Photograph: Magnus

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?

Mark ConnellyMy 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?

I would love to go to the US and visit some bourbon distilleries and try more of their whiskies. I like the idea of the microdistillery explosion there right now and would love to visit some.

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.

  1. Interview with Filip Ling
  2. Interview with Gal Granov
  3. Interview with Jörg Bechtold
  4. Interview with Mark Gillespie
  5. Interview with Thomas Maufer
  6. Interview with Steffen Bräuner
  7. Interview with Dan Hvitman
  8. Interview with Mark Connelly

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