Skye to Lewis~Harris~Uist and Barra to Oban, or the other way around? That is the question. After a tranquil few days in Dalwhinnie [WLP#5], I’ve recuperated and ready to continue westwards in my camper – 115 whisky bottles lighter since the drop-off [WLP#4].
I decide on Oban to Barra though I wish I’d checked the ferry times first, but I’m getting ahead of myself. The drive from Dalwhinnie to Oban is a delightful one. First of all, I stop to admire Laggan Dam. At 48 meters high and 210 meters wide, it’s a place of eerie serene stillness that disguises its immense potential energy.
Stopping off at Ben Nevis distillery [est. 1825], I’m further reminded of how unwelcome visitors are at this time. Many Scots are taking the situation very seriously whilst others seem utterly disinterested in following the guidelines and unwilling to buy into the fear and frenzy. The hospitality industry, meanwhile, desperately require a return to the status quo. It’s a confused and confusing time.
After taking a few rainy pics of the [Ben Nevis] distillery, I stop in at Aldi for supplies. Attempting to buy two packs of bottled water [shocking, I know] – along with other items – the cashier calls out “That’ll be one then”. Refusing to elaborate, I translate this to mean there’s a one item type per customer in this store. After futile attempts to off-load the second 6-pack but finding nowhere to put it [with all these new acrylic barriers everywhere, and he wouldn’t take it], the cashier finally decides I can have them both after all. Once in the bagging area, further instructions from a man incapable of a complete sentence arrives in the form of “in the trolley”. This concludes our enriching dialogue the rest of the transaction continuing in silence.
Moving on, I continue my journey westward. To my delight, I see Glenlochy to my right, instantly recognisable only because I’d posted some info about this closed distillery [WLP] a few weeks before. Now I can use my own pictures instead of relying on Google Maps. Despite only the kiln and maltings houses surviving the demolition and subsequent property conversion, I’m pleased to see how well preserved/restored the outer buildings are, though it looks like one of the ‘pagodas’ has disappeared since the guys at whisky.com were there. With the river Nevis flowing down from the hills behind, I can easily imagine how prized a location Glenlochy would have been back in the day. Now it’s a crucial and overly-congested traffic intersection that overwhelms the small village in summer.
I finally arrive in Oban for the second time ever. The first time was in around 2001-2002 which coincided with my first working cruise as a musician aboard Swan Hellenic’s Minerva II. It was also my first distillery tour. Sadly, the distillery is closed this time around or I would have gone in for a refresher. Walking around the town, I observe there’s no requirement to wear a mask in the various fish & chip shops and other fast food establishments in town. In other [non-food] establishments, it’s a different matter.
After taking a few photos of the distillery and harbour, I head to the ferry terminal to enquire about the next ferry to Barra. There’s one leaving in less than 20 minutes and the sales rep is uncertain I’d be able to board in time. She is right. Frustratingly, there isn’t another crossing until Friday [it’s Wednesday afternoon]. I spend the rest of the day exploring the surrounding area, finally making it up to McCaig’s Tower which looks down upon the distillery [see pic below].
Looking for a suitable resting spot for the night or two, Ganavan Sands seems the ideal spot until the stoners and D&B heads arrive at around 9pm. With reluctance, I move off. Fortunately, I find a dead-end street that – forming part of an Argyll & Bute Council site – appears quiet and un-residential. Turns out it’s also a sewage disposal point, which I shall discover in the morning. Meanwhile, I feel comfortable enough to camp down for the night and pour a wee something. It would have been an ideal time to enjoy my Old & Rare-acquired 1969 Oban sample [WB], but I’d forgotten I had it at the time. I fancy something light. The clear spirit of Chalong Bay’s rum and G4’s blanco tequila appeal the most – easy, unchallenging, exotic.
Chalong Bay Fine spirit  Batch #2 Ob. 40% [35cl]
It must be more than three years since I visited this special distillery [WLP] in Phuket. I never did properly review this rum. There’s still plenty left in the half bottle and it’s been well stored, gassed, and sealed, but it’s time to polish off the bottle.
