Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Smoked Honey!

Whisky: Balvenie 12 year old Double Wood

Balvenie 12 Year old Double Wood


Young Sauternes
I'm a huge fan of Balvenie, with their 21 year old Portwood finished whisky being one of my top favorite Speysides.  Even more after my recent distillery visit where I had the opportunity to try a 39 year old whisky from 1974, straight from the cask which was an epic experience in and of itself, well to say that it deepened my loving for this distillery would be an understatement.

I recently had the chance to sample their entry level Balvenie 12 year old Doublewood, which many of my friends have raved about for months, if not years.  It's a whisky that I myself always walk past in the bottle shops as I'm personally more drawn to the cask strength whiskies, with big bold flavors, but when this chance came along to sample it, I couldn't pass it up.

Into my trusty glencairn it goes and let's see what we can see.

Nose: the first thing that hits me is smoke, very nice soft sweet smoke, then oranges, then honey and vanilla with some further citrus following it up (mandarins?)

Definitely a soft Speyside feel to the aroma and it makes me interested in how the palate will shape up.

Taste: Sweet, way too sweet for me, honey, lots of honey, oranges and citrus, vanilla, faint hint of smoke, very faint.

And a short finish, very sweet with the honey leading center charge and the vanilla following it all up.

This would likely be a very good entry level whisky for most people, being quite smooth and sweet with the honey and vanilla and the faint hint of smoke provides some interest to those who are not familiar with the Speyside's smokier cousins in the Highlands, however personally for me it's too sweet and the 40% abv just doesn't provide the mouthfeel that I'm looking for.

But that being said if you're looking to start exploring whiskies this whisky would likely be a good place to start and at around $75 AUS a bottle you won't break the bank purchasing a bottle.

Nose:       21/25
Taste:       19/25
Finish:      19/25
Balance:   16/25

Overall:     75/100

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Should You Be A Member Of Balvenie's Warehouse 24?
Whisky: Balvenie Warehouse Exclusive: 1974 39 Year Old


Balvenie 1974 39 Year Old



Amontillado Sherry

On my wife's and I first day in Speyside we visited two whisky distilleries, Benromach and Balvenie.  I'd never had Benromanch before and it wound up being a very nice little tour, with a bottle of the Benromach smoky picked up for my father in law.  It did not make it to him (review to shortly come)

However the second distillery of the tour, Balvenie, was a distillery that I knew well, and loved.  Having had quite a few of their expressions and knowing that they had a much more in depth tour then their sister distillery, Glenfiddich, I'd asked Roy, our guide to book a tour for us.

God I'm thrilled that I did.

Now Balvenie does only 2 tours a day, they run at 35 pounds per person.  No idea what to expect other then the fact that I enjoy Balvenie quite a bit, owning 2 different bottles at home, the 12 year old Doublewood and the 21 year old Port Wood (SEXY!)

While we wait we're offered food, coffee and tea and we're introduced to our tour guide, David Mair, who I'm actually informed after the tour is THE Balvenie ambassador.

After waiting 10 minutes or so David decides that we're just going to start the tour and they can join us as they're able.  First off we put on reflective vests to wear as we move about the distillery (remember that ALL of these distilleries are WORKING distilleries, so in some ways it's just like taking a tour through a lumber yard or construction site, you have to be careful!) and then we set off.

The tour starts out a little different then all of our other tours as Balvenie actually does a small portion of their maltings on site.  Now maltings for those who don't know is basically malted barley.  When you malt it what you do is you spread many tons of barley across a wide floor and then you let it get wet, not too wet, not too damp, in order for it germinate or sprout.  This is done over about 5 to 7 days with the barley being turned every couple of hours in order to encourage starch to develop on the barley which then turns to sugar.

Now almost NO distilleries left in Scotland do this on site as it's a VERY intensive process requiring a good bit of man power as the barley HAS to be turned every couple of hours and in the old days used to cause a physical disorder called Monkey Shoulder (yes the whisky is named after that).  This is done over the entire day, for 5 to 7 days, so there is no break.  Even though there are now machines that do this it is still a time intensive process.

The other reason why most distilleries don't do this anymore is they can't malt fast enough to keep up with demand.  You're going through megaton lots in a week so it's a HUGE undertaking.  Most distilleries get their malt from companies that specialize in maltings, they'll gather the barley that you need and malt to your specifications on smoke, peat, etc.

Balvenie however still does some maltings at their distillery, not much and it's more for visitors to see, but they do it.  Sadly they weren't doing it when we arrived, but as we arrive in the malting house there are these MASSIVE mounds of barley just waiting to being the process of making whisky.  Huge massive piles of barley.

David says that if we want to touch any we're more then welcome to.  We all stand outside the malting area, handling the little bits of barley that are there, but everything in me screams to go jump into a pile of the barley.  My lovely wife says that she doesn't think that David meant that when he said we could handle the barley.

David then informs us that that is indeed what he meant.

I'm over the little barrier so fast that you wouldn't believe it, heading to the mounds of barley, running my hands through it as my wife laughs and takes photos.  David talks about the barley and is an engaging speaker, which is a very difficult thing to do considering that almost every single distillery makes whisky the exact same way with only the details changing.  It's VERY hard to keep it fresh for someone who's been through distillery after distillery.

Right around this time we're joined by the missing Americans and we start moving through the distillery, actually seeing how the malt is dried, heading by the mill, the tun room where we try some more wort (whisky beer!) the still house, taking photos the entire way!  Once we're done with the still house we're informed of something special!

Balvenie and Glenfiddich are SO massive and go through so many casks that they have their own onsight cooperage that they use to repair casks after use.  We get to watch it in action.


We hope into a little vehicle and drive over to the cooperage which is running flat out with maybe a dozen guys repairing casks in all stages of repair.  It is VERY cool.  Actually it's insanely cool!  I take several hundred photos of just the cooperage and repairs having already taken several hundred photos throughout the distillery.  I'm asking David questions left and right and he answers them all without fail, after about 10, maybe 15 minutes David, after confirming that everyone has seen what they want to, calls for a move on.

It's time for the big game, the cask warehouse!

Now we're informed by David that this is the area of the tour where we're not allowed to take photos (remember what I said about the distilleries and this, TECHNICALLY it's supposed to be due to Occupation Health and Safety running wild).  He however lets us take photos from outside the distillery through the door.  I grab a few and then eagerly head in!

David, my wife and I chat as we wander through the warehouse with the other tourists wandering through the warehouse.  It's beautiful!  Casks from the early 70's, 80's, 90's everywhere.  You can smell the whisky in the air my friends, it's the Angel's Share.

As my wife, David and I walk through the warehouse he asks me if I'm a member of the Warehouse 24 club.  For a minute or two I'm trying to figure out what he means....Warehouse 24?  I'm a member of the Balvenie Club, having signed up about a year ago when I signed up for every distillery's club in Scotland who's whisky I enjoyed.

