Bliss in a Barrel

Cask Strength Art for the Whisk(e)y aficionado

Day 4 (19 May 2012): Royal Mile in Edinburgh-Cathedral, The Whisky Scotch Experience, and Edinburgh Castle June 15, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — L.T. Do @ 4:06 am


I  woke up feeling quite tired today, dreading to meet up with Robbie and Amrick because I was so sleepy.  For the past 3 days I was only having about 1-3 hours of sleep each night.   I was still having a difficult time falling asleep and it could be the fact that when I crawled  into bed late at night i wasn’t getting into my pajammies.  I was just wearing my outdoor attire in bed, even when my pants were covered with a ring of dirt around the hem of my pants.  However, I knew that these guys, Robbie and Amrick, were going out of their way to want to hang out with me, so I got ready for my adventure.
     By 12:00 PM I called Robbie and he didn’t pick up his cell phone.  I sat on the front of the steps of my hostel, and by 12:45 PM I still didn’t see any of them.  I decided that I was going to go Edinburgh on my own with or without them!  So, I took the Kelvingrove Station to Buchanan Station for £1.20 one way.  Then I bought a round-trip train ride to Edinburgh to my train. It costed me about £13.50 total to get to and from Edinburgh.   The ride took an hour and
          Graffiti Artwork at Kelvingrove Station
it was very scenic.  I just saw rows and rows of pasture and one of my favorite moments was looking at the hills marked with a burst of yellow; the hills were filled with yellow petals and it looked really bright against the grey sky.

  I was reminded of a picture sent by one of my favorite friends back home, who showed an image of someone sitting on an elephant, walking through a large field of sunflowers.  Moments like this I wish I had a lot of money, so I could give my friends and family a fancy all-expensive paid trip on me!!!  🙂

     The clouds were heavy and low, which  made the sky appear ominous.  I followed a flight of stairs that was wrapped around this cylindrical building and once the stairs ended I plopped myself on the cobbled steps of the Royal Mile and was completely overwhelmed by the large buildings stacked back to back of each other.  It was absolutely majestic to see the Edinburgh Castle at the top end of the street.  All of the limestone structures looked as though they were were 7 or 8 stories high.  Every building was detailed and incrusted with crown moldings.  I also saw several whisky shops that I wanted to step inside, but I didn’t want to tempt myself to go inside because I knew I was on a budget.   At any rate, Edinburgh was like a traveler’s paradise; you don’t have to think about searching for all of the famous land plots, since it’s all there laid out for you to see!!!  It really felt like traveling back in time to the 1600’s.
     I started to imagine living back in time and was reminded of studying a semester of Shakespeare–the art and the deep link between England and Scotland.  I learned that during the 1600’s, there was a huge outpour of people getting sick because the drainage system was bad.  During that time, after people took a dunkin’ doodle (there’s no other way for me to put it!), they dumped it out on the streets.  The whole city is built on an incline and all the poo just collected at the base of the city, creating a huge bacteria outpour that caused people to get sick and die.
    I first went to the cathedral.  The favorite part of the cathedral was going inside the boys’ choir room.  I think someone in there said that there were little decorations near the ceiling of the young choir boys who died.  The room was a small size, isolated from the rest of the cathedral.
        This is the ceiling from the choir room from this picture above.  The picture on the left is little decorations for the choir rooms and the picture below is the ceiling of the choir room.

The cathedral was majestic, in which it had all kinds of statues and, of course, pretty stain glass windows!!!



After I went to the cathedral, I continued walking uphill.  I noticed that there were live musicians playing on their bagpipes!  There were so many places that I wanted to see.  For example, they were offering spooky night tours.  I could only imagine how this place would be like lit at night!  Aw…that’s when I started to wish that I could stay in Edinburgh at night to get a whole glimpse of everything, day and night!  
I also knew that I wanted to go to the Whisky Scotch Experience.  My friend told me that it was a little cheesy ride that’s kind of like Disneyland’s Mister Told Stool’s Ride, where you sit in a wheel barrel and it takes you from one room to the next.  HEHEHE!  That sort of thing is totally up my alley.  At first, I was very distracted by the castle, but then looked up to the left and noticed that I was standing right in front of the window that said, “The Whisky and Scotch Experience!”  Cool deal! I saw my destination!!!!  I walked inside and stood inline for my tour.  I paid for the basic tour that included one whisky and a tulip glass.  The tour was £17.  WHen I rode in the wheel barrel, there was a hologram of a man who looked like Mark Twain that gave me a virtual tour of the distillation process.  I recorded the whole tour on my father’s camera! HEHE!  At the end of the ride, I met the main tour guide and there were about 15 people in my group.
 The tour guide led us to a tasting room, and she gave us an in-depth discussion about tasting whisky and providing the regions of whisky in Scotland, which were Speyside, Islay, Lowland and Highland.  It’s interesting that she said that because I’ve heard and read from several sources that the regions of whisky in Scotland range from anywhere between 4-6.   She handed us a “scratch and sniff” card that had four of these regions.  She stated that Speyside usually smells like ripe bananas, Christmas cakes, and tropical fruit.   As far as Lowland, she indicated that the whisky in this region has citrus, grassy notes and Highland has vanilla notes, and there are more floral notes in the inland part of Highland.  One can also pick up characteristics of corcus alber from the American oak.   And the easiest one to detect is, of course, Islay, which has smoky qualities.    Then, she took us  to a room that had, I think,  3,548 bottles of whiskies!  Originally, the collection was owned by this Brazilian businessman, and it took him about 35 years to collect them.  None of these bottles are opened!  I was thinking that it was a load of tom foolery on that man’s part.  If  I owned each bottle, I would’ve cracked all of them open!  There is nothing like sharing whisky with other people.

