How I got started with Whisky
So for years I’d been drinking beer, and had always been interested in trying different beers. I think I mainly got it from my dad as him and his mate would always seek out different beers from around the world – and this was back in the early 1990’s before Tesco et al. and the internet made it easy to pick up a Blue Moon from the US and a Cobra lager from India in the same basket – we had to search for these things back then! I remember taking a trip with my dad and his friend to Belgium on a beer discovery tour. Things were going well and we had found Leffe, Duval, Kwak, but after tipping the barman one night, he pointed us in the direction of a small Tappist Monestry called ‘Saint Sixtus of Westvleteren’. It was so good, my dad voted it the ‘Best Beer in the World’, about ten years later, the world agreed. So from a young age I was always encouraged to try something different when it came to drinks and to discover more- which explains what’s happened to me with whisky.
So back to the beer. After another few drinks of whatever was on tap one evening at the Rummer Tavern in Cardiff centre, I offered Matt, my best mate, a whisky chaser and (don’t judge me), I suggested JD on ice. Matt refused and told me he’d to get the round in instead. He came back with a Jura, Superstition I think, and it opened my eyes to a new world – everyone remembers their first ‘real’ whisky. And so this journey began.
Trip to Islay
Over the next year, we continued to end on a whisky as the final drink of the night and we got on to the idea of visiting a distillery – Scottish of course. The first problem we hit was we couldn’t work out how you visited a distillery and the drive to the next one. Either someone would have to be the designated driver each day, or we would have to visit one distillery a day, either didn’t seem great.
I’m not sure who discovered it, but we found out that Islay was an island created to get around this problem. There’s distilleries everywhere! So after a few months planning, and more months trying to find a time we could both go, we set off from Cardiff early one morning to drive to Kennycraig to catch the ferry, and onto Islay.
We had such a great time visiting Bruichladdich, Jura, Laphroaig and Lagavulin – the highlight trying a Lagavulin from 1966 and a 1953 Bowmore, but I’ll discuss more of that in that writeup.
So I came back from Islay completely obsessed and desperate to continue my whisky discovery and ideally meet up with more people who shared my interest. Looking on my phone on the way back, I couldn’t find anything, but I guessed I was just searching poorly for it and anyway, the internet connection on the ferry was really flakey – I’ll find more when I got home.
So I got back, fired up the laptop and searched for whisky clubs in Cardiff – nothing! Whisky events in Cardiff – nothing! Whisky bars in Cardiff – nothing! It was just ridiculous. I kept finding Penderyn whisky, but they hadn’t even held an event in the nation’s capital. The closest whisky event I could find was from June in Bristol – close, but not South Wales and not something was re-occurring.
Now, I’d seen there were whisky clubs and groups everywhere – we even met guys who travelled from Norway to go to Islay. So to find that South Wales had nothing was very surprising – so we decided to start the first one!
Starting to SWWIG
So here I am, six months in and almost hitting 18 members, plus a few ‘better halves’ that come along to events! I’ve held meetups in Cardiff to discover venues that serve whisky, organised distillery tours at Penderyn and Da Mhile, held my first tasting event to celebrate the start of the Six Nations Rugby Tournament and also attended a twitter tasting or two. I’ve had some great help along the way from Matt to start with, Claire and Mike who were the first members to join and who have attended everything, Mark Gellespie from Whiskycast for mentioning me on his show back in January, and a whole bunch of other people on Twitter and Facebook.
So things are going well and I really hope to continue this trend. I’m trying to build up membership, but as anyone who’s tried advertising, it either takes a lot of time, or money. But I’ll get there – I know there are people in South Wales who love whisky, I just need them to find me!
Well my first ambition was always to establish and grow the group, which I think is getting there now, but my real ambition is to hold a proper whisky tasting organised by a distiller. As far as I know, this would be the first event of its kind in Cardiff. It still seems crazy that I see the Twitter feed of all these major distilleries they go to London, Edinburgh, Belfast, Dublin, Vancouver, Oman, Sydney – but not Cardiff. We’re a Celtic country and we should be embracing the spirit – especially now that we have a Whisky Industry and not just a single distillery anymore.
Ultimately, my dream for all of this would be to create the first Cardiff Whisky Festival. I worked in City Hall and it would be a stunning location for such an event. It’s a long way off, and probably a pipe dream, but I’d love to make this happen.