Twenty four hours to Brighton: a tour report…
They say that the darkest hour comes just before the dawn, and at this moment, I’m not arguing.
In Scotland at this time of the year dawn comes before 5am, and when I wake in a car on a street in Edinburgh at four, it’s pitch black save for a street light, rain taps a steady rhythm on the roof, my arm aches and I feel drained.
Inside the car with me are John Glaser from Compass Box, and Andrew Torrance and David Whyte from the Whisky Shop, all asleep. We’re four hours in to our world record attempt, we’re exhausted, and we haven’t even done our second tasting yet. We all knew that we would hit a wall around four o’clock – it’s just we thought it would be four in the afternoon, not four in the morning. A dark hour indeed.
I think in those moments – tired, hungry, cold and disorientated – I mentally gave up for a few minutes. Eight tastings in eight towns and cities over nearly 700 miles in 24 hours? Sod that. How about breakfast in Edinburgh and a train home?
A few short minutes later John strolls in to the Victoria Street branch of The Whisky Shop to a rousing reception of party poppers, sparklers and an underwhelming recording of Eye Of The Tiger. The shop is full and John’s smile cuts through the dreachy early morning hour. This is to be a highlight of the day for John, and the moment kicks the early morning blues firmly back in to the shadows. Suddenly our world record attempt is back on track.
Half an hour later we set off again for Newcastle, leaving the hardy whisky folk of Scotland’s capital and a few Malt Maniacs to their dawn party. We hear later on the way to York that they finally leave the shop some two and half hours later.
We never look back. Our attempt to travel from Inverness to Brighton holding eight tastings in one day is a slice of madness and I learn en route that dragging an American and an Englishman across Britain in pursuit of a world record is actually a Scottish vanity project. Somewhere during the journey – on the road from York to Birmingham I seem to remember – Mark Gillespie from Whisky Cast interviews us by phone and Andrew Torrance explains how the idea of a world record attempt came about:
“I heard someone talking about the world’s biggest whisky tasting and I felt that it was a record that should be held by Scotland but it wasn’t,” he explains. “I got to thinking and had the idea that if we couldn’t do the biggest we should do the most, so that’s how it developed.”
And not just the most – but the longest. So here we are.
In order to attempt the record for Scotland John and I have to travel nine hours by train to Inverness, where at 12.01am we hold the first of the eight tastings. Each will have a different theme, but each will be based around three core Compass Box whiskies - the award winning and highly palatable Great King Street blend, the feisty Peat Monster and personal favourite The Spice Tree.
The first tasting goes well but two miles out of Inverness David and Andrew realise they have left the Red Cross charity collection box behind and David is concerned his bag with laptop and passport – Andrew and David are to fly back from Gatwick tomorrow – are also left behind. This isn’t a great start.
It transpires he hasn’t left it, so we’re properly up and running.
Gateshead Metro centre is quiet for breakfast, but kippers and haggis for whisky pairing are on offer. All fine until John insists on bringing kippers back to the car as we head off towards York. The smell is overwhelming and we can only muse as to how fruity the vehicle will be by Brighton.
I don’t drive but as I understand it, to power a car a long way you need petrol. As we leave Gateshead it seems we haven’t got any. We’re not just running low, we’re running on empty. We abandon the A1, call on the support car to track us and search for a garage.
Thankfully we find one immediately which is just as well because if we had run out of fuel John’s plan isn’t to use the support car to get some petrol, it’s for me and him to abandon David and Andrew an head off to York in the second vehicle. Hey, this man is driven – literally- and focused on just one goal.
Amazingly this turns out to be pretty much the day’s last hitch and David and Andrew, responsible for the driving while we drink our way south, play a blinder. To York (blending school) through to Birmingham (the importance of oak) to Oxford (cheese, fish and cake matching) and on to London (cocktails) we are operating to a tight schedule but we stay to it, even dealing with heavy traffic in England’s two biggest cities.
By mid afternoon, with a steady intake of Compass Box whisky on my part, some great in-vehicle banter and a growing belief that we are going to achieve our goal, the mood is buoyant. To be fair, it has been pretty good throughout. We’ve bonded in to a team and any potential pitfalls – David’s musical selections, for instance – have been parked at the side of the road.
Our tastings are short, sharp and to the point, and the journey becomes a bit of a blur. But there is just enough time to catch up with some old friends en route and to maker some new ones, and as we enter the capital the event is turning in to a victory procession.
London is a blast. There’s a good turnout, we listen to England beat Sweden on the radio, we’re on schedule to achieve our goal, and the tiredness has been banished in to the night as darkness falls.
And we reach Brighton almost exactly at the planned finishing time of 11.30pm for a small but appropriate celebratory ending and a healthy glass of the Last Vatted Malt. John’s special bottling to mark last year’s law change banning the terri ‘vatted malt’ to history.
So we did it…eight tastings for more than 130 people in eight Whisky Shops in one long but highly enjoyable day. As Andrew likes to put it, impossible is nothing, and a bizarre going marketing project between The Whisky Shop and Compass Box has become a bizarre reality.
Earlier Martk Gillespie had asked the question which firmly summed it all up: are you mad, he’d asked?
Probably. But the world of whisky has never seen anything like this. And worryingly, they’re already asking about what happens next.
It’s enough to make a man turn to drink…