This Southold couple searched for the finest single malts in Scotland

Carol Simmons and Doug Hardy toast glasses of single malt Glenfiddich Scotch whisky in their Southold home. (Credit: Vera Chinese)

Carol Simmons and Doug Hardy toast glasses of single malt Glenfiddich Scotch whisky in their Southold home. (Credit: Vera Chinese)

Carol Simons and her husband, Doug Hardy, might never have found the most memorable single-malt Scotch during their recent trip to the Scottish Highlands were it not for a detour to a rustic little restaurant high above the Loch Ness owned by a couple of hippies.

This past August, the Southold residents flew to Scotland for a 10-day, 73-mile long hike of the Caledonian Canal. Along the way, they took it upon themselves to search for the country’s finest single malts.

One day, over homemade hot chocolate and shortbread cookies at a little café in Loch Ness known as Abriachan, one of the owners told the couple about a single malt they absolutely had to try during their journey. It was called Scapa. 

Ms. Simons and Mr. Hardy tried in vain to taste the honey-gold Scapa during the remainder of their hike, sampling other varieties of single malts in the many pubs they entered.

Even The Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh, a tour and museum highlighting the history of the malted beverage, didn’t have the variety, which is aged 16 years, in its extensive collection. But the barkeep at the museum’s restaurant was impressed with the foreigners’ knowledge of fine Scotch and asked where they had heard of it.

They told him of the little café and the free spirits who owned it.

“That hippie knows her whisky,” the long-bearded bartender told the couple in his thick Scottish brogue. “It’s the best whisky I’ve ever had.”

A scene from one of the couple's many single malt tastings in Scotland. (Credit: Courtesy photo)

A scene from one of the couple’s many single malt tastings in Scotland. (Credit: Courtesy photo)

It wasn’t until Ms. Simons and Mr. Hardy returned home that they were able to find a distributor in Connecticut who could sell them a bottle of the Isle of Orkney-made Scotch — and it cost around $90 to have it shipped.

“It was very good,” Ms. Simons said. “And the story was worth it.”

Tales of smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, photos of the country’s majestic countryside, and the history of the 73-mile long waterway will be the topic of “Walking the Caledonian Canal in Search of the Finest Single Malt in Scotland,” a talk Mr. Hardy will give this Sunday, March 20, at Floyd Memorial Library in Greenport. The free event will include a wee bit of consideration for Scotland’s most-beloved beverage and a slideshow of photos from the trip.

Ms. Simons, 73, and Mr. Hardy, 84, said they hiked between four and six hours a day, but described the effort as far from physically strenuous.

“All you have to do is be physically fit enough to walk 10 miles a day,” Mr. Hardy said. “It’s quite painless.”

During the trip, the couple decided to learn as much as they could about single-malt Scotch, a beverage that is distilled from a malted grain in a single pot in a Scottish distillery and then cask-aged for at least three years.

Doug Hardy during a 73-mile hike along the Caledonian Canal. (Credit: Courtesy photo)

Doug Hardy during a 73-mile hike along the Caledonian Canal. (Credit: Courtesy photo)

“We just thought, ‘When in Rome,’ ” said Ms. Simons, a former copy editor at Times Review Media Group.

“You should always have a goal,” added Mr. Hardy, who formerly served on Southold Town’s Conservation Advisory Council.

The couple was mostly alone throughout their journey of the temperate rain forest, though a tour company arranged their stays and transported their luggage.

“These forests are just gorgeous. You feel like you’re away from everything,” Ms. Simons said. “You just expect hobbits to come out and meet you on the trail. It’s just enchanting.”

vchinese@timesreview.com

Learn more

“Walking the Caledonian Canal in Search of the Finest Single Malt in Scotland” will be held at 3 p.m. Sunday, March 20, at Floyd Memorial Library in Greenport.