Wednesday, 29 July 2009

The Best Whisky in the World Comes From Islay....Probably

I own a whisky's great, I earn a living by indulging in one of my favourite pastimes...I know, I'm a very lucky man.
People often ask me "what's your favourite whisky", and they're surprised when reply "I haven't got one". I haven't got one because I've got dozens of favourite whiskies, the best dram for returning home from a cold and wet fishing session, the best dram to accompany a fine dark ale, the best dram to watch the match with, the best dram to go with Chicken Passanda, the best dram as an aperitif, the list goes on......

I also get asked "What's the best whisky in the world", and the answer to that is simple, there isn't one. Every few months, a customer will drop in to the shop to say that they've seen a write up in one of the Sunday papers saying that GlenMcSuchandsuch Single Malt has been declared the best in the world...and it really gets my back up.

How can one whisky, one expression from one distillery be deemed to be better than all the rest and on what criteria? Usually, the reason that GlenMcSuchandsuch has been declared "Best Whisky in the World" this year is because it's owners have committed to a great deal of advertising in the special supplement...what a come, in the following year's best whisky supplement is GlenMcSuchandsuch no longer the best, giving way to GlenMcTartan? Neither whisky has changed, just the advertising arrangements.

The best whisky in the world is the one that you decide to drink this evening, and that's because you have chosen it for a reason, to match the occasion, the dram that feels right tonight, and don't let anybody tell you any different.

Whisky, like wine, is very much down to personal taste and this is the reason that we have so many bottlings, or expressions to choose from. I'm surprised when people buy the same big brand bottle of whisky time after time again, often unaware of just how many hundreds of other choices there are. Enjoying whisky is often an emotional connection to a particular time and event. If when you taste a whisky, it takes you back to a certain place or event, or if it reminds you of someone, that is saying much about the character, complexity and individuality of the dram. When I taste Bowmore 17 year old (now is the fate of all ace whiskies), I am immediately transported to the harbour walls in Bowmore as that was the first place I tasted it, in fantastic company, the first time I visited Islay.

The only way to buy whisky is to taste it. Buying whisky by name can lead to disappointment. Often, a distillery will produce different types of spirit to suit it's commercial customers.For example, since 1997, Bunnahabhain Distillery on the Isle of Islay, famous for its easy going, non peated Single Malt, has produced heavily peated spirit for four weeks every year. This peated malt is now appearing quite regularly in Independent bottlings and also, Burn Stewart, Bunnahabhain's parent company have released two peated whiskies as Islay Festival Bottlings. Tasting just one whisky produced at a particular distillery and saying you didn't enjoy it is a bit like saying that you've been abroad and didn't like it...or that you don't like French wine.

Scotch whisky tends to be split into six categories....Highlands, Islands, Islay, Campbeltown, Speyside and Lowlands. In the past, Whisky writers and marketeers, in particular have talked about each of these regions producing whiskies that have characteristics specific to that region...which is why you will hear people saying things like "I don't like Islay whiskies, they are too peaty". You will also hear people talk about Speyside whiskies being easier going, richer, sweeter.....try a 10 year old Benriach, there's nothing rich and sweet about that, it's peat hits as hard as the biggest of the phenolic Islay Malts. The truth is that each of these whisky producing regions produces a vast array of amazing spirits, each distilled in stills of differing shapes and sizes, each matured in many different locations and terroir, in types of wood from ex bourbon casks to big oloroso Sherry butts. It is impossible to generalise about regions and to pigeonhole whiskies, so great are the differences across the whole of Scotland.

Islay is a very good example of what I'm talking about....and what you can say about Islay is that the whiskies made there tick all the boxes. The beauty about Islay is that if you like whisky, there will be one there that suits you. Islay isn't just about big peaty malts, it is also the home to the lightest of drams. If you are new to whisky and want to explore the taste spectrum, Islay is the place to start because it covers all the extremes. It goes without saying that if you are into the big peaty drams, Laphroaig, Ardbeg, and Lagavulin, the Kildalton Malts are the most famous in the industry, but don't forget, it doesn't necessarily follow that if you buy a bottle that says Ardbeg on it for instance, that it will be a peaty whisky, as those who have been lucky enough to buy an Ardbeg Kildalton or Ardbeg Blasda will know.....As with any whisky, beware the marketing nonsense, folks sat in settees in tranquil glens besides the babbling burn, peat imparting its rich flavours to the water that is going to flavour the whisky....absolute rubbish...peat comes from the barley malting process...end of, it's no more romantic than that i'm afraid.

