Tuesday 29 November 2011

Fairtrade Clackmannanshire + Ben Nevis

Through my membership of the Co-operative's local Area Committee, I have been pushed into being the leader of the Fairtade Steering Group which aims to achieve Fairtrade Zone status for Clackmannanshire. Our first event, an African Kitchen cookery demonstration, will be held within Baxter's Restaurant in Alloa tomorrow evening. We have already had good coverage in both the local newspapers, Alloa Advertiser and The Wee County News. Did an interview with Central FM this morning which should be broadcast this evening. The event is already a sell out with a large waiting list for spaces.
Next target, the schools, some of which have already been contacted and the churches who, curiously, don't seem particularly connected with Fairtrade.
Ben Nevis distillery has launched McDonald's Celebrated Traditional Ben Nevis with a replica of an old label. This is an attempt to replicate the style of whisky which was bottled by the company in 1882. An almost impossible task as, at the time, the company also owned the nearby Nevis distillery and, historically, this label contained both Nevis and Ben Nevis whiskies. Nevis ceased production around 1908 and its whisky has long faded into memory. This bottling is limited to only 700 bottles.
See my tasting note amongst what I am tasting now: http://www.johnlamond.com/page12.html

Rain, rain and more rain

It has been a VERY wet November here in Scotland. So much so that now the soil is saturated, literally can't absorb any more rain - and it is still falling! Result? The M8 to the west of Stirling was flooded this morning with drivers having to be rescued from their cars by firemen. The road between here and Causeawhead in Stirling is flooded and impassable, as are the road to the east of Dollar, my wife's route into school, the unclassified road between the B9140 and the A91 into Alva. There is every expectation that more roads will be closed as the day goes on. Many train lines are also flooded and closed. Listening to Radio Scotland's Roads Report, it seems that some people have spent as much as 4 hours stuck in, or near, flooding. The Scottish Environmental Protection Agency are saying as I write that they expect water levels to rise for the next 3 hours. This is as bad as last year's snow and ice problems. We should call for Keith Brown's (Scotland's Transport Minister) resignation!
Last night's Parents' Night was successful, Kirsty seems t be doing well, even very well. She obviously takes after her mother rather than me!

Monday 28 November 2011

Wallace Monument

Yesterday, as we are close to St. Andrew's Day, many buildings, castles, etc. were open to the public for FREE. The Wallace Monument is about 2 miles away from where I sit in my study. Despite its proximity, we have not visited it in the 6 years we have lived here, thus my daughter has never been near it - because the cost is, quite frankly prohibitive. £30.00 for the three of us. Just to climb up and climb down again.
Thus, as it was free (see it's true, we Scots are tight!), I took my daughter along.
The queues were extraordinary and it was freezing cold standing in the queue. They told us when we arrived that it would be about an hour before we would be able to get inside the monument. Then they told us that we would only be able to get to the third floor. One of the reasons for going was to experience the view and take photographs of our home area from the top!
We froze, we waited.
It was quite good, but it was not worth £30.00
Tonight is my daughter's first parents' night at secondary school. She had good reports from her primary school up until the summer, but i am not sure about how things are going at secondary. Now we will find out how she has really been getting on.

Sunday 27 November 2011

Drambusters' Whisky Festival

Down to Dumfries yesterday for Drambusters' inaugural Whisky Festival. Drambusters is the whisky club organised by Dumfries whisky shop, T.B. Watson Ltd. in the town's English Street.
This was a good wee festival, held in the Cairndale Hotel with 18 or 20 whisky companies (and me) taking part. I signed a few books, spoke to a LOT of people from all over: Carlisle, Kent, Glasgow, Germany, California as well as Dumfries. At most such festivals I have been to there seems to have been an upper age. At this one, that was exceeded. Possibly because I was situated at a central pillar and had no fewer than 3 seats, none of which I was using, I spoke to 4 people who were in excess of 80 years of age and 1 who was 92. That made an age spread of 74 years!
Met up again with Robertson Wellen, a whiskyphile Californian who runs a great guest house in Dumfries called "Ferintosh". The only hotel/guest house/b&b I have ever been at where I was left a small decanter of single cask single malt whisky by my bed! http://www.ferintosh.net/index.htm The three members of the Bavarian Whisky Pipes were staying with Robertson while they were in Dumfries.
The weather was appalling and my drive home was fun; strong winds, pouring rain and amateur drivers crawling up the road from Dumfries to the M74. Still I did the 95 mile return journey in an hour and 40 minutes. A steady 73 mph on the M74, M73 and M90, great thing cruise control!

