Vignettes – Moments in Whisky

Vignettes ‘Moments in Whisky’ Trip to Islay by Mark Dermul– Part 4 of 4 – Scotch Whisky News

Trip to Islay – Part 4 of 4

by Mark Dermul

We had concluded our distillery visits on Islay – all 8 of them, obviously – and drove to Port Askaig to be ferried back to the mainland. And while there is not much to see at Port Askaig, the ferry’s arrival is a sight to behold, especially when the sun is out, the sky is a cobalt blue and your backdrop is the Isle of Jura with its three peaks known s the Paps.

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As wild as the sea was during our trip from Kennacraig to Islay, the return leg was the exact opposite. The sea was like a mirror. Once we left the coast of Islay and the captain turned the bow of the ship towards the open sea, we were treated to a wonderful show by bottlenose dolphins, puffs and seagulls. But halfway through the crossing, a big mist made it almost impossible to see anything and it was like sailing into a grey wall. A bit spooky, to be honest.

An added bonus, though, was the fact that the Scottish flag on the bow was being replaced. Being in the right place at the right time, I rescued the flag from being dumped in the bin and becoming a lovely souvenir or our trip to Islay.

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Once back in Kennacraig, we were again marveling at the beautiful scenery driving all the way back to Glasgow. Via Tarbert to Inveraray to the north and then back south along Loch Lomond. There is ample opportunity to stop along the way to make some stunning photos.

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Back in Glasgow, we needed to take the plane back to Holland for the drive back home in Belgium, but… one more stop was scheduled. After all… I am the Toshan Man. I cannot possibly travel through Glasgow and not visit my home away from home: Auchentoshan distillery.

It’s true, I have visited this distillery quite a few times now. But when the opportunity arose to visit the distillery before official opening hours and get a historically themed tour from Stevie, this was something we could not possibly pass upon. Ah, it’s always good to visit the distillery of your favorite malt.

What better way to finish our Scottish adventure, eh?

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This trip to Islay was one I will not easily forget. And it’s not just for the whisky distilleries that it is worth a visit. Islay is beautiful in its own right and well worth traveling to. I for one will certainly return.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank my better half Sofie and my friends Niek & Ilse for joining me on this memorable trip. But also all the staff at the Harbour Inn who took such good care of us during our stay at their wonderful hotel in Bowmore. Last but not least I would like to offer a big thank you to all the distillery staff and tour guides who tirelessly and good naturedly allowed us to ask questions, make fun, do crazy stuff (not for publication), taste and enjoy and made this trip a dream come true.

God save the Queen… of the Hebrides!

May the Malt be with you! *The previous articles were published on October 15th, 22nd, & 29th).


Vignettes ‘Moments in Whisky’ Trip to Islay by Mark Dermul – Part 3 of 4 – Scotch Whisky News

Trip to Islay – Part 3 of 4

by Mark Dermul

The early bird catches the worm… well, we certainly were early birds when we arrived at the northernmost distillery on the island: Bunnahabhain. The distillery was already in operation – the smoke from the stillhouse was clearly visible against the cloudless blue sky – but the visitor center staff had yet to arrive.

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Our treat for being so early was a stunning view of the distillery in the early morning mist. And another advantage of being there before 9 am was the fact that we got the earliest tour and were the only visitors at that moment. That made this wonderful tour extra special. And without trying to sound too blasé, I do consider myself quite knowledgeable about whisky, but I did learn something new today. Bunna takes its cut – like most distilleries – until the alcohol has gone down to around 63%, but for their peated runs they keep collecting further until 59%. I had never heard that before.

After a couple of drams – well, eight if I’m being totally honest actually – we drove south towards Caol Ila. Along the way, we came across the building site of the soon-to-open 9th distillery on Islay: Ardnahoe.

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Construction was well underway. This distillery is being built by Hunter Laing & Co, the independent bottler that was founded a few years back by Stuart Laing, after he left the company Douglas Laing which he ran with his brother Fred. As a sidenote: Hunter Laing is also the owner of the land that Jean & Martine Donnay wanted to buy to build their Gartbreck distillery along Loch Indaal. But apparently they did not agree on the price and Gartbreck is now off the map.

Our next stop brought us to the last distillery we still had to visit: Caol Ila. This huge distillery – the largest on Islay in volume – was unable to offer tours at the moment of our visit as one of the spirit stills was being replaced. A serious setback in my opinion, as Caol Ila is my personal favorite from Islay and I was really looking forward to the classic view of the still with the the Paps of Jura in the background. It was not going to happen.

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But our host – a Brit from Southampton who had lost his heart to Caol Ila – more than made up for it with a special tasting in the shop. We got to try the Caol Ila Distillers Edition (my wife’s preferred dram), the Coal Ila Distillery Exclusive Bottling for 2017 (with some red wine cask matured Caol Ila in the mix, a first for the distillery) and both the 17 Year Old and brand new 18 Year Old Unpeated Style. I put my credit card to good use and will enjoy those back home while reminiscing about this wonderful trip.

