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Le Malt 24 Hours – part 2

As I mentioned in the previous post, for our 24 Whiskies in 24 Hours Challenge Mark and I understood that company would be an important factor in the undertaking. Good morale would ensure positive malt moments. With this in mind, for our eighth whisky Xander, Quaich Society Secretary, joined us in Mission Control.

Out came Peat’s Beast, an independent bottling of a peaty whisky recently released and for which I had a 70cl sample. I hope to bring you more detailed information on this dram soon, but for now suffice it to say that it galvanised our spirits for the night ahead. ‘Just remember,’ Xander replied, ‘alcohol is a depressant’. And then he bounced out the door.

01.30: Four Roses Small Batch and Dervish pizzas.

Little did Mark and I realise that, ordering pizzas aside, we would enjoy no other outside human interaction for the next 17 hours. We decamped to his flat where a Speyside period developed: two malt whiskies with bipolar developments in both Sherry and ex-Bourbon oak. The Macallan Fine Oak 10yo and The Balvenie Doublewood proved delicious, despite the incoming seismic waves of another sinus headache for me. From there, arrangements became somewhat comical as we tramped to and fro, grabbing whiskies (Balblair 1992, Four Roses Small Batch) and a DVD (Rat Race) so that whisky and adequate distraction should be in the one place.

A very truncated verticle tasting of Aberlour followed as Mark’s 10yo introduced my 16yo single cask. It was at this point, dear readers, that despite the fortifying ham pizza, I confess I hit the wall. 03.30 had arrived entirely unexpectedly and found me pschologically unprepared. We had, when discussing the endeavour, always admitted that fatigue and not inebriation would be the greatest threat to completing the Le Malt 24 hours but I had not expected the agonising, bleary-eyed and ponderously-stomached horror of it all. I sat, slumped, on my sofa and could not revive myself with a pragmatic appraisal of the situation: we were two whiskies beyond halfway, if I could only endure until 5am or thereabouts, I could conquer the challenge.

Mercifully, our itinerary came to the rescue. Mark’s coastal collection of Jura Superstition and Clynelish 14yo would see us through until dawn, and we had agreed that we would take the Challenge to the beach. SAS-style, I grabbed everything warm I possessed, in addition to an Easter Egg. The trek that followed I remember neither as brief nor straightforward but we belatedly arrived at the Old Course. En route, we had exchanged greetings with a hedgehog which Mark entirely failed to photograph. I think this multi-species interaction gave me new heart, however, for I navigated my way between the 17th and 18th, then the 2nd and 1st – avoiding the Swilken Burn by some miracle – and placed boot on sand with firmer resolution.

We pitched ourselves on a bit of dune, poured the Jura, and became entranced by the wonders of the universe above our heads. I sipped the whisky which, at pre-dawn temperatures, reminded me of the Jura and ice cream experiment we had indulged in at 16.30: a smoky, butterscotch frozen treat. As I lay on the dune, I noticed a satellite sliding over the sky, and traced its progress with slack-jawed wonder. The Milky Way could be seen, too.

Astoundingly beautiful on both counts: the 15yo Caol Ila and sunrise on St Andrews' pier.

Because it was cold, and unbeknownst to ourselves we now sported a significant layer of light sand courtesy of the seaside breeze, we moved on to East Sands. By this point, light had begun to build in the lower reaches of the sky and hope renewed. Mark and I slouched to the end of the pier which was no less chilly or exposed than West Sands had been, but the insistent swells coming from the horizon broke against it in the half-light with a mesmeric beauty. Black and blue, the waves kept on melting against the structure on which we stood, with textures I well knew my camera could not capture.

Clynelish and that Easter Egg ushered in the dawn, and we poured the Caol Ila single cask in time to encourage the burning slit of red that announced the return of the sun. Despite this being the 17th dram of the day, that Caol Ila in that moment will always remain a particular privilege to have savoured.

