The latest episode of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Scottish Literature available now

Podcast Logo1Kristian and I are carrying on our travels along the highways and byways of Scottish literature with the fifth episode of our podcast, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Scottish Literature, our digital escapade that’s part of Birlinn’s twenty-fifth anniversary celebrations. This episode is dedicated to one of Scotland’s most prolific and celebrated authors, Iain Crichton Smith, and in particular, his classic novel, Consider the Lilies.

A lot of us are probably more familiar with his poems and short stories – mainstays of the Scottish curriculum – and yet Crichton Smith is also a very fine novelist indeed. Consider the Lilies is regarded as one of his best, and it is a beautiful and finely drawn portrait of a Highland widow having to deal with the consequences of the Clearances, still an emotive and controversial subject today.

Set Adrift Upon the WorldWe stay with the Highland Clearances with an interview with one of Scotland’s premier historians, James Hunter. His many books have shone a much-needed light on Highland life through the ages, and his most recent, and award-winning, book Set Adrift Upon the World is a fantastic exploration of the Sutherland Clearances. It’s shocking, thorough, and necessary reading. We round things off with the marvellous Kevin MacNeil performing some of Iain Crichton Smith’s poetry.

So, if you want to introduce yourself to two fantastic writers and a hugely important subject, have a listen. We hope you enjoy it!

Vikki Reilly
June 2017

You can listen to episode 5 below on SoundCloud, and on iTunes:

Get your eBook of Consider the Lilies here. Get your copy of Set Adrift Upon the Word here and find out about all of James Hunters books here.


Blair Bowman and Nikki Welch prepare you for World Whisky Day

Following on from last week’s blog post by Blair Bowman and Nikki Welch, authors of The Pocket Guide to Whisky, we give you another guest blog from these two guides, who will take you on an amber adventure into the world of whisky. In this week’s blog, Blair and Nikki give you some golden tips on how to explore some of your favourite whiskies, and how to edge onto a new line on the WhiskyTubeMap.

The Pocket Guide to Whisky - flexi-cover artwork‘To help you get started we have created a couple of journeys around the WhiskyTubeMap and some fun ways to ‘pimp’ your tasting to test all your senses.

Sightseeing tour
Our sightseeing tour takes in a stop on each line of the WhiskyTubeMap, giving you a broad spectrum of whiskies to try. Each line on the WhiskyTubeMap represents a different flavour profile, and alludes to the types of flavours and textures you’d expect from whiskies situated on that line. If you don’t want to do all seven you could just pick four or five that you fancy to start with.

Easy Loop
The Easy Loop, does what it says on the tin, here you’ll find easy going, every day whiskies.
Suggested stop: Johnnie Walker

Intrepid line
Here you will find whiskies from the ‘brave new world’ of whisky distillation. Expect bold and perhaps sometimes foreign flavours.
Suggested stop: Hibiki

Heart Line
The ‘heart’ of a distillation run is the part of the spirit that is held back to make whisky. The Heart Line cuts through the landscape of the WhiskyTubeMap, with a broad spectrum of flavours and origins of flavour are represented as you go along the line.
Suggested stop: Glenfiddich

Amber Line
These are simply classic sweet, honeyed and fruity tasting whiskies but are not in the least bit boring. Expect good bang for your buck in terms of flavour from your dram.
Suggested stop: Glenrothes

Decadent Line
These whiskies are rich, deep and unctuous. Luxury in every sip, to be savoured and enjoyed.
Suggested stop: Macallan

Coastal Line
This is where influences of sea, smoke and peat start to appear on the WhiskyTubeMap. There is a gradual build up in intensity as you begin to approach the Outliers island.
Suggested stop: Highland Park

Outliers Line
A welcoming dram awaits you on board the ‘ferries’ to the Outliers island. Once you are on the island you will start to find more smoke in your whisky. With a gradual build up of smokiness at the terminus, Ardbeg.
Suggested stop: Lagavulin

Just starting out tour
If the map feels a bit daunting, you are totally new to whisky or it has been a long time since you’ve had a dram the sightseeing tour might be a bit much. To help ease you in we have created three ‘starting’ points on the map, these stations are marked with an arrow. Try these three first, then decide which one you prefer and go exploring from there.

Starting point 1: Johnnie Walker
Start here if you want to begin with a very easy drinking, not overly-complex blended whisky.

Starting point 2: Glenfiddich
Start here if you want to begin with a juicy, fruity and sweet single malt whisky.

Starting point 3: Highland Park
Start here if you are after something a bit more complex with a hint of smoke.

Getting Braver Tour
The Getting Braver tour will take you out of your comfort zone and show you some whiskies you might never have thought of trying before. Prepare your taste buds for exciting new experiences and flavours.

Stop 1: Glenfiddich
A tasty starting point for your ‘getting braver’ tour. Look out for apples, pears and green fruits in this whisky.

Stop 2: Virgin Wood Finish
Whiskies from this station might be more woody than you are used to. This gives you a great way of tasting how important the influence of wood is on whisky.

Stop 3: Sullivan’s Cove
A deliciously rich and slightly spicey single malt from Tasmania, Australia. Probably the furthest you could get from the highlands of Scotland but a tasty whisky.

Stop 4: Single Grain Whisky
An often misunderstood cousin of single malt whisky. Single grain whisky is complex and peppery but offers a refreshing alternative to traditional single malt.

Stop 5: Springbank
A malty and slightly maritime dram. This is whisky is like an iron first of flavour in a silk glove.