 She then led us to a room that was a store/bar, in which there was a Johnnie Walker bottle that costed £100,000.  The bottle was over the top.  I think she said that the bottle was cut by 5 different crystal-cutting specialists and there was a diamond on the bottle.  However, she emphasized that at the end of the day, it was only whisky; thus, price shouldn’t matter.  One of her favorite whiskies is in a soda bottle from Mexico.  I agree.  That’s what whisky should be all about–fun! 🙂  By the way, I hope that one day, I’ll get the opportunity to own a huge collection of whisky !  The tour was uber fun.  They have a great bar down stairs.  One day, I’ll have to go back and sit down to sip some whiskies there.  I just knew that I was on a tight budget, so I couldn’t really be loose with money and sip a bunch of expensive whiskies.





After the Whisky Scotch Experience, I went straight to the Edinburgh Castle.  It costed about £24 to get into the castle.  The castle was incredible and it looked as though it was built into the mountains.  Paying to get in this place was well worth it because the view overlooking the whole city was spectacular.  You can see the ocean as well.  There were parts of the castle that had small, sitting areas, perhaps about a quarter of a typical size bedroom, where one can peer through unclear glass to stare at the city.  

The castle’s plot appeared to have a little city within itself, in the sense that there were different buildings in the main center.  There was also a whisky shop!  How neat, though I was pretty sure that was later added for the tourists.
 After the tour I was hungry and went to a cafe. I ordered a panini and it was about £9 pounds.  My day was getting so expensive!!!   After I ate, I paid for my meal and left the shop.  The girl who was working there found me outside and handed me the tulip glass I left behind.  How sweet of her to go out of her way to do that for me!!!  🙂  By 6:30 PM, I decided to leave Edinburg because I was still thinking that the sun would set at 8:30 PM in Scotland.  I figured that I’d give myself a 1 hour leeway for getting lost as well.
had only been 3 d
ays, I
felt as thou
gh I had been in Scotland for a full week.  There were so many fun stories about my adventures.  However, my decisions about what I would like to do with my life didn’t click into full view because I didn’t see a distillery yet. The week before my trip, my heart was set on pursuing a whisky career, and I was ready to rock it out in this industry.  Then, I was wondering if I made a good decision by leaving my job and pursuing a whisky job.  Sometimes, I would feel as though I was too socially awkward or too shy to be engaging and charming like the brand ambassadors that I met this past year. I also wondered if I “opened up too much” with strangers, telling them that I would feel inspired by them because I would see them as positive outliers in my life, especially since I spent the first 4 years of my life sharing a room with my parents and siblings in a 1-bedroom apartment where all of us slept on the floor.  I would keep on thinking that I was a lower class citizen and below everyone that I would start to get intimidated by people.  For example, I recently had the opportunity to attend 2 tasting adventures at someone’s home in West Los Angeles, and the event was filled with all Jewish, married men.  It was inspiring to hear them talk about their dedication to their family, where they had to put their dreams of visiting distilleries on hold because they wanted to save money for their children’s college, etc.  However, they were still able to pay for their hobby and collect bottles.   During the last tasting event, for example, there were 16 different Brenriach expressions and some of these bottles didn’t exist in the USA.   They even had one of the managers for the SF Distillery Company come to the event at their home.  I was thinking that they chose a great high-paying career that allowed them to fund for their expensive hobbies.   Then, I started to wonder if I needed to go back to school and get a master’s in speech pathology, so I could obtain a fairly stable, good-paying job.  I wondered if I’d ever be as good as them.  I wondered if I was too sensitive and thin-skinned to be in this field.  At any rate, I have many days to figure out what my purpose in life is from this trip!!!
Around midnight, I was in the living room again, emailing people.  I then met Paul, a man from Oban, who originally lived in Edinburgh.  He came back from a historical soccer match.  I didn’t remember the names of these 2 teams, but he told me the last time they played together during the finals was in 1906!  It was a great night for him because his team won.  I told him that I saw a huge band of fans with painted faces who chanted out loud when I was leaving Edinburgh.  We chatted until 4 in the morning.  He decided to check into the hostel that night because his bus ride back to Oban would’ve taken too long.  He couldn’t sleep in his room because people were snoring.   So, he opted to stay in the living room for the remaining of the night.  Paul told me that his great ancestors have names engraved in the cathedral at the Royal Mile.  In addition, one of his distant uncles has a street named after him.
Paul left school at 16 and worked ever since.  He now lived in Oban with his dog and loved the natural setting of his life.  He told me that he enjoyed spending his days gardening in front of his home.  In addition, he suggested that I visit Oban, where he’d show me around.  In addition, the Oban Distillery was near his home!  I showed Paul my whisky journals and surprisingly he was so excited about my journey here in Scotland that he wanted to help me get to Islay.  I received his email and we kept in contact!  Paul stated that on his way back to Oban, he would do some research to get me to Islay.  We even spent some time online looking at the ferry routes.  It was rather confusing because there was one page, where it stated that there were daily ferry routes, and on another link from the same website, it stated that one of the ports was closed due to being under construction and it didn’t have any ferry routes for the 27th and 28th of May.  I was so touched that Paul was excited about my trip.  He also told me that the trip in Orkney would be wonderful for me.  He said,  “The people in Orkney are so gentle.  One time I was there and I had to go to a hospital and I asked a family for directions.  The family just drove me to the hospital.”
Again, I couldn’t believe that I was continuously getting so much help from the locals here.  I felt absolutely lucky that everyone I met was nice and sweet.