- N: Smells as good as when I first tried it. Fruity-ish waxy milky/creamy/candle-waxy sponge and yoghurty [foam banana, peach dry papaya, pineapple, and coconut water], candle wax [again] into hollandaise/gnocchi/crumpets, margarine, hints of savoury dates, black olive tapenade – getting top-note specific here. That intrinsic foam banana dried honey/cream waxiness is really something and with dry-as-a-bone vibes!
- T: Abv-light, soft sour and grassy, turning [desirably] bready with [savoury > > sweet] grainy coconut water/chalky pulp, foam floats/swim aids and stale slightly chlorinated drinking water,.. flavours that hang around as long as you hold it on the palate.
- F: Turning fairly salty [watery fish n chip-salty] and slightly chilli-ed, we’ve a waxy banana gnocchi-sponge reprise on the final straight, finishing softly coppery/raisin-y and witch hazel-clean.
- C: There’s no getting around the low abv. From hazy memory, there were tax issues which prevented a higher proof release, otherwise I’m certain Chalong Bay would have bottled this at 46% or at least released a stronger/CS version. Months later, they did just that. Otherwise, excellent rum, not least when you consider the surrounding competition in Phuket. Exactly, none! Chalong is a real jewel for the Provence.
Scores a solid 83, again, and this is only batch 2!
G4 Blanco Premium  Ob. 40%/80 proof [75cl]
Here’s another bottle I’ve not reviewed properly since my first contact with it at Tequila Fest in 2018 [WLP]. Let’s hope another year doesn’t go by without the appearance of this fantastic show on the drinks festival circuit.
- N: Chalong Bay rum to Jalisco tequila is quite a leap. I don’t disagree with my previous notes [WLP80], but today it’s all so very clear – an aromatically peppery [green corns], soft aniseed > liquorice stick with a passing waft of wet slightly scorched pina on lightly-buttered toast. Top notes include new kettle > coppery meaty [roast dinners – uncooked spuds], street Thai pepper broth,… Plenty to discover, plenty to lap up.
- T: More aromatic pepper [now pink corns also] and just a hint of burnt agave spears, but this is all about the soft watery agave mouthfeel – not exactly watery as in lacking or thin, and perhaps the wateriness is favourable – but it’s like boozy cellulose-y cucumber water into,….
- F: ,.. more aromatic [black ground] pepper [still] on > buttered toast into a sterile saltiness?, and with lime juice > coconut milk never too far away. Sticking with my previous ‘a dirty-clean finish’ review remark, it remains a ‘tonic’ throughout, perhaps a very fine substitute to gin with tonic and with a lemon/lime slice [seemingly a prevalently naturally occurring note in many tequilas], plus one [red] basil leaf. I’d say it’s rather clean and naturally refreshing overall, towards a soft chlorine-treated watery mouthfeel and a slice of lime at the death.
- C: So happy with my notes for the nose, and I go back to it on subsequent days for confirmation. Just to be clear, there’s no peppery heat whatsoever. That allows it a very solid 80[+] score in my book.
Scores 81 points
The next morning, and still with a whole day to kill before the ferry to Barra, a day trip to Mull is the order of the day. After a pleasantly short ferry journey, I’m here. Heading towards Tobermory, I’m immediately struck by the beauty of the island and the moody misty mysteriousness of its shores and heartland.
And what a location for a distillery?! Sadly closed at this time but clearly operating, I can imagine getting grain [in times of poor harvests] and other imports to the island [in bad weather] must have proved problematic. Perhaps that explains in part why Mull’s only surviving distillery has been closed for a significant proportion of its life. Further reading: SW
I would love to have spent a few days roaming Mull’s naturally beautiful wilderness. At the very least, I wish I’d allowed myself the evening here with the ferry back to Oban in the morning.
As it is, I’m on the ferry and back in Oban by 8pm. Tomorrow, a significantly longer ferry crossing awaits.