Thursday 26 January 2012

Why Whisky is SO Important to Scotland

Another Wee Dram  from Victor...
This article is one of an occasional series of thoughts brought to you by Victor "Bagging" Brierley of Glasgow Whisky Tours. The opinions herein are his and only his and all writs, suits and death threats should be sent to Victor on his own Facebook page or via his own Glasgow Whisky Tours website.

Imagine travelling 5.000 miles across the globe to drink the drink that you love, on its home patch. Imagine then finding out that this same iconic drink is ignored in most of the bars you visit and the majority of the people you speak to don't know much about it. This, dear friends, is the story of Scotch Whisky.

We're a wee country in the Northern and chilly parts of Europe but our National Drink is revered and there's a bottle of it in just about every bar in the World. So, how on earth did this come to be? It's a very good question and if you come looking for an answer to this in the majority of bars and licensed premises in Scotland, you'll not be finding an answer.

Sure, in the 'Aficionado' circuit which is 99% dominated by men of a certain age, you get LOADS of knowledge, lots of it a bit too anally retentive and some of it focusing on box-ticking and cataloguing. The sort of thing that only 50-something year old men are really good at. You'll also get 'Industry' knowledge but when this is combined with in-house fighting and a scenario where you can visit certain distilleries and be shown a map featuring only their portfolio of distilleries, ignoring all the rest in Scotland, it's easy to paint a pretty bland and depressing picture of Whisky on its home turf.

Of course, there are exemplars and people who do a marvellous job selling and preaching about The World's most iconic spirit drink but I know that when you go drinking in a Glasgow Whisky bar and the member of staff doesn't know the difference between a Single Malt and a Blend, you'd have to say, there's got to be room for improvement.

Whisky generates £109 per second for the British economy but over 90% of the whisky produced in Scotland is exported. You could argue that is most of it is consumed abroad, does it really matter about the piddly wee market of Scotland? After all, if you were a big brand with ever tightening budgets, would you really be anything other than mad to dedicate time at home, when there's billions of Chinese and Indians who simply love our National Drink and want to buy rather a lot of it?

Well yes, the domestic market is tiny, probably even shrinking at a time when exports rose 23% in 2010, so surely we're over emphasising its importance? The simple answer is it's IMPOSSIBLE to over emphasise the importance of Whisky in Scotland. For instance, imagine if the spiritual home of Johnnie Walker, the worlds bigging selling Scotch Whisky was in USA, or China or Dubai? They would have Johnnie Walker World, a theme park, probably open all year round and packed with pampered tourists spending lots of tourism dosh.

What do we have at the ACTUAL home of Johnnie Walker, which is in Speyside? Erm, it's not quite this. If you were being kind, you'd call it 'twee'. It's not designed to extract tourism dollars, it's sort of seen as a bit of an afterthought.

And this is where we need to change. There are nearly 100 distilleries in Scotland, owned by various Global entities and tiny independents but they don't talk and they don't tell you about the other distilleries. Some of the visitor centres are good, some a top drawer. Others are closed and incredibly, for some Iconic brands, they don't even exist.

If you combine this with thousands of bars in Scotland who know next to nothing about our National Drink but could tell you the provenance of every bottle of imported lager in their fridge, it's clear we need to change.

So, how do we do this? It's actually really simple. Training. I'll now declare my interest here as I have set up a Limited Company called The Whisky Ambassador which is going to try and do lots of things. It's a big 'ask' as a football pundit might say but we're simply looking at the Mantra: Drink Less, Drink Better. Instead of fobbing customers off with a generic 'malt of the month', we're wanting to get Scotland to upsell in the bars here. Give customers a reason to drink something better. For bar staff to do this, they need power, they need buy-in from management and they need unity and support from the dynamic but divided Scotch whisky producers. Above all, they need training.

If's easier to simply pour another vodka or direct a customer to their 'usual' blend which depressingly clog up the optics eyline of the majority of bars in Scotland. It's a bit tougher to enthuse and be proactive about our National drink and offer alternatives, because in the majority of bars, there ins't an alternative/ "Nobody drinks 18 year old malts, so we don't have them' is the stock (or should that be lack of stock) answer. Yeah yeah, I know Catch 22, chicken and egg...

