Whisky Advocate

Your most memorable whisky story?

December 22nd, 2009

There’s more to drinking whisky than what’s in the bottle. Whisky is a very social thing. We drink with friends, visit distilleries, go out to bars and restaurants, go to whisky festivals, etc.

Indeed, whisky has helped create a lot of great memories along the way. Surely you have a fond whisky-related story that we might enjoy?

As you can imagine, after drinking whisky for 30 years and writing about it for 20 years, I have a lot of stories I could share with you. But for now, I’ll begin with this one, as it is the first one that popped into my head.


It was my first trip to Islay about 20 years ago  on a chilly November morning. I was by myself, and I had just taken the ferry (with my rental car) over from the mainland after a splendid weekend in Campbeltown.

It was lunchtime. I was thirsty for a pint of beer and hungry for food. I heard about the Lochside Inn in the town of Bowmore and their great whisky selection, so I wanted to check the place out.

Great whisky indeed! I perused the amazing selection of Islay whiskies while I drank my pint, contemplating what whisky I will enjoy before the day is over. Then, I sat down at one of the tables to grab a bite to eat.

Next to me, also alone at his table, was an older gentleman who appeared to be in his 70s. I noticed he was finishing a half pint of beer (and that he also had a walking cane on the empty seat next to him). I bought him a round and asked him to join me for lunch, which he did.

I can’t remember his name (I have it written down somewhere in my notes.) It turns out that he worked at the Caol Ila distillery for close to 50 years before he retired. He told me that, because of his bad leg, he can’t drive anymore. But, if I drove him to the distillery, he would give me a personal tour. Of course, I said “yes”!

So, we finished our lunch and drove over to the distillery. On the way he told me about Islay life and the Islay people. And he gave me a tour like you wouldn’t believe. Amazing stories–some that no PR company would ever want told in public. For example, it was the first time I learned about adding soap to the pot stills to keep the frothing down during distillation.

It turns out this clever old chap had an alterior motive for my taking him to the distillery. On our way out, he popped into the office quick to say goodbye (or so I thought). The receptionist behind the counter walked into the back room, brought out a bottle wrapped in a plain brown bag, and gave it to him. He quickly slid the bottle out of the bag, looked at it, and then slid it back into the bag.

During the ride back, he didn’t mention the bottle once. I figured that, as part of his retirement package, he was allowed  an occasional bottle of whisky. The problem is, he couldn’t drive anymore (and neither did his wife) to pick it up.  I was more than happy to oblige.

As I was dropping him off in Bowmore, he invited me to join him and his wife for dinner. Naturally, I said I would. Later that evening, the three of us had a wonderful dinner. And then he pulled out of the bag that same bottle he got at the distillery. It was the old distillery 12 year old bottling (prior to “Flora and Fauna” Caol Ila releases). He opened it up and we drank a dram together, to finish off the evening. Great whisky. Great day!

It was my first distillery tour on Islay, and it was the beginning of an amazing five days on the Island which was almost spiritual in nature. I will never forget the great whiskies I tasted along the way, the simple beauty of Islay, and the wonderful people living there. I have been back to Islay many times after that, but I will always remember my first day on Islay.


So that’s my story. What’s yours? We could really get a nice thread going here. Think about a special whisky moment you have experienced, and please share it with us.

63 Responses to “Your most memorable whisky story?”

  1. Quite a recent but long living memory; it was my 30th birthday this year and we hired a cottage on the Isle of Skye for a week with a few of my closest friends. It was a beautiful spot and we had amazing weather.

    We sat out watching the sun go down, sipping Talisker 18 year old.. looking out over the Isle of Rum. A gentle breeze keeping the midges at bay.


  2. John Hansell says:

    Jean-Luc, very nice!

    During our first trip to Skye, my wife and I stayed in an old hunting lodge. The entrance of the lodge was adorned with stuffed wild animals and guns (and antlers) on the wall. No shower, just a bath tub. The water was peat colored and smelled like peat. (My wife refused to take a bath in it, thinking it would actually make her more dirty!) They had only single beds left. I slept in the turret! Gotta love Skye! And Talisker.

  3. Funnily enough the water was a similar colour on our visit!

    Skye is amazing – but a long way up – we drove there and back from London. I think everyone should do it once, unbeatable scenery through the Highlands.

  4. Ox says:

    My most memorable whiskey moments all seem to start with “This one night at the Gazebo in Bardstown…”. There are really too many great experiences there to try to pare them down to one most memorable. Awesome company and experiences to match.

  5. John Hansell says:

    Ox, I’ve been to that Gazebo–many times. Lots of fun. Surely you can pluck one of those memories to share here?

  6. Texas says:

    Well, my only story is that due to my job, I am likely in the small number of Americans who have enjoyed a dram both north of the Arctic Circle (68N northern Sweden), and south of the Antarctic Circle (77S, McMurdo Station, Antarctica).

  7. John Hansell says:

    Texas, that’s pretty cool! (Or should I say COLD?)

  8. PeterD says:

    In 2005 my wife and I were in Scotland and we happened upon the Highland Park distillery after getting off the ferry in St. Margret’s Hope. This was in August and the distillery was mostly shut down at the time.

    We took the public tour with a group of typical tourists, but I was the only one who was actually asking serious questions all throughout the visit. Well, after everyone enjoyed their small sample of the standard 12YO product and headed for the gift shop, the tour guide motioned for us to come into the back for an extended tasting, where we were plied with somewhat significant quantities of 18, 25 and 30 YO. Needless to say, I became quite a fan of H.P. from that day forward, and my bottle of 30YO is highly treasured.

