A scotch-tasting trip has been perched on my to-do list ever since Joe Hauser introduced me to the sweet, sweet nectar that is a 16-year-old Lagavulin. So last year when my buddy JR mentioned Notre Dame would be playing Navy in Dublin, the wheels were set in motion.
We planned in furious fits over the course of a year, masterfully tweaking logistics. But as the trip began we discovered rather quickly that 1) we didn’t plan as well as we thought and 2) most times it was better off that way.
Walking down the gangway at Islay's Port Askaig, we spotted a van from Bruichladdich, one of our must-see distilleries of the eight on the island. JR casually asked if the four of us could catch a ride with them since we were heading to Port Charlotte, the next town over.
Without skipping a beat the driver obliged and we were on our way (he turned out to be one of the distillers who was picking up his nephew, Martin, the distillery’s rep in Shanghai).
A few minutes into the conversation the driver asked, “So, how were you planning to get to Port Charlotte if we hadn’t given you a ride?”
Then everyone laughed.
Through this random hitch, we got a glimpse of the island’s culture and an intimate view of a distillery on the verge of a major change (Bruichladdich was recently bought by beverage mega-distributor Remy Martin).
As the van dropped us off at the hostel, we met a Scotsman named Kyle and his Australian girlfriend, Lan, who immediately took us to the local pub.
The rest of the trip followed the same pattern – no real hiccups or even hangovers – with the days flowing by as smoothly as Islay’s whisky rolled down our gullets.
We dined on a fresh seafood feast with the locals; stood up to middle school bus bullies (well, some of us stood up to them); took a tandem bike off-roading on the Ho Chi Minh Trail; and even added a fellow American, Owen, who joined our group for the last two days.
The trip seemed so effortless that after the first day we were already talking about making it an annual event (Highlands 2013, anyone?).
If you’ve never been to Scotland (most of us hadn’t), the people are so friendly that it’s almost suspect. Talkative, helpful to a fault … and that accent – I found myself stopping into the tourist information desks, even when I knew where I was going, just to hear the receptionist speak.
After a short, adventure-packed stint on Islay, we skipped through Glasgow and spent a few days in Edinburgh before dropping our bags in Dublin for the game.
Although the game was a bit anti-climactic (ND won 50-10), we took to the opportunity to connect with some old friends and meet a few new ones over some delicious pints.
I used to think folks from Northern Ireland took the congenial cake, but now I’m not so sure. And if the Scots aren’t the friendliest people on earth, they made one helluva first impression.