In the past decade, choice of Single Malt Whiskies has grown massively. This has been driven by one or two factors. Firstly, in the past, the product has seemed to be the reserve of the wealthy, and now the way it is marketed and who it is marketed to has changed. More and more younger people are becoming interested in the product and experimenting with has become more trendy...dark spirits are 'in' again. Previous to the last decade, you would venture down to your local specialised drinks shop and you would maybe have around twenty proprietary bottlings to choose from. In those days, you could talk about a distillery's house style because all you saw was a maximum of one bottling from each distillery...nowadays a distillery may produce dozens of house styles...take Bruichladdich for instance, they release a new bottling every five minutes and the style is different every will taste Bruichladdich's that you will enjoy, and you will taste Bruichladdich's that you don't. 

As well as all the new proprietary bottlings, there are now many independent bottlers, bottling some amazing whiskies, often from single casks, nearly always individually numbered, bottled at natural cask strength and from many of the lesser known distilleries....our own Queen of the Moorlands Whisky Company of course being one of these new bottlers.

When you are buying whisky, don't do it on the net, definitely don't buy it from the supermarket (these are highly commercial, chill filtered (more of this later), comparatively dull whiskies that you will never go back to), buy it either from the distillery, when you have tasted it, or buy it from a retailer that cares about the subject, and most of all from a retailer where you can taste it.

So, there you have it...There isn't a "Best Whisky in The World" but if there was, it would probably come from Islay....don't take it from me...get tasting.



Monday, 27 July 2009

The Wye with Trugg, Colemans, Glen and Spongebob Squarepants

It was the day we'd all been waiting for. Glen and I were to meet Mick (Trugg) and Johnny (Colmans) at the Grouse and Claret in Rowsley for a slap up breakfast to set us up for a full days fishing on The Peacock's stretch of the Wye.....bit of a false start as we missed the 10.30 breakfast deadline at the pub and had to go into Bakewell instead (£8 per head for half a breakfast and toast...ouch!)...anyway, tactics, the approach, the weather...., Spongebob Squarepants (I'll explain later), were all discussed and we were ready to go and headed off to the Fisherman's carpark heading back towards Rowsley.

We fished the field downstream of the car park, all finding it tough going with the few rises and awkward wind conditions. The Kelly was lit while all, particularly Mr Pointon, concentrated on a fish that was rising in a very tricky location....after a somewhat unproductive hour or so, we headed back to the cars to regroup, light the Kelly once more and to plan the rest of the day, all the while, the weather seemed to improve.

After leaving the cars once more, Mick and I headed off towards Rowsley, and I'd like to thank him for the help and advice that he was giving me with my casting which I found to be most useful. Glen and Johnny couldn't resist stalking a group of large Rainbows that were holding fast but were slowly rising frequently, until they decided to rejoin us and head in to Bakewell to fish for "The big uns".

By this time, the weather had become pretty grim and just as the heaviest rain started, we managed to find shelter in a large marquee that had recently been erected in time for the Bakewell Show. Morale was at an all time low. We were all soaking wet, knackered, thirsty, hungry and there was a feeling that we may have all made our last casts for the day, it was only 4.30 and we'd have to head for home. Bugger.

Glen, however, having recognised that his comrades now lacked the morale that they once had earlier in the day, decided all we needed was to be cheered up with a cup of coffee, an unfeasably optimistic weather report (the sky was black and the rain would surely not cease for the rest of the day) and a hilarious anecdote that I can only tell you ended with the punchline "Mr Pointon, you can now pass wind".