  9. Red_Arremer says:

    I bought a bottle of Peat Monster Reserve from a local liquor store. A few days later I picked up 3 bottles of the Dalmore 28 Stillman’s Dram.

    The next time I walked into the place one of the assistant managers approached me: “Would you be interested in buying a box of scotch samples that we have sitting in the basement?” Hm…

    Later that night, I called a knowlegeable friend. His reaction: “Don’t offer him a goddamn cent! Nobody paid anything for those bottles. Wait and see. Offer him nothing and eventually he’ll just give them to you.” I didn’t really get that; how the he’ll-just-give-them-to-you part followed.

    In the end, I emailed the assistant manager an offer, 50 cents a sample, and he didn’t respond.

    But that wasn’t the end– Because a while later, the next time I visited the store, the guy was right there organizing the whisky. There was no avoiding asking him what he thought of my offer. His unbelievable response: “Which of the samples do you want? I’ll just give them to you.”

    … which was of course exactly what my friend had predicted. I sent the guy a list of the ones I wanted and got 19 great samples for nothing. How does that work?

    Actually, I’ll have to see how memorable this ends up being seeing as it happened just this month.

  10. bgulien says:

    My 2008 trip to Islay. 05/31/2008
    Driving through Scotland I arrived on a Friday at Tarbert.
    I had a ticket for the Saturday afternoon ferry to Islay, because my apartment in Ballygrant was available at 3 PM.
    Saturday morning I drove to Kenacraig to see if I could jump on a earlier ferry, which I could. This one sailed to Port Ellen instead of Port Askaig for the afternoon ferry.
    After arriving I drove the Land Rover to the Ardbeg Distillery right away. After 5 miles I parked the Land Rover and walked into the Ardbeg distillery grounds.
    Inside Ardbeg I bought an Ardbeg nosing glass filled with the new Renaissance whisky. Outside I bought the new Ardbeg book from Mr Gavin Smith himself and bought myself a platter of oysters from islay Oysters and parked my behind on a cask chair and a band played some very good music.
    I asked myself, basking in the wonderful sunshine: Does get life any better than this? Answer: NO!!
    Was this the best start of a vacation: YES!!

  11. PeterD says:

    The second memorable part of my Scottish vacation happened a few days later. As a present, my in-laws gave us one night at Glenmorangie House, LVMH’s spectacular 5-star hospitality facility in Ross shire.

    After a magnificent five-course dinner (tip: adding 10YO Glenmorangie to Haggis improves it considerably), we all settled back to enjoy a dram. Glenmorangie 10 YO was free but other drinks were charged at a fair price. They had a bottle of Ardbeg Provenance sitting there, but at the time it was selling for £300–well above our budget. Now, I’m a *huge* Ardbeg fan and I’d expressed how I dearly wished that I could bring that back, but I settled for an older Glenmorangie, IIRC. Well, at the very end of the night, the staff cracked open the Provenance and everyone who was still up got a *very* nice pour from that bottle. Let me say that it was everything Jim Murray has described it as and then some.

    Just as I was going to head off for the night, I had three other guests approach me and say that I’d probably get more out of their share than they would, and would I like to take their portions back to my room with me. Let me reiterate, this was 1974 Ardbeg Provenance.

    I carefully navigated the stairs with an over-full thistle tumbler of pure liquid heaven. There’d been a glass bottle of sparkling water in our room which we promptly emptied out then put our newfound treasure in for it’s return trip to my cabinet. It’s only been touched once, following the death of a very close friend and Scotch drinker. I’ve promised myself that when I finish the little bit that’s left, it will be for a very joyous occasion.

  12. John Hansell says:

    bgulien, you’re right. That’s about as good as it gets.

    PeterD, I stayed at Glenmorangie House (back when it was called Cadboll House). A very nice place. (I need in-laws like you have!) A great story, and very sentimental too!

  13. bgulien says:

    The trip mentioned above started at Ardbeg, but the 2 weeks spent on Islay produced more memorable moments.
    I don’t know how it’s possible, but Islay has the habit of producing memorable moments by the minute.
    I was there when Prince Charles visited Laphroaig and I visited my square foot of Islay, thanks to Laphroaig.
    But my second moment was going to Bruichladdich and buying a bottle of Redder Still.
    Beautiful Sunshine over Loch Indaal.
    Parking the Land Rover at the waterfront between Bridgend and BruichLaddich, opening the bottle and pouring a dram of 1984 Redder Still while Oyster Catchers ( a bird) screeching and cows passing by (they walk free on this part of Islay).
    Sitting on the ground, leaning against the front wheel of the Land Rover, with one of the best sherried drams in hand, life will not get better any time soon.

  14. Vince says:

    My most memorable whiskey moment occured in Bardstown, KY. I had just moved to KY from NJ (about 2 years ago). I have a very close friend in NJ who I wanted to do something special for and I also wanted to focus on the heritage of KY. I arranged a private dinner and bourbon tasting with Colonel Michael Masters at the Chapeze House in Bardstown. I had my friend fly in from NJ and we spent an absolutely incredible evening with the Colonel and his lovely wife. The atmosphere and dinner were amazing and the bourbon tasting was even better. I learned so much about the history of KY and the industry that evening, not to mention, got to taste some of the most amazing bourbons in the world with a friend I had known for 30 years. It was a truly once in a lifetime evening and it made me a bourbon enthusiast for life.