He then describes the club, seeing my confusion.  YES!  I am a member of the club.

At that point he informs me with that being the case there is a VERY special cask inside of the warehouse which has whisky in it for me.  A cask that was 39 years old from 1974.

Oh my god!

This was a cask selected by David Stewart, the Malt Master of Balvenie, for club members to sample while they were visiting the distillery.  There are no words to describe the way I felt at that moment.  My wife just had a GIANT grin on her face and me, I was speechless.

We head into a lower level of the warehouse where the rest of the tour group has gathered.  At the end of the room are 3 different casks, different ages, pretty much 14 to 17 years or so old, that people can bottle for a 200ml bottle if I recall correctly for around 25 pounds.  You get to dip the dog (the item used to pull whisky out of a cask for sampling) and bottle it yourself, char and all!

Very cool!

David then hands my wife and myself a bottle, dog, and funnel and informs the group that because we're Warehouse 24 members we get to bottle a 39 year old whisky for sampling.  However unlike them we can not TAKE this whisky off the property, it must be drunk there.  If they're lucky we'll be kind and share it with them he says.

Everyone looks on with envy as my wife and I head back upstairs to bottle the whisky, which takes me a couple minutes to figure out how to do, however it takes my wife just a minute or so to figure out how to do this and the rest of the time is spent explaining it to me (hey I've said I'm an idiot before :D)

We come back down after bottling this sexy looking 39 year old single malt which comes from a 2nd fill bourbon barrel and join the rest of the group who are bottling their 16 year old whiskies, which Thao and I then try all the casks.  Very nice whiskies, but right now I'm budgeting like you wouldn't believe to make sure my money will last throughout the trip.

Once everyone has their whiskies bottled we head into the tasting room, hang up our vests, and sit down for a most excellent tasting.  On the table are 5 different whisky samples, Balvenie 12 year old Double wood, Balvenie 14 year old Caribbean cask, Balvenie 15 year old Single Barrel and Balvenie 21 year old Port Wood.

We sit down for a tasting as David walks everyone through all the whiskies, tasting notes, cask finishings, etc. I try and tune everyone out as I've poured the 39 year into glasses for everyone, with a bit more left over for me for seconds.

This is a 39 year old CASK strength whisky, poured straight from the cask, into my bottle, bits of char and imprefections and all.

It's lovely to behold.

I have tried most of the Balvenie line, love it, the major exception which normally would have had me super excited was the Caribbean cask which I'd heard rave reviews about.  But right in front of me was a 39 year old cask strength Balvenie.  NOTHING AND I MEAN NOTHING was going to distract me from this bad boy.

The first thing that my wife and I noticed as the tasting went on was how the other visitors wound up changing their drinking habits while watching me.  As the start a couple of the guys were treating it like shots, gulping the poor whiskies down, others would take a sip of whisky and then immediately take a drink of water.  After about 15 minutes of them watching me nose and slowly sample the whisky, they wound up doing the same thing.  Pretty cool!

This Balvenie had me instantly hooked on first nose, making me fall in love with it.  Complex and gorgeous, like you wouldn't believe.  But enough of me telling you how good and awesome it was, let me give you the tasting notes!

The nose is sweet with honey and fruit, specifically oranges, pineapples, orange zest and lychees, but there's a hint of smoke in the background, along with vanilla, nutmeg, and polished book shelves and a slight toasty aroma that makes you think this whisky is going to be chewy.  This is definitely a whisky that needs some time to open up and the longer you spend with it, the more your efforts will be repaid.

Finally it's time to take a sip, at this stage the rest of the tasting is on their 3rd or so whisky, but my wife and I are noticing more and more people focusing on us, and then looking back down to their tasting set, staring at their lass glass which contains a sample of the 39 year old.

The flavors on this whisky are excellent, coating the palate, you get honey, coconut, pears, green apples, cocoa, slightly floral notes, and spices of nutmeg and cloves.  A hint of toffee is also present.  Again this is a sipping whisky, definitely not a gulping whisky, and if you pour it into coke, you and I are going to have some words.

The finish like so many old, cask strength whiskies, is long with grapes, vanilla and toffee lingering on your palate for a good long while.

Roy even got in on the action, giving the whisky a nose and exclaiming how lovely it was.

Now the downside.  I would have happily paid over 100 pounds for a 200ml bottle of this whisky, to have been able to sit down and enjoy it at my leisure, with no distractions and especially with my wife and brother and sister in law.  However this whisky needs to be consumed on the premises.

Now the upside: If you're in Scotland and you visit Balvenie, as long as you're a member of the Warehouse 24 club, you get to drink this whisky (or if the cask is empty, something equally awesome) for free.  To share as you decide to.  If you're not a member of Warehouse 24 and are ever going to visit Scotland, you should definitely sign up as I'm so very glad that I did!

God I miss that whisky...

Nose:      24/25
Taste:       24/25
Finish:      24/25
Balance:   24/25

Overall:    96/100

The Oldest Glengoyne Ever!

Glengoyne 40 Year Old

Whisky: Glengoyne 40 year old


Glengoyne 40 year old



Amontillado Sherry

Over the last couple of months I've been updating my blog with adventures of my time in Scotland and Singapore, exploring the different distilleries and whisky bars.  Over the course of the last couple of months I've received quite a few requests for whisky reviews for whiskies tried and sampled while abroad. 

I'd said at the start that I wouldn't be doing heaps of tasting notes on all the whiskies tasted due to the fact of something I'd seen on Malt Maniacs shortly before my trip, by another whisky blogger, who'd commented that he'd found himself all too often focusing on the technical aspects of a whisky, tearing it to pieces, as opposed to just enjoying it.

I realized that he was correct in stating that so many whisky geeks do this, that we focus on tearing a whisky apart in order for our blogs and writings to the point where I sometimes just forget to enjoy the bounty in front of me.

To that end I'd decided that I wouldn't take notes on all the whiskies I tasted on my vacation, that I'd only do write ups on a few select special whiskies, and that I'd only do that as long as there was one or two stand outs in a tasting, not when the entire line up was brilliant, in order to focus more on a single whisky or two.

The first distillery that I visited was Glengoyne, I'd booked the ultimate tour for 125 pounds per person, on top of that I'd payed an extra 50 pounds to sample the Glengoyne 40 year old and the Isle of Skye blend 50 year old.

The initial 125 pound tour was, to be honest, a complete disappointment.  We were informed before hand that we'd be blending our own whisky, which led me to believe that we'd be doing this with different cask samples of Glengoyne.

I was proven horribly wrong when the only Glengoyne we used was the 10 year Glengoyne, but were instead forced to used to make up the rest of the blend, grain whiskies, and the MacLeod's 8 year old unnamed supermarket whiskies, which were simply: MacLeod's 8 year old Islay, Speyside, Highland, etc.