"But we haven't got any water for coffee" says Mick, "Sow rate youth, way'll gerrit off markay roof.......lark" says Glen, all exchanged expressions of surprise, astonishment and terror. We only had two cups between the four of us, Mick very wisely refused one for fear of bird muck filtration, Glen used his own Kelly cup which holds just enough water to make a perfect strong coffee when using a sachet, and Johnny and I used a cup three times the size with just the one sachet, the result being 1/2 a litre of gutter water with a bit of coffee in it. When asked what it tasted like, Johnny's reply was simpy "special".

The coffee was crap but we'd all had a great laugh and were now ready to fish the rest of the a point at which many I know would have called it a day. If anything, the weather got worse but we now started to catch fish.

Glen had a good scrap with a Rainbow of at least 4lb in the town stretch, and I enjoyed a good few Rainbows and Grayling by the weir beyond the road bridge. I was pleased with the fact that
although I didn't land every fish I connected with, at least I've not been missing as many takes as in previous outings.

Mick landed the fish of his dreams, with the help of Glen, he landed a monster Brownie and was absolutely over the moon.

We headed back on foot to the Fisherman's car park, whereupon the Kelly was lit and Mick was presented with a wee bottle of Talisker 20 year old 62% for the prize for the day's biggest fish by a million miles. We discussed the differences between a "Rayt Lunker" and a "Proper Lunker" and all agreed that the later title was applicable in the case of Mick's well deserved Brownie.


Nose: Waves of toffee, cinnamon and spices with rich Oloroso Sherry notes with a faint wiff of alcohol, more toffee and peat.

Palate: Just huge, again dark sherry and spices with a touch of caramel and subtle vanilla. A peat explosion...smoky rather than medicinal phenols.

Finish: Can only be described as stupendous, everlasting dark fruit overtones and wave upon wave of that smoky peat. An all round classic, very rare dram.


Nose: Sparce, understated, peculiar, freshly cut grass, silage?

Palate: Over ripe fruit, very over ripe. Rough, bird droppings, PVC?

Finish: No thanks. An underated beverage?

I have to say that the one thing that got me through the rain, the wet, the crap coffee was a story Glen told us at breakfast concerning a visit with his kids to the car wash in 'Osh Bonk' in Stoke. I haven't cried so much in years. Apparently the car was greeted by a very large lady with a strong potteries dialect and a very deep voice, dressed as what can only be described as Spongebob Squarepants. On seeing this massively oversized, and very real Spongebob, Glen's kids immediately began to scream in fits of which point Spongebob leant into the car, and said in a very low tone.......

"........Dunner worry duck, arr wunner ert yer".

A day that will be remembered for a long time, great company, ace fishing and a right laugh.


Thursday, 23 July 2009

Glen's LTD pattern does the biz at Dovedale

A week without fishing...the rivers have been well up and coloured, but in the last couple of days, the fishermen of Staffordshire and Derbyshire have started to talk of nothing else other than fishable conditions, particularly on the Dove.

My previous couple of sessions have left me a little lacking in confidence, i've been getting loads of rises to my fly but not connecting to fish, but seeing the conditions of the Dove when Glen and I arrived last night at 7pm, and the fact that I was using a really good Snowbee line for the first time, I was feeling much better about my chances of catching.

I tackled up at the first pool by the footbridge and soon realised that I had left something in the car and went to fetch the time I got back Glen was into his second fish...

We fished up the fast sections, I hooked a monster of a fish, kept it on for a few seconds and dropped it....I was absolutley gutted and started to think that my recent form was going to continue. Glen was catching fish using his 'LTD' pattern.

It was time for a brew so headed upto the Nursery Pool where the Kelly Kettle was lit, sandwhiches and pies were out. I had a few casts at rising fish under the trees but with no joy...was really happy with the new Snowbee floating 4wt line, casting quite precisely.

Glen realised that I was getting a bit bloody frustrated with my fishing form and gave me some helpful tips and encouragement.

"I reckon I'm going to blank tonight" I shouted over to Glen, "No you wunner youth, kayp at it youth", came the reply.

Light started to fade quite quickly and we had time for the last few casts, fishing at the top end of the trees at the Nursery Pool. I changed flies and cast...I cast again...wollop, a really good bend in the rod and I had a right scrap on my hands...I was desperate to land would have been no good for my confidence in future sessions if I didnt...but I did and it was a nice wild brownie of about 1.5 lbs.

