So, I thought I should conclude my recent expedition to The Moray Riviera before it becomes too much of a distant memory.
My father and I set off for Huntly in the morning, with the intention of visiting Whiskies Of Scotland. It’s staffed by a very friendly and knowledgeable man by the name of Ronnie Routledge. Ronnie’s former Whisky Manager for Gordon & Macphail, so has a wealth of experience that you or I will never quite match, I suspect. If you’re ever in the vicinity, although I’m sure you won’t be stuck for choice of whisky emporia, Whiskies Of Scotland is worth making time for. You’ll be well looked after, and with the range of exclusive bottlings they carry from Duncan Taylor, you can be assured that you’ll have a wide variety of extra special malts to select from.
No, I don’t work for them…yet.
Whilst thinking of how to describe Ronnie, the phrase that sprang to mind was “a topper of a lad…” Where I’m from “topper’ is superlative which can be use to describe anything of outstanding merit.
This led me to think of a memory from my childhood.
The local radio station when I was growing up was Moray Firth Radio, and it had a daytime DJ who had a slot where members of the public would ring in with items for sale. One day a local farmer rang the live phone in to offload a cumbersome musical instrument.
DJ: And we have Alec now on the line with something that might interest our musician listeners, How are you today Alec?
Alec: Aye Jim, nae bad like. I dinna ken if ‘is wither’ll had oot. A’s hinkin’ te tak the beasts in ooer nicht. Gie cal’ ken?
(Hello Jim, I’m fine. I don’t know if this weather will hold out. I thought I might move the cattle inside tonight. It’s very cold, you know…?)
DJ: I know what you mean Alec. I had to turn the central heating up last night… So, what is it you’ve got to sell?
Alec: Well Jim, Ah’ve a muckle piana sittin’ ben i hoose, and it’s jist tikin up space, ken? So Ah’m needed shot o it.
(Well Jim, I have a large piano in the next room, and it’s taking up space, you know? So I’d like to get rid of it.)
DJ: Is it a grand piano, Alec?
Alec: Oh aye, it’s a f*ckin’ topper!
(Oh yes, it’s a beauty!)
I think that there may have been a quick cut to a commercial break at that point, but I was too busy bent double, cracking up laughing, at the unintentional comedy genius of the moment.
Where was I? Aye, Whiskies Of Scotland in Huntly. Had a good look round, and although cash strapped, couldn’t resist picking up a copy of ‘The Whisky Muse’ by Robin Laing. I like a bit of music with my whisky, so it looked great to me. Upon paying, I noticed Ronnie’s selection of tasting bottles atop a barrel. Within the selection was the Adelphi Clynelish 10 year old, which I’d been reading about the day before in a catalogue for whiskies which featured in Scottish Field Whisky Challenge, which I knew Ronnie had been a judge in previously, so I asked him if it would be alright to try it.
To me the first thing I got was spice and dry grass when nosing it. The feel in the mouth was viscous and green, but with some peat and smoke in there also, and the finish lingered a surprisingly long time. A bottle I’ll be getting in the not-too-distant future.
So we said our goodbyes and headed on to the next stage of our journey, which was to be a visit to Glenfiddich Distillery for the tour. Once outside, I badly needed to use the toilet, so I told my Dad I’d nip in to the pub we were passing and I’d meet him in the car. Upon entering the pub, I experienced The Spaghetti Western Effect. You know, when you walk into a saloon and the piano player stops playing, and everyone turns to look at you, and the women run upstairs and lock themselves in a room before the shooting starts…? Perhaps I exaggerate, but you get my point. I’d forgotten that I was dressed up fairly smartly and a touch too flamboyantly for Huntly at eleven in the morning on a Wednesday. My top was a retina-searing pea green. I like it, but it’s had comments passed on it before.
There were three customers, the barman, and myself. At the far end of the bar sat a grizzled man with bottle-top glasses and a baseball cap perched on his head. He was called Geordie (in the North East, it’s a derivative of George, and nothing to do with Newcastle-upon-Tyne.) and had the most impenetrable Doric, that made even me struggle. Near-unintelligible.
Sat to his left, next to where I was standing, was another old bloke who looked like he’d gone ten rounds with Tyson in his hey-day. Two black eyes, a scraped nose, and a gash running from his hairline to his ear. The blood looked fresh. He smiled at me and said, “Fit like the day?”, to which I replied “Nae bad, yersel’? Having established myself as a returning local and not some dandy interloper, small talk and pleasantries were exchanged. I now felt obliged to have a drink, as I thought it’d be bad form to just ask where the toilet was.
So I scanned the shelf above the optics, looking for something to try, and then my eyes settled on the Glennfiddich 12. A dram I’d had many times before, but have been dismissing out of hand due to teenage over-indulgence skewing my perception of it. As we were off to it’s birthplace shortly, I thought I’d get in the right mindset for the tour.
The barman reached up to retrieve the bottle from the shelf, and looked bemused that the cap was sealed.
“I don’t know if I’m supposed to open it,” he said.
“Er…Okay,” I replied, thinking this is a pub, isn’t it? “I’ll have a Bruichladdich instead please.”
The barman obliges by grabbing the bottle down from the top shelf, and then lets out a noise of exasperation at yet more unbroken foil.
Customer Number Three has been sitting quietly up until now on the leather bench behind me. Now, he leaps up and lets out a wail at the barman, and through a series of wild gesticulations and guttural utterances convinces him to just give me a nip of ‘fiddich like I asked for originally.
Now it felt like I’d earned that drink.
I’ll finish this tale of three parts next time…