Pimp your whisky tasting

Why not ‘pimp’ your next whisky tasting by adding fun multi-sensory elements or music as part of the tasting.

It’s all gone a bit fifty shades of whisky! Give everyone in the tasting a blindfold and try tasting the whisky with the blindfold on. Does it taste different without the sense of sight?

Now try tasting the whisky again while touching a rough texture like sandpaper, or a soft texture like silk. Did the taste or texture of the whisky change?

Try one whisky with a piece of dark chocolate and then milk chocolate. The darker chocolate will bring out the bitter flavours of the whisky and the milk chocolate will give your whisky a smoother texture.

However you do it, have fun!
Happy Exploring!’

And remember The Pocket Guide to Whisky is available from World Whisky Day on the 20th of May, but you an pre-order your copy here.

WWD_Master_LogoAnd don’t forget, you can find out more about World Whisky Day, which is on 20 May 2017, here. Events are popping up all over the globe. If you want to get involved and raise a dram with the world, head over to the website where you can register your own event. It’s completely free, and anything goes – whether that’s a dram with friends at home, a tasting flight put on at a local bar, or a full-blown street party.

World Whisky Day: Find your favourite flavour with Blair Bowman and Nikki Welch

In the run up to World Whisky Day (20.05.17), and ahead of the publication of The Pocket Guide to Whisky: Featuring the WhiskyTubeMap by Blair Bowman (founder of World Whisky Day) with Nikki Welch, we have a guest blog by Blair and Nikki to help you navigate your way through the plethora of flavours and types of whiskies to help you find your favourite dram.

The Pocket Guide to Whisky - flexi-cover artwork

‘Whisky can seem pretty daunting, how do you go from your tried and tested favourite dram on to new things without spending a fortune or getting some duds, that don’t suit your tastes, in the process? Whilst reading whisky books and blogs (like this one) help with the background the only way you’ll really know is to get your tastebuds involved in the process. Tasting with a group of friends can be a really good way of doing this. Formal whisky tastings are good for education but can be a bit serious (and expensive) and big whisky festivals have a huge selection which can mean it’s often overwhelming. So grab some whisky loving mates and create your own tasting, in the comfort of your living room or in a local whisky bar.

Whilst most whisky tastings either focus on trying the different regions (highlands, lowlands, islands) or different whiskies from the same distillery the WhiskyTubeMap means you can explore whiskies by flavour, meaning you can go on a flavour journey whatever your preference. You just need to select a starting point on the map and then pick out the closest whiskies, or pick a whisky from each line to see the difference.

Blair Bowman

Blair Bowman, author and founder of World Whisky Day

The WhiskyTubeMap guide to tasting
Try this at home or go to a bar with a decent selection of whiskies and engage the bar staff in your exploration.

The basics . . .
● Pick 4 whiskies* that take you on a journey around the map (stay tuned for part 2 of this blog for some proposed itineraries).
● Make sure you’ve got clean glasses, ideally whisky tasting glasses (their shape means the flavour is more concentrated), but a small wine glass or tumbler will do.
● A jug of fresh cold water – if you live in a hard water area you may want to use bottled. Make sure you’ve got water to drink too.
● Some nuts, crackers or oatcakes to cleanse your palate.
● A copy of the Pocket Guide to Whisky so you’ve got the WhiskyTubeMap in front of you.

The format
● Pour a dram of each whisky, if you’re limited you can just pour one of each and share (we do sometimes).
● Organise them in order of the WhiskyTubeMap lines, lightest to heaviest.
● ‘Nose’** each in turn – start by putting your nose in the glass and taking a short inhale through your nose to get you used to the whisky, then breathe a bit more deliberately. Don’t sniff hard, you’ll just smell alcohol and get a sore prickle sensation. What differences can you smell, what do you like about each one, can you smell anything in particular (it’s ok if you can just smell whisky!).
● Take a small sip of each one – think about how it feels as well as how it tastes, does what you smelled smell carry through to the flavour?
● Add some water (just a wee splash) and try them again. This helps open up some of the flavours in the whisky.
● If you go between the whiskies rather than drinking one and then moving on to the next, you’re more likely to spot the differences
● Which is your favourite? Why?
● Read the pages of the relevant stations to identify what caused the flavours you did/didn’t like
** technical term for smelling

What next
● Struggling with the strength? Add a bit more water, just remember you can’t take it out again so do it with a teaspoon so it’s controlled.
● Find one you liked? Note it down so you can explore the closest stations on the WhiskyTubeMap.
● All beginning to blur into one – give your palate a rest, drink some water, have some nuts, a cracker or oatcake. It’s normal that your palate gets tired so don’t try too many at once.
● All done? Refresh your palate with a cheeky beer!

*Where to get your whisky from
Miniatures are good for this kind of tasting, most good wine or whisky shops will have some, but if you’re looking for a bigger range Drinks by the Dram bottle A LOT of whisky into miniature size so you can try a much wider range. Buy them here. Or find a local bar where they have a good selection. That way you only fork out for full bottles you actually like.’

Blair Bowman with Nikki Welch
May 2017

WWD_Master_LogoYou can find out more about World Whisky Day, which is on 20 May 2017, here. Events are popping up all over the globe. If you want to get involved and raise a dram with the world, head over to the website where you can register your own event. It’s completely free, and anything goes – whether that’s a dram with friends at home, a tasting flight put on at a local bar, or a full-blown street party.