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With a heavy heart, we set course for Port Askaig, where soon a ferry would arrive to pick us up and returns us to the mainland.

to be concluded… (the final article will be published November 5th).


Vignettes ‘Moments in Whisky’ Trip to Islay by Mark Dermul – Part 2 of 4

Trip to Islay – Part 2 of 4

by Mark Dermul

I think it is fair to say that Port Ellen is legendary. The releases of this closed distillery command high prices. And let’s be honest: the whisky is good! So when we left Ardbeg for Kilnoughton Bay, we could not possible pass by this factory. For that is what it is nowadays. The Port Ellen Maltings provide peated barley to almost all distilleries on Islay (except Kilchoman). The Maltings are not open to the public, but you can walk freely among the warehouses. Seeing the type of padlocks on the doors, I think it is a fair bet that quite a few casks are still on site.

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The finish off the day, we drove to the Mull of Oa to take the long hike up the American Monument. It has to be said: it is a dramatic sight with the waves crashing into the rocky coast, but a storm was brewing and we could hardly stay on our feet. A must-see!

When driving back to Bowmore – we were staying at the wonderful Harbour Inn, highly recommended! – we stopped at Gartbreck, but no sign of the doomed project was to be found.

Our next day brought us all the way to the northwest of Islay, where we visited the Kilnave burial site and the Ardnave Point. To our surprise, the vegetation was quite different from the south of the island which we had seen the day before.

Driving back inland, past Loch Gorm, we found our first distillery of the day: Kilchoman.

This farm distillery, founded in 2005 and therefore currently the youngest distillery on Islay, offered a great tour with some lovely drams afterwards. Everything at Kilchoman is at a smaller scale, except the passion with which they produce the liquid nectar.

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But changes are afoot at Kilchoman. They recently acquired the farm and are in the process of building a much bigger kiln and stillhouse where a barn used to be. For their 100% Islay release, they use barley grown on their own fields surrounding the distillery.

Driving further south we arrived at Bruichladdich. We had not booked a tour and it appeared it was already fully booked. But the lovely tour guide gave us a big smile and said ‘We’ll make it work!’

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And what a wonderful tour indeed. Our guide explained – and allowed us to taste – the different barley used for all three malts produced here: Bruichladdich, Port Charlotte and Octomore. The mash tun – the biggest in the Scottish industry – is bigger than your average swimming pool! Impressive to say the least.

It was also nice to ‘meet’ Ugly Betty, the Lomond Still used to create the popular The Botanist gin. And back at the visitor center, it was a feast to bottle our own 16 years old Port Charlotte from the distillery cask.

Speaking of Port Charlotte… just a few minutes south of Bruichladdich you can visit this lovely village of the same name, where Bruichladdich currently uses some old warehouses. And you can still clearly see some remnants of the old Lochindaal Distillery. This old warehouse turned into a Youth Center is a nice example.

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We continued on south to the Rhinns of Islay. No distilleries there, but a beautiful village – Portnahaven – where we enjoyed watching the wildlife in the bay. Otters, seals, puffins… Wonderful.

to be continued… (Part 3 will be published October 29th).


Vignettes ‘Moments in Whisky’ Trip to Islay by Mark Dermul – Part 1 of 4 – Scotch Whisky News

Trip to Islay – Part 1 of 4

by Mark Dermul

End of September 2017 my wife Sofie and two friends (Niek & Ilse) joined me for trip to Islay, that mythical whisky island on the west coast of Scotland. It will be a trip long remembered. Therefor, I gladly share it with you.

Now… planning a trip to Islay is one thing. Actually getting there is quite something else. It took a drive from Ghent (Belgium) to Amsterdam airport, a flight to Glasgow, a two-and-a-half hour drive through scenic Scotland to the Kennacraig ferry port and a one-hour trip by boat to reach the Queen of the Hebrides. But so worth it…

During our first night in Glasgow, we visited the well-known pub The Bon Accord where we treated ourselves to some lovely malts, such as the Port Ellen 7th Release and the Ardbeg 30 years old. Just to get in the mood, you know?

When we arrived the next day, our first distillery visit was to the oldest distillery on the island: Bowmore.

While we were very well received and got a private tour (as we arrived just in time for the final tour), we were somewhat disappointed with the fact that we were not allowed to film inside the distillery. We had to make do with photos. Which we did.

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Having said that/, we were treated to a very informative tour and got a lovely Bowmore 17 Year Old 1999 Warehousemen’s Selection in the visitor center afterward.

The next day, after visiting the historical site of the Kildalton Cross, we spent half a day visiting the three distilleries on the south shore: Laphroaig, Lagavulin & Ardbeg.

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The Laphroaig tour, that lasted a little over an hour, ended with four lovely drams. We even got a peak at HRH Prince Charles’ cask from 1978. No touching, though! It was well protected behind bars.