To say this was a disappointment does not do it justice, devastated was more like it.  I was so upset with the entire tour, that I almost canceled the 40 and 50 year old whisky tasting, figuring it was going to be just as much a let down and rip off.

Feeling very dejected after our initial tour, I literally kept opening my mouth to say "no thanks, I'll just take the refund on the connoisseurs tasting."

Something held me back.  I'm not sure what, but I'm glad that whatever it was, it kept me quiet.

Our guide, after the main tour, goes and grabs the bottles of Glengoyne 40 year old and Isle of Skye 50 year old blend and comes back with a glass with each whisky's name on it.  A fluted glencairn style glass.

He pours myself and my brother in law, who is also doing this part of the tour, a sample of each and lets us have it.

Let's start off with some history.  The Glengoyne 40 year old is the oldest Glengoyne to ever be released, distilled in 1969, aged for 28 years in second fill hogshead barrels, and then a further 12 years in first fill sherry buttes, bottled at a cask strength of 45.9% with 250 bottles produced world wide.  It runs at roughly 3500 to 4000 pounds per bottle.

At this price point it's one of the most expensive whiskies that I've ever tasted, if not the most expensive.  It comes out in a sexy as hell decanter, a dark, dark amber color.

I must admit, I'm really eager to sample this whisky!

The nose is quite lovely and nothing like any of the earlier Glengoynes that I sampled over the tour, which were to me, overly sweet, at times almost sickly so and not to my personal liking.  This whisky is in a whole new league.

Strawberries and cream, chocolate, apples, raspberries, cherries, creme brulee, raisins, sultanas, a little bit of earth and of course the oak.  It's quite a fruity nose and it's a nose that I'd be happy to enjoy for many an hour.

If the palate is half is good as the nose I'm certainly in for a treat, in fact the nose has me so pleased that a good bit of my ire at the preceding tour is slowly dying down.

God I need to take a sip!

First off, you get the oak, but it doesn't over power the whisky at all, as sometimes occurs with single malts over 25 or so years old.  Chocolate, bananas, honey, coconut, apples, sultanas, raisins, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, strawberries, cloves.  Incredibly complex and beautiful.  A whisky that I'd LOVE to own.

And the finish is glorious, long and lingering, just staying on the palate for ever, to the point where you're still tasting it 10 minutes later.  Strawberries, cinnamon and nutmeg just linger forever.

Ok this whisky has just gone a long ways toward making me more favorable to Glengoyne, however talking to our tour guide I'm honest and tell him that in no way, as lovely as this whisky is, feel that it's worth the six to seven thousand US dollars that it'd run.  He agrees and says that no whisky is worth that price.  This will be a theme heard again and again in the distilleries that no whisky is worth that sort of price point.

However if I had enough spare cash to pick up a bottle of this would I?

Oh yeah!

However I would pass on the Glengoyne master blending tour and jump straight to the connoisseurs tour.  If you ever get a chance to sample this whisky, do so! 

Nose:       23/25
Taste:       23/25
Finish:      24/25
Balance:   23/25

Overall:    93/100

Friday, 23 August 2013

The Auld Alliance and The Whisky Brotherhood!

After sadly leaving the motherland, Scotland, my wife and I decided that we would do a few days in Singapore while on our way home to Australia.  For years she has wanted to show me the Singapore Zoo (totally worth it!) as I've worked with animals for years and am a HUGE animal lover.

I wanted to visit the Auld Alliance, South East Asia's largest whisky bar, coming in at around 1200+ different whiskies from all over the world.

I'd heard of the Auld Alliance for years and had always promised myself that if I ever got the chance I'd visit the place, having heard rumors of how awesome this whisky bar was.  I eventually wound up finding them on Facebook and befriended them.  Over the next year or so I wound up befriending the owner of the Auld Alliance, Emmanuel and the head manager, Matthew.  We'd chatted whisky a wee bit and once I knew I was going to be swinging by Singapore we chatted plans.

Now while in Scotland I had made a specific mission of picking up whiskies that I couldn't find easily or even at all in Australia.  Specifically whiskies that would help me complete my Silent Distilleries collection.  This collection is comprised of whiskies from distilleries from around the globe that have been destroyed or put out of commission.  My collection consists of cask strength whiskies from these distilleries that have scored well in the Whisky Bible and Malt Maniacs.  So not just any whisky will do.

Every whisky store in Scotland that we visited, I hunted these whiskies.  I'd already picked up two of the bad boys before our trip, a cask strength 30 yr old Port Ellen purchased by my wife for my birthday and a cask strength 21 yr old Rosebank purchased by one of my closest friends and brothers for the same birthday.

In Scotland I'd managed to snag the 3rd distillery in what I consider to be the holy trinity: a Brora 35 yr old.

I also managed to score a St Magdalene 30 year old and a Littlemill 22 year old.

While in Scotland at every whisky shop I kept asking for a special distillery, a Japanese distillery: Karuizawa.

This Silent Japanese distillery closed in 2001 has quickly skyrocketed as one of the most collectable of silent distilleries with prices at times reaching 10's of thousands of dollars for a bottle.  Even worse is you almost NEVER see it in Australia.  EVEN more worse is that I've been informed by friends in the business that I trust that the stocks of the whisky were almost gone, with only a year or so of supply left.

This had me worried as I NEEDED a good bottle for my collection.  A bottle of this would pretty much take out the big four silent distilleries that were most likely to run me high cost for good value. 

To put the last seal on this distressing bottle was that every single whisky shop in Scotland informed me that almost all of the Karuizawa was being intercepted in Singapore by a single whisky store, leaving almost none for Scotland's shores.

Crap!  A bottle of cask strength whisky from this distillery was one of my goals on this trip and now I was watching this goal slip out of my hands.  I decided to contact the Auld Alliance to see if they knew anything about this whisky store or if they might know of any place where I could possibly put my hands on an affordable bottle of good Karuizawa.

Within six hours or so Matthew replied back.  They knew the whisky store in question and even more they, the Auld Alliance, had bottles of Karuizawa for sell.  They asked what my budget was, and I quoted a number, sadly at this stage of our trip a very low number that I figured would result in a "sorry my friend, but we just can't help you" message back.

Instead I was informed that they had a bottle that fit my requirements, even better was that this bottle was the pick of the litter.  Out of 8 casks tried by Emmanuel and Matthew this was the one that they loved the most. a 13 yr old cask strength sitting at 64.2% and one of eighty two bottles produced from the cask..  Even more awesome was that they had a bottle open for a taste by the dram for when I arrived.


After a few days it's time to sadly leave Scotland and start heading home.  After a very long and stressful flight to Singapore we finally check into the hotel that I booked for my lovely wife and myself.

We finally arrive in Singapore and catch a taxi to our hotel.

One of the first things that we're informed of is that the lift only goes to the second floor and our room is on the third.  We're going to have to carry our luggage for an entire floor.

Guess who's lucky job that is.

