Whisky Wanderlust, Scottish delights

Whisky Wanderlust, Scottish delights

Ask any whisky enthusiast or a club about their bucket list around the subject, and you may not have to look very far to see a Scotland visit on their list. A whisky trail to Scotland is like a pilgrimage. Every time a group comes together sipping on a few whiskies, the conversation invariably turns towards a whisky trail.

I have been a part of such conversations for over the last 15 years or so, and I can assure you that the enthusiasm never dies. The stories and experiences of those who have conquered the bastion invoke the curiosity of the ones who haven’t and ring in common ground with those who have.

Unlike the general perception of a tippler seeking a reason to sip on whisky, a true aficionado would have spent some time reading about the origins of the spirit, and of course Scotland – where the business of producing whisky contributes to around 5% of the nation’s GDP!

Books, such as Michael Jackson's ‘Complete Guide to Single Malt Scotch’, or ‘Malt Whisky’ by Charles Maclean, or more recently, ‘The World Atlas of Whisky’ by Dave Broom – all further fuel the drive to embark on the journey.

For those who have not been influenced by the literary bug, whisky brands have pitched in with graphical and descriptive labels about the wonderful locales of distilleries where their whisky is produced. My earliest memory of this stems from the old label of Glenmorangie where an aerial shot of the distillery captured my imagination of the quaint surroundings and life in Scotland.

Whatever your source of motivation, the desire to visit Scotland and its many distilleries is unparalleled. Having organised a few trails in India and Singapore for members of the Single Malt Amateur Club (SMAC), it was time to add a trail to Scotland as well.

Overcoming challenges

The whisky geek world is a relatively small one, and sharing tips and experiences is a common practice. Using this information and having visited Scotland a few times in the past, we embarked on “Whisky Wanderlust” in August 2023. It was one of the most challenging and ambitious plans that we had conceived.

Visiting Scotland can be a very enriching experience as an individual, and one can, at their own pace, absorb the essence of whisky creation along with the culture. However, when you visit Scotland as a group – the joy, excitement and camaraderie are unprecedented.

But there is a reason why these expeditions remain as plans and bar conversations – the logistical nightmares! Administering a club with members spread across the country comes with its inherent challenges, hence an overseas whisky trail was nothing short of audacious.

My partner-in-crime in running the SMAC, Harsha, had to dig into the very depths of patience, persistence and improvisation to make this possible. I do have some experience around the geography, but nothing had prepared me for challenges – such as not bringing in more than 10 people for a distillery visit, to comply with safety norms; or no restaurant in Islay can accommodate 15-18 people for dinner without prior booking.

Distances to be travelled within the country, media crews, vegetarian food, luggage space… the list can go on, but our expressions in the first picture when we stepped into our chauffeur-driven van say it best.

Curating the very first whisky trail in Scotland for a club in India meant that we needed an agenda that caters to both the very experienced participants and the novices who are visiting for the very first time.

Based on feedback that we solicited during the planning phase, we arrived at an itinerary of 9 days, covering around 20 distilleries and four major regions of Scotland: Highlands, Speyside, Islay and Campbeltown.

Generous support

An essential part of bringing the experience in was to regulate the pace, hand-pick the distillery tours, warehouse visits and master classes for the group, along with the surreal landscapes that the regions have to offer.

This is where the brands of Godawan craft Indian whiskey and Estuary Water came out in full support of the club’s initiative as title and associate sponsors respectively.

This enabled us to engage a media crew and allow members to enjoy the experience without having to focus on clicking pictures – a big shout-out to these brands, who have understood the significance and the role such a tour provides in the whisky appreciation journey.

A key aspect to be noted is that Diageo India and the brand of Godawan have chosen to support, knowing very well that the group is going to visit distilleries in Scotland which can be perceived as competition. This, in my mind, is significant and resonates with the intent of building the category of Indian single malt and encouraging an appreciation and growth of the market in India.

Vikram Damodaran, Chief Innovation Officer at Diageo India, puts it best: “Whisky Wanderlust provides the right platform for aficionados to immerse themselves and experience the rich craftsmanship that whisky represents.

“Godawan single malt is extremely proud to collaborate with SMAC India, to provide further impetus to build and enable the growing ecosystem of whisky connoisseurs in India, who appreciate quality whiskies. We believe that this will go a long way in infusing confidence, knowledge and expertise for these whisky lovers, who will play a significant role in appreciating Indian whiskies in the global arena.”

Surreal tastings

The tour was surreal and the excitement was contagious, from the Garden of Tranquillity at Glen Grant, the production scale at Glenfiddich, the curated story-telling at Glenlivet, blending in traditional whisky-making practices with modern equipment at the Cairn distillery, the human computer at Springbank, impromptu tour of Ardbeg, the gorgeous views at Bunnahabhain, the yellow submarine at Bruichladdich, No. 1 Vault at Bowmore, history lessons at Tomatin and the stellar warehouse experience at Lagavulin.

Each of these experiences had its own charm, essence and tangibility for the members who were on the trail. Personal preferences of whiskies took a back seat as participants enjoyed some amazing whiskies with great food, only to be surpassed by some of the stories shared.

A few of the delectables that the group tasted during this unforgettable journey were Tomatin 36 (Batch 9); Linkwood 37-YO from the Prima & Ultima Series; Bowmore 25 (tasted at the Bowmore Tasting Centre); Ardbeg Dark Cove Committee release; Laphroaig 10 Green Stripe Original Cask Strength (very rare); and Cockburn Pure Malt (1950-1960s bottling).

An essential part of the overall trail was evening wind-down sessions where the group just kicked back to relax with hand-picked whiskies of a bygone era. It was here that the group bonded, and the sharing of anecdotes was at its peak – reminiscing about the day’s travels and every individual’s takeaways only built the energy for the next day.

We took more than a year to plan Whisky Wanderlust, and quoting the members’ thoughts on the final day of the tour: “It feels like yesterday when we stepped into the first distillery!” Whiskies, Haggis, meeting legendary whisky personalities and lots of sticky toffee puddings – all coalesced to give a perfect high!!

The group smiled when we left them with the message, “Mata chikaiuchini o ai shimashou”, giving them a loud hint that we will see them soon.