hotel, if I had been in my right mind, I would have just walked).
Saturday: Last day of the trip! And I felt awful. I had breakfast at the hotel (not the best), and then I attempted to run off my hangover. Took me about a mile to reach the Meadows- a park right by the University- where everyone was out and about working out, playing sports, running off their hangovers probably too. Feeling a little better, a couple coworkers and I walked to St George's street and had lunch at an Italian spot Contini. From there, we went to the Stockbridge neighborhood and had a couple drinks at Hamilton's (such a cute spot). And to end, I dragged myself to dinner- we took an uber back down to Stockbridge and ate at Scran and Scallie. From there, it was bedtime and an early flight first thing back to the US.
I was really impressed with Scotland! Not sure what I was expecting, but the North was beautiful and Edinburgh was a really cool city. I think the fact we had outstanding meals the entire trip, as well as outstanding weather, really helped my view of Scotland.