As you know, there are some magical places in Scotland! That's why I like to go there as soon as I can in my faithful Brad Peat. Ok, it's not only the magic, I know, I also love the whiskies that are produced there.
One of the magical places is located on the road that leads from Loch Lomond National Park to Campbeltown, on the peninsula of the same name, in the South-West of Scotland. Already two names that will speak to any whisky lover reading these lines.
It is also on this road that we find the town of Kennacraig, departure point of the ferries towards Islay the Magnificent and the town of Port Askaig (there too, names that speak for themselves, don't they?).
The place I want to tell you about is just 10 miles from the start of the A83 as the road twists and turns on the beautiful Beinn An Lochain mountain just before Loch Restil.
This is where I headed in my van to do the triple tasting of the day. Whiskies offered by REST & BE THANKFUL: FINGLASSIE SMALL BATCH SHERRY, BRUICHLADDICH WINE CASK 2009 12 YEARS and PORT CHARLOTTE SHERRY CASK ANTIPODES 2004 17 YEARS.
Nevertheless, as you read these lines you will understand that there will be a second part to this tasting, turned to rums (now that they are available on peatdream.com, but I won't say more).
Let us return to our mountain. A Scottish legend says that at the side of the road, at the bend in the road, there is a magic stone that allows you to go from one place to another on earth.
You can imagine that it was enough for me to go in search of it, on board my van, on the lands of the LOWLANDS.
I was introduced to this place during a meeting with AIDAN SMITH. For those who don't know him, AIDAN is one of the founding members (with EAMONN JONES) of FOX FITZGERALD WHISKY TRADING (trading company and original creator of REST & BE THANKFUL) in 2010. The company acted as a broker for the BRUICHLADDICH distillery before it was bought by Rémy Cointreau in 2012 (it then continued the partnership as an independent bottler).
Over a glass of Octomore with an incredible peaty strength, he told me the story of the FOX FITZGERALD group.
Started in 2010, the company became a group in 2020 (with the arrival of the Strasbourg-based ROMAIN LARCHERON) whose activity is the creation and management of brands (including REST & BE THANKFUL, but also Mr PEAT), financial investment (in particular in the capital of the Irish pioneer WATERFORD and the RENEGADE rum distillery in Grenada), and cask trading (directly or in the form of brands such as PEAT BEAST).
Finally, he told me about the recent arrival of THOMAS PICARD in the team and the development of the REST & BE THANKFUL brand in the land of Jamaican rum since 2022 (but I'll come back to this).
Aidan especially told me about a mysterious stone that dated from the creation of the military road (now parallel to the A83) in 1753. It was laid and engraved by soldiers in charge of its construction. The construction of this mountain road had been so hard that the workers liked to rest on this high spot to refresh themselves by looking at the magnificent landscape while drinking the first "aqua vitae" (this was in the 18th century).
Since then the custom has continued for hikers who tackle this trail.
He told me that this stone was engraved with "REST & BE THANKFUL" in memory of the workers and the creation of the road. Do you see where I'm going with this?
He ended his story by serving me a CHARLOTTE PORT and telling me that this resting place (and this stone) was also a magical place. A portal that allowed you to cross the planet and teleport from one point to another (including another Rest & be Thankful in the Albert Town area of Jamaica, but more on that in Chapter 2). All that was needed was a few tears of distillate (whether from malt or sugar cane)!
I don't know if it came from the 63.8% alc PORT CHARLOTTE or not, but you know me, such a mystery...I had to see it with my own eyes.
That's why I chose to go there today and taste my three REST & BE THANKFUL whiskies.
FOX FITZGERALD BRAND offers both whiskies and rums, so I thought that if I wanted to try this magic stone, and if this story of a "journey" was true, I might have to start by taking a little leap to the LOWLANDS or to the island of ISLAY for example.
I will take advantage of a second chapter to test a much longer trip to the Caribbean and Jamaica if I come out of this first one unscathed.
So here I am in the south of Scotland on the road from Loch Lomond to Campbelton. After a few twists and turns in the middle of this beautiful mountainous landscape, I arrived at Glen Croe and decided to take the famous military road to put myself in the situation and pay tribute to the work of the famous forças.
To get the stone to work, I needed some cash. On Aidan's advice, I took 3 references of REST & BE THANKFUL.
Three magnificent bottles with smoked glass and decorated with colourful motifs as recognisable as they are surprising (a puffin with a pipe and a bowler hat, a deer with a monocle and a top hat, a sea lion with a Scottish beret... but I'll let you discover all these fantastic animals).
I had with me a bottle with a light blue label (small Batch) containing a distillate from LOWLAND's, and two bottles with a dark blue label (single cask) containing distillates from ISLAY.
