Fruity, peaty, spicy and smooth; perhaps not the conventional words used to describe the object of one man’s affection But when talking about Mike Lord’s passion, these endearing terms make perfect sense.
For Mike, his love of Scotch malt whisky extends far beyond buying the odd bottle. First introduced to the amber nectar in the early 90s at a Hogmanay party in Craigellachie - a village in the heart of Speyside, the 42 year-old fell desperately and hopelessly in love with the famous tipple and its spiritual home.
From his Canary Wharf office overlooking the River Thames, the last thing investment banker Mike envisaged was that his new-found love would see him swap the bright lights of London for a sleepy village in Scotland.
But in 2006, he packed his bags, quit his job and drove 600 miles north from his home in Leicester to malt whisky country. Eight years on and 600 bottles of whisky later, he owns and runs The Whisky Shop in Dufftown, the very epicentre of the Scotch whisky industry.
Perhaps it should be renamed ‘The Whisky Emporium’ because the word ‘shop’ doesn’t do the business justice. The spirits aisle in supermarket is a ‘shop’. This is an emporium; a museum for one man’s life collection.
Mike explains, “My parents were Bells and ginger ale drinkers and that did influence me from an early age. Although, it did all start as a bit of a love-hate relationship. There was always something about the drink that I loved, but also something I didn’t: I just couldn’t put my finger on what it was. I experimented with different blends but there was always something that didn’t grab me.
“I did some research and came across single malts so I went to my local off licence to find out more. Out of the shoddy half a dozen selection, no one could tell me anything about them so, as ashamed as I am to say it, I picked the one with the nicest packaging. It happened to be a Macallan 10-year-old, in the old white box with a picture of Easter Elchies house on the front.
“And that was it for me, hook line and sinker. It turned out to be single malts I loved. I tried as many as I could but it was the trip to the Craigellachie Hotel that Hogmanay that took me on the next major step in my malt journey. The staff could tell me everything I wanted to know about each of the 600 whiskies in the bar and their enthusiasm turned my hobby into a passion, and verging on an obsession.”
And he’s not alone. There are thousands more like him all over the globe, and many of them will descend on his doorstep next month. The Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival is widely regarded as one of the best malt whisky festivals in the world and takes place across the region from May 1 to 5.
The festival – a signature event in the national Year of Homecoming 2014 programme which will kick off Whisky Month - comprises over 370 events, including nosings and tastings, exclusive distillery tours, whisky pairing, music events, and a whole lot more.
And, of course, many of the revellers who come from as far afield as the USA, Canada, Malaysia and Russia will be paying a visit to The Whisky Shop Dufftown, which is one of the busiest venues of the five-day celebration, hosting 41 different events.
Along with tutored tastings and a series of in-store extravaganzas showcasing some of the region’s best-loved malts, Mike has also arranged two music events – an evening with popular traditional music stars Shona Donaldson and Paul Anderson and an evening of music, poems and laughter with whisky fanatic Robin Laing.
Mike says, “I’ve been involved in the Festival since it started. Initially, I came as a guest to experience the fun aspect of the Festival. Then I was asked to host my own tastings. And, finally, I bought the shop.
“I knew that it would be key to the success of my business if I took my involvement in the Festival to the next level by building a programme of tastings from distilleries and independent bottlers, and taking visitors on trips to distilleries. I think I’m pretty unique in that respect as I’ve gone from guest, to being an event host, to an event provider.
“As well as being passionate about whisky, I’m also passionate about music. We are famous in this region for our whisky, but our traditional music and heritage is just as strong. That’s one of the nice things about the Festival: yes, it’s about the whisky but there are so many other things for people to come and do.
“The Festival gives such a boost to the local businesses, both during the event and after. The unique experience has the ability to create relationships with new customers that last year on year.
“But it’s also vital for the area, attracting thousands of people to Speyside and Dufftown that would not necessarily come to Scotland otherwise. The hotels and B&Bs are full, the shops, pubs and restaurants are packed. It’s key to the prosperity of the area and we need to give the best experience that we can to those who visit.
“I often get asked by the visitors what my favourite whisky is, but I don’t have a favourite whisky. As I tell people, I have around 50 open bottles of whisky in my drinks cupboard and I’m still never satisfied.
“There’s always another whisky I want to have; Another new whisky to try. Of the more mainstream bottles, I always like to keep in Aberlour Abunadh, Glendronach 18, Glenfarclas 15, Lagavulin 16, … well, the list goes on. Currently I have a soft spot for Glenlivet 15 as it got me through a very long flight and gave me the best sleep I have had in ages.”