October 13, 2012 § 7 Comments
Last year I organised Glasgow’s first Tweed Ride and such was the demand for another one in 2012 it would have been rude not to oblige.
Being so far from the city meant that this time around I took a back seat / saddle and placed the event in the hands of two Glasgow chaps I knew would make a sterling job of it.
And that they did…
August 16, 2011 § Leave a Comment
I’ve imbibed more that my fair share of their raw spirit and have loved every drop. It was rough, wild, strong, warming, unconventional, ballistic, sea-soaked and apple sweet. Like marmite you either loved it or hated it and based on month after month of watching folk try it I can safely say far, far more people loved it than hated it.
It was a true island spirit based on old island stills and methods, no Islay imitator was here.
Distiller Mark Tayburn has stuck to his guns and did things his way throughout. His whisky, his vision, the distillery is a true one off, safe from the marketing and PR spin that afflicts a lot of newbie, indy distilleries. It has charm and originality in spades
Three years on and the new make spirit has languished in oak in his bonded warehouse and become legal malt whisky under law.
Pre-orders are being taken for a limited run of just 2011 bottles being shipped in a wooden case for October 2011 at £150.00 + delivery.
Not cheap but this is history in a bottle. Buy to keep or buy to drink?
I was lucky enough to enjoy a dram from cask #2 a few months ago, the spirit that was soon to be the final malt.
It was divine.
Without giving too much away, it was a million miles from the original spirit. Light, complex, delicate, Lowland-style, original, delicious…a real eye opener and confirmation that this is no rough and ready distillery.
This is truly great craft malt whisky, made with originality and skill, casked and matured with care and attention. Roll on the 5 year old and more.
For local drinkers there are a couple of parties planned for the launch in October. Watch this space.
Each 500ml bottle is individually signed by distillery owner Mark Tayburn
Bottles are numbered
Each bottle is comes in a stylized teak case with an Abhainn Dearg wooden plaque on the front
Non Chill Filtered
Natural Cask Colour
Single Cask Bottling
Bottled by Hand
They will come from casks numbered – 2. 4. 5. 6 & 7 these are all American Oak, bourbon casks laid down when the distillery started production in 2008.
August 9, 2011 § 3 Comments
Image © Dominic Cocozza. All rights reserved.
It seemed like a good idea at the time.
Every other city with style had done it and after a few beers and some banter with the courier folk I know there was obvious scope for Glasgow to hold its own Tweed Ride.
Started in London in 2009, the idea of getting one’s Victoriana on, donning tweed and riding out on a stylish velocipede caught on quickly and the likes of New York, Paris, Sydney, Tokyo, Paris and Toronto all soon followed suit. Riders set out on a tour of their home city, dressed to the nines in dapper fashion,
took in some sites, popped into a hostlery or two and generally enjoyed a pleasant day out in good company.
I’ve organised and run events for over a decade for thousands of people. Up mountains, in forests, on boats, in warehouses, legal, illegal, day, night, summer, winter…it doesn’t phase me.
This was easily the hardest to pull off. No budget to speak of, apart from my right hand man Stoofa no staff to lean on, no “official” status to lend weight, no time, no pay, an increasingly ambitious gameplan…
And to top it off, me being me, chose to name the Glasgow ride The Harris Tweed Ride, instantly appropriating a brand name that some people have been spending a lot of time and money and effort successfully re-establishing. The marking of Scotland’s first tweed cycling event with the world-famous orb seemed a no-brainer. With hindsight, a rather naive no-brainer.
The idea of this event ending up a marketing disaster plagued me from very early on, failure to pull it off with any sort of style, flair or credibility would see me a laughing stock, barred from island circles, the man who made a mockery of the clo mor.
No pressure then.
A whole host of local, independent businesses and partners were pulled together to feed, water and entertain the 100 riders who had signed up. Almost all of them were small but leaders in their field with a particular Scottish bent. Argyle teas, SY marag, West Coast oysters, Scottish cream scones, whisky cocktails, Scottish gin, all plied by some of the most respected bars and restaurants in the city (Brown’s, WEST, Gandolfi, Ben Nevis, Crabshakk, Stravaigin, Blythswood Square…).
The design and identity was strong, using a local up-coming designer, the marketing was low-key, underground, word of mouth and social media driven and there was no big press hullabaloo. The riders were drawn from right across the Glasgow scene, couriers, musicians, artists, fashion folk, tweed geeks, bike nerds, foodies, friends.