Scotland Day 3 (18 May 2012): Kelvingrove Museum and Islay Inn June 13, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — L.T. Do @ 10:50 am


The next morning I woke up around 9:30 AM.  I was the last person to wake up.  The other 5 girls in my room left early in the morning, probably around 7 AM!  I took my time rolling out of bed and  had no idea what I wanted to do today, but after showering and putting on fresh clothes I walked out of the hostel at 10:30 am and saw a gal sitting on the front steps of the hostel’s entrance.   She had on black spandex and open-toed shoes. Her hair was wild and frizzy, wrapped in a  bun.  My reaction was, “I like her quirky look! She looks like a really nice person!!!”  I greeted her and asked if she were traveling alone, in which she replied, “Yes.”  I told her I was traveling alone, too, and was freezing cold, but she said that she was used to that kind of weather because Chicago could get as cold as Scotland.  Her name was Shiri, and she said, “I’m going to Kelvingrove Museum right now.  Would you like to come with me?”  And you bet I said yes! 🙂

The both of us had a map in our hands, but we still got lost.   It took us about 30 minutes to find the museum.  However, when we got closer to the museum, a guy exactly where to go.  After we talked to him, she turned to me and said, “You know you’re in Scotland when you can smell alcohol from someone’s breath at 11 in the morning!!!”  At any rate, the guy who helped us out was really nice and friendly!  He said that if we saw the butcher shop we were on the right track!


We finally arrived at the museum, but we were 15 minutes too early.  So, we walked around the building and took pictures of the exterior.  Once we got in, the interior of the place looked like a cathedral to me because the height of the building was grand and detailed like a cathedral.  It also had stained glass windows and large chandeliers, in addition to a pipe organ on the second floor at the main center of the building.   The two of  us just joined a tour for free, and it was interesting to learn about Scotland’s history.   For example, the tour guide stated that Scotland is known for having creative engineers create things on the set of Star Trek.  There was also some famous man who created this metal machine that had the full set of  planets.  She said it was soooo accurate that if you still wound it up it to this day, it would lose 1 second of the time over 2 years I think.  If I could recall correctly from memory,  she said the contraption was about 100 years old.

I saw artifacts of Egyptian tombs, etc., but I was more interested in the the history of Scotland because I was in this country.  I learned that the streets named in Glasgow were actual historical references.  For example, the street Battle Ground is a direct link to the Queen of Scotts being captured by Queen Elizabeth from England.  There was an original letter that was written under the Queen of Scotts’s direction, where she stated that she needed help to escape from prison in the museum, too.

One of my favorite part of the museum was looking at the knights’ attire.  Helmets and weapons were designed and inspired by animals to help the knights defend

themselves.  For example, there was one helmet that had a sharp angle that protruded near the forehead, which emulated a bird’s beak.

I think craft work and details on the armours and weapons were amazing.  I like to gaze at the details of the armour and imagine how it was made and how long it took for these craftsmen to create them.  I love staring at crown moldings and carved faces made from limestones on buildings, wondering who these people are supposed to be. When I go the living room at my hostel and look up at the ceiling, I see an oval border that has plaster shaped in fruits.  Everything just seems so majestic when I get to catch a glimpse of these works.  There’s something personal about handcraft work and minute details.  

I also saw a painting by Dahli, which was a painting of Jesus. I think the tour guide stated that the time when he painted a picture of Jesus, he was in a place of becoming religious again.  He didn’t draw Jesus with a bloody crown or Jesus’ hands being nailed to the cross because he wanted Jesus to be seen in a a perfect light.  There’s an actual tear on the painting, that was eventually restored.  Someone was so angry by it that he took a knife and drew it from left to right on the lower 2/3 of the painting.  When someone asked Dahli if he were offended by it, he stated that it was better to get some of sort of a reaction from someone  than to not have any reaction at all.  The painting also belongs to the city of Glasgow.  Usually, after the painter dies the commission and royalties are given to his family, so it is a rare treat that Glasgow owns the property work of a painter, especially during the time when the painter is still alive.

At the end of the tour I was dead tired.  I was thinking, “Dammit! I’m such an old geezer!  I can’t do my straight 6-hour walks anymore.  I retired my feet at the cafe and had coffee and gingerbread.  At 1 o’clock a man played us 8 songs on the organ.   It was nice to sit down and relax.


                                                            Knights! 🙂

Statue in front of museum.


Shiri and I got back to the hostel around 2:00 PM, and she left for London.  We took our separate ways, and I went straight to the computer to email people.   While emailing people, I thought to myself, “I can’t walk far any more!! Dammit! I’m old!!!!!!!”  So I lounged around the hostel for a few hours and took a nap.  Then around 5:40 pm, I had the sudden energy to get up from my bed and decided that I wanted to check out the Botanical Gardens.  The gal at the front desk said it was a ten-minute walk.  As I got out of the steps from hostel, I realized I had no clue where to cut through the park.  I made a left when I exited the hostel.  That was wrong, of course!!! I asked a couple to show me the way when I walked through the park, but the couple said it was too far–about 20 minutes of a walk–and I was better off not going there, since it was sprinkling and getting late.  The sun sets here around 8:40 PM (At least that’s what I thought at the time because I didn’t have a watch).  So, I decided to walk down the neighborhood to look for food.