We started to head back down stream, Glen set on hooking the monster fish that he's been stalking for the season so far...still using his trusty "LTD" pattern, he hooked and landed a good fish, but not the monster....another couple of casts and a good take, a really big fish that he played for a few seconds but it got the better of his line.

Will glen land his monster fish at Dovedale this this space!

Cheers for the help Glen.


Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Whisky Club and Britannia Leek and District Show

It's nearly a week since I last got to fish...the weather hasn't been kind, the rivers are up and it's all very's Leek Show on Saturday which is always something to look forward to. We have our own Wine Shop marquee at the event and you are very welcome to come along and sample some of our wines, beers and of course whiskies from our Queen of the Moorlands range.

At this year's show, we are launching our own Whisky Club. Those who join will be eligible for special offers and will be the first to know about new products, whisky tours and tastings. Membership is free. If you would like to join email me, and we'll get you signed up.

Fishing the Wye at Rowsley on Sunday with some of the LADFFA to follow.


Friday, 17 July 2009

Living the Dovedale

Fished Dovedale last night with Glen. Arrived at the car park at 6.15pm having driven through a lot of water on the was lashing down. We sat in our cars gazing skyward, trying to find a glimmer of hope of the rain just got worse.

"Wen got wet a line anner we" was the prompt for us to tackle up. Tackling up is the worst bit when the weather is like that..once you've got your waders and waterproofs on, the worst of it is over.

We fished up the river taking a few fish on the way up to the Nursery Pool where the Kelly Kettle was lit and the pies consumed.

Top Whisky Tip....when I got home, damp and tired out...a dram was required to warm things up and thought about which Scotch would best suite the occasion of collapsing in front of the fire...easy...there's nothing better when you are cold and wet, Laphroaig 10 year old Cask Strength. So good that Jim Beam Global, it's owners, have recently decided to axe it. Get it while you can, available at all good wine and whisky shops in Russell Street, Leek.

Living the Dram

Thursday, 16 July 2009

The Black Bottle Scotch Whisky Fly Casting Championship 2009

Its a wee while ago now but still makes me laugh when I think about it....The Black Bottle Scotch Whisky Fly Casting Championship started out as a little bit of fun but soon became a very serious international competition. 

It was during the Islay Festival of Malt and Music 2009, Bunnahabhain Distillery open day to be exact, that Burn Stewart distillers decided to arrang Highland Games for visitors to the distillery, punters could choose from wellie tossing, archery....and of casting. At 8.30am there was much amusement as the "Highland Games" arrived on the roof rack of a clapped out old Ford Escort expense had been spared.

Two people are key to this story, both very good friends of mine, firstly, David Morris, a resident of Islay and mashman at Bunnahabhain Distillery, a brilliant and very 
competitive angler, and secondly introducing Mr Kelting (aka Keltong), another brilliant angler, a chap lucky enough to have attended a school where fly fishing was part of the curriculum. Presice is a good way to describe his fishing technique. Chris is also a massive fan of good Single Malt Whisky, has a good nose and has chosen some of our best single casks for bottling, and he's always up for a laugh. So two good friends to have then...both fish, one makes whisky and the other helps me consume it.

Part of the "Highland Games" was the fly casting competition, the person to cast a fly the furthest during the day would win. You could tell from the start that it was going to be taken incredibly seriously as Chris and the various Davids, Johns and Georges knocking about the place started to try to find excuses not to have a fear of defeat and the subsequent ribbing that would ensue from friends and colleauges alike. There was much at stake.

By 9am, the fly casting stand was ready, and because of the wind direction, we were to cast parallel to the sea shore towards the now set up archery targets, which, within seconds, Chris had proved had been set up too close. The first to pick up the rod, Chris started stripping line off the reel in preparation for casting, the man in charge wondered when Chris might stop, which he didn't for quite some time. He then made his cast, his line covering the targets, laying the fly to rest way in the distance. Now, up until about 2pm, this had been the best cast until David decided he could not resist any longer and had to have a go, promptly beating Chris by a further 6 inches and then both of them were blown out when a large German visitor took up the challenge and beat both of them. Well, there was talk of little else at the distillery, the situation looked grim. David decided he'd have another go but was so aggressive in his casting that he promptly broke the rod. Chris' time had come, he calmly took up the new rod, stripped a couple of miles of line off the reel and after his fourth false cast, the fly came to rest accompanied by cheers, laughter, and plentiful jeering.