I've run out of space in this blog but I'll be telling you more about The Whisky Ambassador and Drink Less, Drink Better. It's a great idea as our email in boxes are telling us but it's not really something we can do alone. Knowlege is power. We want to supply the knowledge, we need unity and forward thinking for people to invest in training, be a bit cleverer in marketing and really just talk to each other. Hopefully, as an Independent, not linked to any trade body or distillery owner, we'll be able to do this. We'll be rolling out The Whisky Ambassador brand in the next few weeks, so watch this space. Imagine a sort of star grading system. like Michelin has, where you can select the best places to enjoy a luxury dram and I'm not just talking about the handful of luxury hotels who do it well.

We want people to find the real gems and get a proper whisky experience here, not the apologetic, pathetic excuse for one that's generally on offer in Scotland, the home of Whisky. As any football pundit worth his salt might cliche, it's a bit of a no-brainer, Motty.

Monday 23 January 2012

St Andrews Festival of Golf 28th March to 1st April

The St. Andrews Golf Festival, golf’s first-ever organised celebration, will take place between 28 March and 1 April in this historic town where golf has been played for over 600 years.

The creative Festival, which hopes to attract international visitors, has an impressive schedule of events, exhibitions, tours, lectures, films and skills competitions planned for the launch of this five-day extravaganza.

Over the coming days and weeks the Hotels will be updating offers and availability for events throughout the festival and we'll feature a few of the highlights in the blog and Facebook pages. You can check availability around Fife and book online using the checker on the right.

The First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond, affirmed his support of the endeavour by stating: “St. Andrews is celebrated worldwide as the Home of Golf and it is apt the world’s first-ever Festival of Golf is happening in this ancient sporting town. The St. Andrews Golf Festival aims to not only raise the profile of St. Andrews andScotlandworldwide but also improve tourism and business revenue regionally, nationally and internationally.

“With a rich itinerary of events, the St. Andrews Golf Festival will hopefully grow in stature to become a well received fixture inScotland’s calendar. I offer my warm support and all the very best for a successful Festival.”

Exhibitions to showcase the history of the game and some of golf’s most distinguished champions will be held at the St Andrews Golf Hotel and the Best Western Scores Hotel in St. Andrewsand will include tributes to:
  • Old Tom Morris
  • Bobby Jones
  • Seve Ballesteros
  • The History of Golf in St. Andrews
  • Keepers of the Green
  • The Ryder Cup
  • Women’s Golf and much more.
Richard Wax, Chairman of the Festival, said: “We are very grateful to the First Minister for his support. The Festival is a world first and I am delighted that First Minister has been able to show his support for our initiative in this way. We are also very grateful to the town’s associations including the St Andrews Partnership, the Hotel and Guest House Association, the Links Trust and the many other businesses involved with the Festival.

“The advice, support and direction of the regional and national bodies including Fife Council, EventScotland and VisitScotland have been simply superb. Our aim is to encourage tourists toSt Andrewsearlier in the season and to raise revenue for local businesses. To date our story has reached over 24 million people and we hope that the global appetite for our story will see the Festival grow year after year.”

Speakers at the Festival include the following and you can find out a lot more about these and a lot more aabout St Andrews Golf Festival Talks on the official website
  • David Joy (on Old Tom Morris and the golfers of his era)
  • David Hamilton (on artisan golf)
  • Lewine Mair (on the History of Women’s Golf)
  • Kyle Phillips on his design of Kingsbarns Links
  • MungoPark(on Willie Park Snr)
  • Steven Reid (on Bobby Jones)
There will be arange of book signings by authors Ivan Morris, John Hagen, David Hurdie, and Henry Lord. There are also art galleries by Graeme Baxter, Richard Chorley, Harold Riley, Joe Austen, Hugh Dodd and David Joy.