By the way, my hostel is great. It’s on top of a hill by a park, so it’s easy to find my way back (I just look for a plot of green up on a hill..and BOOM I’m back at my place!!!  At any rate, I made two turns to the right and and then I made a left turn and walked passed by a white building called Islay Inn.  It had frosted windows with a picture of Islay and all the names of the distilleries were labeled on each window.  My initial thought was that it was a hotel or motel.

I opened the door and paced back and forth the bar 3 times, holding a map and pen in my hand. I felt awkward and shy in there, giving a “lost look on my face,” the kind of stare where my eyebrows would go upwards and my forehead would crinkle.  It felt as though I was stepping on a set of a spaghetti western film…You know, when there’s some renagade walking through the bar and everyone stops sipping their drinks and they  are just staring at you.  I man with a scraggly white beard and a jolly belly looked at me and asked with a thick, Scottish accent, “Hello there.  Can I help you?  Do you want a drrrrrink?”   He made me smile when he rolled his “r’s”.   I looked at him and said, “Well, I’m still debating whether I should sit down in the back room and have a meal or just sit at the bar”.   He shook my hand and introduced himself as Scottie.  It turned out that Scottie was a local here and knew everyone who was inside Islay Inn.  Scottie  introduced me to his Chinese girlfriend (who knew there were other Asians in Scotland!!!) and everyone else sitting at the bar.  His girlfriend was really sweet; she gave me a tablet and told me to try it, stating that it was kind of like fudge.  Personally, I’ve had tablets before when Johnnie, the Brand Ambassador for Glenrothes and Bowmore, brought it for everyone at Seven Grand’s tasting event.  It was yummy and tasted like condensed milk. I took a picture with Scottie and his girlfriend.  While I posed with the 2 of them, he said, “These are my babes!”  He was very warm and funny!

