‘Tis the season for rumination, reflection, and the airing of hour-long compilations taking an irreverent retrospective on the smorgasbord of the year’s events. At the Scotch Odyssey it is no different, so pour yourself a dram (preferrably one of those listed below) and join me for a root around my panniers of memory and an appraisal of what has been stuffed into them.
No one remembers last winter now that the present one is showing itself to be so appalling and ghastly, but January and February were not conducive to outdoor riding. I had a tour to prepare for, but snow and ice were determined to stick around. Hours on the turbo trainer and a regime of running substituted serious cycling until the weather could string a sunny spell together. I saw the colour green for the first time in months, I amassed an OS map for every inch of Scotland and my relationship with the bike deepened auspiciously.
Six weeks of liberation, education, ingestion and exploration followed. Scotch whisky, like an age-restricted carrot on a stick, lured me from south to north and east to west; preserving me through all manner of meteorological phenomena; profound levels of fatigue and uncertainty, and many a crowded bunkhouse. The extraordinary, the execrable and the passionately insane coloured my quest, an expedition which may not have been quite as complete as I had initially hoped, but was made more precious on account of those unforeseen circumstances.
The Odyssey has introduced me to many peerless people and almost as many marvellous malts, both in April and May and since then. My many miles of pedalling in the name of Scotch secured me an invite for two days with Inver House Distillers. To be dry and conveyed by spark plugs and pistons to a host of desirable whisky destinations was a true pleasure, although I couldn’t shake off feelings of fraudulence without my Lycra’d attire. Meeting Lucas, Chris, Jason, Keith, Mark, Karen, Matt and of course Cathy were the pre-eminent highlights.
At university I am a fully paid-up member of the whisky society, and though weather scuppered our date with Compass Box’s John Glaser, Adelphi entertained us all marvellously in October.
The opportunity to catch up with Jane (congratulations, Cattanachs) and Fiona at Glen Garioch and Sandy in Dufftown was eagerly taken in September, and I hope they feature again in 2011. Further plans for the forthcoming year are not as yet concrete but some creative thinking will be done as to how I can make the Scotch Odyssey Blog more unique and indispensable to the Scotch malt tourist.
Favourite Five (My Moments):
#1 The visceral, unflinching, incomparable Isle of Skye. When the prospect of cycling to Scotland’s whisky distilleries began to make sense again.
#2 How it feels to pull on and zip up dry cycling clothing, having been revived by two lovely women in an Eastern Highland distillery after a thorough, dispiriting drenching. Huntly looked a great deal better in the fogged up euphoria of ’Mission Accomplished’.
#3 We left Wick at… some time in the evening. We arrived in Tain… later. In the intervening period, in the darkened minibus tanking through Caithness and Sutherland, I understood what a great bunch of people are out there writing about whisky.
#4 A little whisky shop in Tomintoul has some big personalities bottled inside it. The Druries know how to guide their customers around the gems of Scotland: Aultmore, Bowmore – what a way to toast having made it to Speyside.
#5 Bladnoch and Dumfries and Galloway. Inexpressible joy. I’ll be back.
Favourite Five (Drams):
#1 Mortlach 16-year-old. I do miss its rich, fruitcake and nut flavours.
#2 Lagavulin 12-year-old Cask Strength. Astonishing at the distillery on a scorching May day, almost as good in the back of a minibus in November.
#3 Aberlour 14-year-old Single Cask Bourbon-Matured. The dram I dream about from time to time. No sense asking what I’m going to be doing as part of my 21st birthday celebrations: in Warehouse #1, salivating.
#4 Kilchoman Autumn 2009 Release. This is one serious little malt: so peaty, so sweet with that faint whiff of the farmyard.
#5 Redbreast 15-year-old. I know, it isn’t Scottish, but its really quite extraordinary. The whisk(e)y horizons are broading, and a bike belongs in the picture.
Favourite Five (Malt Moments of 2010):
#1 Gordon & MacPhail Mortlach 70-year-old. An historic whisky moment, presided over and made possible by an iconic Scottish company.
#2 Feis Ile 2010. I was on Islay and Jura a week before things got underway, and the sense of anticipation was extraordinary. I hope to make the trip myself at some stage.
#4 Whisky on the box: Oz and Hugh, Dara, Griff and Rory have all got exposure for various brands on the television.
#5 Dramming literature: a vintage year for whisky books, with the typically excellent Malt Whisky Yearbook hitting the shelves again. Dave Broom, Gavin D Smith and Dominic Roskrow have added their considerable weight to my collection.
* * *
Thank you for all your support and interest this year, and I hope to hear from you in 2011.