Anvil's Bobby Heugel and Jessey Qi at Ardbeg distillery in Scotland.
The bar at Fiddichside Inn in Craigellachie, Scotland. Bartender Joe and his wife, Dorothy, have worked there 50-plus years. (Photo by Jessey Qi)
Jessey Qi tasting from the barrel at Laphroaig. (Photo by Bobby Heugel)
Qi rotating the barley on the malting floor at Springbank. (Photo by Bobby Heugel)
Stills at Glenlivet (Photo by Jessey Qi)
Qi emptying the barley from his shoes at Springbank. (Photo by Bobby Heugel)
Qi in front of a lighthouse in Port Charlotte, Isle of Islay. (Photo by Bobby Heugel)
Where does an avid Scotch enthusiast travel for the adventure of a lifetime? Scotland, of course; which is precisely where Anvil Bar and Refuge general manager and Scotch devotee Jessey Qi settled for a two-week, distillery-filled expedition.
With travel companion Bobby Heugel (owner of Anvil) in tow, Qi explored 50 distilleries in and around Scotland — further honing his knowledge about Scotch whiskey — all while sightseeing, car hopping, and criss-crossing the U.K.
Two weeks. Nine cities. Fifty distilleries — Here’s how Qi tackled Scotland.
IN THE SUITCASE.
I pack pretty light. A suit, a few changes of clothes. One backpack and one carry-on worth of clothes. I try and leave enough space where I can bring back bottles of booze from whichever country I visit.
Passport, phone charger, headphones, a good book, and maybe some food before I board. Most importantly, I always pack a couple bottles of travel size whiskey bottles for me to drink on the plane.
RENT A CAR. SLEEP. REPEAT.
We rented a car, and every day we would drive until we ran out of steam. I would book a place online that day while Bobby drove. Very spontaneous. We did London for one night, then took the overnight train up to Edinburgh and rented a car. We drove to Speyside, where we stayed a couple of nights, then up north to Orkney for a night.
Then, we drove all along the west coast of Scotland, visiting Skye, Campbeltown, and then Islay. The last leg of our journey was flying back from Dublin — we stayed there one night — to Houston.
GRUBBIN’ AND PUBBIN’.
We went to small, local places — lots of pub grub. We feasted on a lot of fish and chips. The selection was pretty slim.
London, Edinburgh, Speyside, Orkney, Skye, Campbeltown, Islay, Glasgow, Dublin.
The scenery is absolutely gorgeous. It was so relaxing just driving through rolling hills or along the coast in the mountains with nothing around but grass and sheep.
Scotch distilleries are older than American distilleries and have a lot more history. The locations of the Scotch distilleries are beautiful, and the processes and techniques they use to produce the spirits are also different from what we do here. The distillate used in American whiskey is a mostly corn mash bill, making it a much sweeter whisky.
The next main difference in production is the use of peat in Scotch whisky to dry the grain before being distilled. That gives it a smoky characteristic. Lastly, Scotches are usually aged in a used barrel; they source and buy bourbon barrels from America because 1) it is cheaper and 2) bourbon is only allowed to be aged in a new oak barrel each time. So when they use it once, they have to get rid of it.
Also, the general climate and terroir is different in Scotland. Scotland’s sea air and rocky landscape is very different from the green space and humidity of Kentucky. This is why the aging time differs so much between the two spirits.
AND THE WINNER IS …
My favorite distillery of the trip was probably Glenfiddich/Balvenie. The history and their effort to keep traditions alive was really something special.
DID THE TRIP INSPIRE ANY NEW COCKTAILS?
Not yet, but still working on it.
Mark your calendars! This Sunday, September 25, Qi introduces Lessons from Scotland: A Guided Tasting of Scotch and Cocktails, offering patrons a first-hand taste of his Scottish journey.
“When I’m pouring you a Scotch, I can tell you what the distillery looks like. I can tell you how many people work there; how long they’ve worked there; and how many sheep are grazing in their grass,” Qi explains. “I know where they’re sourcing their water; how they’re aging their barrels; where they’re getting the grain; and where they’re sending it to age. Travel — and the knowledge gained in the process — is invaluable.”
For $60, you’ll get six pours of single-malt scotch — Glenfiddich’s “The Original” 1963, Balvenie 15 Year Single Barrel Sherry Cask, Glenmorangie Milsean 2016 Limited Release, Springbank 13 Year Green, Highland Park 18 Year, and Laphroaig Cairdeas 2016 Limited Release — as well as one Scotland-themed cocktail. For $90, upgrade to include two rarer Scotch pours — Macallan Rare Cask 2015 Limited Release and Bruichladdich Octomore 7.4 Virgin Oak 2016 Limited Release.
Reservation times include 4 pm, 5:30 pm, 7 pm, 8:30 pm, and 10 pm. Visit Anvil to make a reservation, or call 713.523.1622 for more information.