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Month: March 2015

Scotchy Scotch Scotch Part 3 | Blog #65

Phew so many whiskies so few days…

Time for a breather and a couple of nights with my first Scotch supplier and good friend James Cowan. Working for A.D. Rattray at the time that I first met him he has worked for several companies including Tullibardine, Benriach and now Sazerac.

It was great to spend some time with James and his family in a lovely wee little town about half an hour out of Edinburgh.

Kerry & James Cowan Kerry & James Cowan “They have the cutest Ragdoll cat in the world.” -Cindy

A great night with James making his famous spinach pasta kept from getting to messy by our commitments in the morning (probably a good thing). The only drams tried that night were two expressions from James previous employers, a Benriach 22 year old special edition single cask and a Benriach 17 year old peated both which were delicious whiskies.

Up early and into Edinburgh on the bus for our rendezvous with Stuart and Wilma Nickerson of the Malt Whisky Company. I worked with Stuart for over 5 years when he was at the helm of the newly refurbished Glenglassaugh distillery. Stuart did such a great job in bringing the distillery and the brand back that, ahead of schedule, it was sold to the Walker family owners of Benriach which enabled Stuart to start a new venture that he had been working on for over a decade behind the scenes.

Waiting for the bus into town. Waiting for the bus into town. Jonathan & Stuart Jonathan & Stuart Urban Angel, Edinburgh Urban Angel, Edinburgh

The Malt Whisky company released it’s first independent bottling last year. Fittingly it was a 40 Year Old Glenglassaugh (see my blog #26 about the sample’s timely arrival via Canada Post). This year The Malt Whisky Company will be the 4th independent bottler in the 2nd Edition Scotch Whisky Advent Calendar. Over eggs benny at Urban Angel in downtown Edinburgh, details were thrashed out for some really great drams to find their way to calendar customers.

The Malt Whisky Company will be focused on whiskies that are 20 Years and older with a separate label for “new releases” that will be bottled as NAS expressions (that could get some comments going).

Stuart has been squirreling away casks now for well over a decade and has some lovely old stock and some younger exceptional casks as well. Using a combination of quality casks many of the whiskies Stuart has acquired have been re-racked into better oak. It was great to catch up with Stuart and his wife Wilma as we enjoyed a really outstanding brekky on a gloriously sunny Edinburgh morning.

I don’t want to give anything away but there are some amazing treats on the way as a result.

Remote Unst, Scotland Remote Unst, Scotland

Stuart was heading to Ireland which was why he was all the way down South in Edinburgh about to catch a flight. Stuart’s other endeavor is the Shetland Island Distillery way up at the Northern tip of Scotland in Unst. Maybe next time we are in Scotland we can take the 4 hour+ trip and various ferries to get all the way up North. I will keep you posted on the progress of this distillery as it moves towards getting whisky into cask

Thanks again Stuart and Wilma for a fabulous meeting and for some equally awesome drams.

Not yet done for the day and toting our sample Scotch Whisky Advent Calendar, Cindy and I made our way up the Royal Mile to Edinburgh Castle and spent most of the day exploring this iconic feature of the Edinburgh skyline that adorns the back of the calendar. With a spectacular view and various museums to visit it takes hours to even make a dent in everything to see.

If you go to the castle, don’t miss the 1 o’clock gun, fun to see a close up view of a modern “cannon” go off.

We managed to get a couple of great shots of the calendar “posing” in front of the castle which was worth me lugging the 3+ Kilo package around all day. Desperate now for another pint and looking for one of the great selections of Royal Mile pubs, we found our way to Deacon Brodie’s Tavern. A really great pie and local real ale made it the perfect stop while overlooking the hustle and bustle of the mile.

Right, enough working for one day, time to grab a bus back to James for a family feast and some whisky by the fire.

