In true ATW form, we sat down over an e-dram with Mr. Connelly and let him share some insight on the more demanding side of things before having some fun over music and lit.
Without further ado…
MC: I think it was Laphroaig, somewhere in Glasgow, years ago. I loved the stuff. It was in a tumbler full of ice but that suited me fine at the time. I wasn’t looking for all the subtle notes and flavours, just something cold and tasty and alcoholic! I loved it.
ATW: There is generally a point of no return for whisky lovers such as us. Do you remember that moment when you realized that you had gone beyond simple appreciation and moved into something more consuming?
MC: I think when I went to my first masterclass that really opened my eyes and took whisky from simply a nice drink to something that could be studied and discussed, as well as being enjoyable. From there I joined Glasgow’s Whisky Club and that really set it off.
ATW: What prompted the creation of the blog and forum?
MC: The forum came about because a few of us online were getting frustrated at another forum that we used. A couple of us had an idea to start our own and it seems mine was up and running first. We wanted something that we could make our own and that could evolve to suit us.
The blog was simply a way for me to get stuff out of my head that was swimming around, but also to keep a record of places I’ve been and things I’ve done in a way that I couldn’t really do with the forum. It’s taking a blog back to the original use of an online diary, although there’s the odd bit of news and other things thrown in too. It’s mainly just for me but if anyone reads it that’s great too. It’s also a place to put Glasgow-based information as the city is under-represented in the whisky world in my opinion.
ATW: Before starting ATW I asked myself if I had enough to offer in creating a website and going live. Did you have a moment like this, and if so, what tipped the scales?
MC: To be honest the forum was set up on a bit of a whim one night. Similarly with the blog. There’s been no real thought put in to either and they were easy to set up so I thought ‘why not’? I really need to design them properly at some point but right now there aren’t enough hours in the day.
ATW: There is a certain level of responsibility that comes with blogging and reviewing whisky (or anything for that matter). Let’s face it…others use this information to make informed purchases. Have you ever given much consideration to the moral side of having a public voice?
MC: Since the blog is mainly for me I don’t really think like that. I try to watch what I say in case someone does read it but that’s more in keeping it politely written rather than misinformation. If you are honest then I think that’s the best you can do. I think Ralfy, whom you’ve interviewed, does so well because of his honesty. He also strives to keep his independence which is a big factor too as so many bloggers, writers and commentators are becoming more and more attached to certain companies. You can’t blame them as it’s their dream job to work in the industry but it does make you wonder if they can keep it unbiased. The only thing I am involved in is my festival which might get a few plugs here and there!
ATW: Through the blog and forum you have helped facilitate a wide sphere of influence and allowed a lot of folks access to information that may not have been readily available. That being said, where do YOU look to for your information?
MC: My forum! Seriously, the members are great at posting up news articles and starting discussions. They also regularly add to the tasting notes section which is great for checking whether you might want to buy a whisky as there’s usually more than one opinion to work from. Aside from that site I often pick up a lot of stuff from other blogs, but often it’s Facebook and Twitter where you hear something first. I also buy books, such as Malt Whisky Yearbook which is a great read, and discussions with friends and fellow club members.
ATW: Being the moderator of a whisky forum, and a damn good one (www.whiskywhiskywhisky.com), what trends do you see, not in the whisky industry, but in the people out there buying and drinking?
MC: I think there’s a definite move towards looking for value for money. The price of whisky keeps going up and up and with more limited expressions and fancy finishes (and packaging) it’s harder to find a good dram without spending loads of cash. Certainly that’s what I’m finding these days. The forum is a good place to ask for opinions before buying and for finding good, affordable whisky. There definitely seems to be a little bit of a backlash against all the finishing and wacky casks being used.
ATW: Do you have plans beyond the current medium you are using (blog/forum)?
