Whiskey Tourism and You; Have a Dram With Me

dram

Okay, so it’s sad to admit this, but I am not much of a drinker these days. Sadder still, when you go to countries like Scotland and Ireland and whiskey is a national drink or a beer is, and you don’t really do either, you feel a bit out of place. In my youth I could drink some heavy drink, not to say that I didn’t suffer the next day, but I certainly could hold it better. Back in the day, though it was Vodka for me. I spent many nights in Irish and Scots pubs in San Francisco, but could never develop a taste for the amber liquids. I hope to change that as I have found that true whiskey is so not what it is in the states. It’s a rare thing that needs appreciation.

Having a taste for something  like whiskey means growing up with it. In Ireland and the UK in general, alcoholic beverages take on a different aspect to how we view such things in the US. Well, granted we all look at it as a good time, and see what happened when we had Prohibition, we just wanted it more. So the attitude to take when you are in another country, is yes, try the wonderful varieties of whiskey, but think a bit before you do. In the US we have our versions of Scotch and various whiskeys with an American twist, but it’s nothing compared to true Irish or Scots whiskeys. Simply put, our soil is very different and we don’t have as much bog, we got swamp, and well if you got swap you got some bog, but not like in these countries.  In the US, our alcohol content is not as high as other in other countries. In the US we still have our mentality of supersize me, when we pour a whiskey it’s maybe a half glass of liquid, but not made like it is in the UK or Ireland. It’s a bit watered down. We view it like we do in excess of soda pop or anything else we have in the states. We have a lot at once. It’s quantity, not quality.

Have that mentality in the Uk and Ireland and sticker shock will get you. Alcoholic drinks are heavily taxed in the UK, it’s what drives the price up. You will get a smaller portion very exactly measured out. And whiskey is traditionally a dram. It’s a wee amount. I have been told by whiskey enthusiasts that true, well done whiskey is best in small amounts and should be savored, rolled on tongue and many other tasting rituals that we do. If you are an American and ask for a half glass of Scotch at a pub, they will just look at you. Ask for a Whiskey and be prepared, there are so many varieties you have never encountered unless you belong to a whiskey club in the US.

EDINBURGH’S WHISKY HERITAGE

Then we come to the fun part. Tourists have become big enthusiasts in tasting tours. We love them, even when we are not on tour at home. People go to beer tastings, Sake tastings, and of course whiskey. But it is oh so different in the UK and Ireland, and your sommelier will enlighten you so. Listen up. There are so many establishments wanting your business, banking on your tourism that they blast the pipes music out the doors and hope you’ll come tasting with them. So how do you tell the good with the bad? How do you figure out having a quality experience? If you are traveling with a group, decide what it is that you want from a tasting. Not everyone will like the whiskey, so go somewhere that also has a bit of wine or beer on tap just in case. But go with this in mind: You are going to have a verra small taste of the hundreds of distilleries in the country. It is a discovery of what you like and may prefer. Let your taste develop, don’t think of it as a brand like you do in the states. It’s a name, like a fine wine, only a great deal of time is spent on its creation, up to 30 years aging. So, don’t get too intimidated, talk to the sommelier. Admit you have only had American style and want the real thing. Yeah, in the US we get most of our alcohol courtesy of our immigrants heritage and much was changed in the process. So be prepared for a little going a long way.

And to truly make a appreciation, take a distillery tour. All major and many minor labels have a tour of their facilities. If you can squeeze one in your travels, you will greatly appreciate the art of drinking when you see what goes into it. And what the heck with peat? Peat is used in the kiln during the heating during the drying process for the malt. This gives it a smoky flavor. Yes, in the US most of us heat with wood, in the UK and Ireland sod burning still goes on.

Best Distillery Tours

How to not get overwhelmed by so many whiskey choices? Check out some articles on places to try whiskey in Scotland and Ireland, take your friends and just try a wee tasting. It may take a while but you will find a whiskey or two that you enjoy.

Oh, and if you are visiting friends in the UK or Ireland find out what their favorites are and get them on the plane or at airport, duty free. As I have said, it’s very expensive and host gifting is still very big in these cultures. If they can get a really nice bottle from you that will make them very happy.

Bring bottle of aspirin when you travel.

Don’t forget, in Ireland, there’s a whiskey museum. Now how good is that?

Links

Whiskey Basics

The Scotch Whiskey Experience

8 Best Whiskey Bars in Edinburgh

The Best Whiskey Bars in Glasgow

Top 10 Best Whiskey Bars in Dublin

Best Places to Drink in Dublin

Whiskey Walk Belfast

Galway

Ireland Whiskey Trail

British Distillery Tours

 

Community Cafes for Conscious Tourism

coffeeThe  cafe. A place to contemplate politics and community. The birthplace of revolutions. Why not participate in a conscious place of birth for a worth cause?

Social enterprise is very much on the rise the world over. Community, Social Conscious or non-profit cafes have been springing up all over the world in the last 10 years with many missions. Most cafes have a general mission to help with a charity or offer training to those in need for job skills, or any other great social combinations. Whatever the mission, these cafes are not just a soup kitchen affair. Some are trendy and well peopled with celebrities like George Clooney visiting them.