James and his wife Kerry really spoiled us as beer, wine, amazing espresso and finally whisky flowed around a fantastic dinner. Relaxing in the lounge by the wee fireplace I was offered a number of amazing drams as James spent some time under the stairs hunting out some big guns. Firstly just to get going a 37 Year old Glendronach was offered up. Not a bad start (hehehe). With James having worked for Benriach that also purchased Glendronach, he had several amazing bottles. This expression gave me pause and I knew it was old but wow the fruit was fantastic. Righteo James what’s next. Hmmm … Tullibardine 32 year old anyone? Yummy aged Highland delight is all I can say. Well while we are on an over 30 kick, why not finish off the Scotch drinking with a 38 year old Benriach. James all I can say is that I am coming back and spending a week…. hope that’s ok with Kerry 🙂

Finally after all that amazing Scotch James just had to give me a taste of something extremely rare. William Larue Weller Straight Kentucky Bourbon. Expect to pay a grand for this if you can find a bottle. Sen-friggin-sational is all I can say. I love great whisky/ey in all its forms and this was one absolutely stunning bourbon. James you are the man.

With our Scottish leg coming to a close we had one last amazing brunch with James and Kerry before being graciously deposited at the Edinburgh airport.

Next week I will close this 4 part series with the final Italian chapter of our whisky laundering trip.

See you then.

Cheers!

Scotchy Scotch Scotch Part 2 | Blog #64

Edinburgh Castle

What’s better than a lazy day taking a train through the lush Scottish landscape from Glasgow to Edinburgh on a sleepy Sunday?

Afternoon Tea Edinburgh

Day 1. Well after settling in to our hotel we made good use of the lobby lounge to relax and have afternoon tea complete with scones, jam and cream while looking at the splendid view of Edinburgh Castle. Amazing!

Some of you may have read my blog# 60 that covered the experience of my first night in Scotland. Well, I wanted to replicate it a little with Cindy getting in on the fun. Cindy, being the organized one, had a wee travel umbrella that had come in handy quite a few times but alas it was not big enough for both of us so with night setting in and a steady rain falling we grabbed a nice Tartan brolly to complete the set. Armed against the Scottish weather we strolled along the cobble stoned streets towards West Bow and the Bow Bar.

With the picturesque street lamps playing their light on the shiny wet cobblestones, Edinburgh looked like something right out of a Charles Dickens Novel.

Edinburgh

Arriving safe and dry at the Bow Bar, Cindy and I both grabbed a dram to toast the success of the first leg of our trip. Cindy’s dram of choice was a Glendronach 21 Year Old and mine was the proprietary bottling of Tomintoul 16 Year Old. Both delicious and cockle warming drams. The other truly fun part of spending time at lots of different Scottish bars was “Real Ale”. A big part of the craft brewing scene in the U.K. that can’t be missed is hand pumped ales and cask aged ales that are a must to experience some really yummy beer. Hand in hand with the many drams were an accompaniment of fab local real ales.

A pie and a pint at the Castle Arms was just the ticket to end a fun evening in the old city.

The Wemyss crew...all rugged up! The Wemyss crew…all rugged up!

Up nice and early ready for more difficult whisky tasting duties, this time with Wemyss Malts at their “arctic office” that had lost heating the night before. Without giving anything away we tasted some really exceptional drams with Jacqueline, Emma, Ginny and Susan. The Wemyss family has a long and lavish tradition with their fingers in many different business pies. Wemyss Malts, although a junior company compared to some of Wemyss exploits, has become one of the most important, acting as the face of Wemyss to consumers all around the world.

Perhaps teetering on the edge of losing my professional non-bias outlook on whisky for this years’ calendar, it was decided that I should take some of the whisky samples back to Calgary to try them in a less romantic setting 🙂

All of these intense tasting and negotiating sessions invariably lead to some sort of amazing dining experience. Jacque, Emma, Cindy and I braved some very chilly and windy conditions pushing into the breeze for a mere 200 meters that felt like a mile to The West Room. Yummo is all I can say after a delicious Real Ale and a crisp Gewurztraminer with some fabulous company. It was really great to get to know the team at Wemyss a little better. I am so excited to be working with such amazing companies and all I can say is that calendar owners this year are in for a real treat. Sadly, we had to leave the Wemyss team to don more jumpers and get back to their daily duties.

