Thinking about taking up smoking

A good friend of ours (and fellow whisky fan), the brilliant photographer Tomas Whitehouse was over in the UK from Helsinki to visit family. He stopped in for a dram or two during the Christmas period with his partner Tuuli, and we talked long into the night about all manner of things.

Along the way, we had a few real treats: a New Zealand whisky, the Thomson 17 year-old which is surprisingly light and citrus; the Jura Superstition (a default dram – especially when I’ve run out of the Prophecy); the Ardbeg Still Young committee bottling; and – since it was a special occasion – I cracked open the Lagavulin 12 year-old Special Release (cask strength, bottled in 2008) – which I certainly don’t regret.

As we sipped our whisky and listened to some good jazz, the conversation turned to tobacco. Tomas had recently started exploring the flavours of a range of pipe tobaccos and cigars with a friend of his in Finland, and began to fill me in on the knowledge he’d gleaned about different types of pipe, the ways in which to dry out the tobacco, how best to go about developing an appreciation of it, and where to get the best stuff online for a decent price.

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A Christmas toast at the Dubber end

Putting the finishing touches on the year and thought I’d pause to raise a toast to everyone who helped make 2011 a good one for Clutch and I. We visited some lovely places, drank some astonishingly good whisky, met some wonderful people and had the opportunity to taste and write about some incredible drams.

Not every experience was a good one in 2011, of course. Every year has its ups and downs. Not every person we met was delightful, and not every dram was to our liking, but the positive far more than outweighed the negative and you don’t want to read about two blokes having a miserable time anyway, so we’ll gloss over that stuff.

Besides, look back over the blog and you’ll see how lucky we’ve been – and what unique experiences and opportunities that a love of whisky has brought to us over the past year.

So I just wanted to wish you – and particularly Clutch and family now tucked away in their brand new home way up in the north of Scotland – a very merry Christmas.

This is a Dalmore 1995 – it’s sweet, a little nutty with marzipan and dried fruits – with a medium to long finish of sherry trifle. The perfect Christmas dram, actually. To your health – and to a wonderful and prosperous 2012.

Sláinte.

Northwards To Dalmore

I had the good fortune to be invited along to the opening of Dalmore’s new Visitor Centre a few weeks ago, and had been looking forward to it from the moment I’d received the invite prior to that. Although I’ve passed that way several times, I’ve never had the opportunity to call in, and it’s set in one of the most spectacular parts of Scotland.

The journey by train took me up through the Cairngorms, and as I passed Dalwhinnie, I began to hanker for a dram, but thought it best to save myself and my palate, as I knew there’d be a couple of treats in store for us Dalmore.

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Glenglassaugh – Slight Return

We’ve recently been involved in helping to write part of a new book on whisky. A bit exciting to be asked to join the company of more noted writers in the field than ourselves, and somewhat of a challenge to complete these things to deadlines and not just at our own behest (ahem…looks around guiltily).

So off the back of that request, I’ve been having a good look around a few distilleries of late. Some familiar, and others a new experience for me. The thing with distillery tours, is that once you’ve been ’round a couple and got the gist of the process, barring the few idiosyncrasies that their individual kit provides, it’s essentially the same wherever you go (others may disagree, but I’ll admit, I’m generalising here), so all that ever leaves an impression are the stories that you hear from the personalities that you meet.

If you’re very lucky, you’ll get the odd glimmer of insider knowledge – nothing that’s usually fit for printing – but usually something that gives you that little bit of insight into an industry that is at times secretive and opaque. But business is business, right? Perhaps that’s to be expected then.

Preamble over.

So, not for the first time, I arranged to meet Ronnie Routledge, now at Glenglassaugh Distillery, for a quick chat about the various drams I’d be covering for this upcoming book, and also to get a bit of background.

Glenglassaugh’s a little bit special for me, as I used to live at the cottages just across the road from it. I’d whiz past it on my bike on many a journey between Portsoy and Cullen.

Ronnie very kindly took time out of his busy day (it was slap bang in the middle of Spirit Of Speyside Festival when I met with him) and gave me a whirlwind tour of the place, and eventually we ended up on the roof. Doing a full 180 degree turn, you can take in the blue-glass sea at neighbouring Sandend, that ‘Glassaugh itself overlooks, and then the blazing gorse that surrounds the water source as you towards the direction of the Durn Hill.

It’s a very special place to me.

Before I left, Ronnie very kindly talked me through a few of the future releases that Glenglassaugh have prepared, and due to my tardiness in getting ’round to writing about this, it seems that one of them is actually upon us already.

It’s a bottling chosen by Ronnie himself, and it’s from a 35 year old vintage sherry butt, filled in 1976. Only 654 bottles and bottled at a natural strength of 49.6%. It’s out now.

I’m rooting for Glenglassaugh, and I’ll admit I’m biased, but luckily they’re making great whisky, and the stock they inherited is pretty special too. I’m looking forward to getting my hands on more of it in the coming years.

In The Lair Of The Nose

The other week, we had the good fortune to be heading to Glasgow for a rare chance to pick the brains and be entertained by Whyte & Mackay’s Master Blender and raconteur extraordinaire, Richard Paterson.

Dubber was travelling up from Birmingham, and I came a short hop on the train to rendez-vous with him, and also my close friend, Colin Heggie, who’d kindly agreed to come and take some more professional shots than we could ever manage.

So, after a quick catch up on the train with each other about what had been going on in our lives since we last met, we found ourselves jumping into a taxi at Glasgow, and soon outside the imposing Dalmore House, home of W&M HQ.

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