And it is in an almost mystical (but very Scottish) fog that I finally arrived in front of the famous stone.
It was not big but without waiting I launched myself into the first journey.
So I picked up my first bottle, the Small Batch FINGLASSIE, wondering where it would take me as I didn't know of any distillery with that name.
As Aidan had told me, I poured a few drops of the distillate on the stone and waited.
The fog was already present on the surrounding hills, but it suddenly became so thick that in a few seconds I could no longer see Brad Peat and could hardly even see the stone! I was as if engulfed by the thick fog and felt as if I was flying away!
The fog was now completely engulfing me and I found myself above a modern industrial building... It was the INCHDAIRNIE distillery.
Without really realising it, I had just driven north of Edinburgh to the Lowland's in the Fife region.
It is certainly not the most famous region for Scotch whisky production, but it is certainly one we will talk about soon, with some names like LINDORES ABBEY, KINGSBARNS, CAMERON BRIDGE, DAFTMILL and newcomers like EDEN MILL and therefore INCHDAIRNIE (one of the most dynamic distilleries around).
As soon as I arrived, I met IAN PALMER, the owner (formerly of Jim Beam and Glen Turner). I am dealing with a great whisky purist who started production when he opened his distillery in 2015 with one objective, to go back to basics.
That's why the first production of INCHDAIRNIE, in 2017, was ...RYE!
It is perhaps to face the astonishment of all that he chose the exclamation mark as a logo since we tend to put it in every sentence when we talk about the distillery (Editor's note)!
A rye then! IAN explained that by studying a royal report from the beginning of the 20th century, he discovered that rye (the majority in rye), was historically used to produce Scotch whisky (which changed many ideas!). That's why the first production was a mixture of malted rye and malted barley. Rye then!
Ian likes to experiment and he also tests the production from malted oats (a pioneer in the adventure with the PRINLAWS) which allows him some eccentricities like using a unique still mix of iron and column stills !
But as a good producer, he knows that experiments are very important, but that the main thing is not only to produce whisky, but to sell it. That's why he also produces an unpeated single malt INCHDAIRNIE and above all (two weeks a year) a peated single malt KINGLASSIE (and from KINGLASSIE to FINGLASSIE.... a single letter gives us a clue).
The only "problem" of the distillery at the moment is that, as a great purist, IAN PALMER and his team want time to do its work and will not let us taste his distillates before 6 years ! But we will be there!
The only way to taste his production is to turn to REST & BE THANKFUL and his SMALL BATCH FINGLASSIE ! This is a good thing ! The distillery has produced a second distillate for REST & BE, not peated. The STRATHENRY (which we will certainly discover soon).
I am at the distillery thanks to the magic stone, so why don't we discover this whisky?
So it was produced at INCHDAIRNIE distillery during the two peat weeks of 2017, and then aged by REST & BE THANKFUL for 5 years in second fill bourbon casks (previously used to hold Islay peated whisky). It finally finished its run in ex-Oloroso sherry butts.
The distillate I poured on the stone is very light in colour and does not disguise its bourbon ageing in any way. It is golden in colour with some more marked yellow reflections.
On the nose if you like peat (like me) you will be served!
Nevertheless, at first it is lemony and fresh notes that appear. But I reassure you, it is quickly a smell of agricultural and earthy peat that arrives. It is medicinal and fresh.
On the second pass, the smell will become rounder and take on the appearance of very sweet pears, which show the "youth" of the distillate.
On the third pass, the scent remains fresh but now accompanied by spices that tickle the nose.
Put a few drops in your hand and you will be transported to an old Fife farmhouse heated by a peat fire.
The sherry oloroso effect is quite present at the beginning of the palate but it quickly fades to give way first to spices and then to a mixture of sweet and citrus notes. The peat is felt in the form of a cold smoke of burnt heather.
The whole thing then rounds out with notes of sweet orange into which cloves have been stuck.
Its finish is marked and long on the scent of peat which makes a comeback and chocolate.
The empty glass is a mixture of lemony and smoky notes.
As soon as the tasting was over, I had just enough time to say hello to IAN and I felt as if I was caught up in the fog that had reappeared, and in a few seconds I found myself in front of the stone!
What an experience! Only one desire ... to do it again!
So I rushed to repeat the experience, and uncorked the second bottle marked "BRUICHLADDICH WINE CASK". A darker bottle, following the colour code of the brand, a SINGLE CASK.
A drop on the stone and back to the fog!
This time, I found myself on the bay of Loch Indaal on the island of ISLAY, directly on the beach in front of the BRUICHLADDICH distillery! Do I have to introduce it?
In front of me, on the side of the road, a row of casks with the turquoise blue letters of the distillery's name. It has already been the base of many of my adventures but it is always a pleasure to go there (you can find some pictures here)!