  15. Texas says:

    Cool stories, guys.

  16. I’d gone to Offutt Air Force Base (Omaha, Nebraska) in 1999 to find out how to put on an air show for my base in southern New Mexico. Having a “back stage” pass, I got to meet some colorful characters. One was No Neck, the pyrotechnics guru for the Tora Tora Tora boys.

    After spending Sunday blowing up 5-gallon bags of jet fuel with detonator caps as the B-17, P-51, P-47, Zeros, and others flew overhead, No Neck took me to dinner at a fine old town Omaha steakhouse. Noting that I’d ordered Chivas before dinner, he asked if I’d like to visit a Scotch pub after dinner.

    The first bottle that caught my eye on the backbar was The Glenrothes 1979 — the first vintage release of single malt from that distillery. I ordered a dram for each of us. We enjoyed several other expressions before we left the Dundee Dell that night. No Neck wouldn’t let me pay. One of those You’re-in-my-town-so-it’s-on-me kind of things, I guess.

    A month later, after No Neck had gotten his Visa bill, he called me. “Man, you are not a cheap date,” were his first words. “Those shots of that Glenrothes stuff were $30 each!”

    “I told you you should have let me pay for the ones I ordered,” I replied. Our drams drained that bottle of the 1979. The barman gave it to me and it resides atop my backbar today.

  17. sam k says:

    Spring, 1979. Heading back home from Philly, and I saw a billboard for Michter’s along the turnpike. Who could resist? Turned down the road toward the distillery, and there was a farmer in bib overalls carrying a full bottle home. Paid a dollar to take the tour, and afterward they took your picture with the whiskey you’d purchased from the Jug House, and sent you the photo along with a thank-you from your tour guide. Nice touch. I still have mine. I visited a few times after that to buy whiskey at what was then the only distillery store in the country.

    November, 1989. My last visit prior to their closing. As I left the Jug House. I noticed a warehouse door open, and pulled in to investigate. Two men were dumping barrels from the near-empty ricks, and we chatted. After a couple of questions, one asked if I’d like a taste from the draining barrel. He located a dusty bottle from a corner and held it briefly under the gurgling stream. After a quick rinse and refill, he handed me the sample.

    To this day, the sinus-clearing qualities of that Lebanon County nectar was the most amazing whiskey experience I ever encountered. When I stopped by six months later, the sign on the door of the Jug House read “Closed until further notice.” I was there for the end of one of America’s most legendary distilleries.

    I haven’t been back since. I’m not sure I could handle what I might find now. The memories are as fresh as yesterday though.

  18. John Hansell says:

    two-bit, well you stumbled on to a fine place there, the Dundee Dell.

    Sam, Having grown up in Lebanon County, and with family that lived in Meyerstown, just several miles away from Michters, I regret that I never visited. (Still, as you know, I am holding on to a half gallon bicentenary jug of Michter’s, bottled in 1976, which I occassionally threaten to open).

  19. Kevin says:

    Best whiskey story has to be my entire trip to Kentucky in May of 2008. My wife and I planned the whole trip around visiting the distilleries. We were able to visit 7 distilleries, and tour 6.

    Highlights range from hearing Eddie Russell tell stories about his dad, Booker, Parker & others to sitting and talking to Mark Brown, to tasting future BTEC releases in their lab to drinking Old Fashioneds with Tom Bulleit at the Pendennis Club. Definitely one of the best weeks of my life.

    If you want to read my blog from the trip go here:

  20. sleepingwarrior says:

    Last Summer I visited Arran distillery and the manager took me into the dunnage and racking warehouses. He opened a selection of casks using a mallet; an amazing thing to watch. I sampled their 5 year old first fill bourbon casks and peated version straight from the cask – nothing beats that. To sample a maturing cask half way through its ageing was a dream. It was exceptionally good and I can’t wait to try it again when bottled in the years to come.

  21. sam k says:

    Hey, Kevin…nice! My wife and I toured both Tennessee distilleries on our honeymoon in 1984 (Dickel won hands down), and I took the family to Maker’s Mark in 2000. My oldest (then 11) insisted I dip my own pint of Maker’s as a souvenir. She and I are going to split it when she turns 21 next year!

  22. MrTH says:

    I have many wonderful whisky memories, but it usually comes down to Islay, doesn’t it? I’ve been fortunate to be able to take four or five weeks’ vacation the past dozen years, and I spend most of that time in Scotland. Five times I’ve made the pilgrimage to the Whisky Isle. I usually try to stay in or near Port Charlotte, because there’s nowhere on the island that I’d rather spend the evening than in the bar of the Port Charlotte Hotel. Fine food, whisky, beer, company, and atmosphere–what the baseball scouts call a five-tool player.

    My last time there was 2006. (I’m overdue, now that I think of it.) Five nights at the tail end of my trip, and I really had little in mind to do, other than relax and take in the air. I stayed at the Academy House at Bruichladdich. I was the only one in! Bruichladdich is a couple of miles from Port Charlotte. I’m usually careful to stay within walking distance of a good pub, but things are a little more relaxed on the islands. Jim McEwan once claimed that only one person had ever been cited for drunk driving in Islay, and that only because he’d hit the police car. Believe it if you like.

