It’s been a long time since I’ve flown overseas, so I was buzzing with anticipation as the Mrs and I turned my back on the last sunset I would see for a week and entered ORT International airport in Johannesburg. Final destination: The Glenlivet distillery in Scotland!
Thanks to our travel agent, Micky, we had seats with a bit of extra legroom which helped a lot on the long flight across. A flight made longer due to my lack of sleep thanks to (a) my eager anticipation and (b) the guy two rows back who’s erratic snoring sounded like a cross between a chainsaw and a diesel generator!
I did however take some solace in the wee dram of The Glenlivet 12 on offer on the plane – quite fitting considering they were the folks responsible for us flying over to Scotland!
Horizon to horizon cloud cover meant we didn’t get to see any of England as we came in to land in London. Once on the ground we met up with our co-winners – a nice young couple – Justin & Lee – and our SA Glenlivet representative (and national brand manager), Mandla Holomisa.
And then it was time to see if my emergency UK passport would get me into the UK. It did! I felt like I needed a stiff drink after the security check at Heathrow though! Half-naked, I hopped around Terminal 5 trying to get my shoes, belt and jacket back on before heading off to our connecting flight on to Aberdeen.
As we made our way north the clouds broke up and I got my first glimpse of Scottish countryside – a beautiful green patchwork quilt, interspersed with bright yellow fields. After the enormity of Heathrow, Aberdeen Airport seemed quite quaint in comparison as we came in to land. I must admit, I had a mental picture of the lunar landing as I took my first step onto Scottish soil (or runway Tarmac in this case) – one small step for man, one giant leap for my whisky adventure. I had arrived!
A leisurely drive west to Elgin by coach gave us time to soak up the countryside – very reminiscent to the Natal Midlands – and share our stories with our fellow travellers before arriving at The Mansefield hotel in the heart of Elgin. We had been appointed some really spacious suites for our two night stay and were greeted by a couple of bottles of Cask Strength The Glenlivet and a welcome letter from Christian Porta, CEO of Pernod Ricard Europe. A nice touch!
With the afternoon open to relax and rejuvenate and explore our surrounds, I made a bee-line to the first of several places on my must-visit list: the Gordon & MacPhail shop in Elgin which – quite fortuitously – was a mere 300m from the hotel!
The phrase “like a kid in a candy store” was very apt in describing what I must have looked like in the whisky room at G&M. A vast selection of distillery bottlings on display topped by an even vaster (is that a word?) array of G&M bottlings. I had a great chat to Alistair in the store, discussing the merits of blind tastings and hearing about some of the interesting tastings they’ve put together recently. I also got to have my first dram in Scotland at the shop – namely Ardbog, the Ardbeg Day 2013 bottling. A rather nice dram, but I’d still opt for the Uigeadail every time.
Back at the hotel a couple of hours later, the phone in the room rang. “It’s Ian, I’m downstairs at the pub. Come for a drink.” The Ian in question being Ian Logan, global brand ambassador for The Glenlivet. I last saw Ian at Whisky Live SA in 2011, so it was great to catch up with him again. Our Scottish host arrived then, Alex Robertson – the international brand ambassador for Chivas Brothers. It was great sitting back listening to Ian, Alex and Mandla talking shop and sharing stories. It’s amazing what you can hear and learn if you just keep your mouth shut and listen sometimes. 🙂
After drinks it was time to meet up with the other winners for a formal tasting of The Glenlivet range – 12, 15, Nadurra (my favourite!), 18, 21 and XXV – led by Alex. It’s always great tasting your way through all a distillery’s expressions, coming back regularly to their entry level whisky – the 12 year old in this case – to see how the flavour profile changes yet retains the distillery’s DNA.
A late dinner, accompanied by my glass of the XXV, was followed by bed instead of a nightcap. The long trip had caught up to me and the Mrs and I collapsed in bed some time after 11pm, with the sun still hanging above the horizon.
My last thought before I passed out was… “Tomorrow I visit my first Scottish distillery!”
My next post will cover my visit to The Glenlivet distillery – a momentous occassion for this South African lover of all things whisky.