The Lagavulin distillery – again no photos allowed, unfortunately – lies hidden in a dramatic bay. The wind was fierce and the sea wild, adding to the impressive scenery. But we were welcomed to warm up in the visitor center with a few drams, including the Feis Ile 2017 and Jazz 2016 editions. The cold soon left our bones.

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But so much whisky while it was not even lunchtime! So we walked over to the Old Kiln Café at the Ardbeg distillery where we had a lovely meal and tried the new Ardbeg Kelpie and Arbeg An Oa.

Ardbeg has quite a bit of a cult following and it shows. There has clearly been a lot of money invested in the distillery grounds and the visitor center. Everything had a museum quality to it. But all was spic and span. No cobwebs here… and to us, it was lovely, but just a tad too… artificial? Maybe that’s not the right word, but I’m sure you know what I mean.

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After lunch, we travelled back to Kilnaugthon bay. We wanted to check out what was left of the legendary Port Ellen distillery, that has been closed to 1983.

to be continued… (Part 2 will be published October 22nd)


The Balvenie Rare Craft Event in NYC’s Chelsea Market – Scotch Whisky News

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The Balvenie Rare Craft Event in NYC’s Chelsea Market ran from 17 November 2014 through 22 November 2014, and gave place not only to rare and unique handmade pieces from artisans from all over the United States, but it also allowed ticket holders to sample  Balvenie whiskys while admiring the crafts. The collection curator was Indy racer Dario Franchitti, and the event itself was hosted by Balvenie Brand Ambassador David Laird, from Glasgow. My husband John and I attended on the final day, 22 November, and wanted to share some highlights with the other angels!

In all there were twenty-one crafts showcased, ranging from cars to clothing, but by far our favorite was a set of intricately decorated bagpipes made from Balvenie whisky barrels! These pipes were crafted by Roderick “Roddy” MacLellan, a Scot who emigrated to the U.S. in 1980 and who now lives in North Carolina. Some other favorites were: an Indy Car Parts Table by Julian R. Halpern of Steelhead Studio, a shuffleboard table by Todd McClure of McClure Tables, a guitar by Scott Baxendale of Baxendale Guitars, and a Sea Board (surfboard) by Mike Lavecchia of Grain Surfboards. The heart of the exhibit was a Morgan +8 Roadster, hand-assembled and crafted with extensive Balvenie branding. Wish we were allowed to sit in it!

While browsing, guests could sample Balvenie 12 Year Doublewood and 14 Year Caribbean Cask, but we were lucky enough to get into the Master Tasting later in the day. David Laird hosted and it was a rare treat. We sampled the 12 and 17 Year Doublewood, the 14 Year Caribbean Cask, 12 Year Single Barrel, and 21 Year Portwood! Lucky us, we got to take home Rare Craft branded Glencairn glasses and a Balvenie branded water dropper!

An amazing day, but your angels weren’t done yet. David invited us to the VIP after party, where we sampled more of the Balvenie range; the details are a little fuzzy at this point! A heartfelt welcome from David and live music started off the night, and NYC’s famous Meatball Shop catered the party. Unfortunately, we had to leave before the 25 Year Single Barrel was opened; we had to catch the last train home.

Maybe next year!

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Marcie and John sent this to angels recently, we apologise for the late report!

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We do suggest other angels do the same, want to become an angel? It’s free, just email us at



Tasting Session at the Temple Bar, Temple, Dublin – Irish Whiskey News


Tasting session at the Temple Bar, Temple, Dublin. 

I was dondering around Dublin’s temple Bar district early one morning (when I say early, I mean 10.45 ish, which is early opening for pubs) which I said I would not do, far too touristy for me.

But, I thought at that hour there will be no tourists around, I found the door open at the pub, so took myself inside and perched at the whiskey bar.

Behind the bar was Roberto, from Argentina; Patagonia, Chubut to be exact. He has been there 12 years or so now and is in charge of the whiskey bar – and jeeze, he knows his stuff.

Cannee mind what my first drink was, possibly a Paddy, but here are some of what I tried or saw; Jameson Cask Mates, the whiskey is a Jameson as you’d expect, the cask is then sent to the Franciscan Well brewery to steep itself in beer residue for 6 months, it then goes back to Jamesons, this approx. a 5 year old dram, very different from the others in the range, I liked it I have to say. The story begins with a pub in Cork between Midleton’s Master of Science, David Quinn, and Franciscan Well’s founder, Shane Long. Shane asked if he might lay his hands on a few spare whiskey casks to age his beer in. Franciscan Well released its first Jameson cask-aged stout in time for Christmas 2012. When the most recent batch of twelve casks went back to Midleton, the distillery figured they might as well try their own experimental maturation. The casks had only been used once to age pot still spirit before their stout “seasoning” so there was plenty of oomph left in the wood. They refilled the casks with blended Jameson (at around the normal cask strength of 60% rather than bottling strength of 40%). After six months, according to Quinn, they were “shocked” by the transformation. There was something interesting going on, something they wanted to share with the rest of us. Hence Jameson Caskmates, 3,500 bottles of it.

