Saturday, 26 December 2015

Looking Out and Looking Back. The 2015 Pilgrimage

Well, it's the Feast of Stephen, the night grows darker and whilst the snow may not lie round about (at least not where I type this at
my parents' house on the Wirral) the wind is certainly blowing stronger. And so, like the eponymous Czech King I find myself looking out, metaphorically speaking, and allowing myself a spot of self-indulgence (it is Christmas after all) as I think back on my Wanderings, both literal and theoretical, through the World of Whisky in 2015.

For me it has been a year of discovery and of eyes being opened, which really began on St David's Day when, having nothing better to do, I drove from Bristol to the Penderyn Distillery in South Wales only to find that all tours were fully booked. Not wanting the journey to have been wholly wasted I perused the gift shop and picked up a copy of Jim Murray's Whisky Bible 2015. I can
honestly say that if I had not made that impulse buy the character of my year would have been entirely different. Regardless of any views on Mr Murray's style, attitudes and opinions, what I got from the book was a sense of how small a corner of the Whisky Universe I had hitherto been occupying, and how big that Universe was if only I took the time to explore it.

Which I feel I can say I have done. Since buying that Bible every day of  holiday I have taken has been dedicated to driving to Scotland to visit distilleries. I have travelled to Norfolk to visit the
English Whisky Company and I have returned (successfully this time) to Wales to tour Penderyn. Despite living more than 400 miles from my nearest Scottish Distillery, nor working in the industry I have visited 27, and have timetabled my holiday next year to fit in over 70 more. At every distillery I have made notes not only on the character of the whisky, but on the equipment, style, history and idiosyncrasies of the distillery itself. I have tasted at tours, at festivals, in bars and in the comfort of my own home something in the region of 450 different whiskies from fourteen different countries - this time last year I hadn't tasted anything from outside Scotland or the USA. Through
writing this blog I have written (thus far) more than 25,000 words on the subject, which is about a quarter of a decent sized novel, and I have read exhaustively every book I could get my hands on. All whilst working a full-time job and directing a play for good measure. I'm rather glad of the Christmas break.


Before the New Year arrives and I fire up the Corsa once more to recommence the pilgrimage I thought I'd look back on some of the most memorable of the whiskies and moments that 2015 has given me, and these are detailed below. Which leaves
me with nothing left to do but to say thank you so much for following me for the last 6 months. Further and better adventures and misadventures lie ahead, and I hope you'll join me as the Pilgrimage continues in 2016. In the meantime, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and wherever you are and whatever you're drinking -

Cheers!

My Favourite Distillery of the Year:
Springbank. From seeing my first 'in action' Malting Floor to encountering what is now one of my 'Desert Island' Whiskies, this place had the full package. I hadn't slept a wink the night before thanks to a shoddy tent and atrocious weather, and Springbank improved my mood immeasurably.

My Favourite 'Flagship Expression' of the Year:
I was just going to write 'see above,' but  couldn't get the English Whisky Company out of my mind. So I retasted both the Springbank 10 and the English Chapter 14, and in purely subjective terms there's no way I could live on the difference. I'll be coming back to both for years! 'Honourable Mentions' to Clynelish 14, Pulteney 12, Dalwhinnie 15 and Ben Nevis 10 amongst others.

Favourite Moment of the Pilgrimage:
Going into the Highland Park Distillery fulfilled a long-held Whisky Dream. In fact that whole 24 hours - the ferry crossing, the Northern Lights, the gorgeous weather, the Scapa Distillery and Scapa Flow combined with visiting HP added up to one of the most special days of my year.

Favourite Whisky Moment Outside the Pilgrimage:
Easy peasy. The Gordon and MacPhail Generations Mortlach Masterclass at the Whisky Show in October. 75yo drams don't come round every day, and nor do whiskies of the calibre and rarity of the other 3 we tried. Not soon to be forgotten or (since my wallet would protest mightily) repeated.

Favourite Bottle Purchased this Year:
The English Whisky Co. Chapter 16. Flavour and Aroma Profile might as well have been written to a 'what does Adam like in his whisky?' recipe. Longrow 18 and Four Roses Single Barrel ran it close though.

Favourite Whisky Bar of the Year:
Until a couple of weeks ago I'd have said The Woods in Bristol. But then my friend Laura took me to The Vaults beneath Milroys in Soho. And who doesn't like to push open a bookcase to find a whisky bar behind it? Introduced me to the Glendronach Single Puncheon PX range too. Laura is a bad influence.

Favourite Guide of the Year:
An important one - haven't come across a single tour guide at a distillery who has been less than brilliant. However Kate at the Pulteney Distillery went so far above and beyond in looking after every one of us in her (pretty large) group that I had to single her out. She also shovelled me into a tour that was technically full, and having learned why I was there, checked whether I had any questions at the end and stayed behind to answer them.

Favourite Whisky of the Year:
Funnily enough, not the 75yo Mortlach, but the Mortlach we tasted
2 drams beforehand - the Gordon and MacPhail bottled expression distilled in 1938 and bottled in the '80s. Having never tried a whisky anywhere near that age before, or from anywhere near that decade it gave me my most unique experience of the whisky-tasting year as well as the best nose I've ever smelt on any sort of drink.