 When Scottie found out that I was from California he was really excited to introduce me to everyone.   I told him that I set out to Scotland in search of whiskies.   Scottie told me that he didn’t drink whisky, so he asked the owner to suggest a whisky for me.  Scottie then handed me the Glendfarclas 12-year, and it was fantastic!  He introduced me to everyone in the bar and passed me on to 2 young guys, Malcolm and Allen, who were sitting by a mural that had a painting of all the local musicians that performed at Islay Inn. Allen is originally from the Isle of Mull, and I think Malcolm is a local from Glasgow.  When they asked me where I was from, all of them assumed that I was rich and superficial because they watched The Real Housewives of Orange County, among other reality shows, and thought all of Orange County and LA were filled with people with fake, materialistic people.   I told them that it was hard for me to make an assessment of LA because when I go there I am usually at a bar chatting with nice people; I don’t spend enough time there to really have a true opinion of the city.  As far as Orange County, I live in a section where there are a lot of minorities!  It’s totally different from south county.  Despite their impressions, I think they thought I was down to earth because I told them that I was a social worker.   On a positive note, Malcolm had a positive thing to say about Los Angeles.  One time, he was there in LA with his cousin and friends, where all of them wanted to rent a car to drive around the city.  The renter let them rent the car for free and just handed Malcolm a set of keys to a Chevy Convertible!
      Malcolm stated that he didn’t drink whisky, but he mainly drinks beer and vodka instead.  He jokingly stated that he loves whisky but he couldn’t have too much of it because it turned him into a monster, where he’d drink and half a bottle later he’d lose track of time and cry.   On a serious note, he consumes whisky twice a year for special occasions.   He stated that people in Scotland don’t really drink whisky because it was too expensive.  Instead, only old men with money drink whisky.    I remember when I was at Glasgow’s airport, I noticed that the Ardbeg 10 Year was roughly $60 and in the US that bottle runs about $46.  That’s really shitty that Scotch is made in Scotland, but they hike up the prices of whisky there.   He went ahead and ordered me a Jura.  I told him that I wanted to buy him a drink, but it seemed that whenever I brought it up that offer he  was somewhat offended that I wanted to get him drink.  (I also wanted to buy the others a drink, too, but no one wanted me to buy them a drink!!!  Again, they had the same reaction as Malcolm).  At any rate, Malcolm stated that there are some scenes from the film Trainspotting is filmed in Glasgow, specifically by Allen’s flat.
     I got hungry and ordered a dish.  It was a chicken breast that was filled with haggis and was covered with gravy.   Back home, people told me that haggis was gross, but when I ate it I thought it was uber delicious.  It tasted like froie gras or pâte.  Personally for me, anything organ-y tastes yummy.  I took over an hour finishing my meal because I was to busy enjoying my conversation  with the both of them.  The more they drank their cranberry vodkas the more they were witty and funny.   My gravy started to congeal and Malcolm was grossed out by it.  HAHA!
     I went back to the bar to revisit Scottie and his pals.  It turned out that there was another nice person who bought me a whisky, too, and it was sitting on the bar table for the past hour.   Scottie told his friend that I had found a group of young lads and his friend looked a bit disappointed.  He didn’t want to take the whisky or give it to me.  Awww…I felt a bit bad.
     Amrick, the Prisoner Corrections Officer, told me that his friends would be performing around 9PM and they surely did. I ended up dancing with one of the locals to Celtic music.  It was fun immersing myself with the locals.  Everyone was so sweet and nice. I couldn’t believe how kind they were!
    By 10, the rest of Malcolm’s friends showed up.  Everyone arrived at the bar for Allen’s belated birthday and they were planning to go to a club at 10:30 PM.  I forget the name of one of his friends, but he was a whisky enthusiast, too.  He was excited to talk about whisky, and he ended telling me that I knew more about whisky than him!  He ordered me a Glenkinchie to drink.  Three whiskies in??? This was amazing!  All of Malcolm’s friends and Malcolm left to bar to go to the club and I took a picture with them before they left.
  I then started to chat with Amrick and his friend Robbie.  Amrick introduced me to Robbie as the “Steven Segal of 
Scotland.”  That was funny because Robbie had a ponytail and low-set eyebrows.  I guess if I squinted I could see the resemblance.  When the band was playing music, everyone sang and danced to the tunes.  Robbie would always make a comment that I’d appreciate an American tune, but I didn’t recognize the classic, American songs!  He was shocked!  15 minutes before the bar closed, Robbie asked me if I liked Gin and Tonic.  I said I did and he ordered me the drink!  I said, “What??? I told you a minute ago that I was done drinking for the night!!”  He replied, “You said you liked Gin and Tonic!”  He pointed to my drink, telling me that I needed to drink it!  I stated that I was done sipping alcohol for the night, so he downed the gin and tonic.
          After the bar closed Robbie, Amrick and I went to Firebird, which was another bar down the street.  They asked me what my plans were for tomorrow, and I told them that I booked 2 nights to stay in Edinburgh.  The both of them told me to change my nights and stay back in Glasgow because they wanted to go with me to Edinburgh for a day via bus.  I was set to meet them at 12:00 PM the next day. Robbie would help me look for a sim card for my phone, and then we would all go to Edinburgh together!
   Amrick advised me to get a taxi tonight because he said it would not be safe to walk alone at night.  He told me that Glasgow was the #1 place to get shanked in the UK.   I had no idea it was a dangerous place, since everyone was soooo genuine, sweet and welcoming.  He stated that fortunately my hostel, which is located in the West End, is a fairly safe place in comparison to the East End.  He advised me to avoid walking through the park at night.  Unfortunately, during the late night, there are gay people who run the risk of getting stabbed at the park.
    Amrick wanted to show me his flat before he grabbed me a taxi.  I was a bit hesitant to go in, since he was a stranger, but I figured he wouldn’t harm me.  His place was small, but nice.  He showed off his 100% authentic, red wool pillows and photos of himself receiving awards as a policeman.   He explained to me that policemen were not allowed to hit or touch the inmates.   I noticed that there was a washing machine in the kitchen.  I’ve never seen that before.  He showed me photos of himself winning awards as an officer and a picture of his son.  He talked about his personal life, stating that he’d like to marry one day, but it was hard to meet people.  In his neighborhood, there were many college students who rented flats near his home.  As a result, Glasgow’s West End is very diverse, filled with people from all sorts of backgrounds.  Ha! And here I thought I’d be the only Asian in Scotland.  How ignorant of me!!!   Anyway, he showed me how to restrain a person, which was a moved called the “Gooseneck.”  You twist the person’s arm with one hand and bend the wrist forward to apply pressure.   By the end of the night it was about 2:30 AM.  I was getting super tired and the taxi finally came to pick me up.  The ride was expensive, and it costed about 8 pounds.
     I couldn’t ask for a more exciting evening.  It was really cool to be welcomed by so many people who were so down to earth and sweet.  Over here, they value how kind you are and not about how much money you have.  I was excited about meeting the people here and felt so lucky by the people I met today.  There was something so special about this place, and I started to feel that I was restoring my faith in people.   This was beginning to be such a special trip for me, and I was quickly falling in love with Scotland, especially the people.



Day II: Arriving to Glasgow and Sipping at Dram! June 8, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — L.T. Do @ 6:36 pm

The flight took about 9 hours, and I didn’t really feel that I was in the UK, until an employee stamped my passport.  That’s when I thought to myself, “I’m in the UK!  I totally made it!!!”  About 20 feet away from me, I saw a band of Olympians checking into the airport as well.  I wanted to take a picture of them, but the airport staff at Heathrow looked a bit annoyed at my gaze.

At any rate, after landing into Heathrow’s airport, I had to check-in again to grab a connecting flight to Glasgow.  It took about an hour to get into Glasgow via flight.  Once I landed into Glasgow, as expected, it was raining.   I then sat at the baggage claim, waiting for my suitcase.  A Scotsman sat next to me, and I asked him if a taxi would be expensive.  He replied, “It would be very expensive to get a taxi from the airport.  You’re better off asking one of the staff here to have him get you a local taxi to pick you up here than using the airport’s taxi or you can take the bus.  I’d drop you off at the hostel, but my car isn’t here.”  I was surprised by his generosity. It didn’t stop there.  There was a woman in front of me, holding her baby while she tried to fold the baby carriage.  The man who sat next to me asked her, “Can I be of any assistance to you?”   That’s when I noticed that people in Scotland were genuinely nice people.  I started to feel less apprehensive about traveling alone.