As soon as the lift hits the second floor a smell hits my nostrils.  It's a combination of McDonald's, human stink and sweaty Laphroaig.

It is NOT a good smell.

Two warning bells are ringing in our heads.

And then the full alarm, along with air raid sirens go off when we finally reach our room.  I open our door and before it's even halfway open the door hits the bed.  We drag the suitcases into the room and stare around us in horror.

The door can't fully open, the suitcases, mind you I mean one suitcase at a time, blocks the pathway completely to the bathroom, it's hot and humid (that's ok at it is Singapore) and when we look into the bathroom we just about cry.

You literally can brush your teeth, go to the bathroom, and take a shower, all at the same time as long as you don't mind soggy toilet paper.  The entire room is less then 3 feet wide max.

I stare in horror at this itty bitty space that looks nothing like the pictures of the room I booked online, share a glance with my poor wife and then call up the front desk.

"Hello, how can we help you?"

"There is a problem with my room.  This is nothing like what I paid for.  There are no windows, the door hits the bed, the bathroom is scary small..."

"Sir you do have the deluxe room" I'm informed.  (This is what I'd paid for)

"I know this, that's what I paid for"

"I don't see the problem, you have the deluxe room"

"Where do you put the people who don't pay the big rates?  The closet?!"

"I'm sorry sire, we're fully booked"

"I'm sorry, but this isn't what I paid for.  This is a joke"

"Actually sir, we do have a few rooms you can check to see if they would better suit you"

"Yes please"

My poor, suffering wife and I make our way back downstairs to the front desk where I immediately hope onto a computer to see what other hotels are available as I have a very bad feeling about this and my wife follows the hotel clerk from room to room.

I thought they were fully booked.

My wife follows the hotel clerk around the building, looking at several other rooms while I immediately hop onto the hotel computer to try and find alternate places to stay if this pans out in the unpleasant way that I think it's going to.

Pretty quickly my wife is back and tells me that every room is the same sort of style.  Small, no windows, no room.  In short the exact opposite from what the photos online showed.

We head back to the room and stare at one another in horror.  A 18 hour flight to arrive in Singapore to this?!  My wife is stressing.  What do we do?  I finally come up with the first good idea of the night.

"Let's go to the Auld Alliance.  We'll get some food into us, some good whisky and they might have some ideas on a place to stay"

Done!  A quick cab ride and we're at the Auld Alliance.  We walk through the door and are immediately struck by the site of hundreds upon hundreds of bottles along the walls.  A veritable wall of whisky.  Leather seats, polished hardwood floor, soft music playing in the background.


From behind the bar comes Matthew, shaking our hands and welcoming us to Singapore. Super friendly and we feel like we've just come home.  Matthew gives us a tour of the bar and then asks how we're doing.  Massive sigh and I just look at him and ask him for a drink, anything, anything good please.

He comes back with a cask strength BenRiach from 1976, bottled exclusively for the Auld Alliance.  My wife and I take a nose and it's BAM!  the fruit immediately hits us.  Matthew informs us that it's one of the fruitiest whiskies that he's ever had and I can only agree.  It's big, but soft and the fruit just cascades around your nose and mouth.  This is my first taste of BenRiach and man it's a cracker.

Sadly I saw just recently that they poured the last dram from the bottles and that whisky is no more.

As my wife and I sip on the BenRiach Matthew walks us through the place, showing us all of these beautiful whiskies, Glenfarclas Family Casks, Macallan's from the 1930's and 1940's, Ardbeg's from the 1970's, a Laphroaig from before 1910.  Oh sweet jesus I'm in heaven!

My wife and I chat with Matthew about our trip to Scotland, the flight to Singapore and our current hotel situation during the tour.  Matthew informs us that even though we'd said we would be in on the following day, him and Emmanuel had thought that my wife and I would stop by as they knew when our plane got in.  Emmanuel is on his way to the bar to say hello.

And almost as if by magic Emmanuel is there, super friendly, being the perfect host, asking about our trip and our flight and when we inform him about our hotel troubles him and Matthew immediately hope onto their computers and phones, trying to find us new accommodation.  Matthew comments that we must be hungry and quite a few of the local restaurants do some good food, why don't we order some in.

We're blown away!  We've been there maybe 20 minutes, we still haven't finished our BenRiach and we're being treated like family.  Matthew at one point in between calls to local hotels looks up and apologizes, saying that he's sorry that him and his wife have a small place right now, otherwise my wife and I would be welcome there, but hopefully on our next trip to Singapore the new place will be ready and we won't have to worry about a hotel.

Did I mention these two awesome whisky guys were treating us like family?!

While my wife and I catch up on some much needed food, Emmanuel and Matthew call hotel after hotel, trying to find us something, anything, but it's extremely difficult going as it's school holidays in both Malaysia and Singapore so the city is at 99% occupancy. 

My wife and I try some more whiskies, sampling the Karuizawa that both Emmanuel and Matthew had suggested, which is very enjoyable, and following Matthew's advice of adding a few drops of water, opens up to some big aniseed notes.  I even find my beloved Knob Creek bourbon which is VERY rare in Australia and tends to run $100 to $120 a bottle when you can find it.

We spend a very lovely few hours at the Auld Alliance, while the guys there try to find us a hotel with sadly no luck.  They suggest that we'll all try again tomorrow and see what we can find.  However would it be possible for my wife and I to come back tomorrow night, they've got a few regulars who would love to meet me.

We're blown away, sure we'll come back tomorrow, we'd love to!  Back to our dump of a hotel with the sweaty Laphroaig McDonalds smell where I spend several more hours on the computer before finding a furnished apartment at 1am.  They can take us. 

Done and done!  My wife and I catch a taxi to the new apartments which are gorgeous and finally crash at around 2am.  Tomorrow is going to be a big day.  My wife and I go shopping, mainly clothes for her and then the Auld Alliance again!

We arrive back at the Auld Alliance, having enjoyed a lovely day of clothes shopping and sleeping in, looking forward to more visiting with Matthew and Emmanuel.  When we walk in Matthew grins and greets us and then walks us over to a side room that they've set aside for tonight's festivities.

My wife and I glance at one another, this is more then we'd expected.  On the table there is some simple bar foods, peanuts and the like for us to nibble on along with a pitcher of water, but we're more surprised that this little alcove/room was set aside for us.

Matthew asks if he can grab us anything and it's a definite yes!

There is something here that I should have been doing for the last month now and have sadly been neglecting.  See the thing is that when you spend a good amount of time with whisky, you quickly learn your favorites and all too often wind up focusing your attention on distilleries that you've had before, just moving your way up the age chain.  I found myself doing this too much in Scotland, focusing on Glenfarclass's, Ardbeg's, Talisker's and the such, with the occasional foray into Brora's and Port Ellen's.

Now all of those whiskies are brilliant whiskies, and you'll find bottles of all of them in my personal whisky collection, but what happens is that you wind up blind at times to the other bounty that surrounds you.  Right now here we sit with 1200 or so different whiskies, and while I've heard of just about every single distillery in the menu, I haven't tried them all.  Tonight is that night.

