I started learning to play the guitar about 6 months ago. I am not saying this to blow my own trumpet, if you’ll forgive the mixed metaphor; I suspect I shall not be winning any Brits any time soon. I tell you this because it brought with it a new experience; guitar shopping. If you have never been into a guitar shop, I would suggest it’s worth a visit, even for non players as a good shop can be like a museum – full of pretty things. However, steer clear of the more weird dingy shops. Part of my experience was that there are great shops and there are bad shops, and there are great assistants and bad assistants. A great assistant in a great shop is the zenith, a perfect thing, with a variety of instruments and toys to play with, showing you each and every possible combination and delectation. A great assistant even in a bad shop can instruct and inform you, help you make an informed choice, even if their range is limited or difficult to get to. A bad assistant in either shop is the most irksome experience and quickly makes you leave.
It appears to be the same way with whisky tours. I have been on a few (although I still want to do more) and I have experienced the good and the bad – Bushmills was probably the low point, for the tour guide rather than the whisky or the distillery (although it is very industrial). But at both Auchentoshan, which I’ve already mentioned, and Glengoyne, I had a great experience. Auchentoshan was clearly the easier distillery to sell; it had a more level path through the whole place, everything was easily visible and the whole distillery had more feeling of space and openness. By this I mean no discredit to the guide; he was excellent, knowledgable and witty, but it is the equivalent of a good guitar shop – there’s more to show off. Glengoyne was smaller, it felt older. There seemed to be countless staircases and narrow passages to traverse; saddest of all we couldn’t see the warehouses – possibly health and safety due to crossing the road (into the lowlands – apparently they are the only distillery to distill in the highlands and mature in the lowlands – a boundary marked by the road running through the grounds). Despite these seeming criticisms, our guide was superb. He clearly knew his whisky, was informative and helpful. But best of all, and perhaps this is why I’m biased, he was generous with his time, and his tastings.