Owner of Whisky Shop Dufftown, Whisky genius, lover of all things Speyside and a thoroughly nice chap too!
Hi Mike (@whiskylord), thank you so much for agreeing to this interview, Whisky Corner are covering all things Festival as we are so excited about Spirit of Speyside Festival and the amount of amazing events lined up for the 2014.
I have heard many a story about your whisky shop, that it’s stocked top to bottom and, you can have as many as 50 different bottles open for customers at any one time! That’s impressive! More than impressive in fact, its the stuff of legends! How long have you owned The Whisky Shop, Dufftown for?
I’ve be running this for eight years now, It was run as a whisky shop before I took it over, but when it became available a few people coerced me into taking it over, which I did in 2006. It was doing well, and I had employed a couple of managers, but it got to the stage that to take it to the next level I needed to devote more time and become more hands on, so I gave up my job in the city, and it really took off.
What made you decide to go into the whisky industry?
I was surprised as anyone, to be honest, I drunk whisky as a hobby. I attended a few tastings, learnt a lot and enjoyed them, then I held a few tastings, which proved really popular, and, as I mentioned, I was convinced by others it was a good idea, which it has been.
Do you remember your first ever whisky?
When I first started to drink, it was mainly what my parents drank, they were blend drinkers, Bells, Grouse etc so I started there. I realised there were some things I liked about blends and some things that I didn’t. I started to look into it a bit more, and experimented with some grains also. I then went down to my local newsagents but they couldn’t really tell me anything, so went for the Macallan 10 as I liked the packaging, a nice white box with the house logo on and I’ve not looked back since.
What would be your top 5, desert island drams?
Can I have one that was never ending? (I like your style, but I am a hard taskmistress and no, no you can’t) ok then:
1) Glendronach 18
2) Highland Park 21 (this was the first ever whisky that my wife drank and liked, she always maintained she didn’t like whisky, and with my owning a whisky shop it could have been a deal breaker)
3) Tomintoul 16 (couldn’t agree more, this is a good session whisky)
4) Tamdhu 10; and lastly
5) Glenfarclas 30.
The Website is fantastic, really informative, especially the tasting section, and you go very in depth with the notes, yet you are clear to tell people to trust their own nose and palate, is it important to you that people find out about whisky themselves, as opposed being led by an expert, or someone they feel may be more knowledgeable than they are?
I think it’s really important that you follow your own path, it’s your nose and your palate. The great thing about whisky is that it’s not like French wine, you aren’t told what’s best or the most expensive. Whisky doesn’t really have any wrong answers. There is so much choice out there that you need to try all that you can and find what works for you. Experts are there as guides only, and they can certainly provide useful information and tips but ultimately trust yourself.
How long have you been involved with the Spirit of Speyside Festival?
I’ve been involved since day one in the Festival in one form or another, and since 2006 as a Festival provider. This year we are the Festival’s biggest event provider with 41 events, being held, which might surprise some people.
How important do you think this Festival is, not just for you, but for the people of Speyside in particular?
The Festival is very important, I live in Dufftown and I can see during the Festival just how busy everywhere is. Not only are the pubs, restaurants, hotels. B&B’s full but also the local shops, the butchers’ greengrocers etc. all of these are busier as a result of more people visiting. There are so many people self-catering that so many of the shops receive far greater trade too. For us personally we estimate that we have between 5000 to 6000 people visit the shop during the Festival.
Why did you decide to run some music events (among others events you are putting on) for the Festival?
I have always been involved with the music side of things, it’s nice to showcase the Speyside region and the Festival itself for something other than exclusively a whisky event. This showcases something else that Scotland is famous for, and folk music being one of them.
Did you handpick these musicians yourself?
Yes, Shona and Paul are an excellent duo, Paul is one of the best fiddlers in Scotland and Shona’s voice is fantastic, there is such a range of emotion in her voice, very much an evening in which you can laugh and can cry. Paul and Shona were part of Speyside Session, which for the last festival joined to make the music event.
Robin Laing, is an all-round, fantastic entertainer, he can make you laugh, he can make you smile, and he can raise the hairs on the back of your neck. This really is a can’t miss event.
Folk has, in the past had an image that would perhaps conjure up older people, or old pubs, do you think that is accurate?
Not any more, folk (like whisky in some respects) has evolved. There is such a variety in the world of folk now, so it covers more age ranges. The traditional and common theme that continues to run through and that is more the fact that they are all acoustic and still have the story telling. There is some rocky folk out there and some more traditional, with plenty in between.
Even in the world of pop Paulo Nutini, is a good example of an artist using music to tell a story, which in itself ties it to folk.
Are you passionate about music?
Yes, I love music! I have to say that I didn’t think that I liked folk before getting more involved in whisky. I’ve met more and more folk artists, attended more events and now I am actively seeking out artists, and encourage people to listen to Scottish music and to enjoy the experience.
If people haven’t already brought tickets for either of these events, why should they?
Because some of the best parts of drinking whisky is the social aspect, it’s about meeting people, talking and sharing a dram, these events are all about people coming together, enjoying the evening, the entertainment and making new friends along the way. It gives people the chance to enjoy the stories, the jokes and the emotions the songs tell.
What happens once the Festival has finished?
We are always planning the next Festival. We have two days off, kick back, relax and then start all over again. We hit the tourist season too, there is so much affection and pull from the world over, people love the heritage of Scotland and its whiskies so that keeps us busy.
Will you be attending any Festival events yourself?
This is another amazing Festival and I wish I had time off as there is so much I would like to go and see, I’d love to see some of the comedy events in Elgin and I would really have liked to take in the Woman of whisky day. Also, announced today (25th March) that Georgie Bell is coming up to run two Mortlach sessions which (given all the recent debate) really intrigue me.
