The Dram Initiative #006 – Tullibardine w/ James Robertson & Kilchoman w/ Anthony Wills
Event Date: November 5th
The best laid plans of mice and men…
This particular Dram Initiative club event was originally scheduled as a triple-header tasting, but as events unfolded on the other side of the pond it became, by necessity, a double-header. Funny how things work out, but in the end, this was ultimately a change for the better.
This part of year is often the time when our spouses declare themselves ‘whisky widows’ and resign themselves to the fact that for a few weeks the whiskily-inclined will be a) MIA, b) redolent of peat reek and c) begging for spousal taxi services. Such is the nature of whisky season.
Early to mid November sees a bevy of brand ambassadors, distillery managers, whisky moguls and assorted other interesting folk make their way through Calgary for several days of festivals, tastings, master classes and private engagements. It was armed with this knowledge that the DI approached our friend Andy Dunn (the handsome gent in the third photo below) about the possibility of snagging one of these individuals for a private tasting for the club. Andy was gracious enough to offer up not one, but three of the industries more interesting and eclectic individuals: James Robertson of Tullibardine; Michael Urquhart of Gordon & MacPhail / BenRomach; and Anthony Wills of Kilchoman.
As matters would have it, a couple weeks into our event planning Andy informed me that Michael had to postpone his trip due to Gordon & MacPhail being on the receiving end of a rather prestigious award. Seeing as Michael is the company’s Managing Director, you can imagine it was imperative he was present.
We’re nothing if not adaptable, however, and let’s just assume this was a case of serendipity. This change in pland and agenda allowed for what was ultimately a more focused evening. And a highly enjoyable one at that, I should add.
If any of you have been following along with these write-ups of past club events, you’ll likely recall that the first formal meeting was a kickoff night featuring a range of eight Tullibardine expressions reaching back to an exceptional 1966 World Cup edition. The poor sap charged with exercising the gift of gab was none other than yours truly. In spite of a cold and sore throat that had me clinging to the last of my voice by mere threads, we spoke about the launch of the club…about whisky in general (and detail!)…and about Tullibardine itself.
No amount of research or cobbled-together fact sheets are comparable to having the inside track from one of the distillery’s magnates, however, so it was simply a no brainer to revisit Tulli a couple months down the line, albeit with a completely new line-up of malts. And, of course, with the ace in the hole of James Robertson, international sales manager and sort of the global face of Tullibardine in attendance. Slightly unorthodox to do it twice in a year? Sure. But just goes to show…we’ll do what we need to in order to make these events magic.
Having an opportunity to host James as he shared his stories, insight and humour was a treat. The man is a gentleman with deep reserves of knowledge and an articulate way of presenting it. You get to see a little bit of what lies behind the liquid in the glass. Whisky is about people, after all, and James brought that home.
After working our way through four different Tullibardine expressions (a couple from the recently rebranded core range, and a couple of older ones including a 1965), we pulled out one last special drop to toast the first part of the eve…a 48 year old 1962. Great dram, but couldn’t beat the ’65 (in my opinion).
Since we were aiming for each of the gents to present four malts this eve (plus that extra treat of the ’62), we ran with little time between speakers. We gave the crew a few minutes to lob a few questions at James before turning the floor over to our second guest of the eve: Mr. Anthony Wills. Anthony is the founder and managing director of Kilchoman, Islay’s youngest and certainly smallest distillery (until Gartbreck comes online in 2015, that is).
Again, that insider’s perspective is invaluable to us as whisky nerds, so having the gent who actually founded a distillery come through to speak…wow. Anthony took a landlocked farm, refitted parts of it as required and is now distilling a phenomenal young heavily-peated whisky on the premises. I simplify, of course, but in this short little bit of rambling I simply can’t do justice to the stories of Anthony’s technical obstacles, drive for investors, distillation trial and error and what-have-you. Fortunately, much of this can be seen on youtube under the SMTV channel. A quick search by name should find you Anthony’s videos, which are well worth a watch.
It was a treat to be able to pour for the club, among others, Kilchoman’s Inaugural release, which Anthony himself hasn’t tried for years. A special dram, and a bit of Islay history now. This is one to remember.
Anthony’s sincerity of passion is infectious. I scanned the room a few times, watching members leaning forward in their seats, fascinated by both the balls it took to undertake such a risky endeavour, and by the inspired path to creating a new page in the annals of Scotch lore. Cool stuff.
And while we’ve tackled a few peat monsters in previous horizontal tastings, this was the first club date so far to feature a peaty vertical tasting. Well…half of one anyway. The reaction from the group? Hahaha. Mixed, I think. No worries…we’ll bring ’em all over to the dark side eventually.
For any that weren’t a little too weebly or wobbly, and had a safe way home, we closed out the night with an offer of one last dram of one of a couple of Kilchoman single cask releases I had brought along. Gotta go out on a high note, right?
Sincere thanks to James and Anthony for their time and insight. And perhaps most importantly…thanks to Andy for helping make this a reality. It is appreciated. Slainte!
– Words & Photos: Curt