I waited for my baggage for about 25 minutes and one of the men on my flight told me that I was in the wrong baggage claim and he redirected me to the right one.  Luckily, he helped me out; otherwise, I’d be sitting there for another hour waiting for my suitcase!  After getting my baggage, I approached a staff from the airport for assistance.  I held my Moleskin book, showing him the address of my hostel while shaking out of fear as I asked him for assistance.  I couldn’t even hold my book in an assertive manner.  I was just scared and nervous again about traveling alone.  He was soooo nice and said, “Hold on, love.  Let me get you a map.”  15 minutes later, he came back to me and drew a pen mark and showed me where to go.  (I have to say, I am a terrible traveler.  I didn’t have a smart phone nor did I Google any place where I went; thus, I heavily relied on getting my way around by asking people for help).  I then hopped onto the bus, which costed 5 pounds one way, and arrived in Glasgow’s West End.

Now, I like to think that I’m a light packer, but lugging a suitcase up the cobbled steps and hill was really hard!!! At one point, I wanted to kick my suitcase down the curb and just be free from it.  The weather was cold as expected. However, when wearing thermos underneath my slacks, I quickly got hot and started to sweat.  I think it took me approximately 30 minutes or more to find my hostel.  Once I entered the terrace, I noticed a pretty park that was right next to my hostel.

After speaking with about a handful of people from Glasgow, I no longer felt worried.  The locals continued to be very sweet and genuinely helpful.  Even when I asked for assistance from a staff at a 24-hour shop, a gal looked at her map on her phone for me.  I don’t think people here in California would do that for me!! I was glad I was in Scotland and I could only hope for the adventures that would entail after this day.


I settled into my hostel, took a shower and emailed people back home.  I then walked down the corridor and saw a Scottish man in glasses, roughly in his mid-forties, bowing to a Japanese woman in her mid-twenties.  He then peered over her shoulder, his eyes perked up, and he greeted me.  I guess this dude loves Asians!   He started to greet me in Chinese, and I said I was Vietnamese.  That’s an odd thing, too, by the way, when someone thinks I’m a different race from what I actually am, and when I tell them what I am I can’t tell if they’re disappointed or not.  At any rate, the man’s name was James.  He was hungry and invited me to go spend the evening with him, looking for food.

We walked around Glasgow and took a mini walk close to the hostel.  He showed me Glasgow University, stating that this college was known for its medical program.  He went inside Dram!, which is a pub, first but they stopped serving dinner at 9:00 PM, so we went to an Indian restaurant.  The food turned out to be quite yummy.  I ate vegetarian samosas.  James said he left school right after 16 and started to work at the docks. He’s lived all over the world, including Louisiana, San Diego, Huntington Beach and San Francisco.

                                                                  This is the interior of the Indian restaurant.

James was very nice and friendly.  He wanted to ensure that I had a safe trip and he paid for my meal!  After we ate, we walked over to Dram!  He knew I came out here for whisky, so he wanted to hang out  with me some more.  James doesn’t drink whisky  because it’s too expensive, but he drinks beer.  He educated me about the history of Scotland and England.  For example, he said that the Queen of Scots was the rightful queen to control all of the UK, but Queen Elizabeth had her captured and beheaded.  He also stated that some laws in Scotland was better than England.  For example, when you accuse someone in Scotland, you need a witness to have a case.  In England, you don’t need a witness.

James ordered me a Glendfiddich 12 Year for me.  I had my whisky with some water and surprisingly it was rich, buttery and sweet.  I much prefer it with water than having it neat now, though I wonder if it’s the magic of Scottish water! 🙂













                                                                                                                                                      The interior of DRAM!










As the evening turned into darkness, I overheard a group of musicians practicing traditional Scottish music to the right of me inside Dram.  I couldn’t really see them because they were tucked behind another room that was near the restroom.  I got closer towards the sound of bagpipes, fiddles and drums and approached one of the musicians, Grant, and I asked him if I could take a picture of him.  Grant plays the Lowland Pipe.  He explained to me that there are over a dozen of different styles of bagpipes.  The ones that the U.S. Americans are used to seeing are Highland Bagpipes, where these bagpipers hold their instrument high.  With the Lowland Bagpipe, you hold it low and tuck your arms close to the sides of your ribs.   There are 3 reeds close to each other.  I can’t remember if he said that with the Lowland Pipes you don’t have to blow on the reeds or not.

I told him about my travels and my quest to search for whiskies.  Grant said he was one of the committee members for Ardbeg, but he had never been to Islay.   He told me about his enthusiasm for peated whisky.  In addition, he stated he never cared for Bowmore, but one of his friends who worked for the distillery scooped some whisky that sat at the base of the barrel and bottled it home.  The drink was completely black and tapered with smoke.  At the time when his friend presented Grant the bottle, there was no label; it was a mystery bottle to Grant. He brought out his bottle and poured the black whisky into Grant’s glass without telling him what it was.  Grant said the aroma was strong and it burned his eyes, but when he took a sip of it he thought it was absolutely amazing.  It turned out that the drink was called the Black Bowmore, which was a special whisky that was left in the barrel for 60 years.  There were some leftover in the barrel and his friend smuggled it!   Since Grant knew I was on a whisky journey, he handed me a flyer of his friend’s liquor store.   He told me to go there and get something if I couldn’t find any bottles in other stores.