    The first night, I met an Australian named Andrew, a winemaker, who was staying two nights at the hostel in PC, and was planning to see as much of the island as possible in his one full day, using public transport. Well, that wouldn’t do. I offered to pick him up in the morning and be his guide for the day. He gladly accepted.

    The next morning we took the 10:00 tour at Bowmore. The wind howled outside, driving a horizontal rain. My post-tour sample, at 11:00, was a 16-year-old cask strength. To be honest, I’ve never much liked Bowmore, but in that circumstance, how could I not enjoy the dram?

    The sun broke out as we visited the magical Kildalton Cross. Lunch was at Ardbeg’s Old Kiln Cafe. Then we drove back across island to Bruichladdich for the 2:30 tour. Bruichladdich tours seem more like social events than tours, the in-shop tasting a sort of happy hour. Quick visits to Kilchoman, in its first year of operation, and the Kilnave Cross, overlooking the thousands of wintering geese on Gruinart Bay, rounded out the day. I’d have liked to get the lad to Portnahaven, Finlaggan, and the Oa, but I guess we did pretty good for one day. Andrew kindly picked up the dinner tab at the PC that evening. As it happened, it was my birthday.

    I spent the next days on Islay time. Fit in a morning tour at Lagavulin, a blether with John McClelland at Bunnahabhain, lunch at An Tigh Seinnse in Portnahaven, lazy time chatting with Mary in the Bruichladdich shop. Met more Australians, Belgians, and Russians. There was music on two evenings at the PC, including a wonderful set by young local musicians Fraser Shaw (pipes) and Emily Edwards (fiddle). On my last full day, I spent a few hours walking along the Big Strand, Islay’s five-mile-long beach. At one point, I saw a couple about a mile away, the closest human contact I had the whole time.

    That evening, the barman at the PC (regulars will know who I mean) offered me a dram of my choice. I facetiously said, “Oh, a Port Ellen, of course,” PE’s being the most expensive whiskies on offer. Despite my subsequent objections, he immediately poured me a Fifth Release, a £20 dram. After five evenings, I was, I guess, a valued customer.

    Yes, I really am long overdue on the Whisky Isle.

  23. HighlandArmourer says:

    Living in Elgin, Morayshire, I guess i’m spoilt for choice when it comes whisky. Most of the Speyside distilleries are only a short drive away, in fact the closest, Glen Moray is only a 5 minute walk away! My most memorable whisky story would have to be my first distillery tour. It was a fine Scottish Summer and my wife, a local girl(me being from England), and I decided to visit a distillery as it was something I had never done. The distillery we chose was an odd choice – Glen Grant in Rothes, a whisky more popular in Italy where it is used as a mixer! However the tour was first class, I shall never forget pushing my nose into the washbacks and being overcome by the fumes! Our guide taught us how to smell and taste the whisky and what flavour notes to look out for. The tour of course ended with a few drams of the older Glen Grants held back from the Italian market! From then on I was hooked and am now the proud owner of a small, but treasured collecton of whisky – all “drinkers”,well perhaps not the Lagavulin 1993 Distillers Edition! I’ll always remember Glen Grant as the place that got me hooked on whisky. The fact that it was a beautiful day and I was able to share the experience with my wife just made it all the more special.


  24. K Dyvik says:

    It was half a lifetime ago, when I was a young man approaching 20, and only just beginning to appreciate the pleasures of scotch whisky. I lived at that time in northern Norway. My uncle had brought his family north for the summer vacation, as was his habit, and we stayed for a few days in a cottage by a waterfall. When his kids were put to sleep one night, he brought out a bottle of whisky (Johnnie Walker Red Label, actually) and two glasses and invited me out on a small rock in the middle of the waterfall. There we sat in the light of the midnight sun, drinking whisky and solving some of the world’s problems, watching the trees in the valley and the surrounding hills, to the sound of the roaring water.
    Later, I have had many very enjoyable and memorable moments with whisky, but perhaps this one set me on track for exploring the world of whisky, in all its facets.

  25. Serge says:

    It was in 1979, or maybe 1980. I was still a student and visited my first distillery, Glenlivet. As I was really short on money, I had brought a case of cheap but good red Bordeaux with me, hoping that I could swap it for bottles of malt whisky. Not only I didn’t get any whisky for my Bordeaux (I had hoped they would automatically reciprocate, well…), but the Scots took the wine, said thank you, and put it straight to… the fridge.

  26. Serge says:

    … I mean, into the fridge (where they also had litres of ginger tonic that they used to drown their malt whisky in).

  27. B.J. Reed says:

    This is tough – I have had some great ones –

    I mentioned the time we toured Laphroig at night with Ian Henderson on another thread so won’t do that one.

    Another wonderful experience was touring Bruichladdich in 2007 – Jim McEwan gave us the tour where we went places I am still amazed by including climbing stairs in an old malt barn into the attic where you couldn’t stand all the way up and hearing Jim’s vision for a vistor’s center with a large fireplace and custom furnishings while we were stepping over bird droppings and old machinery parts – Later went to a warehouse and just spent an hour or two(lost count) sampling casks – then wrapped up by pulling a bottle of the bottling plant assembly line to take back to the Lochside to share with our group.

