February 2014 - my travels around Europe
This month, there was no time to store the suitcase away. I was joining Belgian friends and Whisky lovers in Halle at 't Parlement. I brought a little surprise from our archives - an old decanter of King of Scots 17 years old - to start off the tasting and then we moved on to Clan Denny Single Grain, Old Particular, Provenance, Double Barrel and Big Peat to finish. A good night in Halle - as usual - thanks Mina, Frank & Chris for organising the evening.
The following morning I joined Wouter to visit some shops around Mechelen & Antwerp, introducing Scallywag and Old Particular ranges. That night we joined Dimitri and Tine in their restaurant and Whisky lounge - Tine's Stoof. We all had a lovely dinner, a combination of mini tastings at each table throughout the evening.
Early start the following day as I wanted to pay a visit to our importer in Luxembourg... don't count too much on public transport though. Unable to buy an international ticket that early in the morning, I headed from Antwerp to Brussels and bought the ticket there. Arriving well in time in Luxembourg city Alex and I toured the whole day and visited different customers.
Then back to Belgium for Whisky Live Spa - one of our regular events. This 3 day event seems to improve every year and draws visitors from all over Europe - which can make it a challenge to speak to them in the correct language. The more often you go, the more familiar faces that join you for a dram looking for a new edition... and happy to offer that. After 3 days of Whisky sampling, I was offered a lift and it was a nice to have a simple pasta in Brussels before heading off to France the following day.
In France, I have started a routine with the on-trade sales team of La Maison du Whisky. We carry some bottles with us and hit the bar scene. On a Monday night trying to catch them early enough before the bars are too busy. Let them try our products and experiment with them in cocktails. Big Peat with a Jasmin Tea infusion and raspberry anyone.
While in France, I also joined the agent of the Northern region in Valenciennes for a day. A first for me and an introduction to the local cavistes, making plans for future tastings. Unfortunately for once French public transport was in time and I missed my return journey to Paris. Not to worry an early return the following morning was possible.
One last stop in France - Nantes for two days. Yann came to pick me up at the train station. That night, with Big Peat and Scallywag by our side, Jan & Yann soon became the Thomson & Thompson of the Whisky world. Later on we hit the town and were enjoying some cocktails at L'Astre aux Notes - a hidden gem.
With only a couple of days in Glasgow, I was heading to Moscow. It had been over 15 years since last time I was there and I expected a lot of changes. Even though I couldn't remember that much of my first visit (I was still a student and we were let loose on cheap vodka and Russian Champagne at the time), I was very excited to experience the city all over again. First tasting was in Nizhny Novgorod (a 7h train journey East of Moscow) where I was welcomed by the team of our Provenance importer for a training of the shop managers. Where I normally expect a majority of middle aged men, the team consisted mainly of women - a pleasant surprise. With Yulia doing the honours translating my bad jokes into Russian, they enjoyed discovering our Whiskies.
Back to Moscow the following day for another training/tasting session for the local shop managers. This time Alexander did the interpreting and many questions were asked which he kindly translated.
January 2014 - The Canadian Tour
A lot of planning went into my visit to
Canada. Months in advance the Whisky has been selected and our logistics team
then organizes the products to be sent over. As each country has different
regulations and licensing laws, it is not always that easy to get the Whisky
where you want it at the time you want it there… fortunately we have some
brains that can tackle every hurdle… cheers Archie and Jo.
The excitement to visit Canada, was only slightly tempered by the 6am flight.
Getting up at 3am, there is always the worry that you might sleep through your
alarm clock and you wonder if it is even worth going to bed. To be sure that I
would wake up in time, 3 alarms were set on the loudest possible volume, in
case that I slept through one of them (it has happened once before and I just
made it to the airport in time).
Flying through Schiphol generally has the advantage that there would be another
Whisky ambassador out there waiting for a flight, but not this time.
Fortunately I know someone who works there so we could meet for coffee and
catch up while she was on a break.
This was my first intercontinental visit
with Douglas Laing and I was looking forward to it. Just a bit worried about
legroom, but fortunately the seat next to me was empty and I could stretch out.
Never realized you could see so many movies in a row… except for dozing off a
couple of times, the early start (and late night the Friday before), got me
straight into the right time zone for arrival.
Going through customs, trying out my best innocent face, I still decided to
declare the bottles I had in my suitcase, rather than risking to be fined extra
or, even worse, have them confiscated. Staff were very helpful and we actually
had a good laugh while filling out the paperwork.
On arrival, I was picked up by our importer
Stacy. Good to catch up as we hadn’t met in person since their last visit to
Glasgow. She prepared me for a week full of tastings and customer visits and
then I could enjoy a night off in Vancouver. I was advised that there are many
good seafood restaurants in Vancouver and I went to Joe Forte’s Restaurant.
