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I’m sure I won’t be alone in bidding a not-so-fond farewell to 2020. What a year it’s been. Under normal circumstances I like to use my last review of the year to look back on all the events, festivals, tastings and distilleries I’ve been to but there’s been a tragic lack of such things.
The year wasn’t a complete write-off though. I attended the National Whisky Festival in January and I made it through to Cupar for the Fife Whisky Festival for the first time in March, which was a thoroughly enjoyable evening in a town I’ve passed through dozens of times but never actually stopped in. Little did I know then that it would be the last event for months, as a nationwide lockdown came just a week or two later.
As for tastings, there was a premium tasting at the Good Spirits Co in January, an excellent evening spent on board the good ship Murray McDavid, a magnificent Elements of Islay tasting at The Piper Bar and a lineup of six drams from Tomintoul at the Clydeside Distillery and then… Nothing. Or at least nothing in person.
Virtual tastings weren’t new, but they certainly came into their own this year. We even saw the birth of the online whisky festival and I took part in the first virtual Summerton Festival in May. The Fèis Ìle too became an online event, a strange, bittersweet experience that gave us a welcome glimpse of Islay whilst simultaneously making it seem even more out of our reach. I’ve taken part in online tastings with Kilchoman, That Boutique-y Whisky Company, Murray McDavid, Lady of the Glen, Mackmyra, Elixir Distillers, Glen Moray, Distell as well as a few with the Good Spirits Co, including an excellent Sherry Tasting in November.
The Summer saw lockdown ease a little in Scotland and I was able to pay a few visits to the Scotch Malt Whisky Society’s new Glasgow Member’s Room, an excellent venue that couldn’t have picked a worse year to launch. September saw me heading through to Edinburgh to take part in The Gathering Courtyard Barbecue at The Vaults in Leith, a fun afternoon with good food and lots of lovely SMWS drams.
On the work front, if I can really call this work, my wee blog has gone from strength to strength. After an initial dip in viewings at the start of lockdown, the hits have nearly trebled in the last eight months, a situation which has left me feeling incredibly humbled. I launched a new subscription service which I’m delighted to say, has been taken up by some lovely readers and I’ll be sending them a wee dram to say thanks. That kind of support helps to cover the costs of running the website and I’m very grateful for it.
Not content with writing the blog and running all the social media accounts that come with it, I’ve been carrying on with my admin duties at The Glasgow Whisky Group on Facebook, where the community has really been coming together recently. We’ve started doing tasting events and some people have even organised a dram-swapping group which is great to see – and exactly the sort of thing I hoped would happen in the group when I set it up.
It’s been a real delight to work with Rachel MacNeill of the Islay Whisky Academy after she asked me to host the Academy Kinship group. I’ve been really enjoying getting to know everyone in the group and we’ve shared some lovely zoom chats over the last couple of months. It’s really highlighted to me just how effective whisky is at bringing together people from all walks of life. Whisky drinkers are striking up friendships with folk they have seemingly nothing in common with, except a love of the amber nectar. It’s been an exciting time for the Academy this year, what with the launch of the digital version of the course. Whisky Affinity part 1 “Courting the Dram” can be purchased here for anyone interested.
As if I wasn’t busy enough, I also got involved with some friends to launch The Quaich Podcast, which has been loads of fun to do, although our busy calendars have made it difficult to stick to a regular schedule. We look forward to carrying it into the new year however, and bringing more interesting topics of discussion to our listeners in 2021. Maybe this time we’ll actually be able to get out and about and record on location at some of our favourite venues.
I like to end each year with a review of something rather special and since I turned the dreaded 4-0 this year and was gifted some lovely bottles, I had a fair few options to choose from. In the end however, I opted for a dram I’ve considered for the occasion since I first started the blog. The GlenDronach 18 is a big old sherry bomb of a dram and therefore, an ideal choice for a celebratory occasion like Hogmanay.
The GlenDronach story has been well documented elsewhere but for those unaware, there was a period of time from 1996 to 2002 that saw the distillery placed in mothballs with no spirit being produced. It therefore follows that an 18 year old malt, bottled in 2019 could not have been distilled 18 years before meaning the liquid must in fact have been considerably older. As of 2020 however, the distillery has been back in production for 18 years so it seems likely that current and future bottlings will contain whisky of the age it claims to be. It is one such dram that I have in front of me, though I’m not complaining because this is still a whisky matured for 18 years in Oloroso sherry casks…
Smell: Raisins and sultanas. Figs. Cherry. Caramel. Marzipan. Walnut. Leather. Cinnamon and nutmeg.
Taste: Orange liqueur. Raisins, sultanas, currants. Maple syrup. Brown sugar. Dark chocolate. Tobacco leaves. Cinnamon. Dry, woody finish.
Value for money: Perhaps it’s not as good value as it was a year or two ago, but it’s still an 18 year old oloroso matured single malt and it brings a lot of flavour to the glass. At £95 it isn’t for those on a budget but as a treat for a sherry lover it’s a strong contender.
Whilst you know exactly what you’re getting with a whisky like this, there’s still a rewarding complexity to the sherry influence, something that can only be achieved through time in cask. The end result of that ageing process is a deep, rich dram that feels luxurious and immensely satisfying, perfect then to end a forgettable year on a high and start 2021 the way we mean to go on.
I’d just like to end on a note of thanks, I wasn’t sure what would happen to this website through the pandemic but after an initial dip in numbers when the first UK lockdown arrived, it soon bounced back and within a month it had begun to accelerate beyond belief. If you would have told me in 2015 that I’d have 1200 visitors a day by 2020 I would have called you a nutter, but nevertheless that’s where we are now. I’m incredibly grateful to you all and I hope that you will continue to enjoy these reviews as much as I enjoy writing them. I’ll be taking a couple of weeks off publishing at the start of the year, but that’s just to give me some writing time and I’ll be back mid-January with the next batch of (hopefully) amazing whiskies to share with you all.
I’ll be raising a glass to those who didn’t make it out of 2020. They won’t be forgotten. But let’s also attempt to put this year behind us and move into 2021 with the hope that we’ll be back to something approaching normality by the time I sit down to write my New Year Dram review next time around.
Slàinte agus Bliadhna Mhath Ùr.
For more on GlenDronach visit here.