I don't plan on focusing much attention on distilleries that I know and love tonight, tonight we're playing around.  I immediately start the night off with a 1954 Mortlach which was bottled by Gordon & MacPhail at 54 years old.  My wife says she'd like to try something fruity so Matthew comes back with a 2000 Balblair, another distillery I've never tried before.

My budget is not as massive as it could be so I decide to order all my drams at 20mls. That's one of the really cool things about the Auld Alliance.  You can order your drams in 3 different measures, 10mls, 20ml and 40mls, and they're priced accordingly.  Prices at the Auld Alliance are not cheap, if you're buying rare whiskies, but that's fine, because they're rare whiskies.  And unlike alot of places I've been to, the Auld Alliance isn't out to gouge you, they want you to have a good time.  I mean where else can you try a Black Bowmore, or a Laphroaig from 1910?

So my wife sips on her Balblair that Matthew recommended, and I nose this 54 year old Mortlach.  It is absolutely lovely and is a whisky that I could easily spend hours upon hours mulling over a single dram.  It's a whisky that makes you look within yourself and even though many would say that the style wouldn't suit it for the weather, in my opinion a winter warmer.  A whisky to spend hours by the fireplace with.  In short it's sublime.

My wife sit and chat while we enjoy these beautiful whiskies and pretty soon the first regular who's come in to say hello to me and my wife is Arun.  He's a regular of the Auld Alliance and greets us with a giant smile and joins us in enjoying some beautiful whiskies.  His first whisky is a Clyneish, looks like it's a sherry cask maturation and he immediately offers a sip to my wife and myself.  I didn't get a look at the price, but I KNEW this whisky was not cheap and to have this guy, who I'd just met, offer me a sip from a whisky that runs more for a dram then most people pay on a bottle of whisky, was touching.  The Clyneish is very very delicious.

We're finally ready for another dram and I figure let's go with a silent distillery, one that I'd never tried before and you never really hear anything about: Glen Mhor, a Highlands distillery that closed in 1983.  I grab a cask strength from the 1970's off the top of my head and sit down to enjoy this dram with my wife.  We're really loving it, and swinging through the room every 15 minutes or so to chat whisky is Matthew and Emmanuel, talking about their whisky experiences, how to tell casks used, everything.

To say Emmanuel is a whisky expert is an understatement, he's able to tell when a distillery moves from a fired still to a heated one, when the cask quality dropped, I mean everything.  It would be very easy just to spend a week with him absorbing his whisky knowledge.

Soon we're joined by Darren, otherwise known as Mr Sherry for his love of fruity sherry whiskies.  He immediately orders a dram of Caol Ila from 1966, bottled by Gordon & MacPhail, aged in sherry casks.   A 29 year old whisky that sells at about $1500 US, if not more.  Holy cow.  It's so beautiful and dark and the first thing that Darren does is offer a taste to my wife and myself.  Another whisky dram that runs more then most people spend on a nice whisky purchase, it's absolutely lovely and as in the Mortlach 54 yr old, sublime.

While my wife and I chat with Darren and Arun, Matthew comes into the room and asks me to join him.  Outside is another Australian whisky blogger, Martin from http://www.timeforwhisky.com..  We chat for a bit about whisky and how few reputable whisky bloggers there are in Australia, at one time someone mentions that there's only about six of us in the country who are regularly writing and considered reputable.  He's actually even read The Whisky Fiend.  Very cool.  Pretty soon he heads off with his partner and it's back into the room I go.

Emmanuel joins us along with Matthew, trying new whiskies and chatting the entire time, about how while Scotland is brilliant for whisky distilleries, the best whisky bars are outside of Scotland, where other countries whiskies can also shine, how the Scottish are just about the friendliest people that one could hope to meet, how just because we drink whisky straight some people think that we must have a drinking problem, since we're not mixing our whisky in coke.

Even better chatting with Matthew and Emmanuel I find out that the Auld Alliance actually doesn't have any sort of coke on site, in order to ensure that their brilliant whiskies are not misused.  We wind up enjoying rare Ardbegs, Caol Ila's, Kavalan's and more.  All of us sharing our drams with the other guys at the table.  We've only known these guys for less then a day, in the case of Arun and Darren, 2 hours, but it feels like family.  Everyone chatting like long loss friends.

At 11 my wife asks if this can be our last whisky as she's tired. Not a problem.  We chat with Emmanuel and everyone else and all of a sudden it's past 2am.  Where has the time gone?!  No more whisky was consumed, but it's just disappeared!

My poor wife has been so patient and it's time to leave, but not without handshakes and promises to come back, and not without my very lovely Karuizawa that Matthew and Emmanuel suggested.  A visit to the Auld Alliance is worth the trip to Singapore by itself, everything else is just gravy.

And my visit at the Auld Alliance made me think about the Whisky Brotherhood.  A brotherhood where the only thing you have in common is whisky.  A brotherhood where it doesn't matter where in the journey you are, whether novice or expert connoisseur.  A brotherhood that doesn't care about religion, race, background, just a common passion for the water of life.  My wife and I experienced this brotherhood so many times in Scotland and Singapore...with so many encounters, some from people who were new whisky friends and others who were old whisky friends, even though never met before.

In Scotland the owner of Abbey Whisky, Mike, helped me out by storing quite a few whiskies that I'd purchased, at his shop, taking up space, awaiting my return and offering on our next visit that his family and mine should do a journey through Scotland together, with him driving and being our tour guide.  A whisky lover who I've chatted with many times before online, but this is my first time meeting him.

Or meeting fellow Connosr member: Talexander who having read that myself and Mike were enjoying some drams at the Society bar, came over to introduce himself, scaring the hell out of me, and inviting us over to spend time with himself and friends, sharing their drams.  Someone who I'd chatted with before online over Connosr before, but had never chatted with over the phone or person.

Having the distilleries, randomly and without asking, offering free whiskies, special treats, discounts, making calls on our behalf to the next upcoming distillery, in order to ensure an excellent visit for us.

Or Matthew offering a place for us to stay when we're in Singapore next, and him and Emmanuel helping find my wife and myself a place to stay while in Singapore.

Or Arun and Darren sharing their whisky drams with us, whiskies that run hundreds of dollars a shot.

See that's the cool thing about whisky.  It doesn't matter where you are in your journey, as long as you're enthusiastic and open to learning from others, your whisky guys don't care, they're willing to open up their bottles, businesses, homes, friends and family to bring you into the fold, with no pretentiousness or elitism.  A fraternity where you can travel all over the world and be welcomes anywhere, joining other fellow whisky lovers for a dram and a chat.

