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The Odyssey Projects

Hope, anticipation, expertise, confidence. How quickly these disintegrated into mystification, disappointment and despondency. In January, I had a career to kick-start and three months’ playing Pied Piper in a Scotch whisky distillery could do just that. Sadly – and mystifyingly – my numerous applications to the biggest companies generated only one response, which was to say that they had no vacancies at this time. The rest may as well have vanished into an administrative abyss. Couldn’t someone recognise the initiative and consequent potential of a young man who had planned and pedalled his way around the Scotch whisky industry? For many months I was sceptical, until Inver House Distillers made a second unexpected and charming approach.

The Balblair distillery, Ross-shire. It will look better in July.

The Balblair distillery, Ross-shire. It will look better in July.

The abiding impression of the whisky world for me is that it exists thanks to countless resilient, interconnecting and genuine personal relationships. When Inver House invited me along with other bloggers to tour their leading single malt brands, I recognised this commendable way of conducting business through time spent with Cathy James in addition to Malcolm, John and Gordon, the distillery managers. Inver House and their exemplary personnel recognised the profound, obsessive enthusiasm of we amateur journalists and I like to think that this is why, following an unsuccessful response to a vacancy at Balblair in March, they offered me a week’s work experience instead.

Having John MacDonald phone up and regale me with tales of his appearance on the latest series of MasterChef, of Hollywood having moved in to Edderton to shoot a whisky-related film, and would I like to come up and potter about the place for a few days, astonished and delighted me. I rarely jump about the house whooping and cackling, but it seems the prospect of five days in one of the cutest and most picturesque distilleries I have come across – and not to mention one which produces a very delicious dram, too – has that effect on me. I agreed straight away.

I shall be shadowing the folk on the production side of things and getting my hand in with regards to the tourism operation. Balblair offer two tours daily, led by either Julie Ross or John himself. I hope to play my part in conveying the romance of the place – and shifting a few more units – during the week. As John assured me, ‘there’s always plenty to do.’

So, my encounters with whisky continue to evolve and move forward but what of last year? How am I making use of my experiences and memories? An on-going project of mine is the writing-up of my 2010 Odyssey into a continuous, comprehensive form. Progress is steady, but the process is highly rewarding. The twelve months of maturation my memories have undergone have done them a power of good – I could not have known how profoundly each of my journey’s moments had afixed themselves to the fabric of my mind. It is very special to sit down to write and to find myself gasping instead at what, with a little effort, I recollect. I shall let you know how all of this is getting along over the next few months.

Much to keep me busy and engaged, therefore, and plenty more to make its way onto the Scotch Odyssey Blog.

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2010: The Scotch Odyssey Review

‘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.

My 2010

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.The Whisky Trail

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.Orkney

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.

Skye

#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’.

Not my clothes, but the same clothes rack.

Not my clothes, but the same clothes rack.

#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.

The Minibus

#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.

Bladnoch

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.

#3   Chivas’s ‘The Age Matters’ campaign: a step in the right direction and some healthy debate prompted.Ardbeg

#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.

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Thank you for all your support and interest this year, and I hope to hear from you in 2011.

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