Saturday 17 April 2010


Arrived back from 5 days at my buddy Jim's caravan at Wemyss Bay. A HUGE caravan site with thousands of caravans, but his is tucked away in a secluded corner; the weather was fabulous, so we had a good time.
Went over to Rothesay (one must when one is doon the watter), visited Rothesay Castle - an impressive ruin which must have been pretty impregnable in its prime with ten feet thick walls. We ate lunch in a very good restaurant - Brechin's Brasserie: small, friendly, no chips!, good food and reasonable pricing. Will definitely go back!
Also ate at the revamped Nardini's in Largs: again, very impressive decor, service and food and not, despite what was suggested, expensive.
Came home, set to recommence work on the fence and was struck down by the Winter Vomiting Virus. Had to spend the next day in bed, very unpleasant and uncomfortable.
Finally got back started work on the fence rebuilding on Wednesday. Weather great, learning as I go along, pleasing results, still not venturing too far from a toilet.
Was due to attend the launch of the Old Pulteney sponsorship of Jock Wishart's Row to the Arctic last night, but it was called off by the grounding off all flights to and from the UK by a cloud of volcanic ash emanating from and Icelandic volcano which was heading this way. Our good weather meant that it wasn't being blown away fast enough. Heard today that 23,666 flights across Europe had been cancelled yesterday and today by the cloud.
Was greatly assisted by my father-in-law, who knows about these things, in the dismantling of our garden shed. It has to be dismantled so that a digger can come in and excavate a 3 metre deep hole in the search for our foundations. It is our intention to have a sunroom built on the northwest corner of our home and, despite the fcat that the house is only five years old, neither the council planning department, nor the consultant engineers who consulted in the original build have records of how the foundations were laid. Incompetence or what? So a hole has to be dug to confirm what the architect thinks, that the house is built on piles, or stilts sunk into the clay.
Anyway, pa-in-law aided me in about 45 minutes to do what it would have taken me two days to do.
Late yesterday afternoon I twisted my knee preventing myself from falling from the fence into the trench at the side of the garden. Today can hardly walk. Looks like the fence is going to take longer than two weeks to rebuild.

Wednesday 31 March 2010


My daughter played her first concert as a member of the training band in Hillfoots Music for Youth at Tillicoutry Village Hall, a delightful 1930s art deco edifice. 83 kids, many of them playing muiscal instruments in public for the first time. They were quite well kept together by their conductors and they were pretty close to the tune, if a little slow.
She also took part in her primary school's team in the Scottish European Educational Trust's Euroquiz - and won the Clackmannanshire heat. They now go onto the National finals at the Scottish parliament in Holyrood in mid-May.
Had lunch with Ian Williams, a friend in Skelmorlie on Monday. Snow overnight in various parts of the country, but here in Tullibody, just cold & windy. Ian is a great chef, the food was stunning. Had to leave early though to get back in time for Kirsty coming home from school, even then, was about 20 minutes late.
Lunch on Tuesday at Stirling's Riverhouse restaurant, c/o Forth Valley Master Composters, of which i am one. Fodd, better than I expected, some imagination in the kitchen and the ability to put that imagination onto the plate. At £6.95 for 2 courses, also very good value.
Last night, the wind built up, we had a very disturbed night and now, at 10.30 on Wednesday, it continues unabated. Overnight, we lost about 35 metres of fence. Other areas of the country are receiving large quantities of snow, with roads blocked, jack-knifed lorries, etc., but we have trees down and fences destroyed. A couple of years ago, I had a quote for replacement of the fence, as I think that the larchlap fencing is dreadful and, at that time, it was going to cost me £2,500.00. I now have time to do it myself, I hope, so we shall see how much it will cost.

Thursday 25 March 2010

Scotch Whisky Trail Course ends

The spring 2010 season of courses is now over with the final night - and the EXAM!! - of the Scotch Whisky Trail Course last night. I always seem to get a good bunch of guys and gals who are there to enjoy themselves and to pick up a wee bit knowledge about the cratur. The exam scores last night were very good. Taken as a whole, at 73%, they probably had probably the best average score in the 11 years I have been running the course.
The examconsists of 50 multiple choice questions and 3 whiskies tasted blind, with one mark being given for correctly identifying whether the whisky is a blended whisky or a single malt and 5 marks for correctly identifying the brand. The tasting side of it is really just for fun and doesn't count towards the final percentage.
We finished up with a fairly comprehensive tasting of Japanese (and other) whiskies, with samples from Yamazaki, Chichibu, Hanyu, Fuji-Gotemba, Karuizawa, Yoichi & Hakushu, not forgetting Glann ar Mor, Mackmyra, Bakery Hill, Sullivan's Cove & Kilchoman.
Today I have been down to more mundane things - decorating the bathroom. I HATE painting skirting boards! I need a dram now.

