Bizarre goings on in London and Islay to celebrate Ardbog Day (Ardbeg Day at Fèis Ìle renamed in honour of their Fèis Ìle release), but I'm in Leeds, so a Whisky Lounge event is the order of the day - I guess there'll be some Ardbeg, maybe Ardbog there (as Eddie's been in Islay this week), though probably less flying sheep than in London!While I'm getting ready, I've discovered that a new Whisky Fellowship has set up in nearby Garforth, and is following me on twitter - sounds like something to check out, so I've signed up for their first meeting on Monday. Another follower of theirs is Strathearn Distillery - a new start up micro-distiller in Methven that I've not heard of before, seems they are building a distillery and hope to start production soon.
Arrive at O2 Academy 20 minutes before start - first in queue - only way to be sure of getting a few photos before the venue fills up. Joe is setting up the flags and I have time for breakfast - sandwich from Sainsbury's - and get organised for the show. By the time the doors open the queue has built up considerably.
Traditional start with Compass Box Hedonism, then off to see Andrew Nelstrop owner of the English Whisky Company, who hasn't been at a show so far this year. Chapter 6 the standard unpeated bottling is good, but the Rum finished Chapter 7 is exceptional for a 3yo, even allowing for faster maturation in Norfolk than Scotland. They also have a bottle of the Queen's 60th Jubilee limited edition - sold out on the distillery website. Good presentation - apart from the Royal tackiness, and a good dram. Andrew bemoans the fact that too many of these royal special editions get bought by collectors of royal memorabilia rather than true Whisky drinkers, but it does help him sell his whisky. Didn't try the peated Chapter 11, intending to return later once I was on peated whisky, but didn't make it back.
Two reviews for this event - for reasons I can't be bothered to go into - take your pick...
| |7 whiskies from around the world - blind tasting, all presented in Plymouth Gin bottles!. I'm not the only photographer there - and someone with a bigger beard than me too. Still what does size matter?
Co-hosted by Holly from Gerry's and Rowena from Yelp. Limited information about how the whisky was produced and the type of maturation were all the clues that were given, and I was only able to definitively identify one whisky as one I knew I'd had before - the very distinctive Wasamund's Single Malt from the US, which uses applewood to smoke the barley and also applewood chips in the cask.
Not sure I could drink it all evening, but a very pleasant dram - my favourite of the day, and I think it also topped the popular vote, though the Swedish contribution - the new Bruks from Mackmyra - also did well.
| |Seven whiskies from around the world to taste for a tenner – can’t be bad. Hosted jointly by Holly from Gerry's and Rowena from Yelp.
On arrival it appears we have seven bottles of differently coloured Plymouth Gin – this is to disguise the identity of the whiskies and let us judge them entirely on the contents of the glass. All we are told upfront is that they are from seven different countries, one is from Scotland – a Scottish flag is supplied to wave when you think you have the Scottish whisky – all are malt whiskies.A little further information was given around the method of distillation of each whisky, and what it had been matured in, but not the country of origin. The first whisky is revealed to be a blended malt, nothing too special about it. The second one is altogether different, and my initial thought is Swedish though further sipping makes me doubt that, and after briefly thinking it might be Welsh, I’m left without an idea of where it’s from.
SMWS at London Whisky Fest
SMWS Grain week - but I've tickets for both sessions of Eddie Ludlow's visit to London. So had to celebrate the SMWS grain explosion on Friday night - 10 new grains making a total of 16 available on the bar in Greville Street. Starting off with 2 new Strathclydes 10.2 and 10.4, but neither impressed me as much as 10.1. pick of the bunch G9.1, the Loch Lomond 11yo that I'd previously encountered in Leith last June - and managed to get a bottle. Only one case made its way to London, and only one bottle was available for sale - which Phil Storry had managed to get hold of already - amongst his 15 purchases that day! In all I managed to get through 9 of the 16, but they couldn't find a bottle of G7.5 before I had to get the train home.
