“Someone posted a link on social media about ‘being a distiller for the day’ – I thought that sounded incredible. My husband Simon said ‘this is what we’re doing’”.
Ingrid Jones, and husband Simon, are well-travelled, so when an opportunity to become a whisky distiller for the day in Scotland caught their eye on Airbnb, they jumped at it.
The couple booked on Airbnb.co.uk – which recently launched a campaign encouraging travellers to give the Lowlands a go – and in July drove for five hours to this unique travel destination. Here, Ingrid relives the couple’s exciting experience as guests – and distillers – at Annandale Distillery in the Scottish Lowlands…
Once the Covid restrictions lifted in July, my husband and I wanted to plan a getaway to Scotland, as we love visiting Scotland – we’ve been eight times – and its connection to whisky. When I was on Facebook, someone had posted a link on a whisky group about ‘being a distiller for the day’ at Annandale Distillery – I thought that sounded incredible. My husband Simon said ‘this is what we’re doing’. The post was interesting enough for us to click on it, but when we went through to the Airbnb website and read more about the experience, it all sounded fantastic. I got very excited about it. There were six dates available, so we booked our two-night stay for July through Airbnb with our hosts at the Annandale Distillery.
Love of whisky – love of Scotland
Coincidentally, I already knew the distillery – as I ran a small whisky-related retail business in Leicester in the past – but I had never stayed in the cottages alongside it. I knew how lovely it was, so I knew they would be good. Before I’d worked in whisky, I’d never even been to Scotland.
I have enjoyed drinking whisky since I was introduced to it at a science and art conference in England by an American professor who gave me and my mum a whisky tasting. Simon doesn’t even like drinking whisky – he’s not a whisky fan – but the great about whisky is it’s so much more than just a drink.
What grabbed me about ‘being a distiller for the day’ at Annandale was that it was a ‘behind the scenes’ experience. To spend an entire day seeing the production process was so unique.
An early start!
When the trip came around, we drove up from Leicestershire the day before and stayed at the cottages. We had some food and sat in the hot tub with the kiln and the distillery in the background – it was a very nice evening.
It was an early start the next day – in the summer months the production guys at Annandale start at 4am, but we were asked to be there at 5.45am! The reason for the early starts, we found out, was because it gets too hot in the distillery in summer. Once we got over the shock of getting up so early, we had a short three-minute commute around the corner to the distillery where we were welcomed by distillery manager David Ashton-Hyde.
It was a very well-paced day even though it started incredibly early. We were taken under production manager Mark’s wing and spent eight hours with him. We went through the whole production process, from seeing the grain, filling it up and sending it through.
Becoming a Scottish distiller
First, it was observation, then we had a go turning levers and pressing buttons. We could actually see the grain cooking and the process starting. Then, in the washbacks, we saw the wort fermenting and distilling. Next it was through to the still man, Daz. There were lots of opportunities to ask questions about the Man O’Sword single malt (which refers to Robert The Bruce) and Man O’Words (Rabbie Burns) and we learned what made Annandale single cask, single malt whiskies different. The best part was filling the barrels after it was distilled (the grains had been put through a couple of days earlier), I was careful not to spill a drop! Then we rolled the barrels onto the truck, jumped in and took them to the distillery’s new storage facility.
The entire day was full on, quite tiring, but fascinating to be part of the full production process. Afterwards we enjoyed Afternoon Tea at the café attached to the distillery, which was just amazing.
After a couple of hours of relaxation in our cottage, we were picked up in a taxi by our Hosts and taken to their restaurant in Dumfries called The Globe Inn where Rabbie Burns used to visit.
There, in a wooden-clad room stood a chair the famous Scottish poet sat on, and the cast and whisky specialist James gave us a tasting where we sampled four different whiskies. James spoke about the final product, so we really had gone full circle.
Then, as part of the Experience, we dined on the most incredible three-course meal we have ever had. Simon even said he would drive for five hours from Leicester to Dumfries to experience that meal again!
We do love to travel and often go to Gambia, plus I used to live in Africa and Australia. For our last trip in Czech Republic, we planned our entire experience from scratch (and we can’t even speak Czech!), but this time, our experience was built for us. We just turned up and everything was arranged for us. It was simply incredible – we loved it!
If you would like to explore The Lowlands, like Ingrid and Simon, visit The Lowlands section on Airbnb.