    One other story if I can. Our first trip to Islay was 1998 and we went on a lark to visit Ardbeg which had just been purchased by Glenmorangie and was in disrepair. We met Jackie Thomson for the first time and she was seven or eight months pregnant with her first child. She greeted us and agreed to give us a tour – with hard hats because the still room was under construction as was the visitor’s center – It was an amazing experience – we ended up in an makeshift office when Stuart joins us and we had a dram or two out of a box somewhere. I will be forever grateful to Jackie for doing that for us.

  28. Eric Falardeau says:

    Two things come in mind John.

    First, my afternoon last year at the Auchentoshan’s distillery. I don’t remember the name of the woman who was our guide, but she was amazingly lovely and passionate about her job and whisky. I had the chance to taste some Bowmore’s products that will never be made again! And it was the first time I was in a distillery in Scotland. A couple of days latter,me and my girlfriend were in Talisker. Wow! It was last january and I feel the blues coming in really fast…

    My second moment was an evening with Jim McEwan in Montréal for the Club Whisky de Québec. What a man! That guy is a legend. He is so lovely and he don’t hesitate to share his knowledge, his toughts and some inside secrets! When I came back home, my girlfriend was amazed by how ecstatic I was. It really changed my life.


  29. MrTH says:

    Eric, did you end up standing on your chairs, chanting something obscene in Gaelic?

  30. Gary says:

    I don’t remember much about my wiskey night out…too damn drunk. I did awaken at the toilet, though.

  31. Eric Falardeau says:

    In fact, MrTH, we didn’t had that… ich… how will I say it… pleasure!?

  32. WolfgangU says:

    A 4-day trip to Islay in April 2008 truly was my initiation into the magical world of single malts. And as I found out there, not just into a world of wonderful sensory experiences, but also of quite ordinary people whose extraordinary dedication and passion to whisky makes these experiences possible in the first place.

    I had pre-booked our accommodation for the first two nights in a B&B solely for its convenient location in Lagavulin, right in the midst of the Big Three of the south coast. On our first evening after flying in from Glasgow, my friend and I were invited by our friendly hosts Don and Dot to join them in their living room for a chat and a dram. A fire – regretfully of coal, not peat – was roaring in the open fireplace. After a warming-up dram of a 12 yo Lagavulin, Don suddenly brought out a dubious looking bottle.
    While I was pondering how I could refuse this (probably) moonshine without offending our hosts, it turned out to be Pillaged Malt, that famed vatting of malts from all Islay distilleries plus Jura and Bushmills in N. Ireland. The story of how these malts were brought together by volunteers rowing and rolling the casks to collect their pillage from one distillery to the next, to then be auctioned off for charitable causes, truly fascinated me. But what fascinated me even more was that Don was willing to share this precious liquid (I just saw PM on the site of a London online retailer going for £300-400 per bottle, depending on the year of release) with us total strangers.
    We later regretted that we did not stay longer with Don and Dot, as we moved to Port Charlotte, to stay in the Lochindaal Hotel, of all places, to have a little adventure. It turned out to be an adventure indeed but that is another story.
    A toast to all those ‘ordinary extraordinay’ folk of Islay!

  33. Kevin says:

    Sam K – Great story about your daughter! That will be a great moment when that bottle is opened!

  34. Brian Bradley says:

    I have been pondering this tread trying to figure out what to say exactly. My stories would not so much be about the location; moreover, the people I have drank with.

    Our outside bar connected to the home we rent was quite a popular location for Hemingway to drink at as his closest friend on the island owned this house. Save for that legend–It’s the people I know that give a great dram meaning. Those wonderful conversations shared that lead to an epic drunken night of laughs and the occasional tear.

  35. Louis says:

    In the summer of 2007, my wife and I visited Kentucky, doing the Lexington side of the Bourbon Trail. At Buffalo Trace, the warehouse directly across from the parking lot has Van Winkle bourbon aging on the ground floor. Standing just outside the warehouse, the aroma of yhe angels share was very obvious. Lucky angels, on that nice summer day, I don’t think that even the Garden of Eden smelled that good.

  36. Paul M says:

    A couple of summers ago I was having a conversation with an asian man at the Four Roses gift shop. He was very nice and seemed very knowledgeable about the history if the distillery. After he left, the woman behind the counter told me that he was the company president.

  37. DavindeK says:

    A funny story I often recall:

    On a tour of Scottish distilleries we managed to have a high-speed encounter with another vehicle resulting in both cars being demolished and an ambulance ride for yours truly. The best part though, once he was assured all would survive, was watching my buddy Krishna rummaging through the boot to make sure all our bottles were safe.

    The rental company provided a new car almost instantly and I was most amused when the driver of the other car asked us for a ride home from the hospital. He clearly didn’t blame us at all and was most delighted his minor injuries would give him some paid time off work. He was a Scot alright, but on the trip home he told us he hated whisky.

    My only regret? I have yet to taste a whisky for which I could write the note: “recently deployed airbag.” But I’ll never forget that smell.

  38. John Hansell says:

    Wow! These are all great stories. Whisky is a special thing, is it not?

    I appreciate everyone taking the time to tell your story. Who else has a story to tell?

  39. Marc says:

    My story is not a happy one, but it is one of my most memorable and involves whisky. My father passed away 6 years ago. I was able to fly in from the USA where I was studying, and make it to his bedside in time to say good-bye. Needless to say I was gutted, the world as I knew it had changed forever. The next day my best friend flew in to attend the funeral and brought a bottle of Johnnie Black along with him. That night, the day before I buried my father, I buried myself and my misery in a bottle of whisky while remembering my hero. I think it was the only thing that got me through the next day and allowed me to be ‘strong’ for my two sisters.

