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Secret Spirits Scotland Tour – Blog # 158

G’day everyone and welcome back to the Singlemalting Blog. After my whirlwind blogging marathon leading up to Christmas I spent some down time back in the home country. Anyone who read the last blog knows that I had my day 25 calendar whisky on Christmas day in Australia a full day before you all got to have yours.

My journeys since then have taken me all over the place including my annual February trip to Scotland to choose the new edition whiskies and on the January Whisky festival train that is a highlight of every new year touching down in Red Deer, Edmonton, Calgary and Victoria. You can read about some of my adventures in these blogs.

Oh yeah whisky barrels that’s what I’m talking about

Having been pestered by many over the past few years to think about potentially organizing a Secret Spirits tour to Scotland I have relented and started putting something together. For those of you that think traipsing around the Scottish Countryside with yours truly and experiencing what it’s like to live in my world for a week of tasting, brokering, bottling, drinking and dining then maybe this might be just what you have been waiting for.

A Secret Spirits tour of Scotland would be a peek behind the curtain of how we put together our list of whiskies and where we go to source them. A stint at the bottling plant and distillery visits would all be a must. A touch of sightseeing and the odd castle or two along the way would also be on the docket. This would be no ordinary tour and plenty of inside industry treats and privilege.

Dumfries House

Some highlights would include a special exclusive hand blown piece of whisky glassware made by master glass blower Tom Young from Angels Share Glass in Bridge of Allen. Being part of selecting a Secret Spirits Barrel and guaranteeing your case of 6 bottles. Seeing the Edinburgh Military Tattoo as part of a whisky dinner extravaganza. A high brow dinner and history lesson at Dumfries House. Staying in top class accommodation and having all meals included, there would even be a day for either a round of Golf or a day at the Spa to soak up some Scottish relaxation. A trip up to Speyside and down South to Ayr means you will get to see a lot of the fabulous Scottish Scenery along the way. All you have to do is get to Glasgow and we take it from there.


We are trying to make it work for late August this year. There are only a maximum of 10 spots available so if you are interested to get all the details please email me at jonathan@secretspirits.com as soon as you can.

Thanks to John (you know who you are) for poking me many times about putting something like this together.

For a detailed itinerary and pricing just get onto the email address above and I’ll get right back to you.

I promise in the coming weeks that I will be back to normal programming as I have a lot of delicious whiskies and other assorted goodies to go through.

Cheers and here’s to an amazing year of fabulous whisky.






When Scotland Calls one must answer part 5 | Blog # 81

Fantastic spa facilities at the Dunblane Hydro which must have helped me to get my clock adjusted as I managed to make it all the way to 6:30am.

A full Scottish breakfast after a dip in the pool is a great way to get the day started. On the road to Edinburgh I met up with Kevan from Craigton one last time as he couriered 2 calendars in his industrial sized saddlebags to Stirling Services so that I could bring something back to Canada with me and save me another trip into Glasgow. Thanks again Kevan over and above the call of duty.

Edinburgh was very very busy with the Edinburgh festival in full swing right through the month of August. Getting downtown was actually pretty fun and after enjoying driving on the correct side of the road and zooming around in my little 6 speed VW I was happy to drive as much as possible. I found a car park right next to the Wemyss offices and had a lovely meeting with Jacqueline. After a viewing of the Scotch Whisky Advent Collector’s Edition, the drams were out quick smart and I can tell you all that the first whisky to be officially chosen for the 3rd edition being released in 2016 is from Wemyss.

Only 24 more to go and next years list will be complete. This is where I normally insert the tough job comments but you get the idea.

A fabulous way to enjoy a working afternoon. Thanks Jacque for having me and for another round of amazing whisky. Seeing as I had such a rock star park, I thought I would wander around and find a place for dinner. There is never a shortage of amazing pubs in Edinburgh so it was no surprise to me when I saw a beautiful converted church now pub called the Ghillie Dhu just around the corner.

It took a while to get a table which was perfect for a stint at the bar and a lovely pint of real ale.
Can’t go past a great meat pie and peas and Cindy would have approved of the side of veggies.

Time to give back the car and in the morning, tram it into Edinburgh to take in some of the festival sights. The Fringe is a non stop hive of street performers of every description that work for donations only. Some really high class acting, singing, dancing and of course comedy lots of kilted comedy.

Scotland indeed calls regularly now and I know that for at least a couple of weeks a year I am guaranteed to answer.

I was able to enjoy all of the action before meeting up with my mate James and his daughters for Saturday brunch and another stirring whisky conversation.