Scotland: Day 1-Getting to Glasgow June 8, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — L.T. Do @ 4:04 pm

I remember a year ago, exactly in May of 2011, I heard Martin Daraz, the Brand Ambassador of Highland Park, speak  at Seven Grand, a whisky bar that is located in Down Town Los Angeles.  From what I recollected a year ago, he said something along the lines of, “There’s nothing like standing alone in at the distillery –and it’s only you alone with the land,where you’re able to commune with nature.  You can smell the sherry casks wavering in the air and feel your whole weight pressed into the soil, even when you’re standing in slippers”.  In that instance I said to myself, “Holy crap!  I need to see Scotland”.

I instantly imagined myself at that moment standing alone at the distillery and resting my feet at the edge of a cliff, peering down at the landscape where I would completely succumb to nature.  The cliff and sky would have various shades of grey spanning between charcoal to soft-grey, and the waves would crash against the rock in 3-second cycles, each wave standing 30 feet tall at the height of its trope.   The moisture from my face would then be leeched by the sea-salt air, while the atmosphere would leave remnants of a waxy-like texture on each filament of my hair and skin.  There was something romantic about being humbled by nature, feeling all of the 4 elements against the fabric of my skin, that it transpired me to set off to Scotland.

After letting my mind whir, I was back in the present,  peering back into the tasting room at Seven Grand and sipping a  Highland Park 18-Year.  The drink was aggressive, punching my throat and tongue with hot, peppercorn spices; the sides of my tongue started to burn and tingle, which propelled me to salivate as my eyes watered by the heat.  I thought, “Holy hell. I’m getting my ass handed by this drink!”  At the end of the finish, 3 seconds into that initial swallow, I was awakened and greeted by confectionary notes of caramel and honey, where the  viscosity  of my saliva mimicked that of honey syrup as it glossed over each taste bud to combat the heat.  Not to sound so trite, but it was really the calm after the storm, the kind of resolution that rolled off my tongue in a rubato-like fashion to resist 4-4 time, so it could bring elation to the brain.  It was, then, that I knew that I had to go to Scotland, and I had to go to Scotland alone.

December of 2011 hit, and Martin was present for another tasting event at Seven Grand.  One by one, each person settled into the leathered seats, while Martin stood alone, standing away from the lit chandelier to dispose himself from the light as he picked potato chips from a snack-size bag with a tripod grasp.  I looked at him snacking away in solitude, intrigued by his quiet presence.  He’s the kind of man who gives off a warm aura of honesty, a genuine demeanor that brings solemnity to an anxious person like myself who, for the most part, loathe social gatherings. Perhaps it was his attire–the Brooks Brother-like attire–the cashmere sweater that guards his flannel collared shirt and casual jeans that brings a mixture of both the favorite-uncle-like figure and the down-to-earth-person that makes me such a huge fan of Martin!

At the end of the tasting event, I approached Martin and told him that I was so inspired by his speech back in May that I was planning to go to Scotland.  He said, “Let me know when you go, so I can set you up with a VIP Tour”.    VIP Tour?  Being Vietnamese and all, the idea of getting hooked up with a free event sounded awesome and even more exciting because I’ve never had a VIP experience.

So, 6 weeks before my actual departure, I booked my flight to Scotland: 16 May 2012-02 June 2012.  Then, I decided to research Scotland.  (Yeah, I pretty much did everything backwards).  While I was researching Scotland, I had the impression that the Highland Park Distillery was on the mainland of Scotland.  Little did I know, after googling the plant, I learned that it was located in a remote island called Orkney, which was northeast of Scotland.  I smacked my palms against my forehead and said to myself, “WHAT THE HELL????”  because I was surprised that it was waaaay up north on an island.  Then, I looked at Highland Park’s website and saw images of Orkney displayed on the site.  The landscape looked ominous with various shades of grey and black; the place looked remote and the waves looked violent as it crashed against the rock, forcing me to surrender to naturalism.   To be honest, I felt rather intimidated by the landscape, but, because it seemed so remote, I felt the greater desire to tackle Orkney.

For superficial reasons, I booked my flight in May because I assumed that for the months of June and July there would be a huge crowd of tourists during the summer.  In addition, I chose Glasgow as my landing point because it was cheaper than landing into Edinburgh.  That was it.  That was all I knew of Scotland.   Then, I purchased a travel book about Scotland and noticed a re-occuring pattern.  Everything that I never wanted to do was there in Scotland with the exception of sipping whisky:  bird watching, hiking and golf.  Now, I don’t have anything against these activities.  In fact, I thoroughly enjoy hiking and looking at critters, but the idea of trekking through the forest alone sounded dangerous.  Thus, these activities did not intrigue me.  As for golf, well, I don’t play golf.  So there goes that!!! Ha!

Two weeks before going to Scotland, the duty of being a social worker wore me down.  I was tired. Done.  I didn’t want to be there anymore and had lost my faith in people (in a non-religious sense).  I gave my 2 weeks notice to my supervisor and when I walked out of the office I was elated.  The next day, it hit me.  I knew I didn’t have a job in line and I was going to Scotland for 18 days.   The sense of alarm pelted deep into my stomach and I felt sick.  I felt that I had disappointed my parents, and I wish I could’ve made them proud in the sense that I should’ve stuck to my secured job.  I wanted so deeply to make good money, so I could take care of them one day.  And here I was, walking away from a low-paying job, but on the positive note, it was secure and it had good, health benefits.