Monday 22 March 2010

Napa Valley Rocks tasting

Attended a Napa Valley tasting at Calistoga in Rose Street Lane North last week. Michael Honig from Honig Vineyard & Winery, Daniel Bailey from The Jones Family Winery, Molly Kenward from Tor Kenward Family Wines and Peter Franus from Peter Franus Wine Company presented to a small group of what seemed was mostly wine educators, although some restauranteurs and retailers were also there, along with Tom Cannavan from
Some VERY good Cabernets: the 2006 Jones Family "The Sisters" Cab Sauv was impressively rich with ripe blackcurrant and a slight waxy note to the smoky oak; chocolate features in the flavour along with elegant oak, with spice & pepper on the finish; The 2006 Jones Family Estate Cab Sauv was also big-bodied and solid with good levels of tannin and acidity supporting dark fruits and a tail which is very long, impressive and elegant.
Other than these two, we tasted Cakebrook Cellars' 2008 Sauvignon Blanc, Cuvaison's 2007 Carneros Chardonnay, Honig's 2008 Sauv Blanc, Honig's 2006 Cab Sauv, Tor Kenward's Mast Vineyard 2003 Yountville Cab Sauv, Cimarossa's 2003 Mount Howell Cabernet, Franus's 2006 Brandlin Vineyard Mt. Veeder Zinfandel and Franus's 2005 Brandlin Vineyard Mt Veeder Mourvedre.
Of these, the whites, in particular, were lowish in acidity, I could be kind and say that they had soft acidity, but I suspect that the grapes were left on the vine to achieve ripeness and complexity at the expense of the acidity and Sauvignon Blanc needs acidity, it needs bite.
The Mt Veeder Zin was a bit closed on the nose, though had rich and ripe dark fruits, with elegant vanilla and solid tannins on the palate with a bitter note on the tail.
The Mt Veeder Mourvedre was a bit of a revelation though:deep, ripe, soft redcurrants and some liquorice on the nose, the palate was big, ripe, rich and plummy exhibiting good acidity and tannins, with a long, impressive, floral, perfumed tail. Really quite yummy.

Thursday 18 March 2010

Scotch Whisky Trail Certificate Course week 7

The course last night was a trip for the students to Glengoyne distillery. A couple of them had been there before, at least one had NEVER been to a whisky distillery, never mind Glengoyne!
A great night, looked after by Louise & Callum. Stuart had looked out some samples for me to deliver to them showing the effects of different woods on maturation. We sampled:
a 3 years old Glengoyne from a first fill Oloroso European oak hogshead at 63.5%: medium-bodied, rich and Sherried with rubber/nuttiness and a little apple; with water, it became bigger with tangerines and some perfume.
a 12 yo first fill Oloroso American oak butt at 58.2%: Richer, with more toffee, honey and apple; with water, a distinct ceral note of Sugar Puffs breakfast cereal opened out.
a 19 yo second fill Oloroso European oak butt at 55.8%: a wee bit dumb on the nose, showing a little toffee & not much more; with water, it really opened out with fresh citrus, lemon/lime, honey and apricot.
and finally, Glengoyne 21 yo, the current bottling, which is all from a mix of 10-12 casks of first fill Oloroso European oak at 43%: Sherry nuttiness leaps out of the glass with a dense beeswax note and a little perfume; with water, the beeswax becomes softer, with notes of furniture polish and some apple and peach.
A great way to demonstrate the effects of the different woods. With the beeswax and fruity characters of the European oak and the definite cereal characters of the American wood.
Another great night!
The students now have to sit the exam next week.

Advanced Course continued

Well, that's the first running of the Advanced Whisky course - and now the students are asking me to write the Advanced Advanced Whisky Course! No, I don't think so. The whole thing has worked a lot better than I thought it would.
With a course content like:

1. Characteristics Arising from Distillation and Fermentation

An examination of the characteristics which arrive through foreshots and/or feints, metallic, sulphury and off-notes, their causes and manifestations. 2/3/4 distillations. What makes a good whisky? Beyond subjectivity.