And so, Chris, Black Bottle Scotch Whisky Fly Casting Champion 2009, was presented with a bottle of Black Bottle and a Bunnahabhain decanter and glasses. Needless to say that the picture of Chris with his prizes was a much used ribbing mechanic in the weeks to follow...

David had the last laugh though, when, the next day, he and I entered the Feis Ile open fishing competition at Loch Finlaggan, he won the prize for best total weight of fish, catching 33 fish in 4 hours (I caught 6) and the prize for the biggest fish.


Wednesday, 15 July 2009

The Glen Pointon Phenomenon

Phenomenon: "A phenomenon is any observable occurance, it is any event that is observable, however commonplace that it might be, even if it requires the use of instrumentation to observe it".

I'll tell you how commonplace it is...every time I go fishing with Glen of late, he catches around a dozen fish in an hour or two and i'm lucky to catch one! This was certainly the case on our last outing to Dovedale on Sunday 12th July.

Having been lucky enough to secure a ticket in the Leek and District Fly Fishing Association about two weeks ago, I was itching to get out on to the water...particularly at what is the first thing I do after receiving my ID and membership pack...I leave almost immediately for Applecross to do a bit of work for Tim (more of him later). Ten days in Applecross then back to Leek, desperate to visit Dovedale and to catch some fish.....and so at 6.30pm on Sunday Glen and I meet up at Dovedale car park to unleash our fishing skills (on Glen's part) on the first stretch of the dove.

The weather had settled after quite a bit of rain but the river was looking good, up a bit and a little coloured but still good...."ar reckon way cud bay in fura rate lunker ere mate" was Glen's assessment of the situation.

There was another member fishing the first couple of we moved up the river quite quickly and concentrated on the Nursery stretch....there always seem to be fish around there but they are difficult to catch but we thought we would give it a go...we stalked the fish in between the trees at the top end of the Nursery stretch. Glen started to catch immediately and over the session, I would think he had a dozen my one! If I'd caught every fish that rose to my fly i'd have had a dozen too but I just couldn't hook them. I'm not sure if I wasn't waiting long enough before striking, or whether I was striking too hard, or not hard enough but I just couldn't catch...any suggestions would be very well received...

Anyway...I keep reminding myself that it's not just about the fish, it's the location (hard to beat Dovedale), the pork pies (why having nearly reached 40 have I suddenly started to eat mountains of these), the Kelly Kettle beside the babbling brook and the crack....... Or as Glen would say "Living the Dream".

It was a good fish though.


Tuesday, 14 July 2009


Visited Applecross early this month and fished some of the 100 Lochs on the peninsula. This is the view towards Achintraid from the summit of Bealach na Ba (The Pass of the Cattle). The road goes from sea level to about 800 metres within a couple of miles, exciting the first time you travel up it...especially in our big red van. I would recommend to anyone the fishing on the hill...there are 100 lochs to choose from, just get in touch with the estate office before you go, especially during stalking season. Ii'd like to organise a trip for a few people sometime next year...please get intouch if you are interested.
The image below was taken fron Milton Loch in Applecross looking over the Inner Sound towards Skye....I cracking view of the Cuillin Mountains.

My New Blog

Hello....welcome to my new blog. I intend to post articles about my travels Scotch Whisky and Angling related. I hope to feature new products...including our own Queen of the Moorlands Rare Cask bottlings. I visit Scotland quite regularly, specifically the Isle of Islay, collecting and delivering whisky...quite recently this has opened up fishing opportunities on lochs with friends I have made. This has lead to me joining the Derby Railway Angling Club and Leek and District Fly Fishing there you go there is a link between the two!

You don't have to be interested in both Whisky and Fishing to keep up with this blog, i'm hoping to post as much about one as the other......