No big names, no celebrities, no scenesters or “faces”. No sell out, no awful brand associations, no cynical marketing, no big statements. Just grassroots enthusiasm, a genuineness, a true reflection of the many good things about Glasgow.
In the run-up, the omens weren’t good. The weather forecast was awful, volunteers called to let us down, last minute meetings with the council and police were called due to confusion over event timings and routes. All signs pointed to my red-faced resignation from the world of weaving.
But on the day?
For my part, it was an honest event. Damp but far from damp spirited. There are things that could have been improved on, things that I’d have done differently but such is the nature of an inaugural outing like this. I think everyone genuinely had a great experience and that’s what matters. So many people and businesses gave so generously of their time, energy and efforts too. It was all most heartening in so many ways
The event was my last project here in Glasgow. It pulled together all the things I love about this place, good people, good food and drink, good music and it rounds off a year of big changes, a year in which I’ve been more “out there” than I generally feel comfortable with. It has been fun. A lot of fun. But now it’s time to reel my neck in and get on with doing what I do, under the radar and away from the limelight.
A quieter life beckons.
February 8, 2011 § Leave a Comment
I love the everyday Caol Ila 12. Warm, smokey, peaty, just a nice bottle of Islay whisky to partake in of an evening.
You know where you are with it. No drama.
But their unpeated 10 year old was a bit out of left field. Like the straight up 12 but in the nip, naked, with no peat stack to hide behind.
I take this with a tiny deoch of water and here’s the notes…
Nose: Blone’s nail varnish; pandrops from a cailleach’s handbag; freshly painted shieling.
Mouth: Hot Co-Op apple pie, summer machair, black pepper; a pic-n-mix-from-the-pakis-shop sweetness after a while.
Finish: Longish, melting vanilla slider at Garry beach.
So there you go. Not cheap at £60 a bottle, benefits from time in the glass and it’s at a weighty 65.8% abv so you have to ca’canny a bit.
Despite my despise of the distillery owners Diageo it still gets a thumbs up!
February 8, 2011 § Leave a Comment
This year (and last to be fair) has been soaked in whisky so far, so why not bring some of the uisge beatha to The Croft?
I’ve been drinking malt whisky since I was 15, there was always a bottle or two under the tree at Xmas and since then, each year as the nights draw in I invariably switch from rums n bourbons to malts and a wee deoch of water. But I’m a strictly just drink the damn dram kinda guy and left the tasting to the experts, collectors and hobbyists. Until now…
As I try new whiskies this year, I’ll be posting some (deranged) tasting notes, please don’t take them too seriously, I’m obviously no expert at all, at all.
First up Big Peat, a blended (or vatted) malt from Douglas Laing. Appealing to the hefty phenol fetishists of the whisky fraternity this promised to be a bit of a beast. I’ll admit I’m a fan of the ol’ peaty Islay malt with a huge soft spot for Lagavulins and Caol Ilas so was looking forward to this containing as it does Ardbeg, Bowmore, Caol Ila and Port Ellen.
Anyway here goes…
Nose: Oily exhaust fumes from the Suiliven; quad bike tyres in summer; fishing boat diesel effluence in SY harbour; industrial disinfectant wipes on the shopfloor of Hebridean Engineering circa 1982.
Mouth: Chewing a Ness arsonist’s boilersuit; spicy marag dropped in a crofter’s hearth; burning, like Golf GTI tyres skidding off the Barvas Road at 90mph
Finish: Long; post-licking a hot, sooty blackhouse pot-chain.
All in all a good dram but not something I could drink all night. Maybe in winter with a hoolie blowing outside but even then…
December 6, 2010 § 5 Comments
A year ago this week I got involved with the folk at MacSorley’s Bar to help them establish their new food operation. Slinging gaelic words gu leor at the directors and chef we settled on the name Biadh (Pronounced Bee-Uch, Gaelic for food) and set out to bring a little Hebridean flavour to the city.
Seeking some marketing authenticity, I researched the history of the establishment at 42 Jamaica Street which had been opened back in 1899 by one Phillip MacSorley. I discovered a wealth of history, from Phillip MacSorley’s own brand of Peacemaker whisky plied across the bar to establishing the fact that this was a hostelry predominately owned, run and patronised by Islanders and Highlanders for a 50 year period from 1910 to 1960. With the directors consent we decided to re-invigorate these links with the past and re-establish the strong connections to their Scottish and, in particular, island heritages and embarked on a series of ambitious projects over the next 12 months to quietly but assuredly make our mark as a truly Scottish place to eat.
