When taking on a new chellenge it is best to be methodical and set about the task with a plan.
Earlier we disucussed the basic strategy behind whisky tasting and offered some advice that we would give to any guest sitting at our Libarary Bar faced with the array of bottles and not knowing where to start or more possibly how to start. Over the course of time we hope to guide visitors round the shelves and allow them to sample - virtually- the water of life. Then possibly you will be tempted across the threshold of your local bar or shop or even maybe across our bridge and then into our very own library bar!
So as in all things it's best to start at the beginning
- but when you are not sure where that is then we would always suggest that the closer to home the better so for us where better to start than Oban. Oban is the frontier between the West Highlands and the Islands; the meeting place between land and sea. A perfect, sheltered harbour makes it the principal seaport for the Isles and the capital of the West Highlands.
It has a mild, temperate climate, warmed by the Gulf Stream and washed (too often, some might say) by the soft rain that often falls hereabouts. This misty, maritime character, with a background of heather and peat, is perfectly echoed in the malt whisky produced at Oban.
At the heart of Oban for over 200 years has been the distillery and despite all the changes and developments over the years it remains key to the town.
Oban distillery is now owned by the grand international company- diageo- and if truth be told it is the support, help and most importantly investment from the powers above that have kept it alive and indeed thriving as it is today.
Oban is made using only the finest barley, malted to the distillery's own particular specification. The tiny lantern-shaped copper pot stills are among the smallest in Scotland; their rich, fruity malt is then slowly condensed in wooden worm tubs that sit outside among the rooftops, before being aged in oak casks for at least 14 years.
Rich sweetness and fruits - oranges, lemons and pears, with sea-salt and peaty smokiness.
Mouth-filling late autumn fruits - dried figs and honey-sweet spices; followed by a smoky malty dryness.
Long, smooth-sweet finish with oak-wood, dryness and a grain of salt.
A combination of light smoke, medium richness and appetising spice
As the guests begin to depart back down the drive Christmas for another year is over and we start to look forward to the end of another year and the start of another 12 months of opportunity.
There are times that I am conscious that I am a glass half empty kind of person and at others I am a glass half full. Christmas and New Year always seem to pose such a dilemna for me. Whilst it is always great to look back and reflect on where we have come and how we have reacted to the changing landscape it is also important not to dwell too long on these and look forward to the future.
It is strange that the festive period at Eriska is so different. Christmas is one of my favourite times as the clocks seem to stop, newspapers are ignored and guests join us to celebrate and most importantly relax, unwind and recover. Whereas New Year is always a time where many see it as an opportunity for new beginnings and a chance to draw a line in the sand and analyse our predicament. Curiously this leads to a very different atmosphere in the house.
Christmas sees the house full of joy and laughter with few cares in the world but guests simply enjoying the moment, New Year sees lots of discussions and debate , great talks and deliberation in the library and whilst there is always an element of serious consideration there is also inevitably some fun as well.
This dichotomy of atmospheres does however show what a wonderful place and building, Eriska is, as it lends itself to both and allows our visitors and guests to benefit from whichever style they need.
As the guests leave this morning - some a little more tired than others- mostly self inflicted and brought on by the Scottish country Dancing last night, I hope they not only enjoyed their stays and the hospitality but feel ready to face the world yet again as they return to immerse themselves in this 24 hour life we now live in.
So On Saturday we will begin to welcome our next house party and try to provide the location and scene for them to get the most from their Highland Break, but for today its a chance for all the team here to take a well deserved break and catch up on much needed rest, a little Christmas cheer and hopefully- for me - a large pile of surprise form Father Christmas as his stop at my fireplace to fill my stocking was delayed a day or too as he has I am reliably informed , been quite busy elsewhere!
One of the advantages of being quieter in the winter is that it gives us a chance to pause and reflect.
It also presents us with the perfect opportunity to dream and imagine, in a way, for a few days we can retire into the life of our guests and immerse ourselves in another world and another life!
With Eriska having paused before the frantic Festive period we have all been dashing around getting both ourselves and the island ready but at least a little respite from Christmas shopping could be achieved by hiding in a cinema and enjoying the recent release of "Skyfall" and the celebration of 50 years of James Bond.
This all coincided with a request from a guest to see if we could put together a James Bond Escape and whilst this might sound a little fanciful it at least allowed an opportunity to research the character and see how well connected we could become.
The first schoolboy knowledge is that 007 was of course educated in Scotland but a less well known fact is that it is rumoured that he is based by Ian Fleming, his creator, on a character from Argyll who helped run operations behind enemy lines.
The exploits of soldier and diplomat Fitzroy Hew MacLean, who parachuted into Yugoslavia to assist the resistance in WW2, are said to have been the origins of Ian Fleming's James Bond and 007 and his family are based at Duart Castle on Mull which can be seen from Eriska.
It is therefore not surprising that not only was Scotland the base for Bond to retreat to in Skyfall but also a location for a few of the films over his last fifty years. Whilst there may be a romantic and exotic need to visit the Bahamas, Africa or California - his true home is Scotland and therefore it has been included in many sets whether being a fictictious trip through the Bosphorus in "From Russia with Love" or a true location as with the Faslane Naval base used in "The Spy who Loved Me"
So we have put together a package which combines the scenery and places from the films and the comfort and style of an Aston Martin DB9 and private speedboat visit to Duart castle along with the lifestyle of a Vespa Martini and a weekend at Eriska. So in conjunction with our friends at Mckinlay Kidd we have now launched a wonderful break away - living the life of James Bond and it is all especially pertinent given the recent release and scenery of the west highlands.