The terrors of the night vanquished, we returned to my flat where an unusual breakfast awaited us. The Glenlivet 21yo at 07.30 in the morning beat a bowl of Crunchy Nut cornflakes any day, and when I opened the Redbreast 12yo an hour later, it was infinitely preferrable to fruit muesli and yoghurt.

 

Into the finishing straight: Mark pours the Glenmorangie Original.

Breaking the 20 whiskies barrier would require another stagger back to Mark’s. There, Glenmorangie Original witnessed a fit of laughter on my part as I speculated on what members of the public passing Mark’s sitting room window should think were they to look in at us. The laughing quickly stopped, however. At 10.25, our finishing line seemed further away than it had at 06.45. We put The Departed on the DVD player and poured, drank, washed glasses, poured and drank again. Mark professed to be struggling by this stage, and I had started to worry about what that gentle tug in my lower abdomen might indicate as to the status of my liver. Damon, Di Caprio and co. shooting each other passed some critical time and eventually, with wry smiles and rasped ‘slainte‘s, the penultimate whisky entered the glasses. Incredibly, and Mark agreed, I could still find the Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban enjoyable. I could still stand whisky.

Walking back into the Whey Pat, I fixed my gaze upon their wall of whiskies in a manner that the barmaid would have been forgiven for judging as ‘unnecessarily aggressive’ or ‘mad’.

‘What do you fancy?’ asked Mark. I slumped against the bar.

‘Old Pulteney 12yo, please.’

And so Lavinia, our companion from the Bruichladdich tasting but 21 hours previously, discovered us half an hour later a pitiful, morose pair. There was a plate of nachos I could not finish, despite having drawn upon them as my motivational energy in the small hours. There were blood-shot eyes. There was a notable failure of communication as I could think of nothing besides my bed. However, there was real cameraderie between myself and my fellow expeditionist. We had done what had at certain points seemed impossible and we could still look at a bottle of whisky without yelping in fright. 24 whiskies, 24 hours – a vast number of singular memories, and the written promise that we will never do anything like it again. At least, my signature is on there; Mark is thinking he might give it a shot with ale.

The completion photograph. I should have done - but could not do - more damage to those nachos...

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Rearranging the Furniture at Jura

The other week my kind of press release landed in the Scotch Odyssey inbox. Rather than the latest ‘world’s first’, small-batch, or otherwise whimperingly expensive release, Isle of Jura dropped me a line to say that the finishing touches to their brand new £100,000 visitor centre have been made, just in time for Feis Ile 2011.

The new VC from the inside. There looks to be a bit more room to mill about, debating what to buy.

The new VC from the inside. There looks to be a bit more room to mill about, debating what to buy.

Not much more than a year ago I was in the previous incarnation and couldn’t see anything wrong with it. The visitor felt cosseted beneath the low ceilings, with lots of wood and unusual expressions of Jura single malt crowded onto shelves, between books and perched over doors and windows to catch the eye and confirm that you were nowhere else but in a distillery. There was not a great deal of room to work with but I felt Whyte & Mackay, the owners, had fitted it out well. Nothing in the whisky tourism sector stands still for very long, however, and further imagination, time and money has been dispensed on the precious few square metres that shall accommodate you, should you venture across. (And I would highly recommend it).

I’m especially interested in how the brand people have endeavoured to bind the distillery all the more closely with its local community and the history of its location. Allegedly, the refit sought to incorporate ‘the island’s legends and symbols, reflecting its literary, cultural, and mythical heritage in West of Scotland folklore’ and the ideal aesthetic to do this was believed to be a ‘traditional Hebridean bothy’. 

Whether earnest of playful, the critical point is that those trying to convey the Jura ethos to the numerous brave souls who visit from all over the world have seen the value in provenance and what it means for an industry to have hung around for some 200 years lending not only economic opportunity but also identity to those living close by. The Jura distillery was created to prevent the last of the Diurachs from upping sticks and moving out and that there is a stable population on the island today who may wield such an appellation is in part attributable to its foundation which I find to be an extremely powerful circumstance. The marketing has caught up with this reality: those who work in the distillery, either on the production or tourism side, by geographical necessity live on the island, too. The resulting whisky and how it is celebrated is thereby an expression of these local people who face and overcome local challenges to constitute a significant facet of this global product.