Group blind tasting organised by tutor

2. Beyond Maturation.

A look at wood types and the inherent characteristics of various oaks; what previous inhabitants of the casks give to or take from the whisky; storage conditions; “good” and “bad” results – too old and too youthful. Focus on one whisky with a look at various ages of that whisky.

Students to bring three aromas in containers for class to identify blind.

Group blind tasting organised by tutor and group note taking

3. 2nd February, 2010 Regionalisation – Does it Exist?

An examination of the flavours inherent in the makes of various distilleries; identification of regional characteristics; examination of primary, secondary and tertiary flavours with comparison with Diageo’s map, S.W.C’s wheel and John Lamond’s Aberlour Whisky Wheel.

Individual blind tasting and group note taking

4. Glasses and Their Influences

Comparison of Schott, Riedel & Glencairn. Different flavour characteristics emphasised by different glasses

Blind tasting from various glassware

5. Brand and Craft

Examination of independent bottlers’ influences on flavour; chill-filtration; 40/43/46/cask strength; e150; grain species – yields versus flavour?

Blind tasting of non-whisky spirits supplied by students and written appraisal of tasting

6. Visit to Edrington’s Lab

Biochemistry & gas spectrometry – what are they looking for? Reduction water quality, either at cask filling or bottling. Water problems at the distillery – low or contamination.

7. Open Week

Each student to give a 10 minute presentation on some aspect of whisky. Followed by an open discussion and appraisal.

Blind tasting with each student giving a detailed written appraisal of four whiskies.

8. The Market

How is it controlled? Is it controlled? Who controls it? Politics, trends, influence, the auction market – and fakes; other World Whiskies.

Blind tastings – each student to give a verbal presentation for five minutes on their chosen sample.

I was certain that some parts would work, but the whole thing went really quite magnificently. A lot was down to the calibre of the students, with the effort they put into their presentations being very impressive.
Week 8, for example, my intention was that they would merely present for 5 minutes on an expression of a whisky. I arrived with 8 whiskies (including Millstone 8 from the Netherlands and Yamazaki 10 from Japan) for them to taste blind. They each brought along a sample, which meant that we tasted 17 whiskies on the night. No wonder that the janitor was champing at the bit to get us out of the building so that he could lock up at 9.10 p.m. (the class is supposed to finish at 8.30p.m.).
Great night though.

Friday 12 March 2010

Adanced Whisky Course

The Advanced Whisky Course is now into its seventh week and going amazingly well. I was not 100% convinced that it would work as well as it has. Looking into the minutiae of whisky is not everyone's cup of tea, but it seems that the students on the first running of the course like it.
This week was easy for me, the students had to deliver a 15 minute address on some aspect of whisky. We had chill-filtration, profiles of Auchentoshan and Glenfarclas (including a sample of the 1958 from the Family Casks!), an Italian whisky club, poetry and art & whisky. Wonderfully imaginative and very good and in-depth research involved by the students. I was impressed!
The entry level course, The Scotch Whisky Trail Certificate course has just had its 6th week and again, a good bunch of students, a couple of publicans, a whisky writer, two restaurant staff and the balance of aficionados.
Scotland's weather has improved, it has ben very stable over the past week with blue skies and sunshine, although it is cold out of the sunshine. As I look west just now, the sun is sinking over Stirlimng Castle and the sky is picking up a rosy glow, soon to be purple, gold and many other colours.

Saturday 6 March 2010

Japan (3)

After a night at the Hachioji Plaza Hotel, we had a European style breakfast of croissants and coffee in a cafe just up the road before catching the train into the centre of Tokyo.
We wandered around the Ginza area, Jim was wanting to find the technology area which a Dutch professor in our hotel had told him about the previous day. We didn't find it, but the Ginza is full of Rolex, Prada, Tiffany, Armani, etc., all the BIG fashion names. We had a couple of beers and lunch at the Lion Beer Hall in Ginza Street. Then I had to get back because I was being interviewed by Mamoru Tsuchiya for an article in May's edition of "The Whisky World".
Our flight back was fairly uneventful, apart from the problem of buying a couple of coffees in the departure hall. We were 30 odd yen short and I had to run down to an ATM to get more funds. Wonderful thing international banking, I wonder how much Alliance & Leicester will charge me for the privilege of changing currencies?
Stopped off in Amsterdam's Schiphol for 3 hours and had sausages, chips & beans in an Irish pub! A change from all the healthy Japanese food for the previous week.
Arrived home to snow - in the air and on the ground. Drove Jim home to Gourock and myself home to Tullibody, arriving at half past midnight. 25 hours' travelling. Sat down, supped on a whisky for 20 minutes and slept like a log. It's good to get back to your own bed!