Next, I was introduced to a dram from Roberto’s homeland, Old Smuggler whisky. A blend of Scottish fine malt whisky and Argentinian grain. I have to say, I was no impressed sorry. There is another he told me about, Alazana Single Malt released 2011/12 – named after a horse would you believe?

Other notable drams included; Powers single cask, pot still whiskey. A single pot still release of Powers whisky. Crafted at the Midleton Distillery near Cork, Powers John Lane Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey is named after the original Powers Distillery, which was situated on John’s Lane in Dublin. The whiskey is made exclusively from malted and unmalted barley, which is triple distilled through pot-stills in the traditional Irish way, matured in first fill ex-bourbon casks, while the remainder is aged in casks that were previously used to mature Oloroso sherry. After a twelve-year rest the whiskey is bottled 92 proof.

Jack Ryan 12 year old single malt, this has the name of current proprietor Eunan Ryan’s late father Jack who managed the establishment until his untimely death 36 years ago.  ‘Ryan’s Malt’ had been produced by the family in association with the Dublin Whiskey Distillery until this famous distillery closed its doors in 1946. Today’s Jack Ryan ‘Beggars Bush’ Single Malt Irish Whiskey (46% ABV) has been aged for 12 years with no chill filtration. The whiskey has been matured in ex-bourbon barrels hand-picked by the family themselves to deliver the unique taste.  Only 1,450 bottles of Jack Ryan ‘Beggars Bush’ Single Malt have been produced. The Beggars Bush has been at the centre of cultural and literary circles in Dublin since it opened its doors in 1803. Residing next to the old Beggars Bush British army barracks it has seen soldiers go to war against Napoleon and the Kaiser, revolution against the British and eventual handover to Michael Collins in 1922 followed by the execution of Robert Erskine Childers, father of fourth president later that year by the Free State Government. It was a few drams away from my usual – Black Bush!

Wild Geese, in a long high straight bottle, as opposed to the square bottles normally found, interesting this one.

Temple Bar, own label whiskey. Traditional Irish Whiskey; some spices, fruits, vanilla, sweetness and wood, maybe plumbs in there!  It is of course triple distilled, a blend, there was a time when most Irish pubs bottled whiskey. This I believe, is selected by Tom Clearly, bottled 10/2014, for the Temple Bar Whiskey Company. From small batches, matured in bourbon oak casks and finest Port casks, then blended … I liked it so much, I bought the bottle to take home!

I spent a deal of time at the bar with Roberto, a good man and knowing his whiskey, so if you are in Dublin, take a morning visit to the bar, it does get very, very touristy late afternoon/evening.

Paul McLean, of and was in Dublin for Christmas week, he did indulge in some research & development on your behalf…


A Whisky Mudslide (with Paul Mclean) – Scotch Whisky News


A whisky Mudslide

Timeline; Wednesday 17 September 2014, 5pm.

Location; Craobh Harbour, west coast Scotland.

I had dropped of my guests at their lodgings for the night, superb by the way! And drove the mile and a bit to my cottage (thanks Julie for this), fiddled aboot, changed and made ready for my pick up. Sure enough at 5pm Julie and Ty dropped by to collect me. There started the wacky races to Oban in the batmobile. Julie does have her own way of driving, my foot was pressed on the floor at the imaginary brake all the way!  Arriving in Oban ten minutes later (takes any normal driver 30 minutes) we stopped off for a fish supper. Took these to the recording studio/rehearsal rooms and munch em doon. There followed a band practice session – Mudslide; a five piece blues band based in mid Argyll, with a set list that covers all styles of blues. To say it was enjoyable would be an understatement, it was superb – and this is a rehearsal! Go see Mudslide if at all possible before they fill the Glasgow Hydro. If I closed my eyes – far too many drams – I would have thought the Stones, Fleetwood Mac or John Mayall were playing, it was that good.  I had taken along a few samples for the band (and myself), poor Julie was driving. A good Aberlour Abunach, Glendronach, Ben Riach peaty, Laphroaig Select, Glen Moray peated and a wee Angels Envy for Julie to take home. The band played on.

Abunach; oloroso galore! big notes of raisins, chocolate, cherry liqueur, powerful but not undrinkable.  Glen Moray peat; a new style from Glen Moray – peated. This is the first batch to be released, in a 20cl bottle, and isn’t yet whisky, having not been aged for 3 years. A whack of peat –with fruitiness to leave warming iodine notes. The others we all know about! My own favourite dram tonight was the GlenDronach – as usual. A 1990 I think.

