Held captive by its formidable mountains and blood-stained history, Glencoe is an iconic location that deserves to be on everybody’s bucket list. 
Its ominous beauty is worth a visit any time of year, so a mellow night sipping some superior scotch at the Clachaig Inn nestled casually by the murderous signal stone, after a day in the hills, seemed a laudable way to spend a Tuesday.

The Clachaig holds a special place in my heart. It has perched deep in the glen beneath the domineering grey slopes of Bidean nam Bein by the tumbling River Coe since the 16th century, hidden from today’s road by Scots pine, rowan and birch.

It’s been here for 400 years. I’ve only been coming for 40.
It’s a stunning location to drink deeply of the joys of Scotland, from the rugged rockfaces to the most delicate of drams.

The hotel lounge was always family-friendly with food. The hidden residents lounge was for sipping port, snacking on oatcakes and cheese, then smalltalk before retiring to a civilised bed. And the climbers’ bar at the back was always for drinking.

Back in the 70s, before the hotel became the family-friendly complex of today, the bar was frequented mainly by climbers and bikers and squaddies on mountain and winter training. It was a volatile mix to say the least. But it had a magic to it. 
A roaring peat fire kept the winter snows at bay. Live music relived past battles and, sometimes, imaginary injustices throughout Scottish history. The smell of wet rope and leather, two-stroke engines and diesel, boot wax and damp heather vied with the ancient aroma of stale tobacco. The floor was awash with warm beer and cold rain. There was seldom a seat to be had. Even the old stone wall beside the hearth was busy with miniature horseshoe-nail climbers assaying the craggy ascent, belaying across the top and rappelling to the stone floor.

Testosterone filled the air. And while the bar didn’t carry the superb range of drams it does these days, it did sell strong liquor to a mainly male clientele who were tired, either from a day or two in the mountains, from riding up from Glasgow or beyond, or from spending at least a day getting here from barracks and a week on the hills enjoying whatever the weather or my old mate sergeant Tony had thrown at them. All would be necking as many as they could as quickly as they could before crawling off to their scratchers.

It did kick off on occasion, as everyone got tired and emotional. But it seldom got too out of hand as, before the National Trust for Scotland imposed their draconian rules on the lands they’ve been bequeathed and drove the common man from the countryside, wild camping was the norm, so we were pretty much all pitched together within the same crawling radius around the bar.
We’d wake in the morning and carelessly splash ourselves awake in the same Scottish waters that flow so beautifully into whisky. Scotland, turning rain into liquid sunshine. Well, we need to do something with all that water. The sky is always crying round here.   

Looking back, I recall the first mini-break we ever had was camping at the Clachaig. The first ride I did on the Bonneville after we moved back from Australia was to the Clachaig. The first blast on the Harley was from Edinburgh to the Clachaig (even though I was actually going to Glasgow). The first road trip in the Defender was to the Clachaig. Many a first and many a glorious night – rain, snow and shine. So, if Tuesday is proving problematic, the sun is shining, the forecast is fair, there’s gas in the tank and I don’t have work to go to, what to do? It’s an easy question to answer.

A blues-beat blast to Glencoe, a day in the hills, and an evening in the Clachaig roadtesting the best of Scottish whiskies, before donning the head-torch for the midnight trek to the campsite sounded like the perfect solution.
‘Wha’s like us’, as Rabbie Burns would say. ‘Damn few.’ And they’re all drunk too.

The Clachaig is still magic. But these days it’s more Harry Potter than Aleister Crowley.
The army hut is long gone as today’s servicemen train elsewhere for other wars. The National Trust Scotland killjoys have chased all us wildlife from the land in the name of preserving the past. The old visitor centre has been returned to nature. The bikers of my youth are long dead as is Tony. And the Clachaig is a family-friendly complex now, with villas and cabins alongside the upgraded hotel.

Tonight it’s restrained. It is Tuesday after all, and we’re a hundred miles from the nearest city, the summer holidaymakers have left and the climbers are now planning their winter visits. The bar is warm and inviting, glowing a cask amber in the gloaming, beaconing a secure haven in the wilds of winter and a cool stone-wall in the heat of summer.