Thursday 4 March 2010

Japan (2)

On the Monday (22nd Feb), we set off for Chichibu distillery. My friend in Takeshi Mogi in Hachioji had very kindly given me detailed travel instructions with specific trains and timings. His detail was wonderful.
For Chichibu, we had to get on the Tokyo Metro Yurakucho Line and transfer to the Seibu line at Ikebukuro. At Ikebukuro, we hit our first problem, not bad in 10 rail journeys so far. The English translation of the signs ran out when we reached the platform. There was no train at the platform and the train further down had an "Out of Service" sign over it. I wandered down the platform to see if I could learn anything while Jim looked after the luggage. When I returned, he advised me that a woman sitting in a train at an other platform had come over to him and asked if we needed assistance. She pointed out that the train we were looking for was the one which was currently "Out of Service".
This train duly left and, when it reached Hanno, it reversed out of the station along another section of track. Thus, we were now travelling backwards. The guard announced that our seats would turn around and therefore face forward and all we needed to do was press a button and birl the seat round on a pivot. Effective and imaginative!
When we reached Seibu-Chichibu, it was obvious that I was the first person the locals had seen in a kilt! Needless to say, it went down a bomb!
A half hour taxi ride took us to Chichibu distillery, where Ichiro Akuto, the owner was waiting for us. The first stillhouse - in the world! - where you remove your shoes before entering! Everything is spotless. The stillhouse has no mezzanine, so to examine, and clean the washbacks, the staff have to climb a ladder. See my pics at
I tasted some amazing young spirit, aged in new wood which was astoundingly forward. See my tasting notes at
Back into the city and a meeting with Takeshi Mogi, who has been translating "The Malt Whisky File" into Japanese since 1995. An amazing guy who is fluent in Gaelic, wears the kilt and plays the bagpipes.
Jim had been given a plaque from a Greenock councillor to present to Takeshi. The individual prior to Takeshi who received one of these was the captain of the Queen Mary II when that ship docked in Greenock towards the end of 2009.
We had dinner at Ukai Chikutei, a traditional Japanese restaurant which is spread over a number of cottages. An amazing meal served by a traditionally dressed young waitress.
We spent the night in Hachioji and then caught a Rapide into the city for our last day.

Wednesday 3 March 2010

Japan was AWESOME!