Blues, rock, blues-rock the band were driving me to drink (in the very best of ways). The images do not do the night justice. Best dram? Depends on who you talked to, Ty likes everything, Julie liked the Angels (when home), I liked it all, the band looked on as some were driving.

The session (music) ended, a few drams then load up the van, Evil Kinievel then drove us back to the bothy, 10.30, pitch black, wee winding roads at a speed! During the ride back poor Julie got in around 10 words! Myself and Ty were yappin on music the whole way, myself; Deep Purple and Creedence, Ty; a Zepplelin freak! Zeppo!  I cannee believe all the music he has from Zep, I wanted to murder him and take it all!  Another time Zeppo. They dropped me at the track to my cottage, dark as the inside of a coffin, I took out my mobile phone as a light and started doon the track, suddenly an owl flew out, frightened me to death!  After reaching safety I needed a large dram, so I did and again, and again. What a night, great music, laughs, great friends and some good whisky.

My last thought on the night; when will they write a song – sufferin midgie blues? 

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 Paul was enjoying the evening with Mudslide in Argyll, a half hour south of Oban.


Angels Whisky Club, The Worldwide Whisky Portal for Whisky Lovers – Scotch Whisky News

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Angels Whisky Club, the worldwide whisky portal for whisky lovers, offers this wee snippet to readers

‘Friends of the Quaich’ located in Qualicum Beach, British Columbia on Vancouver Island, Canada. Genesis – The beginning of ‘Friends of the Quaich’. We had an all Canadian start, in as much as Jack Maclean, David Jomini, Willie Odendaal and Ian MacDougall were attending a Pancake Breakfast (very Canadian with Maple syrup). The breakfast was sponsored by Q.B.A.N.A., an acronym for ‘Qualicum Beach Area Newcomers Alumni’. While the boys were partaking of the fayre on offer, the small talk turned to whisky, most likely because one of the group said, “a dram would go down well with these pancakes”. At this Willie proclaimed, “Lets start a whisky club”, the others immediately agreed and so the seeds were sown.

It was decided to inaugurate the new club within the auspices of Q.B.A.N.A. and so it was done, ‘Friends of the Quaich’ was born in 2004. By 2005 the club had reached its maximum membership, being set at 16 persons, this number was arrived at as each member hosts the monthly tasting in their respective homes and so available space was a consideration. It was then decided to spin off a new sister club ‘The Gentle Glens’, the two clubs meet annually at our summer BBQ and of course we do communicate our tastings.  In the 10 years and 300 different whiskies from all over the world, members hunt for unique brands whenever on vacation or in different Provinces of Canada or the USA. 

The club send Angels their tasting notes monthly, here is the latest set of tasting notes.


Friends of the Quaich. Tasting August 18th 2014. Our hosts: Michael and Janice Baird. Special guest honorary member Allan Baird (Mike’s brother) visiting from Ayr, Scotland.

First up. Oban distillery edition 2011 55.2% ABV. Purchased directly from the Oban distillery while on tour with McLean’s Tours Scotland, May 2011. Nose: Orange zest, Tangerine Palate: Seville Marmalade. Very smooth, no alcohol bite. Finish: More orange, hint of ginger, MacIntosh’s toffee right at the end.

Next up: Auchentoshan Coopers reserve, 46% ABV. Bourbon hogsheads, non chill-filtered. Auchentoshan is triple distilled, Nose: Oak, sherry and bourbon. Palate: Big oak, hazelnuts and almonds with the sugar crust of Creme Brûlée. Finish: Almonds, and oak, gooseberries and green tea. Next up: KaVaLan Taiwan , cask strength, 56.9% ABV. From I-LAN in Taiwan. Aged in white oak and air seasoned. After aging in the oak it is then placed in fine European fine wine casks. The casks are charred to bring out the fine characteristics of the oak. Nose: Ripe melon, mango, burst of vanilla and toffee,  Palate: Coconut, toffee, burnt caramel, melon. A little water opens the complexity. Finish: Explosion of fruit with long lasting toffee. Lastly: Shieldaig 18 year old 40% ABV, Speyside. Named after the Scottish village in the western highlands, it’s slowly matured for 18 years and bottled by William Maxwell & Co. Nose: Toffee, toffee, slight almonds. Palate: Peaches, toffee. Finish: Sharp toffee with a burst of sweet fruits. 

The 16 strong club, with a couple of friendly Scots added, toured Ireland with Angels/MCLEANSCOTLAND last year … Our fantastic Irish whisky tour.  What an incredible adventure. Great hotels, great whiskey venues, great food and fabulous company, as well as terrific tour guides Paul and Liz and a big mention to our wonderful bus driver Mark, who showed us more of Belfast than even the locals have seen, a big thanks to Mark for making Belfast amazing. We stayed in castles, dined in castles and imbibed in castles, Clontarf was a great stay and allowed us easy access to all of Dublin, and the staff were great, as was the whiskey tasting. After three days in the capital city and a wonderful reception by The Lord Mayor we were off to points south and yes much more golden spirit. Tulamore D.E.W., a nice way to spend a Monday morning on tour, wonderful drams and a warm glow we were off to Cashel and then to Kilkenny.