Jacquline & Emma

The Hanging Bat The Hanging Bat

Given a free reign for the evening Cindy and I were well up for an early cocktail at Moriarty’s followed by beer Nirvana at the Hanging Bat. Suggested to us by a long time industry friend James Cowan, the Hanging Bat was amazing. Some seriously great beer on offer. My suggestion would be to do the tasting flight. Rather than lining the beer up on a tray as is typical of flights I was presented with 5 Hanging Bat bottle caps which I could come back to the bar and redeem anytime for my next tasty treat. Pulled pork and 5 truly exceptional half pints made for a perfect pairing.

Day 2 with Wemyss and we were up at the crack of dawn meeting Jacque for a train ride across the Forth Road bridge, which is something to behold, and then onto Kingsbarns Distillery after a lovely drive through fields of snow drops. Wind and plenty of it is a regular hallmark of the Kingsbarns Distillery location just down the road from the home of Golf St. Andrews. Kingsbarns owned by the Wemyss family was brainchild of Doug Clement who drove past the old Dovecot and stone building everyday on his way back and forth as he caddied at Kingbarns and St. Andrews golf courses. Doug started us on a very interesting tour and I have to say that they have done a fantastic job on not just the distillery but the visitors center and tour. If you are anywhere near St Andrews on your next visit to Scotland you absolutely have to go and check out Kingsbarns.

Click photo to play video…

The most exciting part of our visit was seeing spirits pour from the stills knowing that the very first cask was about to be filled. A privilege indeed.

Kingsbarns Distillery Kingsbarns Distillery

The tasting room is full of delicious Wemyss bottlings and we got to try some that I had never seen before. Wow really impressive casks. Nose almost pressed to the glass I salivated over the Loch Indaal Catch 1982 Bowmore 32 Year Old. Not enough left for it to make it into the calendar but we may be lucky enough to see a few cases come our way later this year. The Flotsam and Jetsam 1991 Glen Scotia and the Smoldering Hickory 1997 Bunnahabhain were both delicious.

Bolstered with some hearty soup and yet another local beer from the Kinsbarns cafe, Jacque took us back to Edinburgh but not without a visit to the Old Course and a stop at St Andrews beach so I could brave the near gale conditions to fill a mini with St Andrews sand for a friend. I can barely imagine what it is like trying to play golf when it is that windy. The course was full as the golfing faithful braved the nasty conditions to play at the mecca of the golf world.

Thanks Jacque for taking us on such a great journey and Doug for showing us what I know will become a sought after distillery. Can hardly wait till the first bottling rolls off the line. Sad for our time with Wemyss to end this time around as we had so much fun.

A little more time in Edinburgh and another supplier meeting all coming up on next weeks blog.

Slainte!

 

Scotchy Scotch Scotch | Blog #63

Wow! Great to be back in Scotland again … after a rainy bus ride from Edinburgh airport to Glasgow that took twice as long. We later learned that the Celtics were playing Milan and Glasgow was packed with football fans. For those that must know the game was tied 4 goals all.

Craigton Bottling Plant - Jonathan, Cindy & Kevan Craigton Bottling Plant – Jonathan, Cindy & Kevan

Day 1 and Cindy and I were up and early heading to Craigton bottling. Not until we had sampled the full Scottish Breakfast available at the Hilton Glasgow complete with haggis which Cindy worked on and a lovely bowl of creamy porridge covered in fresh cream and a healthy portion of Ballantines Scotch Whisky. Definitely a first for me. A big thanks to Rachel who picked us up and along with Kevan gave us the grand tour of the Craigton plant and helped to nail down some of the finer details in bottling so many wee 50ml bottles for the second edition Scotch Whisky Advent Calendar.

We spent some quality time cuddling old barrels in the Craigton warehouse – there were some decidedly yummy looking casks (no we didn’t try any).

Suffice to say that the bottling and packaging for this years calendar is in good hands with Kevan and Rachel.