When Scotland Calls one must answer… Part 4 | Blog # 80

Righteo then … 4:30 can at this point be called sleeping in. Up and on my way to Craigton Packaging again on my way out of town to Dunblane. A last minute survey of all the finished calendars and some much needed paperwork sorted and it was time to get underway.

Craigton Packaging Crew Craigton Packaging Crew

Team photo’s, hugs and farewells were passed around at Craigton and I am very much looking forward to being back again early next year as we plan the 3rd edition for 2016. A big thanks to the entire team for an exceptionally good job.

Bridge of Allan is a really beautiful little town not far from Stirling and also happens to be the home of Angel’s Share glass. Secret Spirits is featuring the beautiful hand blown Pot Still water dropper in this years Collector’s Edition Scotch Whisky Advent Calendar and will also be bringing in the entire array of Angel’s Share glass whisky accessories for Christmas.

I found the tiny Angel’s Share studio up a winding lane and spent some time with Tom and his protege Bee who was busily making angels wings. Each Angel’s share piece is lovingly hand made and it was a treat for me to watch some glass blowing as in a way Angel’s Share is invigorating what has been a dying trade in Scotland.

Angel's Share Studio Angel’s Share Studio

Not wanting to disrupt a very busy production schedule it was time to move on down the road to the Angel’s Share office where Karen (Tom’s Daughter) and Mark were busily packing orders.

Their tiny start up has in a few years grown so large that they are literally bursting at the seems and are in dire need of a larger space.

Tom and Karen from Angel's Share Glass Tom and Karen from Angel’s Share Glass

Angel’s Share Glass make everything from whisky cocktail stirrers to whisky pipe glasses and of course their two famous items the water droppers and whisky angels.

It’s so great to be involved with such a quality small business like Angel’s Share and get to meet yet more fantastic people like Tom and Karen. Passion for making something truly unique that enhances the whisky experience could be a tag line for Secret Spirits and Angel’s Share. No wonder we came together to help whisky lovers have even more whisky fun than they thought possible.

Off to the village main street and a really yummy lunch at Jam Jar. My mistake was ordering what I thought were two appetizers. Thanks Karen for helping me out with the Mussels.

You can check out all the Angel’s Share Glass offerings that will be available in Canada here on the Secret Spirits website.

Lucky enough to get a room at the Dunblane Hydro I nestled in for a lovely evening overlooking the expansive grounds at the Kailyard restaurant. Such a lovely old building full of history and Scottish tradition I know Cindy will want to come back here and I won’t mind one little bit.

Off to Edinburgh tomorrow…. forecast for multiple glasses and a very high chance of whisky.


When Scotland calls one must answer – part 2 | Blog # 78

Up at the absolute crack of dawn (2:30am) and jet lag was truly set in. The good news was the amount of time I had to get some work done, work out, have an amazing Scottish brekky and turn up at Craigton bright eyed and bushy tailed at 7:00am.

What a fun opportunity to be able to physically put together something that is near and dear to my heart.

With all the Craigton crew on hand after a touch of morning tea it was all hands on deck. I took up a spot fairly close to the beginning of the line taking each calendar and removing the face plate and taking off the handy ribbons that made production so much faster, checking it for the booklet, lapel pin, postcard, invitation and Christmas card and placing the hand numbered sticker on the inside left door. With all this done it then moved it down the line to start being filled with what really counts, the delicious whiskies.

Before the calendar got to me the pallets they arrived on had to be moved into the packing room and then the individual calendars removed from the outer box. Before I got my mitts on them, the calendars had the bar code and product information sticker attached to the bottom.

Scotch Whisky Advent Calendar Packing Room

Every single bottle was hand labeled and the Christmas day whisky also had an embossed metal label applied, was hand corked and then wax dipped. To say that this is a labor intensive product would be an understatement.

The Craigton team jumped into the project with great enthusiasm and attention to detail. Nothing was missed with everyone focused on their task. Once all the whisky had been installed and an extra booklet page had been added, the Samaroli Whisky glass was snuggled into its silky alcove and the face plate and outer doors closed. Two calendars were then put back into the outer case which was glued and taped shut before going back onto an empty pallet.
Seeing a production line like this close up and actually being part of it is really quite fun.

Of course I was only a visitor but was soon treated like part of the team including the fun jibe’s and comments about how much longer it was taking with me “helping”.

For a few hours after the team left I was able to forge ahead and complete the remaining calendars on the table. It was nice to personally completely from start to finish work on quite a few calendars and have the table clear and ready for the next day.

