Interview with Mark Connelly
This is the 8th interview in a serie of interviews with people who love whisky. Now it’s time for Mark. Mark impress me, he run a blog, a forum & whisky festival! This guy is really having lots of balls in the air. I first found Mark aka @butephoto on Twitter where he of course tweets (4.2 per day) about whisky. Please put your hands together for Mark, a true whisky lover!
1. Tell me a little about yourself?
My name is Mark Connelly, I am 35 years old and live in Glasgow, Scotland, where I have lived all my life. I live with my partner and our little baby girl. I was previously a web designer but after being made redundant last year when the economy took a turn for the worse I decided to try and make a living from whisky.
2. How did it all start, what’s your first experience of whisky?
I think my first taste of whisky, apart from some cheap blend that I could barely drink when I was younger, was Laphroaig. It was loaded with ice which probably explains why I wasn’t put off by the strong taste at first and the alcohol. I was getting fed up with beer and was also looking for a drink with less sugar due to health reasons. Yeah, I know that sounds crazy but anyway, I liked the tastes and the culture surrounding my national drink. I attended my first tasting class, which was hosted by Diageo, and discovered a new favourite in Cragganmore. And so it began…
3. You are running a blog, forum & festival! Can you tell me little bit about them, history & how you can juggle so many balls in the air?
Everything I’m doing, apart from the blog at least, has been set up because I thought I could do better than what is currently available. I don’t want that to sound big-headed, things were just pretty bad. The forum, Whisky Whisky Whisky, now seems to be the busiest English language one that I can see and hopefully the festival will be much better than the current offering in this city.
As I mentioned I was made redundant and only took on work a couple of days a week so I could set up Glasgow’s Whisky Festival. I have now quit all the other work and am concentrating solely on the festival, the forum, the blog (just a bit of fun and really just for me), and another pretty big whisky-related venture which I can’t disclose right now. It should start around the same time as the festival, in November, which is a big headache for me but very exciting too!
4. What’s your favourite and worst whisky experience and why?
I don’t have one particular favourite but the thing I love the most is being in a traditional dunnage warehouse with the smells all around and pulling some drams out of a cask with a valinch. Nothing beats that for me. You are tasting a whisky straight from its resting place with nobody touching it and in the surroundings that it has probably sat in for years and years. I love it. You probably have to go to a smaller distillery to do this these days, though.
I don’t really have any bad experiences, other than perhaps getting a little too drunk on the odd occasion, but I think what frustrates me the most is when you take the time to visit a distillery and they don’t let you take pictures and some don’t even let you into a warehouse. That’s been my experience of any Diageo distillery tour.
5. What’s your opinion on today’s whisky rating systems (1-10, 1-100, stars etc.)?
I think the way Serge rates whisky on his WhiskyFun site is the best for me. I know a 4 or 5 star whisky will be good and a 1 or 2 star won’t be. I don’t need more than that. With anyone who rates out of 100 I look for whiskies rated in the 80s or 90s which is effectively the same as looking for 4 or 5 stars. Rating one whisky 95 and another 96 out of a hundred means nothing to me other than they should both be very good. Since it all boils down to personal taste and preference you only need a rough idea of what it’s like, not a percentage point.
6. How do you taste whisky? Do you use water, and when?
I rarely add water despite what others tell me. Maybe I just like the alcohol kick. Haha! Ralfy had tried to get me to do this but it more often than not tasted like watered-down whisky. If I wanted that I’d buy something at 40%. Yes, I know the chemicals break down and release the aromas etc but I just don’t get it. Probably just my senses. I added some water to a 4yo Ledaig sample the other day and that was one of the few times where I preferred it with water. It was well over 60% ABV, being so young, so that’s probably why. Everyone should do what they want with their whisky, though.
7. How is the whisky ‘climate’ (bars, clubs, events & magazines etc.) in your country and city?
Living in Scotland’s biggest city I should really have it all but it’s not perfect. I often feel we don’t have as much going on here as Edinburgh but there are plans for a few things that should hopefully happen soon. We have some good pubs here – I mainly visit the Bon Accord – but the shops and the events aren’t the best. I am a committee member of Glasgow’s Whisky Club and we put on some good tastings but there’s a definite need for more events here. I’m hoping to play a part in that with my festival and the other venture.
8. What’s your opinion on different cask-finish expression?
I’m not a fan in general. Being pretty cynical I wonder what they’re trying to hide by sticking it in a wine cask for 6 months. Like I mentioned above, for me the best whiskies are always the ones straight out of the barrel with no messing around. If it’s a good spirit in a good cask that is all you need.
9. Where in the world would you like to go to try whisky? Why, do you have a favourite place, distillery or country?
10. What whisky trends are you seeing, how does the future look like?
Going back to the cask-finish question I see more and more of this happening just now, and I don’t think it’s a good thing. I understand the desire to innovate within the industry but I don’t think this is the way to do it. Hopefully it’s just a fad. Maybe the SWA has put too many restrictions in place that prevents anything else. Apart from that the future mostly looks good. There are a few small distilleries opening here in the next year or two and hopefully they will continue to treat whisky production as a craft rather than the industrial-scale methods at places such as Roseisle. More choice is a good thing in my book.
Did you enjoy the interview? If you would like to be part of the serie or know someone else who would, please let me know.