My most interesting whisky adventures have oddly been in Sweden.
My first hands-on distilling experience was at a now-defunct small distillery halfway between Stockholm and Oslo, it is pretty much located in the middle of nowhere.
This was nothing, however, compared to my trip to the then-named Box Distillery (now High Coast) in Bjärtrå to attend the first World Whisky Forum. It was February so lots of snow and ice and a truly wonderful distillery in a beautiful frozen wasteland.
What whiskies and other spirits do you like to buy in duty free when travelling overseas?
I will always look for something local, usually a spirit – which might mean an Arak from Turkey, a Shochu or Sake from Japan, an Aquavit from Sweden, or a Grappa from Italy.
What’s the most memorable dram that you’ve had on your travels?
Probably something valinched out of a duty-paid cask by Ian McArthur during the Lagavulin warehouse experience at the Feis Islay Ile Festival…
What’s your favourite world airport and why?
Heathrow T5, since I can sit at the Fortnum & Mason bar and drink Fortnum’s own English Whisky, made by Cotswolds Distillery, while munching on Welsh Rarebit. I’m also partial to [Singapore] Changi (ease and efficiency) and [Tokyo] Haneda (distance from town). There’s nothing like Islay airport for size – only a few yards to walk from check-in to security and a few more yards to the gate!
You must spend a lot of time on the road. What travel tips do you want to pass on to our readers?
I’d love to suggest not checking bags. However, in our business that’s pretty hard, as you’re usually muling around a number of bottles.
I’d definitely suggest a good pair of sound-cancelling headphones to block out loud talkers and crying babies. Also, try out a great app called Timeshifter, which helps minimise jet lag by altering your body clock over several days prior to travel.
If your flight was delayed, who would you most like to share a dram with in an airport bar?
Probably Jim McEwan or perhaps my mentor, Harry Cockburn.
If you had 24 hours to spare, which city in the world would you most like to explore?
I recently had exactly that much time to spare in Tokyo and in one day you can do quite a lot of memorable things, including terrific sights and terrific food.
We have a long 12-hour flight ahead. What book would you recommend we read to while away the time?
I’m a big Bill Bryson fan and have just started one of his older ones – Neither Here nor There – about his travels through Europe. The only problem with reading Bryson in a public place is that he tends to make me laugh so hard I start crying and it looks a bit odd.
Brand loyalty aside, what are some of your top whiskies and whisky cocktails of choice?
Some of my favourites are world whiskies from top makers who I know and respect – anything from Chichibu (Japan), Millstone (Netherlands) or Westland (Seattle), for example. I’m a vermouth lover so Manhattans and Boulevardiers are some of my favourite cocktails. Sazeracs too, as well as highballs with a really nice hand-carved piece of ice. I had a great cocktail in London recently featuring Bourbon and Pommeau de Normandie. It was a marriage made in heaven.
Tell us about a funny, strange or unusual thing that happened to you on your travels.
My wife and I were headed to New York on BA and on that rare occasion
got upgraded to first class. We shared the small cabin with Paul McCartney,
his wife at the time – Heather Mills – and their small baby. The baby wouldn’t stop crying and Paul was the one who walked it around and around the cabin to calm it down. On the fourth lap as he passed us he said, “I hope this isn’t bothering you too much” to which I thought, “Hey Jude alone is worth seven hours of this, never mind all the rest of your music.”
You’ve been shipwrecked on a desert island. What bottle of whisky would you like to find washed up on the shoreline?
I can’t help this, and it’s not brand loyalty talking, just my taste in whisky. It would have to be a bottle of our flagship Cotswolds Single Malt, my go-to, everyday whisky. Although, perhaps given that situation, and possible duration, I might opt for our Founder’s Choice, which at 60.5% ABV would last me longer…