A former editor I knew once said to me: “Journalism is the only profession where you are never off duty.” And he was right. As a journalist, you never know when a chance chat in a pub, a fleeting glimpse of some cargo on a lorry or a dusty document in a drawer might lead you to a good story. And good stories are the lifeblood of journalism and, I hope, of Amber Lights.
Few people would dispute that many of Scotland’s best-known single malts include the word Glen – what with Glenfiddich, Glenmorangie, Glen Ord, Glen Spey, Glenfarclas and a host of others. Glen has nice connotations, conjuring up visions of a narrow green valley centred on a namesake burn or river flanked by rolling hills purple with heather.
One of my pet hobby horses is lost distilleries. Nothing intrigues me more than when I find a reference to, or artefact from, a distillery I haven’t heard of before. So I was more than curious to find a small copper still sitting in Glenfarclas distillery visitor centre with a plaque saying its came from Links Distillery, Leith, Edinburgh. It was installed around 1860, taken out of use around 1902 and bought by Glenfarclas’s then owner around 1970.
Fans of big-name malts will have noticed a subtle change in their bottles and labels in recent years.
Today one doesn’t readily associate Angus with whisky production, although five distilleries once operated there — North Port and Glencadam in Brechin, Lochside and Hillside/Glenesk at Montrose and Glencoull near Tannadice. Today only Glencadam survives, part of the thriving Angus-Dundee group. Other bonded warehouses or bottling plants existed in Montrose and Arbroath, but all of them have disappeared.
Although Scots tend to drink Scotch, many whiskies from other countries are bought in Scotland and some Scots are open in their enthusiasm for the likes of Irish, bourbons and Jack Daniels. And much as I like single malts, I’m quite partial to a good bourbon myself.
Two separate factors have affected air travel in recent years and have also put paid to what was one of the more enjoyable perks of foreign holidays.
I’ve heard some world-weary souls declare if you’ve seen one whisky distillery, you’ve seen them all. I disagree — it’s like saying every car is the same, whether a Mini or Rolls Royce.
One of the great whisky-linked success stories is Bailey’s – Irish whisky and cream, plus other ingredients, which is a global phenomenon and has spawned countless imitations, none quite up to the original.
People occasionally ask me what first sparked my interest in whisky. Was it pub-crawling in my youth or some family connection to the industry?