"Having long been possessed with an ardent desire to see the Distilleries of Scotland...", Alfred Barnard, 1885

"O Thou, my muse! guid auld Scotch drink", from Scotch Drink, by Robert Burns

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Whisky Fringe - Reflections

I am not normally given to prophetic visions but it would appear that a few of my hopes and expectations from last week have come to pass. The first, and most obvious, is that writing this post has indeed blended into Tuesday, and hoping to complete my thoughts yesterday was indeed optimistic.

When Barnard visited Yoker Distillery he described seeing in one room “an eight-day clock of the last century style”. I have got to get me one of those! An eight-day clock would be particularly useful on whisky tasting weeks, when a day or two often seems to go missing (“I’m on a whisky diet. I’ve lost three days already!” – Tommy Cooper, genius).

To my dismay it turns out that an eight-day clock is not the same as an eight-day week, it just means that you wind it less frequently than the normal daily requirement for clocks of the 18th century. Ah well, no excuse for being late at my keyboard then!

I was quite surprised at my weary state yesterday. Yes, it was two afternoons of sampling (plus a few relaxed beers in between with pleasant company) but most samples provided were, sensibly, no more than a 10ml measure. This was ample to gain a good impression of the range of whiskies I wished to try and spittoons were used for the remains of those that I thought to be wersh (but more on those wine finishes later).

I also spent many happy moments discussing Whisky Story with those employed in the industry and those just curious about my journey, and consequently found my nosing glass running dry on a few more occasions than I might otherwise have desired. However, the fuels for this blog are inspiration and information and neither were in short supply, so I’m not going to grumble about the occasional drouthy moment.

I have been hoping that some of our older distilleries have archive material that may offer a parallel record of Barnard’s visit to them, something to compliment his notes. I am grateful to all those who offered contact details for me to follow this up, although my early enquiries hint that records that far back may be harder to find than a peaty Lowland whisky.

My journey will soon take me to Campbeltown and I am encouraged to hear of a revival of interest in this historic whisky town, home to 21 distilleries when Barnard visited but now only 3. Barnard spent a fortnight there and I now think my earlier estimation that I would only need three days is a little light. The Longrow 18yo, not released until next year, was my favourite whisky of the weekend and I look forward to visiting Springbank and finding some history to contrast with Barnard’s experience of the town.

I was delighted to meet up with Bill and Mark from Glasgow’s Whisky Club. Their helpful advice was appreciated and I look forward to attending Glasgow's Whisky Festival in November, which they are organising. I will be well into my journey by then and a day out of my schedule to relax and enjoy another great range of whisky will be timely and welcome.  I hope to have invented a true eight-day clock by then.

I also had a delightful conversation with Christine and Bill who have visited 90 distilleries, using all kinds of public transport, and no doubt ‘shanks’s pony’ as well. They have yet to travel by horse and trap though, something I am keen to do as well given this was Barnard’s common means of reaching distilleries. It would be the norm for him, and on occasion even a burden to be joked about (more on this when I reach Bowmore distillery) yet it seems somewhat romantic to us in this day, a treat to look forward to. Christine, if you are reading, please let me know when you realise this dream, I hope I will too.