We had taken the first tentative steps down our island heritage route with the introduction of Harris Tweed in the interiors with help from Harris Tweed Hebrides. Both high and low seating used heavy twills and herringbones and the bannister and railings were finished in the trademarked fabric. We also used flashes of the material on the menu holders.
The next step was to establish the name. Alongside award winning Scottish design company ISO, we developed an identity that was both contemporary and traditionally Scottish. The logo played around the letter B, phonetically the first syllable of the rather awkward spelling (to English only tongues at least) and boldly helped the reader say the word BEE-UCH as part of the ident too. The Gaelic usage was built into a tag-line and used on all branded materials from that point on, using different colours as the seasons progressed, reflecting their commitment to fresh, local, seasonal ingredients.
Chef Sam Carswell then turned his attention to the menu itself introducing his “slates”, a selection of prime Scottish bites from potted meats to shellfish served on real Argyll roofing slates and creating an incredibly ambitious menu of dishes using the very best from the Scottish larder and all sourced from within 50 miles of his kitchen wherever possible. Scottish game, offal, unfashionable cuts, traditional meats like mutton, ham hocks, shin, oxtails etc all made regular appearances. Even hand-gathered cockles and whelks from travellers on the Ardgowan peninsula showed up on the menu.
And when we had to go the extra mile for the right ingredient we really did so.
During the summer I visited practically every butcher on Lewis and procured a stick of their marag. Stornoway black pudding (or marag dubh) was collected from 4 different butchers in the town of Stornoway (Charley Barley, Willie John’s, Alex France, MacLeod & MacLeod), one from Point and one from the tiny village of Cross in Ness some 25 miles north of Stornoway and after eliminating a few, the rest were put to the test back in the restaurant. The Cross Stores marag was deemed the best and was soon included on the menus at brunch, on the Bar menu in Stovies and on the main menu as as starter in a chicken dumpling.
I also contacted the Scottish Crofting Foundation in Skye to secure croft reared and grown mutton, honey and soft fruits for the kitchens and showed the ingredients off in a dedicated Crofter’s menu during the Scottish Food & Drink Fortnight. A collaboration was also made with the Lewis & Harris Horticultural Producers group in the Outer Hebrides to bring some of their small holders goods to Glasgow market and show off their truly home-grown, organic, hand-tended vegetables on the Biadh menu.
It wasn’t just food that was focussed upon but the after-dinner dram. Philip MacSorley once had his own brand of whisky on the premises and the time seemed right to revive the name once more. To this end I got in touch with Marko Tayburn at Scotland’s newest and most remote craft whisky distiller and began negotiations with Abhainn Dearg Distilery in the village of Carnish on the Isle of Lewis. He kindly allowed us to procure a small 30 litre cask of the first legal spirit to be made on the island in over 170 years and after a 700 mile road-trip we became the first people to carry a legal dram off the island in almost two centuries. Biadh and MacSorley’s now serves its Peacemaker Batch straight from the cask as an unusual dram, an aperitif and has used it in chocolate desserts, cured salmon and whisky soaked Haggis canapes too.
Finally to wrap up the year it was decided to do what noone else could do, procure and serve a rare Scottish delicacy from the most North Westerly place in the British Isles. Every year ten specially selected men from the village of Ness set off in a boat for a rock called Sula Sgeir far into the wilds of the Atlantic Ocean. Here they sleep in bothys and catch, kill, char over peat fires and salt cure 2000 young gannets over a period of two weeks before returning home to serve to the their fellow villagers. The Guga Hunt (Guga being Gaelic for gannet), takes place just once a year in great secrecy as it has done for over 700 years. The cull is protected by a special dispensation from the Scottish Government and is the only killing of sea-birds for food allowed in the UK today, Scots having eaten the birds for centuries but the gannet now fallen out of favour over the years.
In behalf of the Biadh team I made contact with an acquaintance in the village and eventually it was agreed we could procure two of the birds, normally reserved for the hunters and villagers alone for personal consumption. Two weeks after the boat returned, the contact travelled to Glasgow to deliver the birds and instruct chef Carswell on how to clean, prepare and cook the meat. It is illegal to buy and sell the guga so Biadh held a small, private lunch for those who had expressed an interest in tasting the rare delicacy and on the day sat down with Allan Brown (Times), Cate Devine (Herald), Donald S Murray (Author of The Guga Hunters & poet) and others and enjoyed a rare taste of a dish seldom tried outside the Isle of Lewis. It was served in the traditional manner alongside boiled Kerr’s Pink potatoes from the same village and a glass of full cream milk. Sam also made tiny Guga canapes using hollowed out baby potatoes and skin and fat from the bird. A very salty, fishy, oily, duck textured dish was enjoyed by all…
Over the last twelve months all these projects have served to draw together one whole cohesive marketing initiative, the re-establishment of a truly Scottish restaurant with a real difference. And on Sunday night, for my part in all this, I picked up the GRA Extra Mile Award for literally going the extra miles to ensure Biadh sticks to it’s gaelic guns, Hebridean roots and serves the very best island produce to its customers in the best environment. This was the second industry award this year, as well as many positive reviews and listing ratings. The resultant media coverage from the endevours has been invaluable and hopefully there’s more to come in February.