Sunday 20 November 2011


Filming today for a couple of projects, the first an online whisky blender, whiskyblender.com, did the intro for the website http://www.whiskyblender.com/school.php
A steep learning curve as the camera and sound equipment was untried and we encountered a wee glitch or two, but it will all get there. whiskyblender.com goes live on 25th November, so watch this space.

Saturday 19 November 2011

Back to Whisky

Glasgow's Whisky Festival today!
900 people crammed into The Arches underneath the city's Central Station to taste a very wide range of whiskies and buy some books from me, signed of course. Sold half a box (25 copies) and, because I was attempting to make my fortune (ha! ha!), I only had time to taste a couple of whiskies. Ronnie Routledge from Glenglassaugh had the new whisky - 3 years and a couple of days old - the first whisky since Stuart Nickerson & Scaent Group took over. Unfortunately, it was all gone by the time I was able to get to his stand. Tasted a 20 yo (I think) Bunnahabhain from Wemyss Malt, very impressive, honeyed and soft and the Last Ever Vatted Malt from Compass Box.
Met almost all of the recent Advanced Whisky students and quite a few who have/are about to sign up to the Scotch Whisky Trail Certificate course due to start on 17th January.
Next year, I think I'll go along as a punter and enjoy myself.

More diversity

On Friday, I spent the morning delivering posters and leaflets around various venues around Clackmannanshire: Post Offices, Co-op stores, libraries, civic centres, the Alloa campus of Forth Valley College. I am leading the Fairtrade Steering Group in Clacks, attempting to get Fairtrade status for the county by the middle of next year. Our first event is an African Kitchen event on St. Andrew's Day, 30th November. Although we havn't advertised it yet, there are something like 20 places booked already. We have set a capacity of 50 but could stretch that to 55 or so, should we need to.
In the evening, I took Kirsty to the opening and launch event at Showcase Glass in Stirling, a glass artist who also showcased other people's work. Have signed Kirsty up for a free taster session where she gets to make her own hanging ‘Christmas Tree’ decoration and have some interesting and enjoyable glass fun! See www.showcaseglass.co.uk.

Kilmacolm High Dam

What a diverse life I lead! On Thursday, I was helping out my publican buddy with a problem he has at a reservoir he owns - repairing the concrete on the edge of the reservoir's spillway. Some miscreant has opened the sluices and the dam has emptied. To date we cannot find out how this has happened and the water flows across the base of the reservoir and out through then open sluice. We spent some time trying to find out where the water is going to - unsuccessfully! Just as the rain came on, we returned to the car which I had driven down to the reservoir a) because we had cement to carry and b) because there were highland cattle up the field and I did not want to lose my wing mirrors. With the rain, the track became slippy and it took us an hour to get the car the 70 metres or so up the track. We were soaked and covered in mud.
What fun!

Friday 18 November 2011

Showing Deanston for HSBC

The new branch of HSBC has opened in Stirling. They needed a whisky expert to entertain customers and potential customers and, of course, they called on me on Wednesday night.
A deal was done with Deanston and I showed the 12 yo and their new Virgin Oak which is matured as usual in amix of ex-Bourbon and ex-Sherry and then finished in new, unsullied oak. The result is a drier and more assertive version of the 12 yo with a little more chewy tannins, more obvious leather and toffee characters and more spice on the tail. The punters' reaction? Being Scotland, the sweeter 12 yo won out, but quite a number preferred the Virgin Oak, so it wasn't as clear cut as I initially thought that it would be.

Wednesday 16 November 2011

Cutty Sark

Did the third in a series of educational events for Cutty last night.
A group consisting of some staff from Cutty's Brazilian agents and their Russian agents,as well as one from Maxxium UK (their UK agants) and one from Edrington, Cutty's parent company. Have already done one event for their Turkish distributors and one for their Spanish.
We have created the Cutty Sark Blended Scotch Whisky Academy as the vehicle for this series of events.
This one was at Lochgreen House in Troon, a comfortable, personal, almost intimate hotel.
A good bunch and quite knowledgeable with pertinent questions showing that they had more than a basic understanding of the subject, but, as Jason Craig, the Cutty Sark Supremo, has opined, their understanding of The Blend wasn't quite there.
Had a great dinner to finish with: Salmon wrapped in seaweed with wasabi, roast venison with wild mushrooms and caramelised parsnips and tarte tatin with ice cream. Yummy!
Finally left at about 11.45 and it only took an hour to get home. Was only over the speed limit by a couple of miles an hour, but the roads were VERY quiet.
Tonight I am doing a whisky tasting as a part of an HSBC branch opening in Stirling. Hopefully a relaxed do where I can interact with their customers and potential customers. We will see!