Clam Showder – grilled cod and lemon butter… when the ingredients are good, the
simpler the dish, the better. They had a fine selection of Malts behind the
bar, which would keep the average Whisky lover happy. To fulfill another
passion I discovered that there was a Blues class on that night and decided to
walk to the venue. Even though I checked the address online, the walk there was
a bit of an eye opener… how come nobody offered me a lift?
Time for work now… and on the road with Stacy. Visiting several stores on day
1. Seeing our products on the shelves on the other side of the world is quite
exciting. All ready to be taken home for Chinese New Year, which seems a big
thing in Vancouver.
It is clear that the knowledge of the sales
person is essential to promote our Whisky so this was an ideal opportunity to
share some knowledge on how our products differ from the official bottlings and
how to pass on that knowledge to their customers.
At night, we headed off to Fets Whisky Kitchen, meeting with owners Eric and
Alura. Originally called Whisky Fetish they changed the name to avoid a
different scene - (am I picking up some burnt rubber in that Ledaig 16yo or is
that my gimp mask?). The restaurant soon filled up and the Whisky and Food
Pairing could start. Highlights were Sherry braised beef short rib to go with
the spicy sweetness of Scallywag and cream of potato soup with double smoked
pancetta paired with the Sherry matured Old Particular Ledaig 16yo. Great
night, good company and tasty drams… and I can call it work.
The following morning Stacy was back to
pick me up for more customer visits, introducing Old Particular and Scallywag,
we were welcomed heartily. Later in the day we went to the Legacy store. A tour
of this well stocked shop was followed by a staff training. Lots of interesting
questions, fortunately I brought all my malt and New Make Spirit samples to
explain the basics of Whisky production and where Douglas Laing fits in (the
sampling, blending and bottling part). Later that night we did another consumer
tasting in the shop with the same selection of Malts – very informal and lots
of questions, the way I like it.
Time to head off to Victoria - Vancouver
Island by ferry, road tripping with the whole Kyle family. All revenue for the
Victoria festival is used for charity and it has a reputation of being one of
the best within the circle of Whisky ambassadors, so my expectations were very
high, and they were exceeded. The festival runs as follows. Visitors can attend
a wide series of Master Classes throughout the day which is then followed by an
open tasting event at night. My class was very early in the day - 11am - but it
was a full house. A great selection of Whiskies and a surprise at the end… the
infamous chocolate mousse and Big Peat pairing. Thank you Stacy for letting me
hijack your kitchen. Later in the day, we set up for the evening tasting and we
were ready to welcome more Whisky lovers.
Another ferry trip back to the mainland and off to Montreal. I checked the
weather forecast in previous days and expected a mild +1/-2°C, but over the
last couple of days the Arctic Vortex dropped temperatures to -28°C. Let’s keep
the kilt in the suitcase for a couple of days. Pascal came to pick me up and we
headed straight to the tasting. All was set up and we were ready to introduce
Scallywag, Big Peat and range of Old Particular Whiskies that will be released
in May 2014.
The following day we did a sightseeing tour of Montreal (in the car/heated
seats) and visited some bars (try L’Ile Noir or the Whisky Café) before heading
off to the Burgundy Lion. Full house and Pascal was squeezing each bottle to
make sure there was still some left for me. Great night (cheers Toby & Pascal)
and we celebrated Brian with a dram of Scallywag (his nickname as a kid).
Another afternoon and evening visiting some
of the SAQ stores and introducing them to the upcoming range. They enjoyed a
couple of drams, although the spittoons are compulsory whilst on duty. It also
gave me the opportunity to try out some local wines and spirits (souvenir done,
Ice-apple spirit and Maple syrup).
Then off to the airport for a two leg journey back to Glasgow.
... and the season starts again - September 2013
After some months in the office, sampling Whisky and organising new bottlings, a new period of travel starts. This year is even more exciting than previous years as we have just released our new range of Single Cask Single Malt Whiskies - Old Particular. Starting with a road show in Scotland with Fred, Chris and myself on the go... well if only if I didn't break down on the motorway just outside Glasgow.
We introduced our friends at Oran Mor to our selection of Single Malts, Single Grain and Big Peat and we offered them a sneak preview of Old Particular a day before the release. Look out for Big Peat on the bar.
Spreading the word of Old Particular, we invited some Scottish bloggers to our sample room for an introduction to a selection of the first releases. With Chris Hoban of Edinburgh Whisky Blog and Nicola Young and all the Whisky Boys visiting soon after.
I also had the opportunity to welcome some Russian Whisky enthusiasts and introduce them to the new Old Particular and gave them a sneak preview of Big Peat's sweet little pal... but more about that in the next blog.