Just back from a week in Japan. 26 hours' travelling to arrive at my first stop in Arashiyama on the southeast outskirts of Kyoto.
Arashiyama is a world heritage site, with many ancient shrines. It receives many, many tourists in the course of a year and yet, at this time of year, there are no restaurants open in the evening.
I travelled with my buddy, Jim Robertson, the publican of The Kempock Bar in Gourock. Arrived at my hotel Kyoto Ranzan, obviously very tired, and asked at reception if the hotel restaurant was still open (this was 9.15 p.m.). Was informed that there were NO restaurants open in Arashiyama, there was only a convenience store and suggesting that we go there and eat its offerings in our rooms. Naturally, I did not believe this and we went out for a walk.
Everything was shut up for the night and I was beginning to despair of getting anything to eat - we had not eaten anything since around 10 o'clock in the morning - when we saw some lights. The convenience store! We grabbed a couple of bento boxes containing sushi & some fruit and beer and headed back to the hotel.
The next day, we visited Yamazaki distillery and were conducted around by Makoto Sumita, the distillery's Deputy Executive Manager: a very big mash tun and washbacks and a stillhouse containing a dozen stills of various shapes and sizes, permitting them to produce a wide variety of flavours within their whiskies.
I tasted 12 years old Yamazaki matured in American oak, 12 yo Yamazaki matured in a Sherry butt, 12 yo Yamazaki matured in a Mizunara (the Japanese oak, Quercus serrata) cask and 12 yo (the standard offering on the shelves), Yamazaki 18 yo and yamazaki 1984Limited Edition.
The tasting revealed the difference that Mizunara casks make. For tasting notes see that section on my website.
That night, I determined to find an open restaurant! We had seen a great number of restaurants in the area over the course of the afternoon and I could not understand why, when there were obviously a lot of tourists around despite it being early in the season, they all seemed to close at 4.30.
I was successful! I found what must have been the only restuaurant open in the area, a kushi-age restaurant and we were their only customers all night, so we got great service with an explanation of what everything was and how to eat it. Great! Deep fried food! A very Scottish diet!
17 train journeys in 7 days and everyone of them ran precisely to time!
Back over to Tokyo on the bullet train. One of these 1800 seat trains travels down the tracks every 7 minutes and our experience was that they travelled at 60-70% capacity.
Tokyo was an experience in itself. Their planning department doesn't seem to be particularly effective, there is no continuity of building style, each house is (often) totally different from its neighbour and they are built cheek by jowl in an almost shanty town style. Such proximity would not be permitted in Britain. Having said that, the streets were very clean, no chewing gum stuck to the pavements, no cigarette ends/polythene bags/crisp packets blowing in the wind.
It was expensive though. The sterling/yen exchange rate didn't help, but I got the impression that the cost of living is expensive in Japan.
We had dinner with Kiyotoshi, Keiko and Takamitsu Shimamura from Scotch Whisky Sales Ltd. and Junichi Fukutani, who translated the last edition of "The Malt Whisky File" into Japanese. Sushi - again. They fed us beer, followed by sake and that was followed by shochu. I got tyhe distinct impression that our hosts were trying to see how much we could drink as they were not either eating as much, or drinking as much as they were. A very enjoyable night nonetheless and Jim & I dropped into an Italian wine bar for a bottle of wine to finish the night with.
Whisky Live Japan was on the Sunday and we jumped onto the Yurikamome line at Shimbashi to the Big Sight exhibition centre. The Yurikamome line is an automated system without a driver, like London's Docklands Light Railway. the view it gives of Tokyo's waterfront area is fabulous. It is a pretty wonderful piece of engineering, especially when one thinks about the now dumped plans for the Glasgow Airport Rail Link and the chaos which has blighted Edinburgh's streets since work started on that city's tram system - and this tram system now looks as if the build will overrun by 2 or 3 years!
Whisky Live was amazing - 5,000 visitors all very serious about whisky. I was walking around the exhibition and people were coming up to me and saying, "Ahh, you are John Lamond!", pulling a copy of "The Malt Whisky File" out of a bag and asking for my autograph or asking to be photographed with me. Felt like stardom! It was reallya buzz.
Went to dinner with Shusaka Osawa and his staff from Liquors Hasegawa - in a Chinese restaurant. Again very different from the UK version of a Chinese retaurant.
For relaxation, after all this excitement, Jim & I split a bottle of wine at a Breton retsaurant just along the street from our hotel in the Ginza district.

Thursday 11 February 2010

The Whisky Courses Continue

Now into the fourth week, last night saw us into history of the industry up to 1850, having already looked at malt and grain production, the blend and maturation. The Scotch Whisky Trail Certificate Course is a good wee group of a dozen bar staff, private consumers, a ship's steward and a whisky writer. One, last week, announced that he had been to many courses over the course of his life and that this was "by far, the best course I have ever been on!" Made me feel good.
The great thing about this course is that the students are coming in with already formed, pre-conceived ideas and the course opens their eyes to how good some brands (especially blends) are which they had previously discounted as poor.
The Advanced Course, running for the first time, is very different and looks at some obscure areas of the industry from obtuse angles. The students taste whiskies blind and are becoming very proficient at identifying regional and local characteristics in the whiskies. They say that they are finding the course difficult which I am pleased about because have I found it dfficult to create the course materials. I certainly wouldn't iike the students to find things easy!
Attached is a picture of the students enjoying themselves on the Whisky Trail Course.

Wednesday 20 January 2010

New whisky course

It has been a long time since my last post - a lot has happened, but we will continue. The world is still turning.
The first running of The Advanced Whisky Trail course occurred last night. Some people missing and others unable to attend the course this year. My students have been badgering me for this course for the past half dozen years or so.
Anyway, the first night saw an examination of the characteristics which arrive through foreshots and/or feints, metallic, sulphury and off-notes, their causes and manifestations. What difference 2/3/4 distillations makes. What makes a good whisky? And "Beyond subjectivity". They tasted 6 whiskies and shared tasting notes to come up with a conclusion. It worked well.
Another running of The Scotch Whisky Trail Certificate Course starts tonight. I am not convinced in the effectiveness of the college's administration. Student Services they call it...
We'll see how it goes.