Meggan Dawson-Farrell

Quite a few days! Had a (rare) night out on Saturday when one of my neighbours arranged a race night in a local hotel to raise funds for their daughter's athletics activities. Meggan Dawson-Farrell is a paralympic athlete and, at 19 years old (she's not a whisky!) is becoming a very accomplished wheelchair athlete. At a national event in Stoke in August, she came in third over 1500 meters behind a paralympic gold medallist and the world junior champion. She knocked 43 seconds off her persoanl best over 10k in Kelso a few weeks ago, coming away with the award for the best performance on the day.
She's 30th in the world rankings over 100 metres; 35th over 200 metres; 40th over 400 metres; 38th over 800 metres; 29th over 1,500 metres and 21st over 10,000 metres. She is aiming for the Commonwealth Games in 2014 and Olympics in 2016.
Her wheelchair costs £4,500.00, with, additionally, each wheel costing £1,500.00, never mind the travel and accommodation costs, so events such as this are essential if she is to continue to develop as a paralympic athlete.
I am pleased to say that they raised £2,000 on the night and hopefully will raise more on the back of the night.

Thursday 10 November 2011

Tullibardine sold

Hot off the press!!

A deal was sealed at 1.00 p.m. this afternoon which saw the sale by Mike Beamish, Doug Ross and their backers of Tullibardine distillery in Blackford. No-one at the distillery would give me any information, but my source (in another whisky company) informed me that the buyer is a French company who are not currently involved in the whisky industry.

High Spirits Mesquite Smoked Single Malt

A single malt from Flagstaff, Arizona. Yup, I too was not aware of a whisky distillery in Arizona. This is apparently 7,000 feet above sea level. You obviously need oxygen masks at that altitude.
I assume that they use mesquite because they don't have any peat locally.
The bottle was brought to the Advanced Whisky class by one of the students, Jim Coleman of www.whiskyboys.com and I tasted it on the night he brought it a couple of weeks ago, but tasted it again today more clinically.
It's not my cup of tea, the mesquite smoke is characterful to say the least.
The nose is quite full-bodied, with vanilla, leather and mesquite (I assume, never having experienced mesquite) smoke; with water, the smoke becomes cigar smoke and fruit characters of melon and possibly mango are masked by the smoke.
The palate is full-bodied, quite rich and medium-dry with obvious mesquite (I hope) flavour, burnt paper, a nice, spicy touch and slightly medicinal and it finishes of medium length (surprisingly) with notes of bandages, hospital wards and, overpoweringly, mesquite smoke.
As a curiosity, it is well made, but its flavours are too over the top for me.

Wednesday 9 November 2011

Advanced Whisky course Week 8

Part of the syllabus for the Advanced course is a visit to a lab where the students can ask difficult questions of the blender. Unfortunately, this year, I have been unable to tie in a lab visit, with bottling plants being closed in the evenings, blenders being on maternity leave, wandering the world as brand ambassador or just not answering their phones. So I threw in an extra classroom evening.
My theme was some of the industry's essentials, energy and water and the threats to their continuity.
Thanks to Kirsteen Campbell at Cutty Sark, I was able to demonstrate the essential nature of e150a (caramel colouring) and its lack of impact on flavour/aroma. I put less than 4ml from a teaspoon into an empty 2 litre water bottle and gradually filled it with water, allowing the students to see how little colouring is necessary to add colour. I probably should have had two bottles (memo to self - use 2 bottles next time), with the second having less than 0.5ml. The 4ml coloured the water such that it looked darker than a 50 years old first fill Sherry aged whisky - it was even darker than Loch Dhu. They were able to smell the caramel, but, with water, there are no other aromas to hide it and the aroma of the caramel was quite light.
Having done it this way, for next time, I will get a syringe and be much more clinical in the amounts I put in. In that way, the aroma will not be noticeable because the percentage of colour needed will be absolutely tiny.
The order of the evening's whiskies was completely random, with my taking, without looking, a decanting bottle in one hand and a whisky in the other when I decanted them an hour or so before the class. The order in which I presented them was:
1 The Co-operative's 12 yo Single Highland Malt
2 Black Grouse
3 Tobermory 10 yo
4 Arran 1998 The Westie
5 Buffalo Trace
6 Laphroaig 10 yo
7 Jameson's 12 yo
8 Grant's No. 2 (Sherry Cask Finish)
As always, they tasted the whiskies blind and there were several grumbles about a) the selection and b) the order in which I had set them out.
I have to say that the students did well, eventually setting them into a proper tasting order and knuckling down to tasting them.
1 was correctly identified by almost all as a Highland,
2 threw some who, understandably put it on Islay,
a couple correctly identified 3 as Tobermory 10,
most were correct in identifying 5 as a Bourbon,
everybody correctly identified 6 as Laphraoig 10,
a couple identified 7 as Irish and
8 threw almost all of them, with about half identiying it as a blend and some putting it as a poor Speyside.
That's this course completed - or maybe not, watch this space.
I now have 4 or 5 weeks where I get my Tuesdays back and can plan for the Scotch Whisky Trail Certificate course (the entry level course) which starts on 17th January.