    Every year since then, on his birthday and the anniversary of his passing, I drink a special dram to honour is memory and reminisce. Usually in the company of that same best friend.

    Thanks to everyone sharing their stories, so many fantastic ones.

  40. Mark says:

    It’s been a pleasure to read these stories. Only one has come repeatedly to my own mind, though I’ve sorted through quite a few. I think I have to provide a contrast to the fine tales of trips to Scotland.

    Mine happened at the steakhouse Manny’s in Minneapolis. During a busy day at an academic conference, I had lost contact with my friends. This was during a time when my father was declining from a series of strokes, and that lost contact left me lonely. After the first stroke, my father never held a hammer again, but it took fourteen strokes over almost two years to bring him to his end. After giving up trying to find my friends, I went to Manny’s for any available peace and restoration.

    No reservation, so I went straight to the bar with intent. I was perusing the wine list when I saw Provenance on the back bar. I don’t know if you’ve been to Manny’s, but a spinach salad and a lightly med-rare filet makes a very fine simplicity there. To that I added a double pour of the Provenance, sipping my way through velvety beef. In that context, Ardbeg warmed my mind, my heart, my world, reminding me of the good I knew. Every time I had Provenance afterward, I called it The Best of the Earth.

    As I neared the end of the meal, having ordered a vintage port to finish (wish I could remember which it was), a couple hands fell on my shoulders. My friends had found me.

  41. Mark says:

    Marc, I was just able to read yours after posting mine. Best wishes to you.

  42. Marc says:

    Thank you Mark, all the best to you too. Tonight when I have a dram I’ll toast to both our ‘old men’.

  43. sam k says:

    Wow, a roller-coaster ride of emotions here, and every one worth reading. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays wherever you might be, and thanks again John for the creative subject matter.

  44. Roadrunner says:

    1989- Caldonian Hotel in Edinburgh. I was at a conference and the special event was a whisky tasting of single malts hosted by Peter Dryburgh of the University of Edinburgh. We had 15 different single malts to sample and I tired 4 or 5. My favorites were Lagavulin and Bunnahabhain. Prior to 1989 I drank Jack Daniels and did not know of the existance of single malts. After 1989 it was only single malts. The event unleashed a monster. I have been devoted to single malts for 20 years; reading, collecting, lecturing and of course imbibing.

  45. Robinski says:

    I was having a drink the other day with a guy who’d recently been working in the Antartic. He’s a scientist and was working on a global warming project. He was telling me that on one night they had a malt whisky tasting and used ice that was over 150 million years old…..

  46. Texas says:

    Hey Robinski, I’ve been to the “Ice” numerous times but never been at a field camp which sounds like where your buddy was working. That’s a really neat story!

  47. MrTH says:

    Okay, 150 million-year-old ice is pretty (pardon the expression) cool…but I hardly think you need the chill when you’re already in Antarctica!

  48. H.Diaz says:

    Finding 7 bottles of Macallan 18 y/o for $48 each and buying them all. Like now, they were selling well above $100 retail at the time. The vintages were 1980 and 1981. Not the best of vintages I later learned.

    I felt like a winner on this memorable day.

  49. Lew Bryson says:

    Whiskey makes the moment…but sometimes the moment makes the whiskey. My most memorable whiskey moment was with John Hansell and Mike Haering, Brown-Forman brand director, and a bottle of Jack Daniel’s in an ice-fishing hut on Lake Simcoe. B-F had us (and other writers) on a junket to Canadian Mist, and after the tour and blending was over, we retired to a resort on the Lake…in February. The ice was still about 15″ thick, so John and I decided to take them up on their offering of ice-fishing. We climbed in the fishing guide’s Jeep and Mike pulled out a bottle of Jack. We used the plastic cups on the short ride to the lake, but left them in the Jeep and started necking the Jack once we got in the sno-cat. We roared 2 miles out across the ice, the guide set us up in the hut, and we started telling stories and passing around the Jack. At some point the tackle got tangled and we realized we weren’t going to be catching any fish, but we kept passing the bottle and talking. It was cold, it was starkly beautiful outside the hut, we got to know each other, and we killed the bottle. There was some excellent Old Forester Birthday bourbon waiting for us back at the hotel, but that afternoon…there was just nothing better than that bottle of Jack.
    Whiskey makes the moment…but sometimes the moment makes the whiskey.

  50. John Hansell says:

    Well done, Lew. Well done. A most memorable moment indeed.

  51. Amit says:

    I have more than a few memorable whisky stories from my 25 years of whisky drinking ranging from the first time I tasted a single malt at the very mature of age of 11 (it was a Glenfiddich) to the time I ended up teaming up with someone making a whiskey presentation to over a hundred people at a social event. But I’d like to talk about the very first Whiskyfest that I went to in San Francisco three years ago. I got there with plenty of time to spare and ran in to many people that I recognized from the industry. One of them was kind enough to take me in before the doors opened to the public and I did get to sample a few whiskies before hand. I met many of the folks from the distilleries whom I had met and got to sample a whole host of whiskies that were not poured during the event. A couple of really old Bowmores (including the black), Glenrothes 1968 and 1971, a shot of the Pappy Van Winkle 23 with Julian himself, a new expression from John Glasser, new-make from Laphroaig that Simon was kind enough to get to the event, the Lagavulin 12 and many more. Some from the exhibitors and some from folks like you and me just attending the event. I got invited to an after party where each one of us had brought something unusual or rare (I took a bottle of the Leapfrog) and someone cracked open a bottle of the Glenfiddich 50 for a bunch of strangers. It was a night that is deeply imprinted on my mind and perhaps my soul.