On the spot, once the big gate and the courtyard have been crossed, we head for the warehouse for the tasting.
It is in front of a hogshead wine cask that we will have to position ourselves for the tasting, as the distillate we are going to taste has been in it for 12 years since 2009 when it came out of one of the 4 stills of the distillery.
The one we are going to taste has been bottled at cask strength at 59.4% alc and has a taste of exclusivity with its only 257 bottles.
The liquid that flows into the glass has a beautiful terracotta colour with even more intensified brown highlights.
On the nose, as it approaches and then on the first pass, a certain sweetness is detected, a mixture of ripe red fruit and wood-roasted caramel notes (with a hint of smoke).
On the second pass, it will release spices, whose peppery notes tease the eyelashes of the nose, and a mixture of more vinous notes giving it a
notes giving it a mellow, almost buttery quality.
On the third pass the spices intensify and are enhanced by a hint of iodine (from Loch Indaal Bay of course).
In the palm of the hand there is a mixture of the smell of Octomore Farm barley and wine barrel.
On the palate, it is initially dry grape, but quickly shows itself to be powerful with an alcoholic crash that is amplified by the spicy spikes.
The fire calms down quite quickly and it is the fruity notes that take over. They are followed by some "rancioté" vinous notes that can be found in the aging wines are present but very discreet and especially ephemeral.
Velvety almond notes follow, then it becomes honeyed at the end and it is only when you swallow it that you will feel the spices and iodine notes again.
The finish is quite long with heat (59.4%) and notes of liquorice.
The empty glass initially retains spices, but soon gives way to earthy barley notes that take us back to Octomore Farm once again
The tasting over, the fog again! I thought I'd stay here as the last distillate comes from the same place (even if its name is different).
Here I am once again back in the Lowland's mountains.
I uncork the third bottle of the day, the "PORT CHARLOTTE SHERRY CASK ANTIPODES" with a promising announcement to finish on what will certainly be the peat note of the day!
A drop on the stone, and here I am once again coated with fog, and once again back on ISLAY.
But this time I didn't land on the beach but on the lawn along the distillery, facing the sea. What a carbon footprint if I had to come twice !
In front of me, still the same row of barrels, but this time the letters on a grey background composing the name PORT CHARLOTTE are painted on the barrels !
Here I am back in the cellar, in front of a second hogshead, but this time a sherry one, for what I think will be THE tasting of the day.
A 59.7% alc cask strength peated Islay whisky with a scent of rarity (only 221 bottles out of the cask)!!! normally enough to make any whisky lover's head spin.
The whisky in my glass is the natural mahogany colour that you always want to have with a whisky!
The only thing you want to do is dive straight into the peat.
When the nose plunges into the glass, the senses are turned upside down in a chocolate and sweet universe of a power 4 orange pim's. Nevertheless, a certain camphorated freshness emanates from the nose that you can almost feel on your lips. It is as well structured as the beams of the chapel of Saint Kiaran's (on the west coast of the island).
On the second pass through the woody dampness that continues to have an effect, there is a discreet thick peat smoke and more pronounced spices whose strength grows as long as you hold on to the glass.
On the third pass, the nose still remembers the spices, the world softens and becomes fruity with notes of melon and burnt caramel!
What a trip !
In the palm of the hand, the peat is blatant and it becomes warm and sweet.
Before entering the mouth the distillate is preceded by the impression of smoke and the already sweet notes of toffees.
And when it enters, it is firstly sweet (beware of the lure) because it is quickly so powerful that it makes you squint.
It's the upheaval, first notes of prune, then sweet notes, then the chewiness of peat smoke, spices whose spikes are like needles in the tongue (all this in 5 seconds, be careful, you have to be seated). Then it will soften and reveal woody and honeyed notes, with a touch of salty bitterness.
When you swallow it, it leaves long notes of ginger, cold smoke and a slight bitterness that reminds you that you have just been the chosen one who tasted a PORT CHARLOTTE treated with REST & BE THANKFUL sauce!
The empty glass keeps traces of roasting, peat and mahogany!
If you had to choose between the three, you will have understood that I will guide you towards this monster (which is worth its price nevertheless).
By the way, if you want to find them in France, go to LA MAISON DU WHISKY, they are full of fantastic animals from the house of REST & BE THANKFUL!
What a tasting! But already the fog was back and in a few seconds I found myself again on the slopes of the Beinn An Lochain mountain. What a pity not to be able to stay on Islay, but "that was the game my poor Lucette" !
On the other hand, exhilarated by these 3 tastings of REST &BE THANKFUL whisky, and reassured by the experience, I went back to the van to get some bottles of rum of the brand to try again the experience towards more distant countries....but that, it will be for another time.
To be continued.....