Any tips for somebody who is visiting the festival for the first time?
Spend days in each of the regions, and plan, plan, plan, there is so much to do it’s easy to become overwhelmed. Personally I would love to go up to the Glenlivet for the lighting of the small still, it’s amazing, and has always appealed to me.
In terms of surviving the Festival, every Festival is so different that you just have to be prepared to go with it, however the best advice is never stop drinking, keep going and leave the hangover till the festival is done. (This is very tongue in cheek of course).
Finally do you have a favourite Speyside malt, or even a favourite of the moment?
Hard question, can I only really have one….(yes I told you before I am very strict) there is a 1988 Glenfarclas cask being released just for the festival, I want to try this!
Finally tell me something that might surprise people out there about you, or that no one else knows
I used to run a comedy club and Graham Norton was my next door neighbour.
Thanks so much for the interview Mike, really looking forward to catching up at the opening dinner.
Take a look at the events that Mike is running below, there are still some tickets available for some quite frankly superb events so book now!
Whisky Corner Recommends:
For Music and Entertainment:
You really can’t go wrong with either of these events, they are fantastic value for money and you are guaranteed to have a great night.
Whisky fanatic, superb song writer, singer and very funny man Robin Laing entertains and there will be 5 whiskies to help the evening’s enjoyment. And even better many of his fabulous songs are whisky inspired. A highlight of every festival. There will also be a bar.
Spend a wonderful evening of traditional Scottish music and song with a modern twist in the company of Shona Donaldson and Paul Anderson. Two very talented local musicians. There will be bothie ballads and much more to capture the heart and beauty of Scotland both the land and its people.
Shona and Paul were part of the group of musicians that created The Speyside Sessions album which has been an amazing hit across the world.
We are not providing drams as part of the ticket prices but doors open at 8pm for you to come along and get a drink from our bar.
Whisky Corner Recommends:
The Whisky Shop Dufftown has laid down its challenge again to Independent Bottlers – who has the best whisky? We have two categories: Speyside; and the Rest of Whisky.
In this informal tasting you will be able to try all of the entries from the independent bottlers in the Rest of Whisky category . We ask you to vote for your favourite. We also offer a prize for the best tasting note.
It should take you about 45 minutes. Just come along to the shop anytime between 11 am and 5 pm and try some great whiskies. In 2013 the winner in the Rest of Whisky Category was Wemyss Clynelish 1997 Fresh Fruit Sorbet.
Why we recommend this event: This is five shiny earth pounds people, if you are not elbowing people out of your way to get to this event there is seriously something wrong with you! You can be sure to see Whisky Corner there, and beware I have very pointy elbows!
MALTS of SCOTLAND – a small German independent bottling company – tries to find the best casks possible to bottle under the MoS Logo and was the Independent Bottler of the year 2013 and 2014.
Thomas Ewers is the founder of MALTS of SCOTLAND. His passions are Scotland and scotch whisky (after he had his first scotch in 2003…) Thomas lives in Paderborn/Germany where he runs his company UNIQUE LIQUIDS for Whisky, Gin and Rum. He gives Tastings and Events to show the people in Germany the Scottish way of life and the best whisky in the world. This will be the first formal tasting in Scotland by MALTS of Scotland and promises to be an absolute cracker. Just check out the line up!!
Here is the line up:
Littlemill 1988 dark Sherry
Glen Moray 1977 Bourbon,
Strathmill 1975 Bourbon
Banff 1975 Bourbon
Laphroaig 1998 dark Sherry.
This could well be the best tasting ever and reflects their ethos of bringing could Whisky to you because they like it.
Why we recommend this event: This is a rare opportunity to experience the first ever formal Scottish tasting, by a relatively unknown bottling company, years down the line, and they are a household name you can boast you were one of the first to try it on Scottish soil, now who doesn’t want those kind of bragging rights? Oh and the line up, did I mention that? It’s like the whisky deity picked the best whisky band in the world. Ever!
Glasgow-based Douglas Laing & Co is an independent bottler and blender headed by Fred Laing. Those at Douglas Laing regard themselves very much as a company of sensitive souls – artisans, if you like steadfastly creating a quality selection of the finest Scotch whisky. Their care and devotion has earned themselves an enviable reputation at home and abroad for style and taste.
Why we recommend this event: Where to start? Is it because Douglas Laing are an amazing independent bottler, whom we like, nay adore, is it because Jan is a top, top, guy, is it because they have amazing whisky, well it’s of those things and so much more, this really will be a fantastic event and quite frankly, I am amazed there are still tickets available, so if you want one you better hurry up and get one! Go to this event you will be pleased you did.
So you want more do you? Well you are in luck, if you like your events, quirky and unpredictable then do I have an event for you? Do I, well yes, yes I do.
This will be an exciting blind tasting of a variety of Speyside drams and whiskies from around the world hosted by the irrepressible Blair Bowman. No gimmicks. No geekery. A tasting for newbies and whisky fans alike. Blair Bowman is the founder of World Whisky Day – an international celebration of all types of whisky/whiskey, bringing together lovers of whisky on the same day (May 17th 2014). Vote for your favourite whisky at the end of the tasting.
Why we recommend this event: Aside from the impressive array of whiskies that will be on offer, seeing the enigmatic Mr Bowman (@WorldWhiskyDay) in full swing is a sight not to be missed. Knowledgeable and commanding, this will be sensible whisky in a sensible way. Intrigued? Us too, check it out and see for yourself.
Kirsty Clarke (@kirstyclarke29)