The Whisky Tasting Club

Whisky Tour, Spring 2010 Part 2- Edinburgh and Speyside

This has become something of a family tradition. Around my eldest son’s birthday and during school half-term we come up to Scotland for a working holiday – which means I do some work and pay for them to have a holiday.

This year we travelled up on Bank Holiday Monday so Julian could have his birthday at home. Then Tuesday I met Ian Bankier for the Whisky Shop to discuss the next issue of Whiskeria and then did a tasting for the Edinburgh University Water of Life Society.

They were expecting 25 people and got 45, and I did my ‘In Memory of the Whisky Chaser’ in support of the Malt Whisky Companion and sponsored by Jura and Dalmore.

It went well in the end but to start with it was a struggle. Michael Jackson used to describe whisky tastings as ‘gigs’ and I really didn’t know what he meant until one night when I had a particularly old and traditional audience and was making no impression at all, so I had to change my script to make it more relevant and in keeping with what they expected, just as a band or comedian might have to adapt their set list to suit different audiences.

So it was here. I completely changed the second quarter of the talk after an indifferent first 20 minutes or so and it was fine.

Most of the rest of the week was spent doing family things but we did call in at Glenfarclas, a distillery I just adore, and I sneaked off for a quick dram. We also went to Cragganmore but didn’t let anyone know. I am featuring both in Whisky Magazine in the coming months.

I went to the Glenlivet for the reopening on Friday. Weird day with pluses and minuses.

Pluses: Rick was there, former Diageo master of whisky in Los Angeles and now with Pernod Ricard and a dude. He’s getting married soon to an English girl who used to play in bands. Cool. Caught up with several journo friends and industry contacts, had a couple of drams with Charlie MacLean who is always good company.

Negatives: the Chivas people were off with me – to the point of rudeness – which is a shock in a Scottish distillery and which badly let them down. I tried to raise the issue but was told it wasn’t the time or the place. I took a day out of my holiday to attend the Glenlivet event and left with a sour taste in my mouth – and not because of the whisky. A real pity. The Glenlivet has always been one of my favourite distilleries because of the number of good memories there. An update on this: it turns out that there was a misunderstanding about something I wrote, and like all good companies they were falling over themselves to sort it out once the problem was raised with the right people.


Glenfarclas is to whisky what Bentleys are to cars – excellently made to the highest standards in the traditional manner. You don’t mess with classic style, so there are no gimmicky finishes from the distillery, no malt alchemy in its labs. Glenfarclas is one of the last family firms still making whisky in Scotland and it survives by simply being the best at what it does. And what it does is big, bold fruity sherry-influenced Speyside malts.

(From The World’s Best Whiskies, to be published October 2010)

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  • I was tragically a little too early to visit the newly-expanded parts of The Glenlivet on my odyssey around Scotland – not exactly a holiday for me either, at times!
    It’s a real pity you received the treatment you did; the last thing the industry needs is to commence with the back-stabbing, name-calling and bitching in general when word of mouth still, refreshingly, counts for a greta deal. I, too, have many fond memories of The Glenlivet: without having visited in 2007 I might not be quite as obsessed with malt as I am now.
    Glenfarclas was a bit of an anti-climax for me. Despite attendance at the distillery being such that I was taken round by myself, I think I expected a little more from the “family run” facet of their business, which they are right to promote, although I’m not sure exactly how it could have been brought to bear. They gave me a can of Coke and some shortbread, though, which a calorie-craving cyclist will always appreciate. I would have adored a trip inside those beautiful low warehouses.
    I always enjoy your articles in Whisky Magazine and Whiskeria, Dominic. I’m pleased I found you online, too.

  • Dominic Roskrow

    Jun 15th, 2010

    Thank you for your kind word James. I think that what makes the world of whisky so special and unique is how personal it is – a whisky on a special occasion, a particularly memorable or pleasant distillery visit, a chance meeting with a distillery manager…my most disappointing distillery visits were both ones where my expectations were so incredibly high. But also through good people and good visits I’ve added some not so well known whiskies to my ‘favourite’ list – BenRiach, Benromach, Glengoyne, Glen Garioch, GlenDronach, Bladnoch and Ardmore, to name just some. The recent trip to Glen Grant was wonderful, too, and it’s reclaimed a special plae in my heart, too.

  • I would passionately second the uniquely and specially “personal” insight into whisky that distillery visits afford. After all, it is like being welcomed into that particular malt’s home. The staff, the decor, the facilities, the weather: a combination of these and many other factors all contribute to an appreciation of that particular whisky which transcends a mere understanding of the ingredients and processes behind it.
    I’m delighted to see Glen Garioch in your list, for I suspect the distillery, its pocket of Aberdeenshire, the people there and not forgetting the drink created will always supercede all others as the most special of encounters with whisky for me. I had cycled there from Dufftown, foolishly along the A96. It rained relentlessly and I arrived soaked to a depth some way below my skin. Jane in the VC sent me over to the stillroom and I dried all my clothes on a rack behind the spirit still! After my one-on-one tour with Fiona, I chatted with them both and their encouragement, enthusiasm and good-humoured Scottish kick up the backside sustained me for the remaining four weeks of my tour.
    Such a precious, personal moment.

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