This trip really drove the whisky brotherhood home for me and for everyone who helped open my eyes thank you very much.  Thank you Matthew, Emmanuel, Arun, Darren, Roy, Susan, Mark, Nick, Margaret, Ian, Derek, Mike, Ronnie, David and anyone that I might have missed for making those 30 days, some of the most enjoyable days of my wife's and my life and giving us a trip to remember for the rest of our lives.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

We're Going To Skye!  Talisker Here We Come!

Talisker, one of my favorite distilleries, one of my favorite whiskies and a whisky that holds a special place in my heart.

I'd so badly wanted to visit Skye and Talisker on my recent trip to Scotland, but after checking time schedules, balancing budgets and all in all realizing how difficult getting to Skye and Talisker would be (one of the most isolated distilleries in Scotland) I'd called off this dream of visiting Talisker our first time in Scotland.

And then Whisky Live Perth occurred.  There I met someone who I thought was just another Diego rep at the Talisker stand.  As soon as Whisky Live Perth opened it's doors I was heading straight for the Talisker stand to try the brand new Talisker Storm!

While there Nick, the Diego rep, got to chatting.  I'd informed him that my wife and I were going to Scotland in a couple months time, I'd also informed him that Talisker was one of my favorite distilleries.

He asked if I was going to visit Skye at which point I sadly informed him that we wouldn't be, even though we really wanted to.  He gave me his card and told me that after Whisky Live we should talk a bit.

I didn't think too much of it then, but little did I know it, my wife was going to change just a little bit.

But before I continue a little back story on our love for Talisker.  As many of you readers know I believe that whisky is more then just a drink, it's an experience.  It's not just about the liquid inside the glass, but who you're with, how life is treating you, everything.

On my wife's and my very first wedding anniversary we were poor, no denying it.  It'd been a hard year and money was tight to say the least.  We'd decided to go to the hotel where we'd stayed our wedding night and enjoy a meal in the restaurant.

My wife had suggested that we have a whisky while we were out so I grabbed my freshly bought whisky bible and off we went.

However when we arrived at the hotel we were in for a disappointment.  Everything was more expensive then we remembered it and the whisky selection was very minimal.  Mainly Johnnie Walkers and the standard Glenlivet 12 and Glenfiddich 12 year olds.  Whiskies that we'd already had before.

At the bottom of the menu I saw a Talisker 10 year old, which I'd never had before, going for $10 a dram.  I pulled out the whisky bible, looked it up and saw a lovely score of 93/100.  I looked at my wife and she nodded.

When we ordered it, it came out in this massive tumbler, probably the biggest tumbler that I have ever seen in my life and out of it wafted beautiful aromas of peppers, meat, smoke, soft peat, complex and enticing.  Both my wife and I heartily enjoyed this one dram that we were able to afford, so much so that as soon as we could, we purchased a bottle.  Ever since then I've always kept a bottle of Talisker 10 year old in the cabinet.

Every other Talisker that I've ever tried since that fateful day has been absolutely lovely, from the refined 18 year old to the raw 57 North to the elegant 25 year old.

After Whisky Live I sent Nick an email letting him know how much I'd enjoyed the Storm and in his reply he said that if my wife and I could get to Skye, they'd host a special VIP tour for us.

Oh my god!  I was totally speechless.  A VIP tour for my wife and myself!?

We'd already decided that we weren't driving in Scotland and I'd already hired the very awesome Roy Mathers from About Speyside tours to take care of the driving and tour guiding and in general awesomeness for us in Speyside.  MAYBE he'd be willing to drive us to Skye.

So I immediately call him up, asking him if he'd be willing to drive us to Skye.

He tells me that he has driven some people to Skye before, but it's a long drive and it's always been for repeat clients of his.  He then asks if it's to go to Talisker.

I inform him that it is.

At that stage he says that while Talisker is very awesome, the Diageo tours tend to be quite standard and definitely not worth the cost of going to Skye just for it, not unless Talisker was doing a VIP tour.

I inform him that I've been told it's going to be a VIP tour.

He says if that's the case, then we HAVE to go.


Now it's time to find accommodation for both Roy and myself while we're in Skye (it totally wouldn't be fair to make Roy pay for his own stay after helping us out!)

That night I send out a couple dozen emails to bed and breakfasts and hotels on the Isle of Skye that are nearish to Talisker.

I finally get confirmation from two of them after days of back and forth.  They each have ONE room.  Neither have 2 rooms.

I book each room, figuring that should be fine.

For the next few weeks I hear from Nick a couple times a week and then soon Liz and then Marianne.  All in regards to our VIP tour.  So many things are thrown around.  Free glassware and a meeting with the artist who designed the artwork for the newly released Talisker 10 and Storm.  Everything under the sun.

Nick is a legend in setting this up and when we're a couple of days prior to leaving for Scotland, puts me in contact with Liz in the UK who then takes over the Talisker tour.  I quickly discover that Nick isn't just a Diageo rep, he's the brand manager of Diageo for the entirety of Australia.

Holy cow!!

To sit here and say that at this point everyone from Diego have been brilliant is a MASSIVE understatement.  At one point when I'm talking to Liz she mentions that there is a newly released Mortlach bottling available that was released for the Speyside festival.  They're down to just a couple, but if I want they'll set one aside for me.

Yes please!!!

Finally we're in Scotland and I'm still chatting with Liz, arranging the visit.  It's not a problem.  It's more like the guys at Diego have SO MANY awesome ideas that they're overwhelmed.  I hear every idea under the sun.  I'm nervous, but excited.  Each time I say no problem, it's fine.  I've booked Roy for the visit, I've paid for the hotels, it's a go.  It's just a question of how awesome this is going to be, but I already know from the sounds that it's going to be brilliant.

Throughout our first week in Scotland, while in Edinburgh and Glasgow I'm talking to Liz and Marianne of Diego about the visit, settling times, details and such, but I still have no idea what to expect.  At one point I hear a distillery tour by the distillery manager, Mark Lochhead might be what happens.

This is getting more and more crazy and I can't wait to see what finally happens!

Finally Saturday, our very last day in the Speyside occurs.  Roy picks us up at 8am and it's off to Skye and Talisker we go!  Along the way we get a call from Diego asking if I still wanted the Mortlach.  Sadly I have only enough left in my budget for Talisker.  I am devastated to decline the bottle.

We drive through the beautiful Scottish countryside, and drive and drive and drive.  Until we hit the Loch Ness area.  There Roy pulls off to the side of the road at a restaurant and bar that we knows with a brilliant whisky collection.  He knows they make some delicious coffee and hopes to get me into the bar to see the whisky collection.

Alas the owner isn't in and the staff don't know Roy so I'm unable to see the whisky collection, however in the coffee shop there are empty bottles and boxes of single malt EVERYWHERE!  Just off what I'm seeing this guy's collection has GOT to be awesome!