  52. Ladies and gentlemen!

    Wonderful stories. More interesting by far than the one that set John’s reply record. Let’s recall more memories and run this one higher still.

    In the winter of ’94 I was on assignment at a remote Air Force outpost on the Korea’s west coast. My Spartan billet offered no more to drink than brackish, brownish reservoir water.

    Snow to the knee. Damp Yellow Sea gails sliced through six layers of togs as I hiked to the base’s package store. Blended whisky, that’s all. There was, though, an interesting brown ceramic decanter nestled atop a velvety brown bag behind a locked glass door.

    Pushed by a tailwind and the desire to taste the contents of my new brown jug, I hurried the ten blocks back to my room. Warmed, and to Tom Scott’s Saxopella, a friend and I savored the last drops as we exchanged a Royal Salute.

  53. My most memorable was more or less about not-whisky.

    A couple of friends and I planned to go to Scotland for a few days as an autumn break, and we had booked tickets and a few nights in hostels in Glasgow and Edinburgh.

    We looked up the route to the airport that was stated on the airline provider and drove there on a very misty Thursday morning. By the time we got there, ten minutes before check-in closed (after a two hour traffic jam near Brussels).

    ‘Where is the check-in for whatever’? Well, about 70 kilometers south of here, at the next airport…

    Long story short, Google maps sent us to the wrong airport, and we didn’t double check. 70 kilometers, in 10 minutes, with our car still in the parking lot…

    We drove home, laughed about it after an hour, and dumped all our holiday budget at the local whisky specialist retailer…

  54. lawschooldrunk says:

    Both my most memorable, yet unremarkable moments involve clean, cold, crisp winter air.

    In one, I (a cold weather junkie) checked the thermometer and saw it was in the low 20s F. I grabbed my down parka, filled my Glencairn with Laphroaig cask strength, and stood in the middle of the residential street in front of my house. It was around 2AM, with a full moon, absolutely no wind, some deer walking around, totally still and quiet, the smell of firewood wafting from a neighbor’s fireplace, and it was just magical as I sipped the Laphroaig.

    In the other, I attended a wedding on the outskirts of Toronto. Towards the end of the wedding, I took a tumbler filled with Glenmorangie 10yo, fled the stuffy, hot wedding hall, and enjoyed my dram outside in the night air. After driving up from where it was in the 40s F, the 12 F Canadian air was quite refreshing, especially after being in a bus that day for 10 hours. It was just the mellow point of a hectic day.

  55. patrick says:

    A different style of memorable stories:
    A few years back, while waiting for the tour of the Clynelish distillery, I took the liberty to move in front of the distillery to take some photographs. Within a minute, the distillery manager rushed from his office, came to me and asking what I was doing on these private grounds. When I told him that I was waiting for the tour to start, he cooled down and let me continued taking photographs.
    Not the best impression …

    In 2006, before preparing my trip to Scotland, I contacted the Tomatin distillery for taking photographs. Quite a few e-mails were exchanged, but every time, it became more restrictive.
    When I arrived at the distillery, even though it was not in production, I was informed that I was only allowed to take some photographs from outside for safety reasons (well, the BBC was recording on that day, with all its staff and lights !?).
    The staff at the reception center did try anyhow to help me as much as as they could, but the assistant Director was very restrictive. At the end of the tour, I was served a few drams and since I was driving, I poured my dram into my glass vials. The assistant director came, asked me what I was doing and requested that I emptied my samples! Then I asked him kindly if I could take some additional outside photographs, this was not anymore allowed. His tone was most unpleasant, we exchanged a few glances with the staff and I left. This was apparently not enough, since he followed me until I was in my car and continued watching me until I crossed the gate of the distillery. Well, that was a very memorable event that I will not forget.

  56. WolfgangU says:

    Patrick, I am sorry for your experiences with picture-taking. After having visited a total of 22 malt distilleries in Scotland over the past 2 years, I can say their policies differ as vastly as their reasons for restricting photography, which sometimes border on the absurd.
    My impression is that the larger, better known and more visited a distillery is, the more restrictive it tends to be.
    My best experiences were at Lagavulin and Balblair, with no restrictions whatsoever. The latter was the most generous of them all, especially with samples (the Assistant Manager let me fill my three 50ml plastic bottles plus gave me two miniatures, all for free).

  57. patrick says:

    Hi Wolfgang,
    I have to say it varies a lot on the sfaff available at the time of your visit.
    I had enjoyable memories of Islay, including Lagavulin, on in the highlands. Lagavulin is getting slightly stricter, but they are still very permissive.
    On the other hand, the Diageo distilleries are very resctrictive, at the exception of some Dufftown distilleries during the whisky festivals.

  58. sam k says:

    I’ll do what I can to keep this incredible thread going. A few years back, I connected via the internet with John and Linda Lipman, American whiskey historians extraordinaire (, and we met for the first time on my home turf, western Pennsylvania’s Monongahela River valley.

