There’s too much for one post. Too much goodness, emotion, history – and just the right amount of whisky, thank you!
So please allow me to spread out, over a few weeks, the story of the whisky tour of a lifetime. My story of the #GlenGrant50 tour (hashtag devised over a beer at Heathrow) will take the form of a travelogue. It was a Friday-to-Friday whirlwind, one week of England & Scotland. From day one, walking into the player’s dressing room at Old Trafford to be presented with my own Manchester United shirt; to enjoying a 50 year old Whisky in the maturation warehouse, presented by the very gentleman who filled the cask all those years ago; it was a week of indulgence. Every day served up highlights. Every day saw more items ticked off my bucket list.
Slowly, deliberately, the story will unfold. At the end I hope you’ll sit back, alone, with a whisky and your thoughts for company, to reflect on your own whisky journey. You’ll find whisky and your thoughts very good company while you think about where you’ve been, where you are and where you want to go.
The gathering of a band of merry men.
Whisky has been good to me, or to paraphrase Churchill, I’ve taken more out of whisky than whisky has taken out of me. To me, the people and experiences are more important than the spirit itself. The spirit brings us together, but the spirit alone is just a spirit. It needs people to drink it. Years ago I interviewed a Master Distiller from Islay, who said “Whisky is not a bland, one dimensional drink. It is multifaceted, a social, gregarious drink. It will get lonely and dull unless it interacts with people.”
The title of this story is a play on the Glen Grant slogan ‘Whisky as it should be”, which is true, but doesn’t explain the tour. The tour is what all whisky tours wish they were like if budgets, planning, people and the universe played along.
Let’s start with from the beginning. I present whisky for many different companies. I’m independent and don’t get involved in the high-pressure corporate world of sales and targets and ROI and all that stuff. Neither do I get involved with favourites, talking one brand only. I like whisky, the drink, not whisky from one company alone. Give me a bottle of whisky and ask me to chat about it to a group of people and I’m happy. One rule – I only talk about whisky I like to drink.
Along come E Snell & Co, local distributors of Glen Grant, a whisky brand now owned by The Campari Group in Italy. I’d been doing festivals for about 6 years, for the Whisky Live organisers and a few other liquor companies.
“Bernard”, Craig, the brand manager says, “can you do Whisky Live for us?” Yes of course, with pleasure. I like Glen Grant and they were the first to ask that year, so, sure, I’ll talk Glen Grant. That was about 4 years ago. It’s a cool gig. The Whisky is great, from the light, fresh and fruity The Major’s Reserve to the more complex and intense 16 year old and in between is my favourite expression, the 10 year old. Yes, talking Glen Grant is a very cool gig.
I’d heard a whisper in my ear about a new release, The Glen Grant 50 year old. Soon enough the press release arrived in my inbox.
It is a thing of beauty. You’ll have to wait until part five, Tuesday of the trip, to find out what I thought of the whisky. Hint: I had an Oliver Twist moment. The whisky carries a hefty price tag: R 150 000, about $ 15 000. It is on the reasonable side for a whisky of that vintage from a renowned distillery. I read on and started to dream, for buying the whisky comes with something special, a tour to Scotland. It was, as they said, a rare experience to accompany a rare purchase, for “with each purchase of the Glen Grant 50 Year Old Limited Edition Single Malt Scotch Whisky you will also receive an all-expenses paid trip to the Glen Grant Distillery in Rothes, Scotland.” Ok then. Tell me more.
“The trip includes:
- A private tour of the Glen Grant Distillery with lunch in the Victorian Gardens
- Ballindalloch Castle tour
- Adventure activities at the House of Mulben
- The final day of the 2014 British Open Golf tournament at Royal Liverpool, with hospitality at the Champions Club Village
- Manchester United Stadium tour
- Loch Ness cruise
- All flights, transfers and accommodation with breakfast,
- lunch and dinner, are included.”
I’m not one of the lucky ones who purchased the whisky, I’m the lucky one invited along because I talk and write about whisky.
I knew we were in for a treat when my travel kit arrived, including top quality luggage & clothing, via a dedicated tour organiser who specialises in corporate incentives.
Quick as a flash Friday 18 July arrived the Cape Town crew left the airport to meet up with the Joburg crew and 14 whisky lovers clinked glasses in the private lounge at OR Tambo. We were a mixed bunch. There were sales and marketing guys from E Snell; buyers from the trade; some of the gents who purchased the whisky (only 10 bottles were made available to the public). There were three in the ‘journo’ contingent. Christian Eedes, who talks, writes about and judges wines, very, very well; Patrick Leclezio; a drinks packaging expert who in his spare time travels round the world writing the best spirits blog in South Africa; and me, a whisky lover, writer, reader, teacher, learner, not forgetting, since 1977, an ardent Manchester United supporter.
Introductions made, ice broken, we left South Africa and landed at Heathrow en-route to Manchester. What should have been a routine stop, clear immigration and leave Heathrow was not to be. We landed two days after the tragedy of flight MH17, so I expected increased security. We were on the tarmac for 90 minutes and took 2 and a half hours to clear immigration. Half of our group, me included, had our luggage examined with all sorts of paraphernalia, tested for heaven only knows what and then cleared. But we missed our connecting flight so got to Manchester later than expected, a minor inconvenience given what was to come.
As was the case in 1992, my first trip to Europe, on a Contiki tour, the arrival at a new hotel meant that a few of us gathered in the bar. 22 years later, nothing changed, so to the bar we went for an Aperol Spritz. Aperol, owned by Campari, is one of the sponsors of Manchester United. Campari is a favourite summer drink of mine and now with Aperol playing a delicious and meaningful part of my drinking arsenal, (no wait, arsenal is not the word to use in this story) my drinking repertoire, I see many a long summer lunch with an Aperol or two.
Enough about the drinks. To Old Trafford we went. For those who don’t know me, I’m 47 years old and have seen and done more than my fair share of living. It takes a lot to wow me or get under my skin. On that day, I confess to being utterly overwhelmed. I’d arrived at a spiritual home. All that I’d seen and read about in a long history of supporting United was there in front of me. We had a private tour of the stadium, I sat in the seat Sir Alex Ferguson occupied while steering his team to victory upon victory. I could picture him on the touchline, checking his watch, pushing his players and intimidating the officials. I thought about some of the great games I’d seen, the players that had graced the pitch with displays of skill mortals can only dream of.
The highlight, and something that blew me away, was during the tour we went into the players changing room and on the wall, was an official Manchester United shirt. On the back, was my name. Yes, I walked into the changing room and there was my shirt.
I don’t know how many times during my teens I dreamed about playing for United. It was not to be, but that day, the tour, the atmosphere of the stadium, the energy and topping it off with entering the change room – I couldn’t have dreamed of a day like that.
After another Aperol Spritz at The Red Café it was back to the hotel, back to the bar and then to dinner. And that’s where we’ll tee off on the next instalment.
I’ll also post a link to some photos, videos and so on, so bookmark this site and come back, often.