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.
I have just spent a week in Germany, where enthusiasm for whisky and Scotland generally verges on the boundless. What is astonishing, too, is that the enthusiasm is German-generated, and not the result of any hefty efforts by VisitScotland.
One can debate that Germans’ enthusiasm for Scotland dates back to the 19th Century, when a wide group of artists, composers and writers saw our wild landscapes as dramatic settings for romance and mystery. The German poet Theodor Fontane — in an amazing mix of fact and fable — even wrote a tragic poem blaming the 1879 collapse of the Tay Bridge on the Three Witches from Macbeth.
Back to whisky. German enthusiasm is best seen at their countless annual “Whiskymessen”, or trade fairs. Some are vast events that attract the Diageos and Pernod Ricards of the world, others are for the specialist whisky bottlers and importers, plus firms that specialise in one-off bottles of rare malts unearthed in some collector’s forgotten cellar in the darkest Dolomites.
Best of these is Whisky Fair at Limburg, near Frankfurt, where every year I do presentations on whisky history. Once the day’s presentation is done, I can browse around the 60-plus stands looking for interesting malts to sample, often at knockdown prices. There are so many that to try them all would seriously endanger the liver. So I draw up a short list and hope some malts that didn’t make it will still be there the following year.
I can only urge any whisky enthusiast to visit Whisky Fair (renamed Whisky Festival for 2017), always held on a late-April weekend. Nearest airports are Frankfurt and Cologne, both with on-site rail stations whence superfast trains whisk you to Limburg in minutes. But be forewarned: local hotels tend to get booked up a year in advance, so start planning now and good luck.