Whisky People #14 – Lawrence Graham

by Oliver Klimek on January 10, 2013

Fact Sheet

lawrenceName: Lawrence Graham

Year of Birth: 1958

Place of Residence: Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

Whisky Involvement: Festival organizer, blogger

 
 
 

Introduction

Next week I will have the pleasure to attend the Victoria Whisky Festival in Canada. Could there be a better opportunity to ask one of the organizers a few questions?

The festival is now in its eighth year (for more informtaion have a look at the excellent VWF article at Miss Whisky), and Lawrence has been involved since the very beginning. The one thing I want to point out here is that although it may look like a professional festival it os a strictly non-profit event with all proceeds going to charity.

But the festival is not Lawrence’s only whisky passion. He is also a member of the Companions of the Quaich and the Malt Maniacs, and he also has his own whisky blog – Whisky Intelligence – which is one of the major sources for whisky news on the internet.

Interview

What gave you the idea to organize a whisky festival on your own?

Like many people who love whisky I found that if I wanted to attend a festival (and I really wanted to attend festivals) I was forced to travel and this being Canada (and it’s quite large as you may know) it usually involved airplanes. Lots of airplanes. For hours and hours at a time. While at a Festival in Calgary I commented to a friend “You know, we could do this in Victoria” Years after the Victoria Whisky Festival was a going concern he confessed his first thought was “Yeah right!” Happily for me I didn’t try and go it alone and 5 of us started down the path together and later a sixth member joined the team. Sounds somewhat like a hobbit quest now that I think about it…but really I was simply irritated that we didn’t have a Festival in Victoria.

Many high-profile whisky people are present at the Victoria Whisky Festival. How difficult is it to convince them to participate?

It was somewhat of a challenge in the beginning to convince some companies to attend but others like Andrew Gray of Bruichladdich we’re very supportive right out of the gate as was Jim Murray who was also an enthusiastic supporter right from the start. We are lucky too in that the government liquor monopoly in British Columbia (did I just combine ‘luck’ and ‘government monopoly’ in the same sentence??) is a massive purchaser of alcohol so it’s an important market for many companies, in many ways we piggy back on that buying power. But frankly I think many presenters just became fatigued with us pestering them to attend our Festival at other Festivals. We were well intentioned stalkers of a sort…I think poor Michael Urquhart finally agreed to attend just so we’d stop pestering him in Calgary, Las Vegas or Toronto. He’d come into a masterclass and there we’d be…

The Canadian alcohol market is strongly regulated. Do you see the chance of a liberalization anytime soon?

Nope. Alberta is the one free market and the country and it’s booming. Unfortunately our provincial governments are not interested in success but are focused on political goals. Having said that there are some glimmers of hope in the British Columbia market with the introduction of some private liquor stores. Time will tell if this experiment is expanded but so far all the dire predictions as foretold by the critics have not come to pass.

Your scores on the Whisky Monitor suggest that you have a weak spot for blends. How would you explain this to dedicated ‘maltheads’ who often sneer at blends?

I do have a weak spot for blends and so do Charlie Maclean and Dave Broom; I suggest that malt heads expand their whisky horizons a little! Don’t sneer, go and buy a blend or two, you’ll be surprised how good they can be. And well-priced. While you’re at it buy a couple of bottles of sherry; you can’t have wonderful sherried single malts without the sherry industry.

Of all the things that happened in 2012 whisky-wise, what made the strongest impact on you?

In retrospect I think the Malt Maniacs 15th Anniversary tour of Scotland (Ok, tour of Scottish pubs) and the truly excellent educational tour of Diageo’s facilities. It was first rate and very educational and despite Diageo being quite large it was very apparent that the people in charge of their distilleries are very proud of them and the whiskies they produce.

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.

Many years ago before I drank whisky I spent a Christmas in the UK (Jocky Wilson was in the running to be darts champion but drank too much in the final round and lost) and part of it was spent in Scotland. Our hotel was in downtown Glasgow and like many men I spent some time waiting for the then female to get ready for whatever event which was about to occur. In the lobby was a small plinth with a Plexiglas top and inside was a bottle of Laphroaig 10 and the tube, nothing else. Out of boredom I started ready the description on the tube and it was very evocative and over the course of the visit I reread and reread the narrative on the tube. The day before we departed I went to a nearby store, I can’t remember the name but it was some kind of grand store with a magnificent food hall in the basement. They has a whisky section and I waited my turn in the queue with a myriad of Scottish ladies until it was fianlyl my turn. I pointed to the Laphroaig at the very top of the shelf and said “I can’t pronounce that but I’ll take six”!

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?

I don’t dedicate too much of my like to whisky although at this time of year I do dedicate a lot of time to the Festival. Whisky Intelligence takes about the same amount of time daily and it’s gratifying to see the dramatic growth in traffic. As hard as it is to image I do have other hobbies that take up more of my time.

Your three tips for whisky novices.

Nothing is as valuable as your own experience; don’t rely too much on reviewers; go forth and sample. Sample with friends and share your drams; whisky is simply more enjoyable with friends.

Your three tips for experienced whisky lovers.

Lighten up, it’s a dram not a drama and don’t over indulge. Prices are going up, take a look at blends… ;-)

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

I opened a bottle SMWS 21yo 1983/2005 105.10 Tormore from an ex-sherry hogshead in honour of my wife’s birthday (a good excuse) and it’s very nice, nicely sherried with some good spiciness.

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