We continue on after some coffee and a restroom break until we arrive at Loch Ness which is MASSIVE!  It just goes on forever and forever with beautiful bright green trees covering the countryside.  At Loch Ness Roy knows an excellent spot for us to grab some photos (even if we're not technically supposed to be doing it) so he pulls over real quick in order for my wife and myself to grab some very nice shots and then it's right back onto the road we go!

Along the way Roy pulls off to the side of the road several times for me to grab photos and the entire time he's answering my questions about the history of the land, the surroundings.  The countryside had started out as rolling farmland, fields, lovely and green and slowly moves to wooden countryside with bright green trees all along the side of the road.

However as we get closer to Skye the countryside becomes more hilly and mountainous, with massive rolling hills that slowly become more and more barren.  The hills become mountains and for a good portion of the drive we've got water to our right.  Scotland is such a wet land with lochs, rivers, streams, so much water.

And it's an isolated land, as we drive through small villages, some of them only a dozen houses.  Throughout our stay in Speyside I've questioned Roy about the population of Scotland and it's small, very small, just a little over 5 million people, and this is spread out over an entire country, residing mainly in Glasgow and Edinburgh.  The further North you go the fewer people on the ground.  Up until now this fact hasn't been completely driven home, not until our drive to the Isle of Skye.

We drive through passes, me grabbing photos the entire time we drive to Skye.  It's a beautiful land, in all it's forms and soon enough we'll be at our destination, Talisker!

Finally Skye is in sight, and I find myself squirming in my seat, it's Skye!  Oh my god, this land has up until now been almost mythical for me.  We soon are at the bridge that crosses over to the Isle of Skye, with Roy telling us the story about it being built and the toll of roughly 20 pounds for each time you crossed it.  Every time the residents of Skye came to the mainland they had to pay 20 pounds and every time they wanted to go back home, they again had to pay the 20 pound fine.  Eventually all of the residents got to together in protest, driving right by the toll booths.  And when that didn't drive the point home, blockading the bridge.

Now it's free.

We drive over the bridge after paying no toll and then we're across and on the other side.

Oh my god I'm on Skye!

No one will ever believe this!  This entire trip has been magical, finally being in Scotland and seeing the beauty of Speyside, but this has transcended everything else up to now.  I'm on a place that to me was legendary, a place that I might one day hope to see in my dreams and now I'm here!

The drive along the coast, through Skye is uneventful as pass houses, shops, villages and the land goes from green to eventually stark and bare with the hillsides and I feel that somehow I've entered into a different world.  A world where people really don't care about traffic jams, stress in minimal and life is taken as it comes with a mellow easy going attitude.

We pull up to the Sligachan hotel and we know that we're close to Skye.  There's a creek, a little stream running down from the hills, with 3 stark, grey, huge hills surrounding the hotel.  There we stop for a nice lunch as we still have plenty of time before Talisker.

It's an enjoyable lunch for a reasonable price, but I'm too excited.  My mind keeps racing ahead to what's to come.  We're almost to Talisker!

We set off, Talisker is so very close and Roy is indeed awesome, knowing the way by heart, telling us about the history of Skye as he had also done with the history of Speyside, and as he talks the land goes from grey and dreary to green and vibrant, still hilly, but the green is present once more, the ocean to our left and we pull up to a hillside with Talisker in view.

What's going on!?  Why have we stopped?!

Roy then looks at me and grins.

"I've got something for you, come see"

So my wife and I hope out of the car and follow Roy to the back of the car.  He opens the trunk and inside of it is this mini whisky barrel.

What the hell?!

He then opens the barrel, it splits down the center and in it are 5 or 6 bottles of whisky along with glencairns.

"I figured you might want a whisky!  Feel free to choose any of them, however if you want I've got something special for you"

All excellent whiskies, but what's the special?!

He then pulls out a small bottle filled with Clyneish,  a cask strength sample that's not even been bottled yet, but later in the month Cadenheads will be releasing it.

Yeah I'll definitely take that.  He pours me a dram full and it's lovely,  Almost savory.  Roy asks my wife what she'd like and she says that she's going to wait until Talisker, but you can tell she's getting a giggle out of all this.

So overlooking the sea, with Talisker in sight, in the wind and air and cold I enjoy my very first taste of Clyneish which makes me go "I need to experience more of this"

It's a moment that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

Once the dram is finished it's time to head on, to finally reach Talisker.  And as we drive I'm squirming in excitement.  How awesome is this going to be?!  Will it live up to my dreams, nay my fantasies?!

We quickly roll up to the Talisker distillery which sits right on the water, Talisker written in huge letters across the walls and I'm all a quiver.  Here goes nothing!

Roy, my wife and myself walk into the distillery center which within just the last few years had been completely redone.  It's beautiful!

All hard wood floors, polished wood, shining glass surrounding high end bottles, it's enough to take one's breath away.  We walk up to the counter where a few women and girls wait, helping the visitors to the distillery.

"How can we help you?" they ask cheerfully.


"Hello my name is SquidgyAsh and I'm here for a ...."

I don't even finish my sentence before the pretty young lady smiles and says.

"Oh yes we've been expecting you.  The manager will be down here soon.  Can we get you coffee, water or tea?"

"No we're fine, thank you though.  We'll just take a look around if that's all right."

"Go ahead, just call out if we can be of any help" we're informed.

Holy cow it's going to be a tour with the distillery manager?!

We wander the bottles, all the lovely bottles.  Of course you have your standard Talisker 10 year old and the newly released (At least in Australia!) Talisker Storm, along with Talisker Distiller's Edition and a range of other whiskies from the Diageo portfolio, but in the center of the room there is a little glass pillar, with whiskies inside of it.

A pillar with Talisker 25 and 30 and 35 year olds.  This attracts my eye immediately.  I'm wandering around this pillar of whisky when Mark walks in.

Mark comes over and introduces himself and then offers us coffee, water, tea.  Can they get us anything?

Nope we're fine and I'm more then in a little awe.

Mark then leads us out of the visitor center to his office in an adjacent building that sits RIGHT next to the sea.  Outside his office window you can see the blue ocean, it's a clear sky and you've got to be just a wee bit envious of a man who gets to look at that every day.

His office is sparsely decorated with his desk, a large table designed to seat maybe a dozen people and a book shelf with Talisker bottles, very old Talisker bottles.  Bottles from the 50's, 40's.  Bottles that I've never seen before.  It's beautiful and you really get a sense of history behind Talisker.

We all sit down and Mark looks at me and asks me a question.

"Who in the world are you!?  I've been getting emails and phone calls for the last 3 weeks from all over the world regarding your visit"

I'm stunned.  Absolutely stunned.  I look at my wife and then at Roy.  They look back at me and then I reply.

"I'm just an idiot who loves whisky and writes about it."

Mark laughs and then informs me that to get him to do the tour, you've got to be doing something right considering some of the people who've been calling and emailing him.  It's not an easy thing to get him to do the tour, especially on his day off, but here he is.