Christmas shopping

Yes, even I have to undertake this time consuming and mindless task.
My wife and I, who both positively hate shopping, chose some years ago to get it all done in one day early/mid November, before the mobs arrive.
A couple of years ago, we saw that this unpleasant experience has a possible pleasant one connected to it (for every action, there is a reaction). Get the shopping done in one day, stay over in Glasgow, have a pleasant night out, take the pain and misery out of the shopping experience. Sorted!
This year, we went into Glasgow last Saturday (daughter spent two nights with grandparents) arriving in the Buchanan Galleries car park at 9.20. We had lunch in O Sole Mio in Bath Street and shopping was finished, everything bought apart from an Amazon voucher, by 2.45.
This year, we had booked into the Crowne Plaza beside the SECC and watched the fireworks displays around the city from our room on the 14th floor.
We then went out and had a very pleasant dinner in The Pelican Cafe - my fourth attempt to eat here in the past year, finishe doff with an aniseed grappa.
Unfortunately, our room (no 1422 - avoid it like the plague) is close to some machinery, possibly the air-conditioning unit, which emits a low hume for 24 hours a day.
Our sleep was disturbed.

Thursday 3 November 2011

Someone helping me to educate the masses!

At last, someone is helping me to spread the good word. John Glaser of the Compass Box Whisky Co. is to take a lead in the educational drive around the new laws on Scotch Whisky that come into force from Wednesday 23rd November, 2011.
To mark the occasion, Compass Box will release a limited edition bottling, the Last Vatted Malt, made from a marriage of fine, old single malt whiskies from Islay and Speyside distilleries, that will be the last whisky to be labelled legally as a Vatted Malt.

As Compass Box founder and whiskymaker John Glaser explains: “At midnight on November 22nd, 2011, an era ends. After that point, it will be illegal for whiskymakers to use the term Vatted Malt to describe a Scotch whisky made from the combination of two or more single malts. From 23rd November 2011, this style of whisky will by law have to be labelled as a Blended Malt Scotch Whisky. Vatted Malt is a term that has been in use since at least the 19th century. It represents a style of whisky in which Compass Box specialise, so it has special meaning for us. Therefore we have decided to take a lead in the education of whisky drinkers about the new legal definitions of the 5 styles of Scotch whisky. We feel that this is an important change to the law that needs to be explained to whisky lovers. As the new laws come into effect, we want to take this opportunity to educate, to look to the future and to help the industry as a whole.
To commemorate this transition into a new era, The Last Vatted Malt Limited Edition from Compass Box will be on sale from 23rd November 2011 onwards at www.compassboxwhisky.com and from whisky retailers. It will be bottled at cask strength, and each bottle will be personally signed by John Glaser. Only 1323 bottles will be produced. The recommended retail price will be £175.00 per 70cl bottle.
Compass Box intend organising a number of activities through November to help promote awareness of the new laws, supported by a programme of communication on Facebook, Twitter and by email. These will include:http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif

• A Twitter Q&A with John Glaser @CompassBox at 8pm GMT on Tues 15th November

• The Compass Box potted guide to all you need to know about the new Scotch Whisky laws at www.facebook.com/CompassBox

• Last Vatted Malt Day on Tues 22nd November encouraging whisky fans worldwide to bid adieu to Vatted Malt by raising a glass wherever they are.

