Whisky People #12 – Mark Connelly

by Oliver Klimek on November 30, 2010

Fact Sheet

Name: Mark Connelly

Year of Birth: 1975

Place of Residence: Glasgow, Scotland

Profession: Web Design

Whisky Involvement: Multiple

Portrait

Glasgow is the biggest city in Scotland and it is home to some notable whisky companies like Whyte & Mackay or independent bottler Douglas Laing. And with Auchentoshan and Glengoyne there are two renowned distilleries in the vicinity of Glasgow as well. So it is not a suprise that many whisky people are living here. After Ralfy Mitchell and Erik Burgess, Mark Connelly is the third Glaswegian to be featured in this series.

And Mark is not just an ordinary malthead. He is a bit like the Jack of all trades of the Glasgow whisky scene. Apart from being a member of Glasgow’s Whisky Club, he is also the webmaster of the Whisky Whisky Whisky Forum and runs a personal blog called Glasgow’s Whisky (and Ale)

Since its launch in 2008 the forum has become one of the prime meeting points for English speaking whisky aficionados to exchange their thoughts about whisky and chat about any other topic that comes into mind. A big categorized section of the forum is devoted to the users’ tasting notes of the whiskies they have tried. And then of course there are the obvious sub-forums dedicated to whisky discussions and off-topic chat.

Mark’s blog, launched in March 2010, is his place to write down anthing notable about whisky, from tasting notes ober book reviews to general observations of the whisky universe.

As if this weren’t enough, Mark Connelly teamed up with Whisky Club chairman Bill Mackintosh and launched Glasgow’s Whisky Festival on 19th November for the first time this year. The location at The Arches right next to Glasgow’s main train station was just about perfect for the event, and it turned out to be the success the organizers had hoped it would be.

Final proof that Mark is on a mission to spice up Glagow’s whisky life is his newest project. Let’s see what he can tell us about it in the interview… And when one day he should manage to fulfill his dream of opening a small craft distillery, his whisky mission would be finally complete.

Mark is living in Glasow with his partner and baby girl and “too many sample bottles” as he puts it. After having worked as a web designer he has now devoted his working life entirely to whisky. A big hobby of his is photography, but even then much of the subjects are whisky related.

Interview

The Whisky Whisky Whisky Forum has become the most active English language forum about Whisky. Did this success suprise you?

I suppose it does and it doesn’t. There are a few forums around but many are quite specialist, such as Gordon’s Spirit of Islay forum and the now defunct Peat Freak, or attached to a magazine. I saw a gap in there for an independent, general forum that was a bit more friendly and more like a bunch of friends sitting round sharing a dram in a pub.

How difficult was it to get bookings for Glasgow’s Whisky Festival? After all there are already a lot of whisky events over the course of a year.

We (Bill Mackintosh and myself) were actually quite surprised at the support from the industry for a brand new, untested event. We knew many of the exhibitors through our whisky club and my forum so I guess that since we weren’t completely unknown to them that we managed to convince them that we were going to create something worthwhile. Perhaps we were helped by the fact that the other event in Glasgow was pricing many of them out of attending but we also asked the exhibitors to suggest the best time of the year to put on the show. We spoke to the exhibitors at length about time of year, running time on the day and things like that. The exhibitors needed to be happy for it to work.

In hindsight after your first festival, did the concept prove to be successful all the way or do you consider to make adjustments for next year?

Haha, I wish it had been perfect but there will definitely be a couple of tweaks for next year. For the most part it was pretty good for our first go and anything we change for 2011 will just be minor fine-tuning but I would want to keep growing and refining it each year anyway.

Apart from your own festival, what is your favourite whisky event in Scotland?

My favourite event every year is Whisky Fringe in Edinburgh, run by the guys at Royal Mile Whiskies. It has always been a relaxed and friendly affair and is the main event that we used as the model for our festival. It is very simple in that it is purely a room full of whisky stands without the need for any other distractions. We go to whisky festivals for the whisky!

What trends are you noticing in the whisky industry, on the positive and/or on the negative side?

On the positive side I see the industry moving more towards whisky that hasn’t been coloured or chill-filtered (or ‘real whisky’ as I sometimes like to call it). Also more distilleries are putting out cask-strength and single-cask bottlings.

What I don’t like at the moment is the trend towards the premiumisation of whisky and record breaking. I’m getting fed up with hearing about another record price or the oldest whisky that has ever been bottled. It’s an alcoholic drink not a Fabergé egg – some people seem to forget that. Oh, and I don’t get all this food-matching stuff going on but that’s perhaps just me.

You live in the whisky capital of Glasgow, you run a whisky blog and a whisky forum, you are member of a whisky club and organize a whisky festival. Don’t you fear a whisky overkill?

It’s funny that you call Glasgow the whisky capital as I have always felt that Edinburgh gets more of the limelight. In fact I think that things are so bad in Glasgow – which indeed should be the whisky capital – that I decided to take matters into my own hands. The forum is worldwide but I will be making the blog more and more relevant to this city. The festival was started because the other event in Glasgow was becoming so poor and we had to start our own whisky club here (way before I joined it) because there was nothing like the SMWS that Edinburgh has. To top it all off I am opening a spirits store (with whisky being 50% of the stock) in February as again the city has very little to offer the whisky consumer (as well as good rum, brandy, tequila etc). I’m trying to put Glasgow back on the whisky map as I feel it has lost its way. Hopefully I don’t seem like I’m shouting about Glasgow too much and perhaps it doesn’t look as bad from the outside but it really could do with some work, in my opinion.

Common Questions

1. Please share a memorable whisky moment with us. This might be a fantastic dram, someone you met or any other situation that left a deep impression in your memory.

One moment from each distillery trip always sticks in my mind and that is the moment you walk into the warehouse (if you are allowed to which is something I would expect and don’t understand distilleries that don’t do this) and your nose is met with the cool, musty smell of sleeping casks. I could spend days in a warehouse nosing the air and taking photos of barrels and barrel ends.

2. What percentage of your life do you dedicate to whisky (sleep ignored)? Do you think it should be more or less, or is it just about right?

Now that my work all involves whisky to some degree I think that it must be high like 80% or so. My partner would probably think it should be less. I do find time to spend with our baby daughter but everything else is almost whisky-related.

3. Your three tips for whisky novices

The best thing for a novice is to try new whiskies, which is a great reason to go to whisky festivals and join a whisky club: it’s expensive to buy bottles to try on your own!

Read books, blogs and forums. There are loads of opinions, reviews and suggestions out there but also find your own preferences.

Visit distilleries as this is the best place to try whisky, if they let you into the warehouses.

Your three tips for experienced whisky lovers

Same as above!

5. What was the last dram you had and how did you like it?

I had a dram of Abhainn Dearg cask strength, last night, which Marko sent me from Lewis. This whisky seems to divide people, with some finding it too wild and perhaps a bit rough and others loving it. I’m in the latter camp. It’s big, bold, fresh and fruity. There’s the obvious new make notes but there’s furniture polish and raisins within a big, rich, boisterous liquid. I love the stuff. This is possibly what the spirit was like in the old days and sometimes I think that today’s malts may have become too refined; I can think of a couple that would benefit from being a little more ‘loosely’ made. I’ve noticed that younger people seem to like Abhainn Dearg a lot.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Mark Connelly January 4, 2011 at 6:45 pm

Hi Oliver,

I thought I had posted a comment here already but obviously not. Many thanks for having me and keep up the good work!

Slainte,
Mark

Reply

Oliver Klimek January 4, 2011 at 6:47 pm

My pleasure, Mark!

Reply

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