Just two weeks ago, I was in New York helping present the American winners of the Whisky Magazine Awards at the Brandy Library and we were told it was unbelievably mild for the time of year, reaching 14 degrees centigrade. Today, I note that Storm Stella has hit the east coast and there are two feet of snow in Times Square, which is minutes from where I was staying. My purpose in focusing on this event is to highlight how unpredictable things can be. A friend of mine of 30 years recently went into hospital for a routine round of antibiotics to sort out an infection on his heart. I spoke to him on Friday morning, we laughed at some ridiculous event that had just happened on his ward, and I said I would be in the following week to see him. That night, he had a major stroke and the following Friday he died. Nobody saw it coming and I just was so relieved that I had spoken to him. He and I used to meet nearly every Friday in our local pub and he was very fond of a good whisky, especially single malts. I will remember him fondly the next time I have a dram.
I just thought, surely now is the time to grab every opportunity presented - so whilst in New York, when we were informed that it was the last night that the Waldorf Astoria hotel would be open, we simply had to go. This hotel is an absolute Art Deco landmark and opened in the 1930s, but the new owners are closing it and turning it into apartments. We arrived and made our way to the bar which was completely rammed, managed to get a glass of fizz and proceeded to take a selfie like everyone does nowadays. On the way out, I noticed that the lift doors were themselves Art Deco works of art, and I dearly wanted to take one home with me. We were then invited to Club Macanudo, a very well-known cigar bar in Manhattan. Another experience never previously encountered.
The next day, I was up bright and breezy getting ready to host the Whisky Magazine stand at Whisky Live New York. Another first for me as I have only attended Whisky Live events in London. I met so many interesting people and was extremely pleased that I was able to offer them drams of some of our American winners from the World Whiskies Awards. This issue is bumper packed as not only is it our annual awards special, but we have a 36-page inbound supplement devoted to Speyside, as well as an out of magazine supplement on Australian whisky. I can at long last reveal the winner of our second Battle of the Blends competition - George Keeble. I am delighted that we have already lined up the next contender - Lyndsey Gray, bar manager at The Craigellachie Hotel on Speyside. Good luck to both of them.
This will be my last column for Whisky Magazine as I leave at the end of March after three years. My wife and I have decided to grab an opportunity to move a considerable distance from where we have lived for 30 years to The Orkneys. When we told friends, there was either the 'well done, what an opportunity' approach or the 'how will you manage? And are there any shops?' We believe that, because you just don't know what is around the corner, we have to take the chance now before we get too old for such adventures.
These three years have flown past and in hindsight I wish I had done more with the magazine. However, the opportunity to edit Whisky Magazine came completely out of the blue and I have so much enjoyed the experience. I have travelled to places that I would never have normally visited, such as India and Kentucky, as well as many parts of Scotland with two truly memorable visits to Islay. I have presented our awards in front of the most enthusiastic whisky lovers with my favourite event being Whisky Live Bangalore last year. I was piped on stage by a mass Indian bagpipe band and witnessed Charlie MacLean address the haggis, much to the audience's delight.
I would like to thank all the contributors to the magazine, to Damian Riley-Smith for giving me the editing opportunity, the entire team here who work on the magazine and last but by no means least, to you the readers... because obviously, without you, this magazine would not flourish.