• A ceremonial bottling of the last bottle of Vatted Malt at a mystery location in Central London by John Glaser at 11.59 on the night of Tues 22nd November – accompanied by a select Vatted Malt flash mob!
They say that “The Last Vatted Malt is a testament to the high merit of blending single malts—to create a whisky flavour profile that no single distillery can produce. This whisky combines intense aromas and flavours of dried fruits and maltiness underscored by a subtle, sweet smokiness, all robed in the revealing signs of whiskies of antiquity. It is composed of two single malts: approximately 22% of the recipe is whisky distilled at the younger of the two distilleries in the village of Aberlour in 1974 (36 years-old), aged in a first fill sherry butt. The balance is from the famed distillery in the village of Port Askaig on Islay, made in 1984 (26 years-old), aged in an American oak hogshead.”
If you can't work out what the whiskies are, come back at me and I will enlighten you.

Wednesday 2 November 2011

Advanced Whisky course week 7

Yesterday evening, the task set to the students was to present for 5 minutes to their peers on the subject of a whisky of their choice. Each whisky was tasted blind and the student's presentation was to give information about the whisky without naming it or supplying the clue which would make it obvious to everyone.
I set it off with Eddu Grey Rock from Brittany which no-one guessed and some found a bit hard and unyielding.
Gary Ledgerwood then showed a 24 yo (1986) Cambus which no-one got, but he displayed as a part of his presentation, a Google Earth picture of the location which showed Diageo's huge warehouse complex at Blackgrange and my home here.
Alan Hall showed a 19 yo Longmorn from Creative Whisky which about half of the class got from his words.
Mark Connelly showed Bain's Cape Mountain Whisky, a 5 yo grain from South Africa which, with a bit of prompting, one or two got to South Africa, but no-one correctly identified either the whisky of Sedgewick's distillery.
James Farrelly showed Ballantine's Finest which most got when they read about the geese on his presentation. Apparently he lived locally and worked there as a student.
Ian Petrie showed Aberlour a'Bunadh Batch 37 which, surprisingly, none of the students got. He bought the bottle at a disgustingly low promotional price at Waitrose.
Stefan Kah showed Glen Scotia 17 yo from Gordon & MacPhail which a few were able to identify - with some help.
Bob Arnott showed Ben Bracken from Lidl, which is apparently Tamnavulin. I found this disappointing as I have a soft spot for Tamnavulin and the whisky was giving acetone and lots of it.
Jeff McKenzie also had Ben Bracken! I suppose that it had to happen! If you look at the post about last week's class, you will see that there was no duplication, so once in 30 cases isn't bad.
Drew Nicolson showed Macallan Fine Oak 10 yo which most people correctly identified and a few were surprised by how well it showed, having tasted it blind.
Andy Davidson also threw everyone with Kavalan from Taiwan. Some of the class had never even heard of Kavalan. It is a relative newcomer.
Jim Schultz also threw everyone with Old Ballintruan. He had shown the same whisky blind to the Helensburgh Whisky Group on Saturday with similar results. Just over half of the class were either on Islay or close to it with the whisky's flavour. The clues Jim put in to his presentation guided one or two to Tomintoul, but the peat threw them off the scent. The sweetness, however, should have taken them to somewhere other than Islay.
Then I put on 4 whiskies blind.
Each bottle is numbered and, like last week, they were not in the correct tasting order. Towards the end of this the Advanced course, the students should be able to taste them in the correct order.
The order they were given was:
1 Bunnahabhain 18 yo
2 Auchentoshan Classic
3 Dewar's White Label
4 Dalmore Gran Reserva
The order, of course, should have been either 3,2,4,1 or maybe, 3,2,1,4. Having already tasted 13 whiskies, their palates were confused so they didn't correctly identify any of them, but one or two were close with the Dalmore. The Dewar's showed very well with no-one slotting it as a blend, its soft, toffee character raising it in the students' opinions to a Single Highland Malt. The Bunnahabhain threw everyone completely because of the Sherry cask element and as the phenolics have almost completely dissipated over the 18 years.
A good night and showing how well the students have developed over the course of the classes.
Taking both the Scotch Whisky Trail Certificate course (which they have to complete first) and the Advanced Whisky course, they have now completed 15 nights, probably 35 hours of quite intensive education. They all came into the courses as maltheads, but now appreciate the quality of The Blend and some grains and also the importance of these to the industry.
Within the class, there are 3 whisky bloggers, one of whom is a whisky retailer; one, previously retired is now doing some work for David Stirk's Creative Whisky Co. and another is doing some work for Angus Dundee.
What next?