The Islay Festival of Malt and Music, Feis Ile to its friends, is almost upon us again. From 22-30 May, the Hebridean island’s population will double, with whisky fans from around the world descending to celebrate Islay’s whisky. However, while each distillery on the island has an open day, with an inevitable special bottling, it’s not only the locals who are getting in on the act. Last year, Douglas Laing popped up on the island with some tastings of their independently bottled Islay drams, and this year they’re joined by my favourite independent bottler, the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. They are running an open day of their own on the island, including the launch of their first, to my knowledge, Feis Ile bottling – 3.243: Dark, smouldering flamenco gypsy.
One of the lovely things about the whisky industry is that you get to meet people spread all over the world. My semi-frequent visits north of the border mean that I know a bunch of people around Edinburgh and one of those is Mark Davidson of Cadenhead’s, my travelling companion for the 2013 Victoria Whisky Festival.
He runs the Jolly Toper whisky tastings in Edinburgh, and I’ve been annoyingly good at missing them whenever I visit. However, with my biannual pilgrimage to my family’s timeshare cottage in Aviemore on the horizon I decided to start my journey north a few days early and stop in at a charity tasting that Mark was running.
I don’t really do Twitter tastings any more. Mainly it’s because I seem to be quite good at missing them, but I also like the idea of getting more new people involved – most who see me tweeting along will probably already know about the drams I’m trying if they care about whisky, and if not they’ll be following someone else who’ll be taking part. However, every now and again one pops up that tickles my interest and drags me out of my self-imposed retirement. One of those hit recently – a preview tasting of the new Douglas Laing Old Particular range.
Twitter is becoming increasingly ubiquitous in the whisky world, with the initial onslaught of geeky whisky fans acting as a vanguard to bloggers, writers and producers who have been signing up and joining in the conversation with various levels of enthusiasm. One of the more recent inductees into the online world is Rachel Barrie, aka @TheLadyBlender, master blender for Morrison Bowmore Distillers, the folks behind Bowmore, Glen Garioch and Auchentoshan (as well as the “I’ve never seen them before” McLelland’s single malts).
She’s thrown herself into tweeting in an enthusiastic manner and as a first larger work related thing put together a bunch of twitterers to join in with the first Bowmore Twitter tasting under the hashtag of #LoveBowmore. I was on the guestlist.
I drank a fair few things at the Victoria Whisky Festival and haven’t got enough hours in the day to write them up in my usual overly wordy fashion. But rather than let my notes disappear into the pile of notebooks on my desk I thought I’d better stick them up here. Firstly, a few Bowmores.
In recent times my Islay whisky drinking has become rather focused on Bowmore, pungent peat wuss that I’ve become, so I was rather please to get into Iain ‘Sometimes drinking Black Bowmore for weeks can be really awful’ McCallum’s final tasting of the day at the festival – Davin de Kergommeaux was knackered after a day of Canadian Whisky Awards press and ‘forced’ the ticket on me. What a horrible life I lead.
For the first Whisky Squad of October (two every month now, like clockwork. The website almost crumbled under the load when booking for November’s sessions went live…) we were joined again by ‘Squad veteran Mr Robert Whitehead, the most likely person at Berry Brothers & Rudd to use the word ‘delectable’ and get away with it. His theme was unannounced, other than through the title of the session – More Whisky. All would be revealed (actually, worked out by the people in the room) by the end of the session…
Christmas and New Year are approaching. I know this because I’ve received the ‘prepare for the PAIN’ email at work, warning us of the propensity of people to purchase boozes towards the end of the year and the commensurate increase in the amount of work that us booze slinging retailers will see as it approaches. However, we’ve also noticed this at Whisky Squad and to help in the selection of some more thrifty purchases for the festive season we brought in m’colleague Tim Forbes of TWE to go through a range of more affordable, ‘bang for your buck’ purchases.
Rumours that the session was once going to be called “Timmy Wimmy’s Nifty Thrifty Whisky for Chrissy” are entirely true. It was vetoed quite early on by Mr Forbes, as he has a modicum of pride left in his body. I will, however, be referring to my younger brother as Timmy Wimmy for the rest of the year to ensure balance.
I love technology. Not only does it enable me to fire these words into other people’s brains without having to insert them manually, it also lets me find out stuff that I wouldn’t have otherwise. Much to my annoyance one of the best places to find out news and information about whisky these days is Facebook, and I spend an increasingly large amount of time keeping an eye on the Malt Maniacs and Whisky Exchange groups for tidbits that I might otherwise miss. It was on the latter that someone posted up a picture of a new Bowmore the other week, and after a moment of negotiation with m’colleague Tim we decided to split a bottle and I was dispatched to our local Asda. Bottle in hand I pinged a mail to DK, my friendly neighbourhood Morrison-Bowmore PR person, and she sent me back some information – it’s a new whisky that had been quietly released days before I grabbed mine: Bowmore Small Batch Reserve – Bourbon Cask Matured.