Hooray, it’s Friday night my brother

“Hooray, it’s Friday night my brother, have some whisky…”

The word’s immortalised by quintessential performers, Celtica | Pipes Rock.  From their song “Have Some Whisky“.  I was fortunate to see them perform live at the beginning of summer in Thunder Bay.  Believe me when I tell you, not a Friday has passed that I have not sung those lyrics in my head.

Their supplemental song is “Aye, Aye Capt’n“, which starts off “Let’s drink whisky all night long! Aye, Aye Capt’n”

The are great performers, check them out!

Campbeltown supplementary entry

Anybody who knows me, knows I am a big Beatles fan!  And by extension, I am a big Paul McCartney fan, too.  So after I learned that I was going to Campbeltown, in the Mull of Kintyre, I was beside myself excited that I would be visiting the inspiration of Sir Paul’s song of the same name, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GFRcMYjut4o.

I discovered the week I would be in Scotland, Sir Paul would be touring in America.  No biggie, I really did not expect to meet him, anyway.  I would just have to be content to do a drive by of his High Park Farm.  My host, Callum, from the Feorlin Guest House was gracious enough to take for a drive up the hills to see it from a distance.  Off in the horizon is the farm -> http://twitpic.com/cqdhu5

So imagine my surprise, as we took off from the Campbeltown Airport, and flew over the peninsula, that I saw a familiar looking stone cottage, http://twitpic.com/crshuk.  I had found the website http://virtualglobetrotting.com/map/paul-mccartneys-house-6/ that gave me the familiar view that I was able to identify from the plane.

Thank you Campbeltown, the rolling hills and friendly people made this a trip of a lifetime.  I can only hope they will carry me back to the Mull of Kintyre.

Whisky School day five, graduation day

The culmination of our studies and work all week long came together on graduation day.  We wrote our test, took it up as a group and our marks were revealed to us.  Our class all passed.  We were the second graduating class of 2013.  I graduated from Whisky School on my 45th birthday.

My friend Doug Ratz, did all the initial research for the school, arranged for the travel, and I got to come along for the ride.  It was a once in a lifetime chance to be able to take a trip and have an opportunity like this!  Doug and I have been getting into mischief (sic) for almost 30 years now, and this was just one more life event that we have been able to share together.

It was an honour and a privilege to be at Springbank Distillery for the week.  Gavin McLachlan is to be commended for the professionalism of his staff.  Frank McHardy made the learning fun.  His vast experiences in the distillery world was imparted to us, and for this opportunity I shall be forever grateful.

My classmates during the week were Doug Ratz, Carina Mian and Alex Mermillod.  As a group, we bonded very quickly, developed a great sense of camaraderie and established some inside jokes!  Watch out Campbeltown,  the 10 year reunion tour is already in the works 🙂

I would be remiss if I did not also thank my family.  In part, this trip was a birthday present from them to me, and it brought a dream of a lifetime to being, the chance to finally visit Scotland.

My grad picture -> http://twitpic.com/crjery

Day four at Whisky School

We had some spare time to spend between sessions, so we wandered back to the Still House, this was where all the magic happens.  The smell of the mash and wort tuns kept drawing me back.

We said all along, how friendly, knowledgeable and gracious the staff were.  They truly suffered fools gladly.  They answered all our questions, and were prepared to spend more time with us when we showed up unannounced.

While we were standing around, doing our usual Q&A with the staff, Gordon stated quite plainly, he needed two volunteers to shovel the draff.  Wellies (rubber boots) would be required.  Seems I was voluntold!  The draff is the end product that remains once the mash tun has been drained.  It is pumped to a holding reservoir, which will later be drained into a trailer.  The trailer is taken away by a local farmer, who then feeds it to his livestock.

The draff is think and gooey, and simply does not drain, ergo the need to shovel it.

Three guys working hard -> http://twitpic.com/crj2f2

Day three at whisky school

Starting at the beginning is usually the best place to start, right?  When I enrolled in Whisky School, I thought the first lesson was to prepare the barley for malting, because that is how you start the process, right?  Yes, but…  that is not how it fits into the production cycle.  The school as to operate around the distillery, and not the other way around.

So it is on day three that we transferred the barley from the floor to the kiln to be dried.  This was the lesson I had been waiting for since we arrived.  I was nominated to light the fire for the kiln, as I acquired good fire lighting skills from my days in Scouting.  The malted barley we were preparing was for distilling a Springbank.  This meant that the fire would have peat burning in it.  I appreciate a nice peaty single malt, so it was extra special to be able to light the fire, and get the first hand smell of the burning peat!

Me lighting the fire -> http://twitpic.com/cr1q7o

Day two at Whisky School

Each day at Springbank is a new adventure for us, we get to learn something new about distillery operations every time we report for duty.  On the docket today was steeping the barley, transferring whisky to the casks, warehousing the newly filled casks, turning the malted barley into a mash, and observing the finer points of being in the still house.

Today was the first full day to wear my work boots.  Normally I only need to wear them a few hours at a time for work, so this would be a new experience for me.  Happy to say I pulled this one off! Yay for orthopedic footwear!

I was asked by those who marveled at their size, “Just how big are they?”  Turns out, for my EU friends, I am a 46, for my British friends I am an 11, and back home in Canada, I am a 12.

Now you know 🙂

The boots -> http://twitpic.com/cqt73v

Day one at Whisky School

I traveled with my friend Doug to attend Whisky School in Campbeltown, Scotland at the Springbank distillery.  Not only is this trip about the about the destination, it is also about the journey.  Campbeltown is located on the west coast of Scotland, on the Kintyre peninsula.

There are two other classmates, one from Sweden and one from France, they share a mutual interest in sipping fine single malts too.

As part of our introduction to the distillery, we did our health and safety walk, toured the facility and learned where all the Fire Exits were, and where to NOT hit your head on low  overhangs! We were split into two groups.  Doug and I were dispatched to the malting floor where Kerry and Norman taught us to turn the malted barley with a machine that resembles a lawn mower.  After we prepped the six tonnes of barley, the next stage of our education was working in the warehouse.  We were surrounded by a sea of casks.  We drew samples from various casks, and filtered it into bottles that would be sold at the gift shop.   Our other duties on the day included transferring some casks around the warehouse.

As great as the experience of being at Springbank was, I must admit that my other goal for being here was to take a drive past High Park Farm, Paul McCartney’s farmhouse!  It was like a dream come true!