The Whisky People – Mark Davidson
Welcome to a new series of articles from The Mash Tun called ‘The Whisky People’. In this series we will be focusing on different people within the industry, getting their ‘whisky history’, feelings on the industry, delving into how they got involved, and discussing some of their favourite drams. In our first article we will be focusing on Mark Davidson. Mark is currently the manager of Royal Mile Whiskies on the High Street in Edinburgh, and before that he managed Cadenheads Whisky Shop on the Canon Gate. He is also the founder of Edinburgh’s ‘Jolly Toper Tastings’.
Mark states that his love of whisky began in the womb, the Members ‘Womb’ at the SMWS (Scotch Malt Whisky Society). Mark, like many whisky drinkers, discovered whisky in his mid-twenties where he soon progressed from blends to malts. He actually admitted to drinking them with ice (we are not judging as each to their own!) but once he started to appreciate the substance and depth of malt whisky he soon decided the ice was not necessary and actually detracted from the flavours. He cites whiskies such as Longmorn (15yr), Talisker (10yr), and Benrinnes (15 yr) as the whiskies that developed his palate and attracted him to single malts. As Mark’s tastes developed over time he soon realised he was a sucker for sherry casks, and with that in mind the resurrection of Glendronach distillery has been a major boost to his whisky collection! Mortlach is another one of Mark’s favourites and he also references Benrinnes and Springbank as two of his ‘go-to’ whiskies. These distilleries (Mortlach, Benrinnes and Springbank) all use a partial double/triple distillation method as well as worm tubs so that may tell you something about his tastes. Mark also enjoys the odd grain whisky with North British being his particular favourite.
While studying to be a Maths teacher Mark lived across from the SMWS (Scotch Malt Whisky Society) in Leith. He bought his then girlfriend (now wife) a membership and they were both regulars at the bar. One night he was asked to cover the bar so the staff could go on their Christmas night out. During this shift he soon realised that explaining whisky to a keen listener was much more enjoyable than explaining fractions to a bored teenager. With that one evening his professional Whisky journey began. Professional because he was paid a sherry matured bottle of Bowmore for his endeavours!
Mark continued studying and after graduation he still couldn’t shake the feeling he should be explaining whisky rather than fractions. With that in mind Mark decided against teaching Maths and joined Cadenheads Whisky Shop on The Royal Mile. He had passed the shop many times before and always wondered about the bars on the windows – little did he know he would be behind those bars for the next 15 years! As he progressed in Cadenheads he was asked if he’d mind teaching some language students about whisky, something that perfectly combined his teaching skills with his love of Scotland’s national drink. Mark enjoyed this experience so much that it inspired him to create ‘Jolly Toper Tastings’ to help others share his passion for whisky. Why Jolly Toper tastings you may ask… A friend had actually painted his face over Franz Hals’s famous Jolly Toper painting (as shown above) and the name just stuck, hence ‘Jolly Toper’ tastings. In the years since these tastings began Mark has presented whiskies from every distillery in Scotland that’s produced a bottle since Maltmill stopped their production – something that’s no mean feat! In 2015 Mark became manager of the Edinburgh branch of ‘Royal Mile Whiskies’ but still runs tastings in his spare time.
Mark feels the people in the industry are the biggest factor. Most of them chose to work with whisky as it’s their passion. With that in mind it’s a job done out of desire rather than necessity. He also feels it’s great to know that Scotland is still a world leader at something. The whisky that Scotland produces, for the most part, it crafted in the home of whisky with patience, care, and pride. The fact the subject is so vast and diverse also adds to Marks love of the industry. The more you learn the more you want to know, and this is something I can personally identify with as Mark himself is a fine example of someone you can learn a lot from, and someone who is always happy to share knowledge as well as a nice dram!
For more information on Mark, and if you would like to attend one of his ‘Jolly Toper Tastings’ you can visit his website – http://www.jollytopertastings.co.uk/
Article by David McNeill