MC: I have plans for something whisky-related which will have an online aspect but it’s not really a part of that. What I do have coming up is an exclusive bottling for the forum members. I’d really like to be bottling good whisky myself on a regular basis but as stocks are becoming harder to get hold of due to demand that might not be something I can really count on. I am in the middle of redesigning the forum but there’s nothing more I’d like to do online at the moment. I have another idea but I really don’t have the time or resources for that right now. Not giving much away, am I?
ATW: The Glasgow‘s Whisky site has some fantastic photography. You have a unique approach to shooting that shines as one of the signatures of the site. Can you speak to the visual side of what you publish on the blog?
MC: Photography has been a love of mine since before whisky and I was semi-professional at one point, meaning I occasionally got paid for it! I was really into music photography at one stage, shooting bands live from the photo pit at gigs was a great buzz. There just wasn’t really any money in it. I still enjoy photography a lot but I prefer to keep it as a hobby – something for myself – rather than work. I have been shooting a few distilleries recently so I might do something with that in the future. Distilleries are, mainly, a great place for photographers (as long as they don’t give you that ‘explosive environment’ crap!). It’s nice to be able to illustrate the blog articles with a few good photos and I’m lucky that I can do that without needing to source stock images or anything like that.
ATW: How much of your time is devoted to whisky? Is this hard to reconcile with work and family?
MC: Hahaha! Yes, very hard. We have a young baby and my going out to a club night or other tasting isn’t looked upon too well right now. Work is now the festival and the other venture I can’t talk about so it’s just family that I need to balance. It’s not easy, though.
ATW: Speaking of committed time…how did your role as organizer/founder of the Glasgow Whisky Festival come about?
MC: Just like the forum this came about due to frustration at what was currently available. In my opinion Scotland’s largest city should have one of the biggest and best events but unfortunately this isn’t the case. Hopefully we can change that, although iit might take a couple of years to get properly established and build up to something really impressive. We’ve managed to pull in a pretty good lineup for this first one which has a good mixture of producers, including independent bottlers, which has been lacking with the other event here.
ATW: Did you set out with a certain theme or image in mind for how the festival should ultimately turn out?
MC: The idea was really as many and as varied as possible, and purely focusing on the whisky itself rather than all the sideshows that can sometimes come with these events. We wanted to get all the independent bottlers in Glasgow involved and also the local bars and whisky enthusiasts. The tagline ‘by Glasgow for Glasgow’ sums up our philosophy pretty well.
ATW: How about a few pairings for us?
1) A good book and malt to accompany it?
MC: Just finished reading The Rum Diaries by Hunter S Thompson (before they make the film) which I would suggest reading with a large Aberlour A’Bunadh (you’ll need it)!
2) A good album and malt to accompany it?
MC: One of my favourite albums of all time is Appetite for Destruction by Guns and Roses. I remember listening to it full blast on my Walkman whilst cutting my parents’ lawn in the summers between years at high school. I would need to listen to that with something big, youthful and a bit wild, something like Ardbeg Still Young.
3) A good meal and malt to accompany it?
MC: A great big pot of mussels with a Laphroaig Quarter Cask.
ATW: What is the one malt out there that you are itching to get your hands on?
MC: If money was no option I would love a bottle of Black Bowmore. I have tried a sample twice and it is one of the best, old, sherried whiskies I have tried. I would love to have a bottle of that. Maybe one day…
ATW: Finally…Can you share your best malt moment to date?
MC: The best moment for me is whenever I get to try whisky straight from the cask in a warehouse. I hate going to those distilleries where you can’t do anything but have a quick look at the equipment and then you are whisked off to a brightly-lit, heavily-branded tasting room. The warehouse is where all the magic happens and to be able to open a cask and try the maturing whisky in that cool, damp, dark, sweet-smelling atmosphere can’t be beaten.
Sincere thanks, Mark. (Not only did Mark excuse the delinquency in shipping these questions off to him, he replied within hours).
Readers…if you aren’t already a member or lurker at www.whiskywhiskywhisky.com, I strongly advise a visit. There is much to learn, even if you don’t care to join in the chat.