Tonight we spent a lovely evening as guests of Robbie, (a charming fellow), at Dylan’s Bar and a special discount for patrons of Mclean’s Tours, well done Paul. Today Tuesday we toured Kilkenny Castle, home of the Dukes of Ormonde, definitely worth the visit here. Waterford Crystal was next up, a few souvenirs in crystal later we were off to the Middleton Distillery and a marvellous deluxe tasting, we won’t mention how many whiskies, there must be a law against it, and oh do try the Middleton Barry Crockett, wow! We stay at the Middleton Park Hotel tonight and dinner is included (as were most dinners). The hotel has prepared the most succulent grilled salmon, we Canadians pride ourselves in the art of salmon cooking, but this was first class cuisine.

Up in the morning and off to Galway, with a stop at Blarney Castle, bucolic gardens and of course the climb to kiss the famous stone. No tastings today, but yes, we tried MCLEAN’S ‘Bus Tasting’, and so we indulge while stopped, it breaks up our longish drive today and is much enjoyed by all, all except for Mark our driver and we do save a little for him when is driving day is over. A short drive to Kilbeggan and it’s famous distillery and another deluxe tasting, this time it’s Tyrconnel, Connamara and of course Kilbeggan, Connamara the only peated whiskey distilled in Ireland and wonderful stuff it is, try the Turf Mor, you won’t regret it. After a drive to Donegal we stop for the night at Lough Eske Castle, a five star hotel with a wonderful lounge bar and restaurant, living the good life here. Off to the Giants Causeway for a visit and then down to Bushmills, another super tasting, we even get some ‘New Make’ (Paul found it under the bar, shame on him), anyway it was great, a private room and I have to admit, one couldn’t drink all that was offered, one has to pace themselves responsibly.

After staying the night in Portballintrae (lovely spot), we’re now into day six and still lots to see and do, a short drive to Belfast and the Titanic Exhibition, a very interesting two hours spent here and well worth it and then Mark’s amazing tour of Belfast. Now we’re off to Drogheda, (after another Bus Tasting) and an evening at the Scholars Inn, just lovely and the food excellent, try the Pork Belly appetiser, to die for. A visit to Slane Castle for yet another tasting of their house brands. Two nights here in Drogheda and a special tasting in the hotel and a meet and greet with His Worship the Mayor of the city.

Alas we are starting our last day as we drive from Drogheda back to our starting off point of Dublin, we check into our hotel and then, yes, we’re off to Jameson’s for another deluxe tasting, a great way to end our fabulous, wonderful, amazing Irish adventure, thanks again to Paul, Liz and Mark for making our time in Ireland the most memorable of trips, we will never forget our wonderful time spent with all of you.   Paul; This was their tour last year, the club tour every two years with us and we look forward to them coming over.  I must say there were lots of bottles purchased on this tour, for the coach tastings and to take home, Grand stuff!


From Edinburgh to Belfast – and beyond – A Whiskey Soujourn – Whiskey News

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From Edinburgh to Belfast – and beyond – a whiskey soujourn.

Paul McLean takes his own personal tour, a travel log;  After dropping our guests off in Edinburgh at their hotel – almost on the Royal Mile – the coach was to head back to Belfast. The previous night I had made plans and bookings to accompany the coach, for a few well -earned days away. “Having booked the coach from McCombs in Belfast, with a friend driving, Mark Burgess (he does our Irish tours also) I thought it a grand idea to have a few days away” says Paul. So, from Edinburgh, Mark and myself headed west to CairnRyan near Stranraer via Kilmarnock, Ayr and Girvan.  Just over 3 hours later we were at the ferry, as Mark parked up at the coach lines, I headed into the office, me met up on the ferry – another two hours! Arriving in Belfast docks, we then headed into the city, as Mark dropped me off at my hotel, he still had a couple of hours work cleaning the coach before home.

Flopping on ma bed, time to consider plans; a quick drink at the Crown pub; with period gas lighting and cosy snugs. The exterior is decorated in polychromatic tiles. This includes a mosaic of a Crown on the floor of the entrance. A Republican pub, you need walk over the crown as you enter!  The snugs feature original gun metal plates for striking matches and an antique bell system for calling staff. Extra privacy was then afforded by the pub’s etched and stained glass windows, fairies, pineapples, fleurs-de-lis and clowns. A good place for a dram – Jamesons Gold Reserve, wood and pot still with a touch of sherry, honey combines in the mush to create a spicy character. The long finish really caps it off with a pleasantly peppery conclusion. A good start. I dondered next door to Robinsons; Fibber Magees to be sure, here I partook in a Kilbeggan. Fibber Magees is a traditional Irish Bar in the corner of Blackstaff Square, is the city’s hidden gem; the genuine article; a good old spit and sawdust bar, packed to the rafters with little bits of history and steeped in Irish tradition.  My dram, Kilbeggan is named after St Bécán, one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland who founded a monastery in the area in the 6th century. This dram is smooth and malty. The nose is smooth and gentle with nut oils and barley, cereals and a little peat. I do like these drams, here presented on the bar in its new bottle.  A couple more wee Irish gems, then – time for bed.

