Tag Archives: scotch in Scotland

5 things Glasgow taught me about Scotland

Cities give us great insight into the host country. You hear the collective expressions, get a sense of the style, a feel for the people and an idea of the things citizens hold dear. And so it was in Glasgow.

Having never been to Scotland, I really had no idea what to expect. Prior to departure, friends who’d been there expressed grave disappointment I wasn’t going to Edinburgh; even in Glasgow, other tourists urged me to make the trip north. Well, this Edinburgh must be quite amazing because I really, really liked Glasgow. The architecture, the pedestrian streets, the food, the cocktails, the people. Maybe it’s because it’s Old World and my modern-city self craves heritage and gothic spires? No matter. I think Glasgow is beautiful and hip, and my short stay was a great education and introduction to all-things-Scottish (tip: sign up for Glasgow’s hop on-hop off bus tour if you’re short on time). Here’s what I learned.

1. They really do say ‘wee’

As in, “Fancy a wee dram?” “Here’s our wee cocktail list.” “Did you see the wee cows?” Everything is wee, even when it’s giant. Well, okay, the drams are wee, but then you end up having, like, four, so it goes from wee to big (hangover) in no time. I think they say wee — especially in relation to food and drink — so they won’t feel guilty about packing away shamefully large portions. A case in point: here’s my “wee bowl of porridge.”

Served in a giant bowl with a giant spoon, my porridge is actually anti-wee. Also, delicious.

Served in a giant bowl with a giant spoon, my porridge is actually anti-wee. But it’s also delicious.

2. Scotch is a thing

Well, duh, right? (But evidently there are some Scots who don’t like whisky, though never have I seen so many bars with such great selections.) The dram is a social convention, something to share over conversation with friends. Scotland also happens to have a staggering number of distilleries, about 98. Glengoyne is relatively close to Glasgow and it’s worth a visit to get an overview of the distilling process, and to sample some wee drams.

Part of the whisky selection at Ubiquitous Chip down Ashton Lane in Glasgow.

Part of the whisky selection at Ubiquitous Chip, down Ashton Lane in Glasgow.

3. OMG: #Plaid!

I kind of thought that kilts were something people with Scottish heritage wore at special events to stand out from the crowd. In Scotland, they wear plaid daily, with pride. Tour guides at Glengoyne sport plaid trousers, bagpipe-playing buskers work pedestrian malls dressed in plaid kilts, and stylish hipster Glaswegians wrap wool plaid scarves around their necks — in May!. Naturally, I returned to Canada with some plaid (and I’m not even Scottish).

Nothing says Scotland like kilt-wearing bagpipe buskers.

Nothing says Scotland like kilt-wearing bagpipe buskers.

4. It’s a pretty Hogwartsy place

Even though the Harry Potter movies were not filmed at the University of Glasgow, you’ll swear you’ve walked on set while wandering through the campus. A short walk away is Ashton Lane, a hidden alleyway lit with fairy lights and packed with pubs and cafes, that was supposedly author J.K. Rowling’s inspiration for Diagon Alley. Other parts of Scotland were featured in the films, including Glenfinnan Viaduct and Glencoe. It all conspires to give the city — and country — a magical feel, like anything could happen… or maybe that’s just the wee dram talking.

Seriously, doesn't this school look like Hogwarts?

Seriously, doesn’t this school look like Hogwarts?

5. Public spaces are gathering places

It helped that the day I toured Glasgow was a public holiday (and the weather was nice, for Scotland = not raining), but still, every green space I walked through, from the Glasgow Botanic Gardens to Kelvingrove Park, was abustle with individuals, couples and families taking some air. The Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, one of the country’s most popular free attractions, was also filled with locals contemplating art until staff kicked us all out at closing time. Maybe — since it rains 200 days a year — sunny days just bring everyone outside, but I like to think my experience illustrates Glasgow’s vibrancy and its residents’ appreciation for the city’s beauty and treasures. At any rate, I’ll certainly be back to Scotland for another wee visit.

Glaswegians enjoy a midday stroll through the Glasgow Botanic Gardens. which are blooming with tulips in May.

Glaswegians enjoy a midday stroll through the Glasgow Botanic Gardens.

When in Scotland (or home), raise a dram

Transportive. That’s the word to describe what happens when you spend a week on Islay sipping Scotland’s smokiest, peatiest single malt scotch whisky, then return to Canada and open a bottle of Laphroaig 10 Year Old on a rainy spring evening.

Transported to Islay via seaplane from Loch Lomond. Great view of Laphroaig Distillery flying in.

Just one sniff takes you back to Islay and the moors and the salt and the sea. One sip and you’re there, defying wind to cut peat from a bank, shaping snow angels atop a pillow of smoky malted barley inside the distillery, or washing down a local stinky blue cheese with just as stinky of a dram.

Laphroad Distllery

Laphroaig Distllery sits next to the sea on Islay. Distilleries were traditionally built on the water for shipping reasons.

I was one in a group of 20 international journalists invited to Islay by Laphroaig to celebrate the whisky’s 200th anniversary (celebrating throughout 2015, and with new whisky expressions). I spent three days touring the island and getting a crash course on all-things-scotch. Full disclosure: heavily peated whiskies like those from Islay intimidated me prior to the trip. I wondered: would I hold back, or would the charms of the island and its whisky history win me over dram by dram?

We sipped whisky by the distillery's water source...

I sipped whisky by the distillery’s water source…

And I sipped whisky on the boat ride to neighbouring island Jura...

And I sipped whisky on the boat ride to neighbouring island Jura…

I’m pleased to say the latter happened, as a bottle of 10 Year Old, or 15 Year Old, or 18 Year Old seemed to follow us from distillery to bus to boat to karaoke night at the Islay Hotel. I’ll be writing more about what can only be described as “Islay time” — the island, the whisky, the people — for various publications in the coming months. So stay tuned.

In the meantime, “Slainte!” (“health”), toasted with a dram (or cocktail). Note: I mostly sipped whisky on its own — or with a bit of water — while in Scotland, but I couldn’t resist digging up a classic recipe that calls for Laphroaig. This one’s just what the doctor ordered when you’re missing Islay on a rainy spring evening.

Penicillin cocktail. Laphroaig is good medicine!

Penicillin cocktail. Laphroaig is good medicine!

Penicillin

  • 2 oz blended scotch (or blended whiskey — I used Crown Royal )
  • 3/4 oz fresh lemon juice
  • 3/4 oz honey syrup (equal parts honey and water)
  • 3 slices fresh ginger
  • 1/4 oz Islay single malt scotch (I used Laphroaig 10 Year Old)

Method: Muddle the ginger in the base of a cocktail shaker until it is well mashed. Add the whisky, lemon juice and honey syrup, and fill shaker with ice. Shake until well chilled. Double strain into an ice-filled rocks glass to remove little bits of ginger. Finally, pour the Laphroaig over the back of a bar spoon so that it floats atop the drink.

— Adpated from a Serious Eats Penicillin recipe