Queen’s Park FC aren’t the force they used to be (the only Scottish club to reach the English FA Cup Final, they dominated the early years of Scottish football and Hampden Park was built in 1903 because their previous home could only hold 50,000 – it was the biggest stadium in the world until 1950). Now they are propping up League One – and attracted an attendance of 764, as they lost to Arbroath. To be fair to them it was the biggest League One gate of the day.
Glasgow’s Whisky Festival, on the other hand, has grown so successful, that two sessions were held this year at the stadium that now only comes into its own for International matches and cup finals. The stadium once had 150,000 in attendance for a Scotland – England game in 1937, though now rebuilt as an all seater stadium with a capacity a little over 50,000, there’s plenty of room to host a whisky festival and a League One football match at the same time.
Some excellent whiskies on show, but too many to get through in just 4 hours - so I concentrated mainly on the independent bottlers and the new distilleries.
The SMWS had its usual array of awesome whiskies, the pick for me being 10.127 a peated Bunnahabhain, marked Exclusive to Sweden – presumably Hampden Park was classified as Swedish territory for the day.
I was aware that Morrison & Mackay were planning a distillery, but somehow they weren’t on my list – they have now been added – at the top of the list as the distillery is called Aberargie (that’s a hard g). The distillery is built, and has a Facebook page (with a picture of the still room), but no website as yet. They have started initial distillation
Aberargie is a small village about 5 miles south of Perth – east of the M90 and south of the River Earn, so a Lowland Distillery. They are also about 5 miles from the newly in production Lindores Abbey. (With Strathearn only about 5 miles to its west, Perth is becoming a busy area for new distilleries).
The Glasgow Distillery, which has been making a name for itself with Makar gin, had a sample of 16 month old malt spirit, which I would have thought considerably older had I not been told its age.
Of the other new distilleries – Kingsbarns were not exhibiting any spirit ahead of their 3 years at the beginning of 2018 – initial releases will be for Founder Members, but they expect to have whisky at the next Glasgow show. Rasaay have now commenced distilling; Adelphi just had their independent bottlings, no Ardnamurchan yet, though they are 3 years old now. Douglas Laing recently announced they were planning a distillery in Glasgow, but are not expecting to make a start until next year.
I also spoke to Darren, formerly of Annandale, who is now working for Lochlea Distillery in Ayrshire, which is still in its early days.
Click for a full round up of new Distilleries and Projects.
As for other tastings - I seem to have tasted a lot of Grain whisky - the 21yo North British and 11yo Strathclyde from Douglas Laing are worth mentioning first. The latter is finished in Sherry and follows on from other young Strathclyde's that they have bottled over the last few years, Fred felt they'd got it right this time, balancing the sherry finish with the vanilla notes from the original bourbon cask - previous bottles having been left in sherry too long. I can see his point, though I still have a couple of bottles of the 8yo from a couple of years ago, which is a great whisky, though not immediately recognisable as Grain. This year's 11yo certainly set the Graindar off. The 21yo was an even more obvious grain, but a good one.
My visit to the Creative Whisky Company stall started with a 25yo Cambus - a classic grain bottling, though better was to follow. Before the ultimate grain if the day however, there was a detour to Speyside for a Secret 14yo Speyside - a whisky that dare not speak its name - they'll kill me if I tell you (well they might not pour me any whisky next week, which would be about as bad), suffice to say, if you see it buy it. The next dram was also anonymous - an Exclusive Speyside 8yo, but this had a distillery code "GA" on it - could only really be Glenallachie. Finally, the dram of the day - 43yo Invergordon. Bottles from 1974 aren't around that often these days, and this was just supreme, even though the cask's strength had dropped to 42.7%.Not released yet, so not available at the show, and no price for it yet - look out for it.
Adelphi had a very strange 17yo Laphroaig - I only got the last dregs of the bottle, but enough to detect no TCP and a much more sweet and oily dram than you'd normally get from Laphroaig.
That Boutique-y Whisky had a 25yo Port Dundas followed by a mystery 13yo Irish Single Malt, which Dave Worthington thought was probably from Bushmills.
Murray McDavid's grain was the 19yo Loch Lomond - they've previously had an 18yo, but this had a different twist - finished in a red wine cask - and it it has certainly worked.
North Star had a 24yo Cambus, though it was late on by the time I got there, so I don't remember much.
Morrison & Mackay had no grain, but the 5yo Glenburgie was a great dram that seemed much older.
Finally some malts that derve a mention - two Birthday bottlings from The Pot Still
Glen Moray brought along their latest bottle your own from the Distillery Visitor Centre - a Marsala finish this time - as ever a superb selection, I shall have to plan a trip to Elgin...
The Pot Still was celebrating being named Scottish Whisky Bar of the Year, and had two sherry monsters - an 11yo Glenrothes and a 22yo from Speyside Distillery, which will shortly be available form their website.
All in all another great show and they've promised bigger and better for 2018!
And I have a winter hat courtesy of Glenfarclas.
The Festival also worked with Drumchapel Foodbank to encourage donations in return for a raffle ticket for tickets to the 2018 show.
A word on accessibility - I have currently some problems with getting down stairs, there are lifts at the venue, but they are not well signposted.
My pictures from the show are available on Flickr and Facebook.
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...
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.