There will be golf films played at venues across St Andrews including at the exhibitions plus an exclusive viewing of unseen footage from the outtakes of the BBC film on Seve Ballesteros, which will be introduced by the producer and director of the programme, Jo McCusker.

Daily activities during the festival include a golf tour around St Andrews golf spots accompanied by Mr Jimmy Bone (aka Old Tom’s caddy in the theatre production of Old Tom Morris), charity putting competitions on the Links Trust green, hickory golf events, guided walks around the historic sites of St Andrews, golf simulators and charity fundraising for the Seve Ballesteros Foundation.

On Saturday evening, the St. Andrews Golf Festival Awards will be held in St. Andrews University’s historic Younger Hall, where Bobby Jones, Seve Ballesteros, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and other icons of the game received honorary degrees from the ancient university.

All exhibitions, exclusive talks, book signings and gala night events are free for everyone.

The Festival line up is constantly growing and further ideas include “Street Golf” in the historic lanes of St. Andrews to re-enact the game of Sillybodkins that was played during Old Tom’s day with sticks and old corks.

For a listing of Festival events, visit The schedule is continually updated with additional activities that will interest golfers and non-golfers of all ages.

Thursday 12 January 2012

Be Creative in Scotland in 2012?

Another great promotional video highlighting some great places in Scotland.

The Brig o Doon Hotel in Alloway sits right on that famous bridge and is one of the true hidden gems of Scottish Hospitality. Great value online booking direct with the hotel.

A BabyMoon Break in St Andrews...

Whatever Next! Mums and Dads-to-be enjoy an exclusive BabyMoon break at Fairmont St Andrews!

Many pregnant women are taking advantage of their last baby-free days to hit the road on a getaway built for two. Spas are often a key vacation activity, and Fairmont St Andrews have created a package designed to relax, rejuvenate and reconnect mommies and dads to be at this joyful, but sometimes stressful, time of their lives.

Fairmont St Andrews Baby-moon Break includes:
  • Two nights’ accommodation in a Sea View Suite
  • Selection of Chocolates on arrival
  • A full Scottish Breakfast in bed on both mornings (healthy continental option available)
  • Unlimited use of our Signature Spa and Relaxation Room
  • A 60 minute therapeutic maternity treatment
  • A three course dinner in any of our stunning restaurants
  • A 15% discount at Baby Farmore, St Andrews
  • Complimentary Bath Butler by candlelight
  • Unlimited Films for one night
  • £10 Cravings Card for the mum to be (available 24 hours a day)
This package is based on two adults sharing. Available from £399 per person, based on a two night stay.

Expectant parents will be treated to opulent accommodation in a stunning sea-view guest room overlooking the medieval St Andrews, perfect for enjoying a full night’s sleep. In addition, the five bubble-awarded signature spa is the perfect place to reconnect. Enjoy a fabulous maternity treatment specifically tailored to improve circulation, assist lower back pain, relive edema and create an overall sense of well-being, while being gentle and safe for both mother and child, all in the comfort of the couple’s suite! Sit by the 16 metre pool, Jacuzzi and steam room or spend some quality time in one of the private relaxation rooms.

Enjoy a laid back morning with a “healthy start” breakfast in bed and top it off with a scrumptious three course dinner in any of our fabulous restaurants including the magnificent Squire restaurant or stunning Clubhouse.

Take advantage of a sumptuous evening together with a fabulous bath butler service where luxurious skin nourishing oils and candlelight set the mood, complete with handmade chocolates and unlimited films in your room.

The historic town of St Andrews is the perfect place to soak up some history and take in the stunning views! Take a pleasant stroll on the beach or around the town and visit Baby Faremore, a delightful baby shop, where you can receive an exclusive 15% discount!

In case of cravings mum-to-be is provided with a £10 cravings card to order any item to the room, available 24 hours a day.

Make the most of the last few months alone together and spend an indulgent few days at this five star luxury resort.

Monday 9 January 2012

Top Marks for Old Loans Inn from Tam Cowan!