2011 may prove to be a tricky year. A historic recession combined with aggressive supermarket loss-leading alcohol sales have seen the food and drink trade in Glasgow suffer greatly. Add to this the difficult oil-and-water mix of running a high-end food operation out of a bustling and loud music bar and you’ve got your work cut out. But the new year brings with it new projects, from Hebridean seaweed and honey bees to Highland beef, so there’s still much to be explored and championed from the islands, down here in the big city. And if I can keep doing that then I’m happy to do so until that particular well runs dry.
If you haven’t been in, then please do so, it’s different if nothing else. The chef is an incredibly talented and open-minded man who takes to new ingredients and ideas with great gastro gusto. If he can make an oily, baby gannet taste good, just imagine what he does with prime lamb, beef and seafood. The staff are relaxed, friendly and becoming more knowledgeable and adept with the unusual dishes with every passing week. The Harris Tweed is warm and comfortable and if we can keep the volume down on the (excellent) house bands and music once in a while you’ll be guaranteed a good night to go with your good company.
And if not you now know who to complain to…
(If this has piqued your interest, look out for a more detailed and in-depth take on the MacSorley’s history and island story in the WHFP in the near future).
December 2, 2010 § Leave a Comment
Any cold coves and blue blones traipsing down the Stornoway narrows this wintery evening would do well to get out of the snow and into the warmth of The Star Inn.
Willie Campbell will be playing and as always the fire will be lit.
I’d like nothing more than to be there myself.
November 19, 2010 § Leave a Comment
The Croft is loaded with the cold at the moment so what better time to introduce the bold Ralfy at ralfy.com.
Ralfy broadcasts great vlogs (video blogs) reviewing and instructing the masses in the ways of the uisge beatha.
Highly recommended, never poe-faced or overtly serious about his drams it makes for excellent and informative viewing. And he’s a thoroughly nice chap in real life to boot.
Tonight’s hot toddy is being made with some of The Spirit of Lewis, lemon, honey and cinnamon.
October 27, 2010 § Leave a Comment
100 years ago Philip MacSorley plied his own brand of whisky across the mahogany bars of his pub at 42 Jamaica Street Glasgow and last year the MacSorley’s crew set out to resurrect his legendary “Peacemaker” dram.
We set out on a 600 mile round trip to the remote village of Carnish on the west coast of the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides where Mark Tayburn had been busy creating a very unique craft distillery and the first legal spirit on the island in over 170 years.
We came back with a 30 litre oloroso cask of his new make spirit, fresh and clear off his unusual copper stills and left the wood to work it’s magic. When we opened it earlier this year we found a dram inside like no other and named it our Peacemaker batch in honour of old Phil’s drink from decades past.
We tasted it, the whisky buffs tasted it and the non-whisky lovers tasted it and all declared it was good. Damn good. So good in fact that even at £4.50 a measure we managed to empty the cask within three months.
So we made the long journey north again to fill the cask for a second time, mixing more new spirit with some of the original, and brought it home again during the summer to ready itself for opening again.
And ready it now is! What will it taste like this time? At a cask strength of almost 63% abv it will put a fire in your belly anyway…
Previous experienced whisky tasters have so far described it thus:
Nose: Vanilla fudge, toffee apple pie and salt herring. Ozone, yeast and a floral note too. Lots of tannins. how can such a young spirit be so complex? Vanilla, honey(really sweet), malty, salty, fresh sea air, so much honey and vanilla! Nice sweet apple.
Palate: Explosion of sweetness, fizzing in the mouth shifting from sugar to salt. Foamy like sherbet, sweet, salty, hint of oaky oil
Finish: That long salty finish again. Fishy, oily, oak sweet hint of bitter.
But it changes all the time…
Join us on Wednesday 10th November to taste for yourself!
42 Jamaica Street