Tuesday arrived, bright and cheerful, sun from 05.30 through my window (on the 8th floor). All the usual morning stuff, some breakfast, then picked up by a McCombs driver (Stephen) for a day trip, courtesy of Rodney (owner), was looking forward to this – having done it before with the tourist board.  Watching the coach fill up with tourists – I was still working y’know, we then headed north to Carrickfergus castle; a stop here at this old castle before north again to Larne and Carnlough and my favourite, Cushendall. Cushendall village is the meeting point of three glens: Glenann, Glenballylemon and Glencorp, a perfect place to walk along the beach, donder around the glens, sit by the river or explore stone-aged monuments and its more recent historical, sword-producing, past. Views of Scotland add the final touch why I love this place. Och well, onwards north – ah, the stop I have been waiting for, it’s been hot sitting here on the crew seat with the strong sun hitting me like a plank through the window! Bushmills.

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When Diageo took over Bushmills distillery from Pernod Ricard in 2005, sales volumes had been flat for over 10 years. The new owners set a goal to reach 1 million cases by the end of 2012 and set about investing (to the tune of around €45 million) in the distillery itself as well as the brand. Diageo increased the production rate to five days a week and since 2008, they have implemented a seven-day week. This tripled production in just 2.5 years. Bushmills uses two kinds of malt, one unpeated and one slightly peated. The distillery uses triple distillation, something they’ve done since the 1930s. The range of single malts consists of a 10 year old, a 16 year old with a finish in port pipes for 6-9 months and a 21 year old finished in Madeira casks for two years. There is also a 12 year old Distillery Reserve which is sold exclusively at the distillery (as you imagined, I have one). Black Bush (my dram of choice in my local pub – Christies) and Bushmills Original are the two main blended whiskeys in the range. To celebrate the 400th anniversary, a Bushmills 1608 Anniversary Edition was launched (yup, have one also, well – maybe two inches remain in the bottle). The malt whiskey part was distilled using a proportion of crystal malt (malted barley which has been dried at a high temperature whilst the grains are still moist, thus partly converting the grain’s starch into sugars and caramelising them). This special ingredient gives the blend distinct toffee/chocolatey notes. The grain whiskey used for Bushmills blended whiskeys is, in fact, bought from Midleton distillery in Cork which is owned by arch-rival Pernod Ricard. I found Niall, an old pal, chatted asked for freebies (didnee get any, Diageo), enjoyed steak and Guinness pie in the food hall, had 3 drams fae the bar, all courtesy of my minder for the day Stephen.  It was nice to be back, last time here we had a VIP tasting of 8 drams, our Canadian friends and Mark know all about that wee episode, say nae more.  Then up to the Giants Causeway. Baking hot, we were frying eggs on the coach roof!  It was here we had a chat with other McCombs drivers; Derek and Pat, 3 coaches here today, also Sean of Irish railtours. All good things come to an end – a return by the fast route to Belfast, around 7pm, headed to the pub for a long beer, Harp ice cold lager was called for. At 8pm a couple of cousins arrived from the Republic – hugs, hell’s and drams followed! A return to Fibbers. Caught up with family matters and stayed away from trouble – no remarks please Mark, Liz, Sean, or anyone come to think of it. Hit ma bed 11pm knackered. 

Wednesday; cousins in tow we hit what I think the best whiskey pub in the city; Bittles Bar is located close to Victoria Square. Red-bricked and ‘flat-iron’ in shape Bittles is a traditional Victorian Bar. Founded in 1868 the bar was originally called the Shakespeare reflecting is theatrical clientele. It offers one of Belfast’s widest selections of local and international draught and bottle beers and ciders and is famed for its extensive whiskey (and whisky) collection. I sampled a few, chatting to John about his collection of whiskey – some rare old drams here, he offered me a lovely dram, then said “£100 a dram” I reluctantly turned it doon. But did try a good few, met a few locals, had far to long sitting there, by the time we departed, Sean had disappeared, I was heavy with the Irish gold, Pat was slumpin, so we sat down outside Whites bar for a while – founded 1630, we all felt as if we were at the opening night, grim stuff. Sean turned up as we ordered a round, he does that.  It was 3pm and bed called me loudly!  We left Whites and had a doze in the park benches at City Hall, no a good sight, we did think the Guards would move us, we were fine. By 4.30 we were almost alive again and found some food, when I say food, dinnae mean Macdonalds by the way. Bellies full – mine is too big – we headed to The Duke of York; Traditional Belfast bar crammed with original mirrors and memorabilia. Cold beer, great Guinness and the largest selection of Irish whiskeys in Ireland. We know, we tried some!  Ended up in ma bed! Family gone home.