The new tasting table and display cabinet.

The new tasting table and display cabinet.

I would argue that such an intimate and time-sensitive quality will make itself evident following any time spent around Scottish distilleries but Jura’s new visitor centre attempts to spell this out with the pictures of honoured Diurachs on the wall and a tasting table granting access to some of the rarer vintages. People and spirit are combined in what the press release hopes will be an ‘authentic’ manner, making for an ‘authentic’ and worthwhile encounter for those who have overcome many miles and perhaps a choppy Sound of Islay to get there. Not having seen the finished article with my own eyes, I cannot suggest how tastefully this time capsule has been realised. Just remember, though, that it is not a Hebridean heritage centre but rather a vehicle for brand consciousness and I see no reason why the distillery should not have a bit of fun with those landscapes, artefacts and personal histories which contribute to it.

Willie Cochrane, Distillery Manager, sums it up nicely: “Many of those who make the effort to visit Jura do so because of our fine whisky and the rich culture of our remote island. Having a visitor centre that reflects the history and culture of our island, whilst matching the quality of our single malt, will provide our guests with a truer experience of what Jura is all about. More importantly, they will hopefully be more inclined to buy some of our fine whisky and share the magic of Jura with their friends and family!” Mythology, malt, and marketing.

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Testing, testing… Testy.

Hello, folks. Nice to see you. It is a real pity, is it not though, that you cannot apparently see my lovely Jura landscapes?

Having felt compelled by my email from the folk at Isle of Jura to blog about their new photography competition I discovered another urgent missive from the lovely people who host my wesbite saying that one of their servers had been under attack (we all feel like that sometimes, eh?) and, with regret etc. etc., this happens to be the assemblage of microchips onto which all my hard work is written. My first tip off was when the post you can see below disappeared. I replaced it, and then that one disappeared, only for the original to surface from the swollen ditch of cyberspace like some decomposed corpse with none of its pictures showing.

They are in the process of migrating all data to somewhere else, whatever the hell that means. This is annoying, because I haven’t received my confirmatory email stating that all is right as rain again but it has been rather a long time. I hope that the harmless snap I attach to this post – and the post itself - shows up. It may not. Patience, it seems, is key here.

In other news, Lucasz of Alembic Communications has been keeping in touch regarding the three adorable distilleries I visited last month. If you thought Edinburgh Airport was bad, check out Knockdhu: 2.5 feet of snow and minus 19 degrees! In all, ‘Not the best possible whisky making weather,’ according to Gordon Bruce. Let’s hope his three remaining warehouses withstand the snowy assault: two of them had to be demolished following the excessive amounts of white stuff sitting on them for three months last winter. Fingers crossed!

Knockdhu in snow

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‘Wish You Were Here’?

Jura 1

Are there any ‘coffee table book’ buyers amongst you? Ever wished that you could tumble into their pages and roam those enchanting landscapes? Isle of Jura, in partnership with VisitScotland, have launched a new photography competition to discover which places are particularly special to you. Where in the world makes you feel complete, awed,  Should your entry inspire them enough, they shall bring you over to Jura for a thorough look-around their most inspirational place. I hope my pictures communicate the wonder and splendour of Jura, and compel you all to root out some truly exceptional photographs from those SD cards of yours.

Jura 2

The Isle of Jura is launching a ‘Wish You Were Here’ online travel photography competition (www.isleofjura.com/wishyouwerehere) to find the world’s most inspiring places.

Budding photographers from across the world are being offered the chance to win an unforgettable trip to the island of Jura off Scotland’s dramatic West Coast. With a community of less than 200 people, the island is rich in history, myths, superstitions, dramatic landscapes, diverse wildlife and whisky, all of which have provided inspiration to photographers, artists and writers from across the world. Partnering with VisitScotland on the prize, winners will enjoy a once in a lifetime photographic experience on the Isle of Jura with expert advice from National Geographic’s Jim Richardson.