The team at the Old Loans Inn near Troon in Ayrshire can look forward to 2012 with a spring in their step after picking up “an unbeatable” top marks from Tam Cowan, Restaurant Critic of the Year, and are now in line to win the prestigious Hot Plate Award.

Cowan is the Daily Record’s award-winning restaurant critic and in 2011 he and three friends were blown away by their experience when they visited the SimpsInns venue in the village of Loans near Troon. As the review was published on New Year’s Eve it was a case of saving the best for last as the Old Loans Inn went to the top of an impressive shortlist vying for the Hot Plate Award.

“With an unbeatable score of 25/25, I can promise you it ticked all the right boxes,” said Cowan in reference to the only venue he awarded maximum points to in 2011. The Old Loans Inn moved above the likes of The Corinthian in Glasgow (24/25), Scotts Bar and Restaurant, Largs (24/25) and EE-USK in Oban (23/25).

“The food (comfort food at its very best) was sensational,” added Cowan. “The recession friendly prices (especially the £11.95 three-course menu that’s available 12-7pm seven days a week) were very welcome by the four of us enjoying the full works (plus wine and coffee) for £110.”

Cowan was taken, not only by the quality of food, but also by the service and ambiance of the family-owned business, which operates as part of the SimpsInns group based in the heart of Ayrshire. “Golf, frankincense and myrrh? Listen, at the risk of upsetting the Three Wise Men, the only gift I’ll be carrying next time I visit the Old Loans Inn will be a big shiny Hot Plate Award,” added Cowan.

(Incidentally Tam’s choice on the day was chicken tempura to start followed by the Old Loans Inn ‘Special Fish Supper’ and finished off with the Cinder Crunch for dessert.)

It was quite a year for the Old Loans Inn and SimpsInns after picking up a number of awards before the icing on the cake by way of Cowan’s Old Loans Inn review.

SimpsInns was named ‘Family Business of the Year’ at the 2011 Ayrshire Business awards, while the Old Loans Inn was named ‘Small Hotel of the Year 2011’ at the Golf Tourism Scotland (GTS) awards in St Andrews. And the Gailes Hotel was shortlisted as Wedding Venue of the Year at the VOWS Awards for an unprecedented fifth consecutive year. “All these wonderful accolades in 2011, it’s recognition for the huge team effort and emphasis we place on quality of product and service across all our venues,” explained Malcolm Simpson, owner of SimpsInns. “We were also fortunate to open our latest venture, The Waterside at Seamill, West Kilbride, last October and it continues to go from strength to strength despite these economically straitened times.

“To have received the awards that we did in 2011 was fantastic, but for the Old Loans Inn to be singled out as the only venue to get maximum top marks by Scotland’s leading food critic really did end the year on a high. “For that, special mention must go to all the team involved. Cheers, and here’s to a great 2012,” added Simpson.

New Captain Scott Exhibition in Dundee

Discovery Point Cafe Gallery, Dundee
7 January - 12 April 2012
FREE admission  

"Race To The Pole" is a special exhibition of photographs and objects from Dundee Heritage Trust's collections commemorating Captain Scott's fateful British Antarctic Expedition of 1910-12 aboard the Terra Nova.

The exhibition dates coincide with the centenary of Scott reaching the South Pole in January 2012 and the death of the Polar party in March on the return journey.

This exhibition features some of the most iconic work of Herbert Ponting and should not be missed.

For further information visit the Exhibition website

Half Price Winter Deals At The Oak Tree Inn

Great offer at one of our favourite Scottish Inns - The Oak Tree in Balmaha.

Take a detour from the well trodden tourist route and discover a real Scottish welcome at the Oak Tree Inn in the picturesque village of Balmaha, Loch Lomond. Situated on the quieter eastern shore of the Loch, this family owned inn gives you the perfect base from which to explore the stunning surrounding countryside, or take a cruise on the Loch.
Or over the next few weeks just get away from it all with log fires burning, great food and a wonderful location near Loch Lomond.

Visit the website to take advantage of some great offers and BOOK DIRECT with the hotel.