When traveling, consider helping support  the  local community there by eating at a sandwich shop that helps out a charity. True, you are on vacation maybe and want to spoil yourself with great food. Why not accomplish both a good budget food choice and one that helps out? Food can be good for the soul and helping communities the world over is a powerful statement for any traveler. Besides, just think of the conversations you will have. Talk to the staff, ask them what they are about.

So when you are traveling, key in social enterprise cafes and restaurants in searches to find the local ones. Enjoy your meal.

Check out some of the cities below to see how you can help.

London’s Best Community Cafes

Edinburgh’s Community Cafes – Comprehensive map and list of cafes for Scotland’s capitol.

Community Cafes in Glasgow

Inverness Velocity Cafe – I ate here, it was a good bite and hard to get in, very popular

Around the World

Let’s Eat Glasgow – Food Festival with Food Equality in Mind

Belfast Cafes

Galway

It’s Not Yer Starbucks, Mate!

starbucks-com

Starbucks.co.uk

Coffee

Ah, weary traveler. Suffering from jetlag on day two and you crawl out of bed at the wee hour of 4:30 am Glasgow time because well, the seagulls were screeching near the window and you couldn’t sleep anyway because you are still behind in hours. Run to the hotel gym for a bit, then walk the city streets to figure the town out. Yes, that’s me. And yes, remembering that previous times being in the UK and the coffee not being very American, even an Americano not seeming right, it may be a search. But wait, I spy an American export. It’s a Starbucks. Maybe they can get my coffee rightish.

Stand in queue and wait, yes it will have to be an Americano, because sadly I have to do decaf these days. Okay. Wait, there’s only milk. Scratching of head (heid). Um, do you have cream? Yeah, we have pouring creme behind counter. Okay. Ooo, this is like heavy creme. Waistline expands while pouring.

Creme for coffee is not really left out in the cafes of Europe. In the States, many of us have half-and-half, what we call creme. Not so in Scottish Starbucks. Most Europeans drink smaller servings of coffee than we do, and use whole milk as cream. Starbucks may have a slight feel of your local, but you are in another country and it caters to the region. So, things are a bit different. And probably more healthy. America tends to supersize and so does our waistlines. You know you are going to gain a bit of weight no matter how much you exercise and tour, because damn do they deep fat fry here. So maybe milk is better. But since I am so ingrained in my coffee ritual, because I had to cut down on the caffeine, I ended up buying milk and pouring creme and set up a mix in the fridge for the service apartment I was staying in. Add a small amount of butter and eggs for the stay and I was set. MMMM. And they taste different than in the US. Tastier in fact.

In the US we are subject to so much factory farming that the taste has gone out of our food.  This is not to say there are not factory/corporate farms in the UK. They seem to have better use of local farms and markets. Many of us go to smaller food stores and buy health food, grass fed coos milk to make up for it in the US. You can get better foods in the US if you try, but the flavor is always going to be different in another country. Different soil, grass, cows. You also may get in the habit of taking tea in the afternoons along with the natives in the UK. Great way to de-stress. So milk is the thing.

Don’t whine at the Starbucks, adapt and adjust. Think like a European.

Or, better yet, go to the plethora of independently owned cafes and carts. I had one of the best coffees in Scotland at a student run cart just outside Edinburgh Castle. Tasted just like it came out of the PNW and I told them so. I was so happy to find some damn fine brew and said “Just like in the PNW!”, and the lad was off explaining how they roasted their own beans and they were part of a collective of like minded coffee brewers. Great, felt like a barista in Portland but with the accent. Had a lovely chat about the changing coffee themes in Scotland, explained to him the concept of half-and-half creme and he might do a mix and tell the Americans, they would love it and Twitter like mad about him. Seemed to like that idea, so Edinburgh may get American creme yet.

Best Coffee Places in Glasgow

Best Coffee Places in Edinburgh at the Scotland Coffee Lovers Blog – So happy I found these guys, can try a new one each day

The Top 10 Independent Coffee Shops In Town Dublin

Galway Cafes

Where are the Washcloths??

Staying at hotels and B&Bs, you will find does not include washcloths. If you ask for them at the counter, they will not have them. Of course you may think, why don’t they adapt for tourists. Well, it’s their country. In the UK, they have large body towels and hand towels as standard, that’s it. And some places don’t use a top sheet in the bed, especially if they have a duvet cover on, they wash that instead.

There are often radiators in all rooms and you will need to adjust them to ambient heat for your stay. Not too bad, very efficient. If you live in a older US city you are use to this kind of heating, but if not, adjust. And bring a sweater, even in summer. There have been some heat waves in the UK, and one year I was in London it was like being in Los Angeles, but bring the sweater or one ling sleeve shirt just in case if traveling in summer. The rest of the year, bring at least one sweater.

The wall sockets must be turned on. Most hotels and B&Bs are on energy miser mode. Again you are in another country, not the gas guzzling, electricity using US. These places like their Lecky bills low, and utilities in the UK are very high. Then you need to learn how to use the dial water heaters at source for showers. This is fun, let me tell you. Sometimes you have to pull a switch in another part of the bathroom. So, make sure radiant heat is started, pull of clothes and fight the switch. If you are traveling with someone,  get a system going!

This is why I told you to start training for travel, means training the brain as well.

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