Right, time for us to go source some whisky!

Picked up by Iain from A.D. Rattray we were whisked out to the “Scotch Whisky Experience” in Maybole, Ayrshire which is an interactive whisky experience and shop front for A.D. Rattray independent bottlers. Without giving anything away we looked at and tasted some mighty fine drams while scarfing down delicious sandwiches and cake.

The Scotch Whisky Experience - Maybole The Scotch Whisky Experience – Maybole

A.D. Rattray, as a lot of you already know, was my first foray into the world of single cask Scotch and it’s wonderful to still be working with them almost a decade later. Nick, Francis, Iain and the rest of the team poured on the hospitality and after some fierce negotiations a suitable list of whiskies was agreed upon and our journey to completing this years list had begun.

“After some fierce negotiations a suitable list of whiskies was agreed upon and our journey to completing this years list had begun.”

Time for some serious whisky drinking with our host Iain in all of his favorite Glasgow haunts. First stop was Stravaigin for a pint and dinner to get some fortification in place for the whisky to come.

“All I can say is this is a must for your next visit to Glasgow as the food is sensational.”

Off to the Ubiquitous Chip which is legendary in Glasgow for our first dram of the evening. Bruichladdich Bere Barley was just the ticket to get our palates off to a good start. Not wanting us to miss anything we were then off to The World Famous Bon Accord which is one of the best whisky bars in Glasgow. It was great meeting owner Paul and the team and we were even ushered behind the bar for an impromptu photo shoot. First dram on the bar was an A.D. Rattray Glen Grant 20 Year Old bottled exclusively for the Bon Accord. Yummo!

The World Famous Bon Accord - Glasgow - Iain, Jonathan & Cindy

We got to learn all about the ringing of the bell initially warning us of the impending last call then ushering in the last call and eventually telling us to get the heck out! While all this bell tolling went on we still had time for another dram and I chose a proprietary bottling of Glen Deveron (MacDuff) as I had never tried it before. Always great to try new whiskies.

By this stage Iain had split the scene to get a late cab ride home and Cindy and I were fortunately within walking distance of the hotel.

What a great first day in Scotland and our first in Glasgow.

“Ahem….. remember as you read this that Cindy and I were fully engaged in dedicated field work and whisky sourcing. Any resemblance to a “vacation” or fun junket is purely coincidental.”

Day 2 and we were once again escorted by Iain and his fabulous fiance, Zoe, who firstly took us out to the Southernmost Highland Distillery Glengoyne. Literally sitting on the Highland side of the road that divides the Highlands and the Lowlands the whisky is distilled on the Highland Side and then moved to the warehouses to age in the lowlands. Fun stuff.

A very pretty distillery, Glengoyne has an exceptional visitors center and tour which really shows in an easily understandable way the impact of casks and aging. I would highly recommend anyone visiting Glasgow to make the trip to Glengoyne. During the tour we did of course get a chance to try some whisky and the Glengoyne 12 Year Old was a nice easy dram to get started with.

“Back to Iain’s for some ridiculously good cheeses and a cleansing ale to round out an amazing time with the good folk at A.D. Rattray.”

More whisky to be tasted though, and so it was that Cindy and I closed out our Glasgow experience with firstly a visit to the un-named pub … seriously, it has no name! … where I broke protocol being that it was the best Bourbon bar in the city and had a Sazerac Rye.

(Later we found out it’s name is Chinaskis)

“This spot is brilliant with it’s candle lit tables and cozy but buzzing atmosphere.”

 

One last visit to the World Famous Bon Accord which just happened to be on our way back to the hotel. Couldn’t have planned it any better. It was here that Cindy had her first ever full dram of whisky ordering the Auchentoshan Three Wood. After my visit to Glengoyne earlier in the day, I just had to try something older from them and so had a dram of the Glengoyne 21yo in hand when Cindy and I toasted the success of the first leg of our 4 supplier journey.

On to Edinburgh for the next installment of Calendar Whisky Sourcing 101.

Slainte!