Tag Archives: Scotland

You’re Going To Get A Tattoo?

No no, what I SAID was, “I’m going to THE Tattoo!” OK, I’ll explain…

The word “Tattoo,” is derived from “Doe den tap toe”, or just “tap toe” (“toe” is pronounced “too”), Dutch for “Last Orders”. Translated literally, it means: “close the (beer) tap”. It started when the British Army was quartered in “the low countries” during the Austrian War of Succession, and was the cry that accompanied the beat of the drums as the pipe and drum corps marched through town, and was a signal to “turn off the taps,” it’s time for the soldiers to return to their barracks.

It evolved over the years to become a form of evening entertainment performed by the various military musicians, but primarily the pipes and drums.

In 1950, the military decided to take part in The Edinburgh Festival, an annual celebration of the arts that transforms Edinburgh, Scotland for the month of August. Erecting grandstands around three sides of the castle esplanade, and with the castle itself as an imposing backdrop, the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo has grown into a spectacular event that sells out its three-week run of performances, every night but Sunday, and with two on Saturday. It is also televised all over Europe, which further enhances its reputation as a “must see” event.

I attended my first Tattoo in 1998, and it literally brought me to tears. This August marked my fifth time to attend, and it was as spectacular as ever. With new grandstands in place since 2011, the seats are more comfortable and, while not generous, more spacious than the previous ones.

I have always attended the late Saturday show, as the darkness that has finally fallen at that late hour allows the full impact of the incredible lighting of the performance, and graphics that are projected on the castle facade. The fireworks that cap the show off are an added bonus.

The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, 2013

The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, 2013

But it’s not just pipes and drums. They bring in guest artists from all over the world. This year, for instance, there were performers from South Korea (in observance of the 60th anniversary of the Korean Truce), Mexico, and Mongolia, as well as the military band from New Zealand, which absolutely stole the show! And as all the performers take the esplanade for the grand finale, the lights dim, a solitary spotlight illuminates a lone piper, high on the castle battlements, and upon completion of his solo, the massed bands play “Auld Lang Syne,” as the 8,500 spectators in attendance join hands and sing along.

Massed bands, the finale of The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

Massed bands, the finale of The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

Corny? Maybe. But it was, as always, extremely moving. The atmosphere is like nothing else I have ever attended. But then again, I am a fan of the pipes, and, indeed, most things Scottish. I’ve already ruminated on the lure of Single Malt Scotch, and I even like Haggis. So am I Scottish? No, seems I’m Irish, with a little bit of English thrown in, although I hope the Scots will forgive me that.

If you’d like more information on the Tattoo ( it really SHOULD be on your bucket list, you know),you can find it here: http://www.edintattoo.co.uk

Of course, we spent many more days in Scotland, and had the good fortune to run in to Mr. Neil Clark, a champion piper, as he played on the grounds of Urquhart Castle, overlooking fabled Loch Ness.

To borrow a phrase from Spinal Tap: “‘Tis a magic place!”

Neil Clark, Champion Piper

Neil Clark, Champion Piper


A Proclivity For Single Malt

As I am going to The Scotch Malt Whisky Society Extravaganza here in Houston tonight, I thought it an appropriate time to mention my love of Scotland, along with its premiere export, Single Malt Scotch Whisky. Yes, that is how they spell it, no “e” as we do.

Growing up, I would occasionally get a taste of the blended Scotch whiskey that my parents would drink, and generally always wondered how they could stand that stuff. But, as we mature, so do our taste buds, and as I found myself appreciating foods that were hitherto out of favor with my palate, so too did I come around to an appreciation of Scotch.

But it wasn’t until my late friend Richard High gifted me with a bottle of Laphroaig that the epiphany came. This was something I had never tasted; the incredible flavors, capped off with the smokiness that come from malting the barley with the local peat, were a revelation, and started me on a journey that continues to this day.

Made from only three ingredients, malted barley, yeast, and water, the single malts are distilled a batch at a time in copper pot stills. The varieties of flavor come from the water source, the size and shape of the stills, the kind of wood used in the barrels for maturation, and even the air around the distillery, as the wood breathes during the years of aging, and imparts flavor as well as color. For instance, the granite-fed water and crisp air of the Highlands will impart a different character than the water and air of the Island of Islay (eye-luh), as the water runs over peaty soil, and the air is full of the brine of the sea, as all the distilleries there are right on the water. Coupled with the varying degrees of phenolic flavors imparted by the different amounts of peat used in the malting, Islay is known for the smokiness of its whiskies, which have become a favorite of mine.

As I tended to favor Lagavulin for a while (and White Horse, a blended Scotch with Lagavulin as its base, is still my favorite of that genre), I decided I should marry my interests with my work, and I contacted Lagavulin, and the their parent company, which at the time was United Distillers, and was granted full access to the distillery for a comprehensive shoot. I spent about 5 days on Islay, and the weather was wonderful. They actually credited me with bringing it from Texas!

Here is one of my favorites from that trip, shot on good old Kodachrome.

Warehouse # 1, Lagavulin Distillery, Islay, Scotland

It was eventually used by The British Tourist Authority in a newspaper campaign in the USA, back in the days when stock photography was still viable.

I also had fun giving presentations to my clients, usually on a Friday afternoon, as I would do a slide show (yes, remember those?) on the process of making Single Malt Scotch Whisky, and on  The Island of Islay, complete with a bottle of Lagavulin so the participants could get a first hand experience of the fruits of the gentlemen’s labors.

We’ll be going back to Scotland this August, and although we won’t make it to Islay, I will be touring a couple of distilleries that I have not yet visited. I look forward to sharing the results with you at a later date.

Meanwhile, if you are so inclined, visit The Scotch Malt Whisky Society web site to learn more about the society, which buys select casks from the various distilleries and bottles the contents themselves, non-chill filtered and at cask strength. And I’d love to give you a referral for membership should you decide this might be something you’d like to explore further.

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society