Mark then formally introduces himself after getting Roy a cup of coffee.  He tells us about how he got his start in the whisky industry, how he eventually wound up running Talisker.  Then Roy and him get to chatting about the different folks in the industry they know.  It REALLY drives home that in this industry, especially in Scotland, everyone knows everyone.

After chatting back and forth it's time for our tour to begin.  Mark invites Roy along, but Roy says he's going to go find his hotel as we've already found ours.

As we head out for our tour, Marks informs us that even though Diageo doesn't normally allow photos to be taken during the tours, we will be able to do so.  However please try and be discreet about it, as the other visitors will wonder why they can't take pictures, but we can.

Photos of our Talisker tour can be found here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/99088760@N04/sets/72157634889675045/

Not a problem!

The tour is pretty similar to all of the other distilleries that we've visited, which isn't any surprise because it's not like whisky is made in a million different ways.  However Mark is an engaging guide, going over the history of the distillery in a way that sucks you in.  We visit the mill, the tun room, going through the distillery until we finally arrive in one of my most favorite of places.

The still house.

There in front of me are those lovely Talisker stills that make one of my favorite whiskies.  Mark, my wife and myself are in this still house on the 2nd floor grating, with some visitors standing on the ground floor, as I just stare and stare and stare.  I so badly want to go over and just caress one of those lovely copper stills.

After the still room we head outside to see the condensers, which cool the alcohol vapors.  These are huge vats of water, that I haven't seen at any other distillery during our trip.

We end up at the warehouse where we look in through a window to see a cask of Talisker from the mid 1970's.  God I wish I could go in, but I understand why we cant.

We then head back up to Mark's office for our tasting.  When we get inside the office there's over half a dozen whisky bottles, beautiful and lovely, covering the entire Talisker range.  Mark informs us that we're going to be doing the tasting that the brand ambassadors normally go through.

But when I look on the tasting mat, which has the glasses and which whisky is which, I see that we're doing more whiskies then the normal range that they would do.

We're going to be tasting Talisker new make spirit, 10 year old, Storm, Distiller's Edition, 18 year old, 25 year old, 30 year old and Port Ruighe, the newly release NAS which is aged in Port barrels.

Oh my god this is insane!  I'm sitting here, getting ready to enjoy the entire Talisker range, at Talisker on the Isle of Skye in the managers office with Mark Lochhead, the manager of Talisker.  To say I'm excited will have to do for the century's biggest understatement.

The only whisky in the Talisker range that we're not tasting is Talisker 57 North, the cask strength release.  But that's not a problem as I have many of these at my house.

The new make Talisker is absolutely lovely, and easily my personal favorite new make that I've encountered.  Smoke swirls around my mouth as I enjoy it.  Talisker 10 year old is it's normal lovely self, as is the very sexy 18 year old.  I've enjoyed Talisker Distiller's Edition many a time, and I'd tried Talisker Storm before which is very enjoyable.

Right as we start getting to the Talisker 25 year old and Talisker 30 year old Roy comes in and asks what we're trying.  When we inform him he asks if he can take a nose of the 30 year old?

But of course!

He gives it a nose and says that it's got a very nice nose.

We enjoy our way through the tasting as Mark walks us through it, at one point he realizes that the Port Ruighe isn't actually in the room so he calls up the center and asks one of the staff to bring it up.  When she does he enquirers about the time and we find out that the distillery center is actually closing in about 10 minutes.

Oh no!

We finish the tasting, but we've gone long.  It's after 5 which means the visitor center is closed.  But not a problem.  The lovely staff have kept it open for us, so that we can get our toys!

Inside the visitor center I'm running around, excited like you wouldn't believe.  This is what I've been waiting for.  I immediately pick up a bottle of Talisker 35 year old.  The oldest officially released Talisker and ask Mark if he'd sign the bottle.

Not a problem!

However he informs me that it will lower the value of the bottle.  Not a problem I don't care!  This baby is sitting in my house!  It might drop in financial value, but it's sentimental value is going through the roof!  I run around trying to figure out what else to buy!  It's like I'm a kid in a candy store!!  I hear one of the girls at the counter comment to my wife that they've never seen anyone get this excited about whisky before.  My wife laughs and says it's not the first time she's seen this.

We chat whisky with the staff as I run around, and it makes me smile to hear one of the girls inform us that the Brora 35 which I'd recently purchased was a real cracker.

I get a Talisker 25 year old on top of the 35.  I grab glencairns and jumpers.  I then ask Mark if he'd be willing to take a photo with me.


But how about they bring in the entire distillery staff?

They start grabbing guys from outside to come in for the photo so that eventually it's the entire staff and me with my 35 year old Talisker getting our photo taken.  To say I'm touched is a massive understatement.

Once I've purchased everything and photos are done, Mark walks us back into the still house for pictures of those beautiful copper stills.  Again I'm struck with the urge to run over and just run my hands up and down them.  After that he takes a couple photos of my wife and myself.  I ask him if it'd be possible to do an email interview sometime in the future and he says that's not a problem (Guess what that means folks!)

And all too soon it's over.  It's time to go back to our hotel for the night, nestled between the mountains  A beautiful trip to Talisker has made the entire journey worthwhile.

We spend the night in Skye and then it's back on the road the next morning to head to the train station and home.  Again Roy points out sights along the way, informing us of the local history and then suddenly we're at Inverness, at the train station where Roy gives us each a big hug, informs us that we're a lovely couple, and then hands me a whisky bottle.  He comments that he knows how much that I love cask strength whiskies and he hopes I enjoy this.  It's a GlenDronach cask strength.

Roy was a brilliant guide, worth every single penny whom we'll happily be booking with again in a couple of years when we head back to Scotland.  He knew every tree and bush by name and it's history.  And the fact that he was willing to drive my wife and myself to the Isle of Skye and Talisker made our trip that extra special.  If you're heading to the Speyside Region, be SURE to book Roy because you'd just be silly not to.

I have so many people to thank for our trip in Scotland, but a MASSIVE thank you to the lovely folks at Diageo.  Nick in Australia, Liz and Marianne in the UK and of course Mark Lochhead for coming in on his day off and the entire group at Talisker.  At no point did any one of them had to go out of their way to do this tour for us but they did.  And in doing so provided me and my wife with memories that we'll carry forever.  The Isle of Skye was something that I've ALWAYS wanted to visit and having Diageo do that for us, well it's just something that stays with you for the rest of your life.  So all of you guys at Diageo, thank you from the bottom of our hearts.  You made a whisky geek and his wife so very very happy and REALLY drove home the point, once more, how much Talisker means in both of our lives.

I'd like to suggest to all those whisky geeks out there who dream of visiting Scotland to stop dreaming of it, and go do it.  It wasn't something that I ever thought I'd get to do, but through a series of random events was able to make happen.  It's something that I'll never regret.

And one last bit of advice for you whisky geeks out there.  If Diageo ever offers you a VIP tour of any of their distilleries, don't think, just say yes.

Thanks guys!