Sunday, 7 April 2013

Whisky Chaser

I took my eye off the ball Saturday morning. Instead of a 40 miler ahead of the Fling, I decided to opt for 2 more fun runs. Badly fumbled the first. Mary and I had planned to go to Gullane for 10 miles of the usual, then immediately afterwards M would drop me off at the Pentlands for the Carnethy organised Whisky Chaser (4pm ~ 7pm).

I cooked dinner before leaving, so it would be there for whatever shape I was in, upon return. But not really paying attention, we set off slightly late and the drive to Gullane was delayed as we got caught in the weekend traffic. By the time we got there (and met AGH) it was looking unlikely that we would get the 10 miler done in sufficient time to drive back round the bypass.

Fortunately I had thrown my bike in the back of the van as it was to be my transport back from Hillend. So, cursing, I opted to miss the 10 miler and had inadvertently given myself a taxing 18 mile cycle into the cold wind back into Edinburgh, to home, where I had a quick 10 minute lunch, realising I should pack in as much absorbent material as possible. (As it turned out Mary and Amanda finished their run with enough time to have delivered me to the Steading for 4pm if the drive back had gone smoothly, but there would have been no margin for error.)

stop for whisky number one

Back on the bike and a further 40 minutes of vigorous uphill from Leith to The Steading pub at Hillend next to the ski centre. A small crowd of about 24 runners/imbibers gathered in the car park and we set off, heading towards the ski slope then taking first left, ascending along the fence line. It was a relaxed pace and we would regroup regularly. I felt honoured to be invited along as the maximum number of places had been filled and it was only because of a drop out I got to tag along. HBT's Kate and Craig made it a three club event. The atmosphere was very chatty and lively and became more so, as the whisky was consumed.

I have always felt whisky drinking, as a hobby, is a slightly suspect lifestyle option. Not quite in the same league as “knifing” or “whoring” but often in the same district and not something one might boast about on a job application. (I have distant relations on both sides of my family tree who have indulged in alcoholism. I was going to write “suffered from” however I think the word indulged is more apt – it's their immediate relatives who suffer.) However Ian Oswald kept a respectable feel to the whole affair even producing notes on the five quality spirits we would be tasting.

I had anticipated the need for a receptacle and carried a shot glass all the way from a distant Stornoway Half Marathon. Others had quite fancy whisky tasting glasses you wouldn't normally dare carry on a run over rough ground. Nick had a Pentland-proof wooden quaich. (Which you could always hold between the teeth if you lost the power in your arms.) Those without were provided with plastic cups. And water should you wish to add a drop to the uisge beatha. Ian informed us why chemically water might assist the process.

After whisky number one we ran on at a pace to the wind shade of some woods (over some rather choppy and wet ground,) where whisky number 2 (Glen Moray) reduced any concerns about wet feet. If someone read the notes while you sniffed and drank you could easily agree that there was fruit in the nose – apple and pear and sultanas with “some biscuity flavours as well”. There's nothing like having a strong drink then running up a hill to get it whooshing round your bloodstream pronto. The chat escalated in proportion. It was a great crowd. In fact they were all my best friends.

One of the reasons I am not on first name terms with whisky is because of its usual place in the evening's entertainments. As Jim H pointed out it is normally only when one's swim bladder is 99% filled with beer that the idea of a whisky to round off the evening and fill the remaining 1% with a powerful medicine, is entertained. Why one should get out the most alcoholic drink of the night after one is already smashed, is something of a mysterious tradition. I think this run was one of the first times I have drunk whisky sober. Albeit briefly.

By round three I was feeling elated and could no longer distinguish between whiskies or read the notes. Nor did I feel any need. I was enjoying the scenery immensely and every time we stopped and held out our shot glasses they, and us, were filled with a golden glow. We really should do this more often.

There was snow. We went to the top of Castlelaw though I don't remember any exertion. Then just off the brow to a windless huddle and a Bowmore or was it the Jura. I was looking forwards to the Isle of Jura as I had enjoyed it previously. (I also greatly rued coming 2nd vet in the Forfar multi terrain half, when I noticed Crooky, Fife AC, won a bottle for 1st vet, some years ago.)

A long time ago I was doing some work for Alistair Birse who owned the (in)famous Lochside Hotel, Bowmore, Islay. The hotel's fame swam around the 270+ bottle collection of whiskies, most of which sat on shelves around the small bar. The collection was started in the 80's and I was looking forwards to seeing hundreds of hilarious curios: nun-shaped bottles, bottles off the SS Cabinet Minister (/Politician) and the like. In fact most of the whiskies looked near identical having come from the Bowmore distillery, a bottle's throw away just up the road. You had to read the small print – particularly the numbers and ages, to distinguish one from the other. Alistair gave me a “tour of the island” while standing at his bar: a sip from many of the local Islay whiskies. It made me realise I wasn't keen on the medicinal strong peaty taste of the Islay whiskies, preferring next door's Isle of Jura. Though after one or 2, can you really remember the previous? I think I might have done some signpainting for the Birses while I was there but the memory isn't clear on this point. I see from a google search subsequent owners sold the Lochside Hotel in 2011 with an asking price of £750,000.

Neil, Jim and myself discussed this along with many other comparison ideas. Could you distinguish between lagers in a blindfold test? Would you know the difference between red and white wine in a darkened room if they were at the same temperature? (Why would you be drinking wine in a darkened room? The connoiseur burglars' wine tasting trip?) If you were shown a photo of somewhere you didn't recognise, would you be able to discern the difference between sunset and sunrise? Is there a difference? (I might post 10 photos for people to guess but they'd all be sunsets.) I also enjoyed catching up with Gio who has been out with a foot injury for ages. Hadn't realised he was so keen on art.

Willie G atop Castlelaw


Last whisky was a robust and assertive Teaninich, a £50 bottle with a “chewy” finish. Delicious. Just off Allermuir, so downhill all the way to the pub. I only had a pint to quench the thirst before cycling home (very glad of the downhill nature of the return journey) and was pleased I had gone to the trouble of cooking dinner earlier. A lot of the crew stayed for a meal, then had more to drink and then stopped at another pub on the run home. When I read of their dreadful hangovers today on facebook it makes me very glad (and smug) I left the pub long before the knifing and whoring.

Next whisky may have peaty undertones.

five malts in order left to right

Jess does blind test and picks most expensive

Oz raises an invisible glass to absent friend and fellow organiser.

4 speed of light run leaders with Arthur's Seat in background

Big thanks to Oz (Ian Oswald) for organising and keeping it respectable. (It was the quality of drink and notes that makes the difference between an educational and rewarding experience and just a bunch of rednecks swigging from a bottle while out in the hills.) Thanks for having me along. Highly recommended if you can wangle an invite, though I suspect the jaunt is already a victim of it's own success as there's only so many people you can divide into a bottle of whisky. Great fun!

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