The partnership between one of Scotland’s premier single malts and the national tourism organisation comes during Scotland’s Year of Food and Drink where VisitScotland is using its worldwide marketing campaigns to inspire visitors to come to Scotland to experience our food and drink.

Each one of the three winners and their partners will enjoy a week’s stay in the exclusive Jura lodge, a VIP tour of the Jura distillery and island and a two day photography master-class from National Geographic’s Jim Richardson. All travel arrangements will be paid for and the winners will also receive an Olympus E-PL1 camera to capture images from their visit.’

Fancy it? I know from experience that Jura is a profoundly inspirational place indeed.

Competition closes 21 January 2011, and there shall be eight weekly prize draws until that date for the ‘Postcard of the Week’, the winner pocketing an Olympus FE-5050 camera. Upload an e-postcard onto the Isle of Jura website (you must register as a Diurach first), then badger your friends and family to vote for you. A panel of worthy judges shall select the winners from the ensuing shortlist. Check out the website for all of the terms and conditions.

Jura 3

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Return to the Scotch Odyssey Blog!

I apologise profusely for my absence from this little digital outpost of Scotch and Scotland. However, I have recently moved to Scotland and it has commandeered a great deal of my time!

I’m adjusting to university life, slowly but surely. Up here the emphasis is principally on making our own fun, and there are more societies and sports clubs than you can shake a valinch at. I’m especially excited about our Quaich (Whisky) Society. Events seem to occur on a regular basis and attract influential people within the industry, armed with their very best drams to win over us impoverished students. I shall of course relate these to you all.

After much fret and pet, I have managed to regain some sort of hold on who I am, what makes me tick, and fortunately whisky is still firmly ensconced in the vanguard of this list. Therefore, I am making time to devote to this site, those who happen to stumble across it every so often, and to the disparate agglomeration of prejudice, romance and curiosity that consitute my own relationship to this ancient and venerable drink. I aim to concentrate my output into twice-weekly torrents, providing me with ample opportunity to pass on that which those within the industry are kindly making me aware and update my own progress as I navigate the world of whisky.

 

First up, then, are a couple of snippets from Isle of Jura. To mark the distillery’s approaching bi-centennial, they have launched the Jura Pub Quiz. For the participation of honorary ‘Diurachs’ only – those who sign up to the inner workings of the Jura website as on-going disciples of the dram from the Inner Hebrides (it sounds ever so slightly Pagan, does it not?) – this is a year-long examination of Jura enthusiasts’ knowledge of all things relating to the island and the whisky made there. I regret that I am only forwarding this now, with three questions having already been posed and answered. However, for those who have not been participating from its inception and therefore can have no claim on the Jura 1974, first-prize for those Diurachs with the maximum number of correct answers at the conclusion of the 12-month quiz cycle, it is still possible to win a bottle from the standard range by submitting your answers on a weekly basis.

 

I am also rather out of step with regards to the next correspondence from the folk at Jura. During the recent Jura Music Festival (24th-26th of September) Elvis was in attendance. I should say that Elvis is the distillery cat and for the three-day festival provided a cat’s-eye view of the performers, punters and island. With a billing that included many of Scotland’s best traditional and folk musicians, such as Session A9, Mary Ann Kennedy, piper Fred Morrison and Brigada Mercy; a setting as astonishing as Jura’s, and a preview tasting of the new Boutique Barrel, which will shortly become a distillery-exclusive release of only 493 bottles, this must have been an excurison to treasure for all who attended.

I cannot find any pictures from Elvis’s “cat cam” on the website just yet, but there are some photos on the Jura Festival website. As for pictures of the star feline photographer himself, I couldn’t omit this glorious head-shot.

I didn't have the opportunity to make Elvis's acquaintance when I visited in May. This was a pity because I had a good rapport with distillery cats.

I didn't have the opportunity to make Elvis's acquaintance when I visited in May. This was a pity because I had a good rapport with distillery cats.

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