Thursday. My final day here, knowing a few things, I grabbed a taxi to Crumlin Road, took a tour of the gaol, a grim place to be held in, but my reason for the visit; a new distillery will be opening here – possibly 2015. Plans to make whiskey in old Crumlin Road gaol is hoped whiskey-making will boost tourist in Belfast It is hoped whiskey-making will boost tourism in Belfast. Peter Lavery has announced plans to turn part of the former Crumlin Road Prison in north Belfast into a distillery. The £5m investment will see the A wing of the listed building turned into a boutique distillery that will use his existing brands of whiskey. There will also be a visitors’ centre, tasting room, bar, restaurant and shop. It is claimed the project could create 60 jobs. Up to five of those jobs will be in the distillery. Mr Lavery is the chief executive of the Belfast Distillery Company which is behind such brands as Titanic and Danny Boy whiskey.

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Danny Boy Blend is a premium dark golden brown Irish whiskey blend of 20% malt and 80% finest grain, produced by the Cooley Distillery, double-distilled with a four-year minimum and matured in American oak casks that infuse a toasty and vanilla aroma for an exceptionally smooth finish. Danny Boy offers whiskey drinkers notes of soft raisins and Irish caramel with a peppery spice overtone. Six to eight year old malt and a high proportion of eight year old grain are used to produce the premium Irish whiskey. Double Distillation and matured in American Oak barrels. 15% 4 year Malt, 5% 8 year old Malt, 45% 8 year old Grain, 20% 5 year old grain, 15% 4 year old grain. A superb and complex blend that features the very best single malt and clean grain from the famous Cooley Distillery. The age profile explains the depth of character in the whiskey which enabled it to win a silver medal at the prestigious International Spirits Competition in 2010. Unusually aged the Danny boy Brand is a premium blend and has both a exceptional Smooth taste and luxury finish on the pallet. Vanilla and toasty wood flavours are very evident on the nose and these give way to soft sweet fruits and toffees as primary tastes. Smooth and lingering aftertaste has a hint of spice. Paul’s note; A shocking item here, Cooley when bought by Beam, decided to NOT sell any whiskey to anyone, leaving Danny Boy really in the lurch, along with many others including Slane Castle, however some of these are now (like to two mentioned) building their own distilleries.  I have Danny Boy at home, sitting alongside Slane and Michael Collins drams.

Back in the city, having seen enough of the Union flags everywhere, dropped into Fibbers again, before heading to the airport. Ah … flybe, get your act together, never flying with them again, over charging, hidden charges, late flights, no thanks! Liz met me at Edinburgh airport for my ride home. Another wee whiskey trip done!

(Paul & Liz run MCLEANSCOTLAND Whisky Tours and can be contacted here )


The Friends of the Quaich Whisky Club, Vancouver Island, Canada, Enjoyed a Whisky Tasting for Burns Night!

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The Friends of the Quaich whisky club, Vancouver Island, Canada, enjoyed a whisky tasting for Burns Night! 

January 2014; The Burns unit team. 

Friends of the Quaich, Robbie Burns supper and tastings, January 28th 2014. 

Our hosts, Martin and Margaret Hill. Hats off to Martin and Margaret for an excellent evening of great drams and excellent cuisine. Also, a big thank-you to all the gang, for the delicious and appetising dishes prepared for our Robbie Burns banquet.

Tasting: Up first, Aberlour 10 yr old, 43% ABV.  Nose: Hints of toffee and vanilla.  Palate: Buttery Sherry with toffee.  Finish: Malt, citrus and spice. 

Next up, The Peat Monster. 46% ABV.  Nose: Big peat. Salty. Sweet.  Palate: Smokey bacon, with hints of papaya.  Finish: More peat, sweet oak. 

Number three: Seagrams Crown Royal Maple. 40% ABV. More a liqueur than a whiskey.  Nose: Sweet Maple syrup hints of vanilla and oak.  Palate: Pancake syrup, some cinnamon, perhaps a little allspice.  Finish: Maple syrup lingers.  

Last up: Benriach Curiositas. 40% ABV.  Nose: Sublimely medicinal, sweet grassy asphalt and heather. Hints of malmsey.  Palate: At once sweet and heavily smoked. Peppery spice tingles, iodine, a warm nuttiness. Finish: Bittersweet, dry wood, creosote and fennel. Cheers, Mike.  

Paul’s note; that final dram finish; who in the group has tasted creosote?  Personally I would have left the Monster to the end. 

See more tasting notes from the friends here; 

Angels Whisky Club is a free, worldwide membership whisky club, Patron Charlie Maclean.

Owned and run by Liz Gillespie & Paul McLean, owners of MCLEANSCOTLAND

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