You might wonder now, it must be halfway September and Jan still hasn't been out of Glasgow yet... true, but here comes. Off to the Netherlands for a 3-day tour with brothers Hans and Marcel Bol, visiting retailers with a box of Old Particular and the newly released Big Peat Christmas Edition. Then off to Paris (if only the trains weren't rerouted past Schiphol, where I was going to board - so a quick detour via Rotterdam to catch the Thalys to Paris).
And then the annual visit to Whisky Live Paris. For me one of the highlights of the year, as it is one of the best visited events in Europe and just oozes style. Being joined by Fred, who preferred to spend his birthday weekend in my company rather than staying home. Attending Whisky Live Paris for the 5th time myself, you start to get to know the locals and it was good meeting old friends and making new ones.
After Paris, a quick visit to Belgium with some more Old Particular in my suitcase. Joining Jan in Zammel and Serge in my hometown Mechelen.
We concluded this trip with my annual charity tasting/Food Pairing in Antwerp with Peter@Anverness. This year raised about €1300 - "Whisky for water in Budjala". Highlights were the Auchentoshan 15yo with apple tart and fresh custard and the Glen Scotia 21 with a Carpaccio of Scallops.
Summer time as a Malt Ambassador July 2013
The summer months might not be considered as the perfect Whisky drinking season and there aren’t many Whisky events on from June to late August. But because there are fewer trips I have more time to focus on other duties in the office. Now I have the opportunity to try out samples from different casks that we would consider for bottling and release over the autumn period… and even if it is still several months ahead of Christmas, Fred and I are trying out different vattings for the new Big Peat Christmas release.
Whilst traveling around Europe, you have the opportunity to catch up with fellow Whisky Ambassadors that I don’t see that often in Scotland, even if they live around the corner from me. The long spell of sunny weather has been ideal to meet up in Glasgow over a BBQ and discuss the world of Malt Whisky and the different events we expect to attend. As it has been surprisingly warm, the ice bucket is out with cold beers, refreshing white wine and prosecco, we also blitz up some frozen Whisky Sours, but as the sun sets and the evening gets cooler, the bottles of Malt will come out of the bags. This time of the year a fresh and fruity Speysider from a Bourbon cask, like our Provenance Mannochmore 14yo, certainly does the trick.
In this line of work, it is difficult to separate work and pleasure as they are very interchangeable (in a good way of course). So while I went on a scuba diving trip at Loch Long, I took a bottle of Really Big Peat with me… purely for a photo opportunity, you don’t drink and dive, plus we also had to drive back home. Once posted on Facebook, we got a lot of reactions, both from Whisky friends as dive buddies.
Now we have selected the Whiskies to take with us on our next event - the Whisky Fringe. Looking forward to catching up with you in person over a dram. And who knows, we might have some bottles hiding under the table.
Spirit of Speyside Festival 4 – 6 May 2013
The Spirit of Speyside festival is my annual excuse to head back to Dufftown, where my (and probably many more people’s) Whisky roots lay. For many it is part of their yearly pilgrimage to the “Malt Whisky Capital of the World” and it is good to see that Whisky enthusiasts from all over the world join in to discover some of the less accessible distilleries.
On my way up through Spittal of Glenshee and the Lecht (it’s a beautiful drive) I didn’t expect to be met by snow in the beginning of May though. But I arrived in Dufftown, just in time to have a pint and a wee dram in the Royal Oak where I joined familiar festival goers from Germany, Denmark and Japan.
Mike Lord of the Whisky Shop Dufftown is hosting several Whisky events throughout the year, but during the festival he’s run off his feet, starting with Bacon Rolls and Drams in the morning to hosting dinner for all the Whisky exhibitors that make their way to do tastings for the shop. The night ended up with some sing-a-long Karaoke and it proofs that neither of us Whisky Tenors had lost a career in showbiz. (Incriminating material will not be posted online – but I’m happy to show the movies in person)
On Sunday, I arranged an interesting line up for the tasting this year and was happy to see many familiar faces in the audience. As it is the Speyside festival we had a Provenance Mortlach 10 years old and a Director’s Cut Caperdonich 30 years old in the range, but we decided to open the tasting with a Single Grain from Port Dundas distillery at 21 years of age. Also the Springbank and the Bowmore were well received and we had some Big Peat enthusiasts in the audience, who were happy when I pulled out the Really Big Peat bottle.
Monday was the last day for me in Dufftown, with a tasting in the shop. This time we were fully focused in the Spirit of the festival with Speyside only Malts from our Provenance range, including a 10 years old Auchroisk, a 12 years old Glenburgie, a Sherry matured Benrinnes of 12 years old and in Premier Barrel, an 8 years old Glenrothes.
After a great day/weekend, we toasted on Mike’s award as Ambassador of the festival and offered him a big dram of Really Big Peat in his really big Quaich.
Slainte to all that were there.