400 backlit whiskies stand guard behind the bar, light and dark and wild and warm and smoky and fresh. A symphony of scotch for the lost and lonely, and those that simply love a good dram.

The original stone walls stand unadorned, though the decades of nicotine has long been washed clear. Dark timbers from the old drovers inn accentuate the ceiling. This bar is ageless.

Yet the furnishings and the clientele have evolved over time. The pool table has unblemished baize now, no tooth marks, the menu has as many vegetarian options as venison and game, the floor is smooth in a way I’m sure it never was before (but perhaps that was me). It smells more of sun cream than of sweat, more of midgie spray than of NikWax.
Young Americans, recently done with the Edinburgh festival, swarm the bar. Whisky is the new black, I hear. Scandinavians crowd the ante chamber. Walking poles and goretex clutter the benches. You can never have too much kit. The dogs are on leashes. Small walking tour groups are dotted around, being entertained in exotic languages by eager guides.

It’s still a fantastic bar to relax into a whisky or two after a hard day in the hills. Pleasant company, friendly and attentive bar staff, decent music (tonight it’s the Allman Brothers, Cream, Springsteen and SRV, at the weekends its live), tasty food, 100 gins (if you like that sort of thing), a wide range of Scottish beers, and 400 scotch whiskies from all over this land.

The Glenrothes 10

Swayed by the backlit amber glow revealing its sensuous curves, I settle on the light amber Glenrothes 10 as my opening gambit. A refreshing Speyside dram, perfect for a half and half with a cool, sharp pint of Cromarty lager after a hard day in the heather. And a Liquid Sunshine whisky of the week.

This is the youngest expression from the Glenrothes Soleo Collection, matured exclusively in sherry casks, bottled at 40% ABV, and unlike previous releases from the distillery, featuring an age statement. Soleo/asoleo is the grape sun-drying process for sherry in Jerez. (I recommend you never try to explain this to young Americans eager to learn more about whisky, unless you want to hear a raft of bad jokes about the Spanish being ass-holeeos.)

The light straw coloured pour entices me with fruity aromas of sweet vanilla, light malt and sherried citrus. A sip softly unveils malt and sherried raisin, hints of toffee and bitter oak, before a short sweet, zesty finish of smoothed fire.
Ice reveals further complexity with no fore-shortening of the experience. A hint of light toffee enters the fray with fruity oak coming more to the front of that sherry nose, Still sweet, with darker tones unleashed, burnt brown sugar and tangy oak swirling in the maelstrom, it has a denser taste band mid-palate with more of a bite, before drifting off in a sweet and zesty finish.

The Glenlochy 1979

To finish the night, I settle on The Glenlochy 1979 – September’s malt of the month here at Liquid Sunshine. It’s a Highland single malt scotch from the lost Glenlochy distillery in Fort William, bottled (in 2015) at 46% ABV by Gordon and MacPhail.

It’s complex. As we crack open the virgin bottle, sweet vanilla vies with toffee apple and oak. Sugar and tropical fruit, hints of oak and treacle, with a smooth and delicate follow-through lead to a lingering salty chocolate deeply satisfying finish.

With ice, the experience changes. The most immediately noticeable difference is in the liquid itself which clouds as the cubes settle in. This is a non chill-filtered whisky and below 46% ABV non chill-filtered whiskies can cloud with the addition of water, as explained in our note on chill filtration and cloudiness. Check out the science here.
The aroma is fruity brown sugar with notes of oak and apple, unlocked complexity reveals sea salt and toffee amid the tropical fruit melange and the fast salted fruit finish has you reaching for the bottle again immediately.

Whiskies this age can lose up to half their volume to evaporation and few casks survive maturation of over three decades well enough to create truly great scotch. So there is always trepidation as well as anticipation in cracking open a vintage bottle. I needn’t have worried.
This Glenlochy 1979 is a worthy salute to the tradition and art of the lost Glenlochy distillery. They should be proud to be remembered for creating such a delightful dram.

So there you go.
Tuesday’s gone with the wind. The weather is closing in, and I have a short midnight walk back to my tent ahead of me. I exit stage right with a head-torch and a smile.

See you here.