After getting back to the hotel I was feeling a little weary from a distinct lack of sleep but could not allow myself the luxury of a quick lie down no matter how loudly the nice comfy bed was calling. Time to head out to a beautiful restaurant in Glasgow called Hutchesons, with Kevan and Rachel from Craigton. What an amazing evening filled with delicious wine, great company and awesome food. We kicked it off with some legendary Hutchesons cocktails and my manhattan was amazing. Kevan and Rachel preferred a Gin martini and they went down a treat. Kevan was left to order his own steak as Rachel and I shared a Chateaubriand. It was actually the scallops highly rated by Kevan that got us all there in the first place. Yep they were good.

Hutchesons Glasgow Scotland Hutchesons Glasgow Scotland

One of the joys of working in this industry is developing long term relationships with fantastic people like Kevan and Rachel. When I finally got back to the hotel at around 11:00 pm I had been up and at it for over 20 hours. We will see in the next part if the jet lag was starting to sort itself out or not.
Until then I hope you are enjoying this little snapshot into putting it all together.


A Run down the line at Craigton Packaging – Video …

Photos …

When Scotland calls one must answer … | Blog # 77

After all the fun and excitement of putting together the 1st edition Scotch Whisky Advent Calendar, Secret Spirits has been hard at work doing it all again this year for edition number 2.

You may recall some of the fun and games we had along the way in my blog #21,  blog #28 and blog #29 in 2014. There are always going to be challenges along the way and this multi-part series will help to give you some idea of just what it takes to bring such a labor and logistics intensive product to market.

There’s nothing like booking a last minute international trip and with less than a week before, I really had to take what I could get.

Early morning flights to Winnipeg then to Chicago and finally Edinburgh was the best I could do. I love Scotland and I love being able to create such a fun product so despite the multiple connections I was really excited to get on my way.

Almost as an omen of good things to come, United and Air Canada decided to do away with the Winnipeg leg and just go ahead and upgrade me to business class for a direct flight to Chicago.

What a great start to the trip and time well spent as I worked on some of the vision we have for cool stuff that Secret Spirits will be creating for your discovery, experience and drinking pleasure in the years to come.

A great little company in Paisley, Craigton specializes in smaller run bottling and single cask whiskies. Just the perfect place for Secret Spirits to partner with to put together an intricate project like the Scotch Whisky Advent Calendar.

With the weekend of traveling safely tucked away and pretty solid jet lag fully set in, I was up well before I should have for the drive from Edinburgh airport to Craigton packaging in Glasgow.

Last year Craigton just did the bottling and we had everything assembled in Alberta. This year we wanted everything done in Scotland so that it would arrive in Canada completely in tact. The fact that we are launching into the UK market this year also meant that it made much more sense to do it all in one place.

The Scotch Whisky Calendar Room at Craigton The Scotch Whisky Calendar Room at Craigton

Craigton put me to work straight away as I raced around the countryside picking up last minute labels so that the final two whiskies could be bottled that same day. Fun to be back on the “correct” side of the road and thankfully the Australian part of my brain kicked in nicely and I felt right at home tooling around in my 6 speed manual VW rental.

With labels safely delivered and at least an extra day saved waiting for couriers we had made good progress. All the whisky done and one last piece to pick up on the way back to the hotel. Everything was set for a couple of frantic days to get enough calendars made to meet the Canadian order deadline.

Sitting out on a gorgeous evening sipping a pint on the quay looking over the river as the sun lazily dipped toward the water, I realized just how lucky I am to be doing what I absolutely love. Everyone else just thought I was lucky period. I was seeing the beginning of the Scottish Summer as the clouds of rain had only just parted for my arrival.

After dinner I took a leisurely half hour stroll through downtown Glasgow up to the famous Pot Still whisky bar.. Breaking with tradition, I decided to go for something unique and ordered both the Adnams Single Malt and also their Triple grain. I love to try something different and even though had previously represented Adnams beer in the Alberta market, I had never been able to try their whisky.

Adnams Whisky at the Pot Still whisky bar Adnams Whisky at the Pot Still whisky bar

The Single Malt was delicious and belied its youth with a lovely rounded balance that went down a treat. The Triple grain was good but seemed a touch light. I certainly didn’t leave any in the glass though and heartily knocked back both drams before making my way back down the hill to the river.

What a great first day. Next week I will really get into it, as mission Advent Calendar production truly gets underway.


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.


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.


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.