The day had started well enough, as I find that the other residents of the B&B I’m staying at for the last day of my trip are a young Canadian couple Catherine and David (? – I really must start writing names down, or find a better way to remember them), who are touring Scotland’s distilleries. She’s got a good deal – she’s too young to be a driver for a hire car, so he has to be designated driver! Makes for a more interesting breakfast conversation than many – they’ve missed the Festival, but I’m able to supply plenty of information, though not the time Glenfiddich opens, as I can’t get a signal in the breakfast room. Catherine is also on a mission to get an expensive bottle of single malt for her father (on his money) – so I point them firmly in the direction of Mike and The Whisky Shop Dufftown, after suggesting my current favourite in that price range – Talisker 35.
The Festival's over. Time to go home then? Well, not quite – I booked my return journey a day later than I’d intended by mistake. Still, early indications are that this could work out well. It’s a beautiful day – warmest so far by some way. But first I have to negotiate an extra day at the Hotel – and enquire about next year. Negative on both counts!
I assume that there shouldn’t be any problem getting accommodation, how wrong I am – none of the B&Bs near the square have vacancies – apart from Fournet House, and I’m not paying their prices. Have to get the e-Pad out and check other places on my site. Third time lucky, one place no longer does B&B, Fife Arms is full, but Inveravon can take me tonight – and for next year’s festival. Amazing room – massive bathroom and there’s a tumble drier in there too!
Early breakfast – have to be in Aberlour for 9.30 to get the bus to Knockando for a Manager’s Choice tasting. Head up the hill again – I think it is quicker than the Speyside Way, particularly in this direction. As it’s Aberlour, go for the Bluehill Quarry turn off, and then decide to be innovative – looks like there’s a way through upper Aberlour from the Caravan Park turn off.
There is though it takes me uphill again, and I think it links to the public path from Dufftown. I have plenty of time – had thought of cycling all the way, but I said I’d be on the bus. Eventually find the right bus – there are only three others who get on, one looks like Ronnie Routledge from Glenglassaugh, and indeed is – he says he’s got a day off so he’s seeing things from a different angle!
We wait in case anyone else turns up, but the driver eventually concludes that they must be making their own way there. The driver is a local, but with a very strong accent – really hard work to understand. We head out through Craigellachie and past Macallan, by which time I’ve been checking which tastings I have tickets for this afternoon, and I discover I haven’t a ticket for the Diageo tasting, and find a spot with a signal to book it.
We get to Knockando, and I have a Google Streets moment – I recognise the distillery but am not sure whether I’ve been there before or just virtually courtesy of Google Streets photography – it’s very disconcerting.
We’re greeted with coffee and biscuits, but I need a cold drink – fortunately they have orange juice – must have been something I drunk the night before. We set off around the distillery – photography allowed except flash use in the still house. Knockando has an ancient malt screen and weigher. The mash tun also turns out to be in the still house – fortunately it’s very bright so no flash required. May of the rest on the tour are Canadians who are very impressed to see the Maple Leaf flag flying at the distillery – unlike some previous days explanations of distillery operations outside are perfectly acceptable in today’s weather.
Tasting in Whisky Shop, Dufftown with Peter Mackay from Carn Mor, who has apparently been dubbed the New Mark Watt after a party last night; and Mike Lord exhibiting his own WSD (Whisky Shop Dufftown) bottlings, including the 1971 Glenlivet Family Cask special bottling, and the 41yo Glenrothes, finished in an octave - for me the stand out of these whiskies.
Whisky Fair starts at 12noon today, so it's a short walk down the road - no bike today everything's close enough for walking.
I have my hip flask with me today - I've not cracked open last night's winnings, but felt I could at least share some of the 59.43 Caramel Swirl Ice Cream the SMWS 30th Anniversary 29yo Teaninich - it seems to meet with approval. A detailed tour of all the stalls is called for today, with a quick diversion to St James' Hall for the Independent Bottlers' Challenge tasting.
