Why launch a Whisky Academy in the Highland Whisky Making Region of Scotland?
The idea came to me while I was attending the Edinburgh Whisky Academy. Having run the Inverurie Whisky Shop for 2 years at this point I was looking at expanding my own personal knowledge of Whisky. Looking for different courses I was amazed to see that there was nothing really in the North of Scotland for people, either in the trade or for enthusiasts.
Sure, there were Whisky Festivals, the Spirit of Speyside is probably the biggest one, but there was nothing for the people who wanted to go beyond tasting the whisky. Given that we, in Inverurie, are only 45 minutes from the Heart of Speyside and all it’s glorious Distilleries I thought that was a travesty.
With this in mind I became a tutor of the Whisky Ambassador qualification, becoming the first tutor in the North East of Scotland and have worked with some of Whiskies well known names such as The Carnegie Whisky Cellars and the Grill Bar in Aberdeen. I wanted to have something in the North of Scotland for the whisky geeks, those who want to go beyond the taste of the dram and into its creation. Where did the Barley come from? What happens during distillation? Does fermentation times really make a huge difference?
These are questions that go a little beyond the Whisky Ambassador Certificate – it’s a great course and one that really sets the standard for whisky enthusiasts to go and further their learning. People start to take you seriously by getting this under your belt, but it is an introductory course. We wanted to take the next step.
During this period I was researching what other academy’s were out there. I had completed the Edinburgh Whisk Academy Diploma in Scotch Malt, and also the Springbank Whisky School – both fantastic experiences and great for learning both in the classroom and hands on practical learning. It was one of my classmates at Springbank who put me on to the Islay Whisky Academy.
Rachel MacNeil has a fantastic week of learning at Islay, I quickly booked a place and read up on what her Academy were doing. It seemed that she has exactly what I was looking for. I had my blueprint for the Highland Whisky Academy and now fleshing it out was the next step.
If you ever want to experience whisky at the top level, get yourself on the Islay Whisky Academy. I’ll be truly honest and admit that it is the benchmark that we are aiming for. Meeting Jim McEwan was a particular highlight of mine, as was teaming up again with my old Springbank classmate Paul McGlaughlin. It was during an after-course ‘learning’ session that I spoke to Paul about my idea.
“I’ll tell ya…” Paul replied in his thick Nova Scotian accent “If you don’t invite me to talk at this then we’re gonna fall out!”
We pitched ideas back and forth and for the rest of the course I was glued to how Rachel worked the group. Taking notes on things that really worked, could I improve anything, how did the delegates react to the wow-factor, timings, transport and food all got the going over. In the end I had a pretty solid idea of what I was looking for. Taking ideas from Islay and pitching in my experience of Springbank Whisky School, Edinburgh Whisky Academy as well as my time in the Inverurie Whisky Shop, running tours to our Aberdeenshire and Speyside distilleries, I feel that I have the course ready now to rival any in Scotland.
We now offer what promises to be a wonderful full-on get your geek on 5 days of whisky loving learning. From our Aberdeenshire barley farmers who produce 60% of all barley used in Scotch Whisky, to behind the scenes tours of some of the best distilleries in the world, Glen Garioch, GlenDronach, GlenAllachie to name but three, conversations with Ron Welsh, Master Blender for Beam Suntory, (who currently boast Glen Garioch, Ardmore, Bowmore, Auchentoshan and Laphroaig in their portfolio) gave me confidence that we could set the bar high and keep it there. With Ron on board as a guest speaker we were able to attract some really great presentations.
Tatsuya Minagawa, owner of the Highlander Inn Whisky Hotel in Craigellachie quickly confirmed his interest, Annie Manson from Annie B’s Sherry School will be talking all things Sherry and of course, the Whisky Doc himself, Paul McGlaughlin will be teaching you about using your senses and going all geeky on Olfactory receptors. Other guest speakers include Andrew Smith, from the micro-distillery Little Brown Dog will be talking about setting up a small distillation project and guide you through the pit falls and challenges that face you.
With a couple still to be confirmed, including two very exciting Master Blenders we are sure that you will be leaving Aberdeenshire with enough knowledge to be going it alone in no time! So book yourself on to the first Highland Whisky Academy on the 2nd November 2020 and let us immerse you in Whisky this year.