Among the countless rare malts I enjoyed while browsing around the independently-run Whisky Fair at Limburg were some I hadn’t seen on a Scottish bar shelf for more years than I can count.
One unappreciated and unsung link in the chain between distillery and your local supermarket or off-licence is the distributor. And the big distribution name in the whisky world, and indeed the spirits world generally, is Gordon and MacPhail of Elgin.
It has often surprised — and saddened — me to hear so many people, including countless Scots, say they don’t like whisky and would never drink it.
What never fails to amaze me is the enthusiasm for Scotch whisky I see in other countries. Indeed, Scotland sometimes seems to be the one nation that is losing pride and passion for its national drink — whereas, go overseas and in many places Scotchmania rules the roost.
New whisky distilleries are not just a Scottish phenomenon, they are springing up in England, too, even in London. So far there are six south of the Border, and all are keen to make their mark.
Until quite recent times, Irish whiskies came from just three sources – Midleton in County Cork, Cooley at Dundalk, Co Louth, and good old Bushmills in Co Antrim. All three belong to bigger distilling groups, respectively to Pernod-Ricard, Beam Suntory and Diageo.
Diageo’s announcement that long-embalmed Port Ellen and Brora distilleries are re-opening is great news. One might ask what took them so long? Both have been shut for decades and, as a result, each new edition of dwindling whisky stocks fetched ever-higher prices.
It may be a cliché but certain families have whisky in their blood — namely, the urge to make good whisky passes from generation to generation.
Apart from working as a journalist, I have spent many years working as a tourist guide. Many foreign groups I accompany around Scotland have at least one distillery on their holiday itinerary, others are just one long pilgrimage to one distillery to the next.
Last week I commented on how the 21st Century whisky industry is widely scattered with its various stages (malting, then fermenting and distilling, and finally warehousing, blending and bottling) taking place at different locations —with everything being shifted between locations by truck. And that this is very different to how the industry operated 100-120 years ago.