    We explored the remains of a number of silents, including Dillinger Distilling in Ruffs Dale (home of the only post-Prohibition pot still operation constructed in the U.S.), and Frantz Distillers of Somerset County, where single-story iron-clad warehouses still stand, then rendezvoused at a hotel that evening to sample ancestral American whiskeys from each others’ collections.

    A couple of years later, we met again in Baltimore with other whiskey aficionados, including preeminent Maryland distillery historian Jim Bready and his wife Mary, then both in their eighties, to explore the mysteries of Maryland rye, including century-old specimens provided by the eight or so attendees that day.

    Today my wife and I met again with the Lipmans in Bedford PA, the home of the Whiskey Insurrection of 1794, and shared whiskeys (old and new) with friends (old and new), people who are now part of our ever-growing circle.

    It is an incredible experience to share whiskeys that were distilled when our grandparents were born, next to the great whiskeys that are produced today, and to bring others into that fold.

    I am a richer man for these experiences.

    May you all someday enjoy the camaraderie that my wife and I experienced today with friends that I know only because OF my love of whiskey, only FOR the love of whiskey!

  59. John Hansell says:

    Sam K, thanks for sharing that with us!

    Let’s keep the thread going.

  60. JC Skinner says:

    I could talk about the time I accidentally entered the Australian SMWS’s annual tasting and came fourth, while Gordon Ramsay gatecrashed the event at the Sydney Opera House.
    But my favourite whiskey memory was when I tracked down a long-sought bottle of Comber for my Dad who’s from Comber but tragically was underage when the distilleries closed and never tasted his native dram.
    I got the bottle from a lovely old couple of gay guys living at the tip of the Ards peninsula in county Down, who were sadly emigrating to France in their Seventies after experiencing sustained homophobia for the first time in their decades living together in Northern Ireland.
    They were packing up their worldly goods and selling off what they didn’t need, including the whiskey.
    They had a second bottle already open, and gave me a small dram (I was driving) to taste.
    Then they handed me a bottle of armagnac from the village where they were moving to and insisted I share it with my father.
    Lovely people, and they’re toasted each time the bottle’s open, for minding it for us for so many years.

  61. nicolas vaughn says:

    Here is my most memorable moment in the short history of my whisky journey. My first trip to scotland was 2006 and my wife and had planned a two week stint centered around the Feis Ile on Islay and I was so excited to i couldn’t stand it. We spent the first week in edinburgh and then took a train, bus, and ferry to Islay only to realize when we disembarked at Port Ellen there was no one in sight! Oh yeah there are only 3000 people on the island and only 3 taxi services and they were somewhere else as well! My wife was ready to get back on the ferry and go home, but after a few phone calls on a pay phone and about an hour later a taxi arrived and we were on our way to ballygrant. The next few days were amazing. Distillery tours, whisky tastings, meeting the incredible workers at the distilleries, eating great food, etc., etc. But the day i was really looking forward to was the bruichladdich day. It was an incredible day, a great tour especially checking out the warehouses and getting to sample whisky straight out of the cask, the dancing, the food! The best part of the this day was hanging out with Andrew Gray who was one of the original investors and who i’d met the previous year at whiskyfest new york. We spent the day knocking back bruichladdich after bruichladdich, cocktail after cocktail talking about everything and anything. The day came to an end and my wife and I were reluctantly walking out of the distillery wondering how we were getting home AGAIN! Then I ran into Andrew and his wife in the parking lot, he asked me how we we getting home and i replied “I have no idea!” and so he offered to drive us home and it was a good 45 minute drive back to the cottage! We were incredibly grateful and that will be my lasting memory of Scotland and Islay, the whisky, the culture, and of course the generosity and kindness of its people. Slainte Andrew and thank you

  62. Todd says:

    A few years back I was visiting one of my favorite distillies, whose name will remain undisclosed to protect the truthful. The character of whisky produced by this particular distillery has changed considerably over the years and I have been fortunate to have tasted examples produced over a near fifty year period. But whenever I asked distillery representatives about the causes of these variations, I invariably was answered that no such change existed and that the process of producing whisky at that distillery was constant. While visiting the distillery, there were no guides for tours, so I walked into to see the stills unaccompanied and while admiring the stills, the stillman came by and we struck up a conversation. He had worked there for many decades and when noted that it was my perception that the whisky had changed over time, he replied that this was for good reason, then recounted process changes that had occurred over the last forty years, including changes in peating levels, grain sources, mash times, and other factors. Not surprisingly, major process changes coincided with ownership changes. A much younger distillery worker joined us, and he listened carefully as well, and joined in with questions of his own. It was clear that they were both immensely proud of the distillery and were keen to know as much about the distillery as possible. I was very grateful to the distillery workers and felt privileged to witness a substantial part of the oral history of this distillery, and particularly the passing down of this history within the distillery.

  63. Barry says:

    During September 2009 my wife and I were lucky enough to visit Islay and all its distilleries. The highlight of our stay was without doubt a tour at Bunnahabhain. John McClelland himself conducted our tour (we were 5 in total) and he finished the tour with a tasting of 22 year old Bunnahabhain from the cask while he regaled us with stories of the Islay and Bunnahabhain, it was magical. The first night we stayed at the Port Charlotte Hotel, the food the Port Charlotte was exceptional and they have a great whisky bar. We also stayed at The Monarchs Guest House for a few days. Ronnie and Marie are the perfect hosts and Ronnie and Marie were a mine of information about the island and its people. I would recommend The Monarchs unreservedly to anyone looking for a place to stay on the island.

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