My successful Dutch team-mates have arrived in the hall by the time I'm back after the tasting - and they too enjoy the 59.43. Bill and Mary from Newcastle are at the Fair - it's good to see Mary about again, as she's not been too well, but she's in good form today and ends up helping out on the Adelphi stall when Antonia's taking a break or doing a tasting.
Well not on my own - but with a lot of help from Dutch team-mates Fred, Sander and Jeroen, I am now the proud possessor of a bottle of Glenlivet XXV. More of that later.
An eventful day began with a quick visit to the Dufftown Whisky Fair, and say hi to the Tomintoul/Glencadam crowd - there's also stalls from Duncan Taylor, Cadenheads, Whisky Castle, Dream Drams, Gordon & MacPhail/Benromach, but I've only time to gulp down a few drams, mainly from G&M, who won't be there on Sunday, as I then have to dash off to Rothes to visits all 4 remaining distilleries, and Forsyths, who make the stills (and other equipment) for most non-Diageo distilleries.
It's about 8 miles form Dufftown to the far end of Rothes where the Glen Grant distillery is situated and the tour will start, the weather is better than yesterday, though it's still not very spring like, and I decide to take the road rather than the Speyside Way to Craigellachie. This proves to be quicker and in no time at the Speyside Cooperage for a quick photo stop, then Craigellachie Distillery for a little bit longer. Then it's down the hill and on to Rothes, with just a brief stop for a picture of Ben Rinnes, now with new snow on top. Finally, the sun comes out, and a further stop is required to take the jacket off!!
I didn't let this rainy Friday get me down - not that it started well. Looking out the door of the hotel at 8am it didn't appear promising - Ben Aigan barley visible through the rain and mist. By 9am, it was a little better, Ben Aigan was in sight, and the rain had just about stopped. So I decided not to become Whisky Bus Passenger for the day and head for Elgin by bike.
In case it started raining again, I'd decided to go via the Speyside Way (tree cover) and the Telford Bridge. It didn't rain and the Speyside Way was fine as far as Craigellachie - shoulda hit the road then, instead I got very muddy - clearly drainage not good on this bit.
Made good time through Rothes to Speyburn - I'd never gone this way before, I guess I'd assumed it was just a road to the distillery. I now think it must have been the original road, but a search for old maps still shows what is now the A941 as the main road in 1856, so either I've got that wrong or not been able to go back far enough.
Whatever, it's a nicer road to ride than the A941 - as far as it goes, which is not all that far along Rothes Glen. Even allowing for a stop for some pics of Speyburn, I'd underestimated the length of the section to Coleburn and it was soon clear that I wouldn't make it to Elgin in 90 minutes - good job I'd allowed 2 hours. Cresting the hill past Coleburn it's clear that the Moray Firth is sunny - and a lighthouse gleams in the distance. A quick look at the map shows thay my initial thought of Chanonry Point is entirely the wrong direction, but surely Tarbat Ness (near Portmahomack) is too far? The sun actually shines on me, briefly, near BenRiach, but I'm soon in not so sunny Elgin and heading for the first tasting of the day and Gordon and MacPhail.
Although there were a couple of events on Wednesday, the festival got going properly today. I took the opportunity to visit Strathmill Distillery which is not normally open to the public - by train. So not too much cycling today - in fact it's almost a freewheel all the way down to Dufftown Station.
The Keith & Dufftown Railway were running today and trips to Strathisla and Strathmill were being offered. The guard informed passengers that they sometimes have encounters with deer on the tracks, or even cows, but none were to be seen today - though there was a sheep grazing line-side on the wrong side of the fence on the return journey.
Complimentary whisky was handed out (Strathisla on the outward journey, Glenfiddich on the way back) with whisky cake or shortbread, as the train made its slow progress towards Keith. apparently preserved railways have a speed limit of 25mph, though the train seldom got above 20 according to my Sat Nav.