Wine, Food & Drink Articles

Submit Your Article View More Articles

A Wee Dram-amine

by Darryl Beeson

They don’t call the ocean “the drink” for nothing. My mates and I are motivated more by the peat of the malt than by the pelt of the waves. Our team of three boats, nestled in a hundred boat flotilla, proceeds to seek the finest of Scotland’s single malt Scotches. This is The Classic Malts Cruise of the western coasts and isles of Scotland.

We are the loud, the bedewed, the marines. It is July. And it is ice-cube cold.. Wearing rain gear for obvious reasons and “Wellies” to keep feet warm and dry, our gang of six sail “The Chantilly” from the port of Oban, bound for the Tallisker distillery on the Isle of Skye. Mark Twain once observed that the coldest winter he had ever experienced was a summer in San Francisco. Twain obviously never embarked upon 200-mile mid-summer voyage through the Inner Hebrides of Western Scotland.

Day to day, there were professionally orchestrated tastings above deck when skies were fair, below deck otherwise, and as a treat sometimes ashore visiting individual distilleries.

I am early-on reassigned, or is it that I am shuttled to a multi-ship assignment. The first ship had been a sleek, fiberglass craft. The final destination became the 56 foot Eda Frandsen. Though 65 years of age, this bounty of creaking wood is far from the age of retirement. My former shipmates may have voted me off of the island, fiberglass as it was, because of my snoring. My “sawing” might be more in tune with the Eda Frandsen’s bewailing, moaning timbers. The welcoming captain, Jamie Robinson, is a muscularly honest man educated in the best UK universities, and a disarming cross between Bob Hoskins and Captain Kirk. A gaff-rigged cutter he steers. And he let me steer it a few times myself.

Though most participants sailing in The Classic Malts Cruise are committed members of the sailing community with an additional love of a wee dram, I am, so to speak, an embedded journalist on this multi-destination embarkment. It is true that the older wooden ships moan as they respond to the sea’s massive, derisive duress. The splash of water across the deck, a surprise from a larger wave every ninety seconds or so, is a little un-nerving. The occasionally piercing rain drops are an extreme irritant. So I am told. Being a credentialed and embedded journalist, I file my reports while embedded below deck. in my small bunk area..
A treasure would be a fumbling climb down into the Eda Frandsen’s swift skiff, often averting the obvious landings that are historical or cultural.

If we chanced to be near a pub, we instead quaffed pints of Guinness, more often listening to loud jukeboxes playing U2, rather than bands playing traditional Scottish music as we might have hoped.

One afternoon, we entered the Mull island port of Tobermory, with its waterfront row of yellow, blue, red and white buildings. I noshed upon a hearty local meat pie at an upstairs internet café while checking mail, then gathered with fellow shipmates in the canary-yellow Mishnish Hotel (bed and breakfast goes for $30-$40US a person), where we opted predictably for bitters, stout and gin, pleasured by the land’s firm footing. Before long, we redirected our waning focus upon the Classic Single Malt Scotches, predictably arranged upon the most humble pub’s back bar.

Talisker, Oban and Lagavulin are three of the six classic single malts of Scotland, the others being Glenkinchie, Dalwhinnie and Cragganmore. We discovered through this journey that all whiskies are not the same. The crucial ingredients are malted barley, vital yeast and peat-ladened water.

Talisker, a 10-year-old whisky distilled on the sheltered shores of Loch Harport on Skye, is known for its peppery essence. Oban, distilled very near the downtown of the mainland town of the same name, is a West Highlands whisky, known for its fruit-passionate nose, smoky, spicy taste and oaky finish. Lagavulin, a favorite of some is indeed a dark whisky, though strong, it is not as peaty as its neighbors, distilled in a dangerous Islay cove. Lagavulin is bottled at 16 years, being a lovely color, deeply amber with a glitter of gold.

The public can arrange visits to these distilleries with no sailing involvement, driving three-to-four hours to Oban from the international airport at Glasgow. A bridge now connects the mainland with the Isle of Skye allowing for further investigation.

The Classic Malts Cruise is said to be a must-do event in Scotland's sailing year, and you could join in 2003. “Joined by a passion for sailing, breath-taking scenery and single malt whisky, crews embark, choosing their own particular route from Oban to Skye, and back south to Islay,” observes spokesperson Aura Reinhart. “Hospitality offered by the coastal Classic Malts distilleries of Oban, Talisker and Lagavulin provides the social focus for a relaxed few days of cruising. The formula has been tremendous sailing and memorable fun. All crews are welcomed ashore as guests of the distilleries, for barbeques, music, dancing and, of course, for a chance to meet those whose lives are spent making Scotland's finest whisky.”

For enquiries, please contact World Cruising Club, 129 High Street, Cowes, Isle of Wight, PO31 7AX, email, tel (011) 44 1983 296060, fax +(011) 44 (0) 1983 295959. Entries are limited to a hundred boats. Registrations will be accepted on a first come first served basis. (Later registrations may be accepted, but cannot be guaranteed.
Information is obtained at To book the Eda Frandsen, visit for details.

Each captain chooses a particular route from the charming port town of Oban, destined for the Isle of Skye, and then south to to the Isle of Islay, visiting the classic distilleries of Oban, Talisker, and Lagavulin along the way. The roughly 200 mile journey weaves itself through the visual drama of the Inner Heberdes on Scotland’s breath taking western coast. This takes place every summer in July.

The Classic Malts of Scotland stresses that they take no responsibility for the sailing aspects of the cruise. Newcomers should treat the cruise as an independent trip and plan accordingly. Self-sufficiency (i.e., knowledge, experience, charts, planning, weather forecasting, navigation, Dramamine) is essential for the safety of the participating yachts and their crews.

About the Author

Darryl Beeson - Over the past decade, as sommelier or cellar master of restaurants such as The Mansion on Turtle Creek and the Adolphus Hotel's French Room, Beeson helped garner awards such as the Wine Spectator's Grand Award, Food & Wine Magazine's Best Wine List Awa