New Manager Interview: Max at Fort William
Are you settling in well?
I’ve worked for the company for a few years now so it's taken a couple of days to get into this but it’s great. I worked for The Whisky Shop as a summer job when I was at university and then, just after lockdown, I got a permanent position when we opened up again. So I've been here since I was in first year of uni.
How did you get into whisky and what made you realise that you loved whisky?
For my 18th birthday, I got a bottle of 18 year old Ben Nevis that my dad got especially from them. And he said “Right, let's open a bit of that and try it.” And it was delicious. I'd had a couple of whiskies when I was younger here and there, and that opened the door a wee bit but it was really getting that bottle for my 18th. And then when I got to university, I joined the Glasgow University Malt Whisky Society. It was on a Sunday night, every couple of weeks. It was three pounds, and you got a few drams out of that. And I met like-minded people and expanded my interest. I got into a few distilleries as a result of some trips there with the group and it was just really good fun bonding with other people over whisky.
Did you grow up in Fort William?
Yes. My mum and dad grew up there and I've only lived here apart from my time at uni. I did a degree in history and then I did an MSc in museum studies after that, because I had ideas of going into work with museums. But after doing that course, I was a bit like, this maybe isn't what I want to do. And then the opportunity was there to work a bit further in the shop, and I thought, well, yeah, I like whisky, I like Fort William. That sounds like a pretty good bet.
Do you have a favourite place for a dram in Fort William?
I like drinking at home because it allows me to try loads of samples I get online with my mum, dad, and grandfather. Though, in the pubs I like drinking Black Bottle, I think it's a lovely, easy-drinking, blended whisky. The Crofter is where I usually go to have a few drinks with my pals. The Grog and Gruel has a very good selection of whisky too, but there's plenty of pubs in Fort William to enjoy.
What about drinking in Glasgow?
I discovered The Pot Still a bit later than I wished; it’s a pretty magnificent place with a ladder up to all of the whiskies and everything. I've been to The Bon Accord a couple of times with a few pals from the whisky society. The Three Judges and The Lismore - I always enjoyed them. Oran Mor was the one we went to the most because it was relatively close to the uni and, more importantly, it had a late license. After the whisky society AGM, we all used to end up there, so it was a dangerous night to say the least. But it was good times.
Do you find more young people are getting into whisky?
I’m not sure, it’s generally a mixed bag. If you like a drink you like your whisky regardless, it doesn't really matter what your age.
Do you have a dream whisky, one that you're dying to taste?
There's three whiskies I've always been wanting to try but I’ll never be able to: they’re impossible. There used to be a distillery in Fort William called Nevis, I think operated from the late 1880s to 1907. All gone. I've always wanted to try a triple distilled Talisker, they stopped doing that in 1927. The chances of getting that are pretty thin on the ground. But the one I’ve got a small chance of trying, is a Glenlochy. Again, just for the local connotations because it closed in 1983. And some people say it was great. Some people say it's absolute rubbish but I'm willing to try it. You see bottles at auction, but I’ve not made the leap. The price is creeping up though. I need to get one before they go too mad.
Do you collect whisky yourself?
No, I have a mixed philosophy about it. I firmly believe it’s meant to be drunk. I've got two or three bottles that I thought I should try and keep hold of but, at the end of the day, I'll probably end up drinking them on a special occasion. More often than not, if there's a nice bottle sitting there I think: you know what, it would be daft not to try it.
What are you drinking at the moment?
Nothing, I’m at work! Haha. I’m really enjoying - it's nearly empty - a Periodical Croftengea (Loch Lomond) 14 Year Old bottled by North Star Spirits. Done in an Oloroso sherry cask and a small batch, it’s chocolatey, rich and quite decadent. It's 50% but you wouldn’t know it's 50%: it's quite a dangerous dram. I also went down to Campbelltown in November, and I got a Longrow 11 year old Tawny Port Cask, which is pretty divine as well. Unfortunately, nearly empty as well.
Last question: Do you have a favourite whisky fun fact?
I believe that, in the late 1880s, the three distilleries in Fort William produced more whisky than the whole of Speyside. Which seems a bit nuts to me, but I read it somewhere so I’ll believe it. The original one, Ben Nevis distillery, got so big that they doubled it to Ben Nevis and Nevis. And then Glenlochy came along, and it was full of the stuff. Also, Dalmore was used in the First World War to store naval mines in their warehouses before they were sent into the North Sea. Which I think, whisky and explosives - never a good combination. Oh the other fact! So after Banff distillery was bombed in the Second World War, they said that the local firemen were charged by the excise office for filling one of their helmets with the whisky and passing it around afterwards. In the local press they said that the cows were drunk because they were eating the grass that had taken all the whisky into it. And they, tongue in cheek of course, said that the grass came up half cut! They’re my facts.