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Issue 50 - Whisky Country

Scotland Magazine Issue 50
April 2010

 

This article is 7 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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Whisky Country

Whisky tourism has become big business. But if you're looking for the ultimate in exclusive and personal whisky experiences you should talk to Chris Gordon. Dominic Roskrow reports.

Often the best ideas are the simplest ones. The ones which make you wonder why you, or indeed anyone else, didn’t think of them before.

So it was with Chris Gordon and his new luxury travel concept Whisky Country, which has been bucking the recessionary trends by flourishing in recent months, and this year is set to get even bigger.

Gordon is the driving force behind Scotland Calling, a one man travel operation with a luxury vehicle which has more in common with the inside of a private plane than a high end people carrier. For several years, he has been offering unique bespoke holidays, planning individual itineraries for his clients and driving them in style to the finest hotels Scotland has to offer and to some of its very best experiences.

But it was a chance meeting with a small party of people from Boston that resulted in him setting up a second wing to his business, one based around Scotland’s most famous product.

“When I set up, I thought I’d get different people every year because I didn’t think this sort of holiday was the sort that I would do again and again,” he says. “But I have been very surprised. I have formed a base of clients who have become friends and who come back year after year and that’s been great. Many of them are couples who perhaps came to Scotland for their honeymoon and drove themselves about, and now, on their 25th or 30th anniversary, they have some money and want to come back and be driven about in luxury. A high proportion of my business is couples or small family groups.

“But a while ago I was contacted by a group in Boston and right from the earliest phone calls between us we struck up a rapport, discussing which Scotch whiskies we liked and so on. They were very keen on Islay whiskies so the first time they came over, we went to Islay. The weather was lovely and they loved it. The next time we went up to Speyside and on to Highland Park on Orkney. It was then that I realised that there was the opportunity for a separate business, so I set up Whisky Country with its own identity, website and logo.” Gordon had already developed a passion for malt whisky and its distilleries. Some years ago, he travelled to some distilleries with Scotland Magazine, and escorted the editor and the late acclaimed whisky writer Michael Jackson on a trip through Speyside.

So it made total sense for him to grow a new branch to his travel business. What surprised him, however, was how easy it was to create special distillery experience for his customers.

“Pretty much everyone I spoke to at the distilleries was helpful,” he says. “I wanted to do something different to other companies which offer whisky tours. Many of them just drive their clients by bus to the distillery car park and offload them. I didn’t want to offer my clients a tour with 15 other people and a standard malt at the end of it. I wanted to get them to spend time with the people who helped make the whisky and to have a special experience.

“And the distilleries couldn’t have been more helpful. They all pretty much said that if I gave them advance warning they would see what they could do. I obviously don’t drink when we go to a distillery because I’m driving but I join my party on the tour and it is fantastic listening to the people who make the whisky tell their stories. It’s the equivalent of going round a golf course with the person who designed it.

“There have been some marvellous experiences which I just hadn’t planned for.

Like when one group was flying out from Glasgow and, while chatting, the subject of Auchentoshan came up. It’s near to the airport and I realised that we would have time to go, so I rang ahead.

“The tour there was absolutely fabulous and at the end of it, the group got to taste a sample of a $6000 whisky from Auchentoshan’s sister distillery Bowmore.

The group went straight from there to the airport and they were positively beaming.” Gordon is quick to point out that his holiday experiences aren’t for everyone.

They are at the luxury end of the holiday experience, but he offers accommodation at some of Scotland’s most exclusive and stylish hotels, often small family-run concerns with only a handful of bedrooms, and he transports guests in a specially-imported people carrier with an interior that boasts a drinks cabinet and DVD player.

“I upgraded the vehicle about 18 months ago and now have even more luxury,” he says. “Passengers travel in their own independent rotating leather chair. It’s a bit like the interior of a private jet.” The other key component to the Whisky Country experience is Chris Gordon himself.

He is an enthusiastic, naturally amiable companion and a great story teller. His personal touch is very much a driving force in the business.

“The company has grown in the sense that I have a good strong client base full of people who have to a great extent become friends over the years,” he says. “But it hasn’t grown in terms of drivers and vehicles because I realised a long time ago that whether I like it or not, I am very much part of the holiday experience for many people. They like the fact that I ring them up to arrange the holiday, personally draw up their itinerary and then pick them up from the airport and drive them round for the whole time they are in Scotland.

The internet is great but people have a right to be wary of it , so I like to ring them up as soon as possible and to start building a personal relationship.” Scotland Calling is still going strong, but with growing interest in malt whisky and a craving worldwide for a genuine experience with heritage and provenance, Whisky Country looks to become an increasingly important part of Gordon’s business. But the whisky experience doesn’t have to dominate the holiday.

“There is so much flexibility,” he says. “It doesn’t matter whether you’re a complete beginner wanting to find out more about whisky or a connoisseur, a holiday can be structured accordingly,” he says. “If one of the group isn’t interested in whisky then that doesn’t matter either, because there are other things to do. You can visit three distilleries in a day if you want to, or you can visit one once every two or three days. It comes down to the individual. All you need to do is go to the Whisky Country website, get in touch, and we can take it from there.” Whisky Country can be found at www.whiskycountry.com