I then drove to a wine and spirit store and parked my car in the lot, wiping the tears from my eyes and told myself, “Get it together.  You need to pursue your passion and you really need to get a job.  JP Morgan AND Toyota have you by the testicles, so you better find a job RIGHT NOW!”  I walked into the store and with a big smile on my face, I told one of the managers that I didn’t know anything about wine, but I’d study on the side.  I said, “You won’t even have to tell me to study.  I’ll do what it takes to be in the field and be great at it”.   I then showed him my little book, the Moleskin that had all of my tasting notes and doodles.  He smiled and asked me, “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”  I replied, “I don’t know if it’s possible, but I’d like to be a brand ambassador for a whisky one day”.   Deep down inside, I also wanted to say, “I’d like to be the chick-version of Jim Murray one day and write a book, too!”

The night before my flight, I packed my clothes.  I was nervous and couldn’t sleep until 3am. I woke up at 6am, thinking that this whole trip was a bad idea.  I finally got to LAX around 12:00 PM.  I checked my bags and waited for 2 hours. I started to tear up a bit because I felt so nervous, thinking that it was the wrong decision to make, but I was hoping that once I landed into Glasgow I’d be in better spirits.  The night before, my plane ticket stated that I was supposed to be at Gate 47B.  When I checked in line to get on my plane, the speaker announced that the plane was going to Texas.  I asked a woman at American Airlines for clarification about my Board Pass, and she told me that I was at the wrong gate.  In addition, gates change daily, if not by the hour.  I was supposed to look at my gate number on my Boarding Pass instead.  I ran to the gate and another woman from American Airlines stated that I  was 10 minutes too late.   They couldn’t let me get onto the plane, but she took me to the Customer Service department to help me look for another flight.  Luckily, American Airlines set me up with British Airways.  Instead of taking a pit stop to New York, I was going straight to Heathrow and then to Glasgow.  Crap.  I already messed up and I haven’t even landed on UK soil yet!  This was terrible.  I sat and waited some more.  4:00 PM was my departure to Glasgow.

I got in line to board and I noticed an actress just walked pass me, going to the First Class session of the line.  She just sauntered through the room with her butt cheeks peaking from underneath her white shorts.  I thought to myself, “I waited another  hours for THAT??? Where’s Malcolm Gladwell or all the whisky folks?  Now, THAT would be worth the wait!”  I jokingly texted my former co-workers, telling them that I saw this particular actress and that I should’ve taken her picture so I could make some money to break even for my trip.  Yeah, I though her butt cheeks would be equivalent to the value of my whole trip! We finally got on board, and I ended up sitting in the back with my knees locked into the other person’s seat.  It was a tight squeeze!   I thought to myself, “One day, I’ll be able to sit in First Class and have leg room space, DAMNATION!!!”  Then it was TAKE OFF!!!







Planning a Trip to Islay=AH! So hard! May 9, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — L.T. Do @ 6:23 am

I find that planning a trip to Scotland, especially with 6 weeks of prep is a stupid idea. In addition, whisky enthusiasts are hardcore and they book places 6 months, if not a year in advance. On the lighter side, I found that joining different groups in LinkedIn is really helpful and people from various industries from all over the world provide excellent advice. Here are some responses that I thought were funny/helpful/painfully realistic:

From Mr. Baumgart in Kirkcaldy, UK: Just remember Caroline’s warning about accommodation, because if you haven’t booked a room yet, you will be in trouble.

From Matt S. of Leicester, UK: There’s always plenty of room to pitch your tent on big strand – just mind the golfers and Prince Charles if he’s making a ‘flying’ visit to Laphroaig.

From Andrew H. in Kirkicaldy, UK: As there are so many foreign visitors in cars on the island, hitch hiking is really easy…as everyone is heading to one distillery or another. This also means you don’t have to worry about who the designated driver is…and who has to stay sober…enjoy


April 16, 2012















Diageo: Getting to Know Their Products April 16, 2012

Filed under: Nerdy Stuff,Uncategorized — L.T. Do @ 5:13 am










































































Rivera: Tequila Ocho Flight Tasting April 16, 2012

Filed under: Cocktails,Restaurants,Tequila,Uncategorized — L.T. Do @ 4:43 am

I absolutely love this place; the staff here are very talented, knowledgable and nice!  If you enjoy tequila, mezcal and crafted cocktails I highly recommend this place.  Erik, the bar manager here, creates a wonderful selection of creations.  He likes taking unexpected ingredients and mixing them together.


The cocktails here tell a playful story and the flavors are robust.  For example, Erik created this cocktail called “The Down Time Euphoria and Bitter Disappointment.”  It’s equal parts Kilchoman (Single Malt Whisky from Islay), Cynar, Benedictine and Orange Bitters.  The nose on this beverage are smoky/sea-salt air based with subtle hints of orange petals.  The flavor has overtones of peat with burnt rubber band.  The orange flavor lingers here with some secondary vegetal notes that latch onto the tongue, leaving a bitter note.

The also have rare, unique whiskies here, too!























Glenlivet April 16, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — L.T. Do @ 4:34 am










Pernod Ricard: Getting to Know Their Products April 16, 2012

Filed under: Nerdy Stuff,Uncategorized — L.T. Do @ 3:57 am