The month began with an interesting lecture hosted by the Worshipful Company of Educators – the subject being the Defence Education Revolution and the need for creative thinking in times of war and peace.
The Mistress and I were the guests of the Keepers of the Quaich at their Spring Banquet in the magnificent castle at Blair Atholl – its grand banqueting hall is the largest in all the castles of Scotland and suitably adorned with hunting trophies and antlers. It was a magnificent occasion where Scotch whisky is celebrated and attended by Keepers and Masters of the Quaich from around the world. PM Brian Morrison had persuaded me to wear the Master’s Gown for the procession of the top table guests into the Hall, which he assured me would make the Distillers’ Company presence noticed. It seemed to work.
Andrew Neil, the journalist and TV personality was the guest speaker and I was questioned by him about the Master’s Chain and Gown – although in a friendly tone and not the one he adopts when interrogating politicians. His speech focused on the importance of business entrepreneurs to our economy – as represented by many in the room.
Our April Dinner was in Saddlers’ Hall, a most impressive hall which holds a magnificent collection of historic saddles. The Princess Royal is Master of the Company ‘in perpetuity’, an honour bestowed in recognition of her passion for equestrian activities. The Prime Warden is the equivalent position to the annual Master.
The Learned Clerk rose to the challenge of playing the piano for the “Sung Grace” which is a tradition for the majority of Livery Companies, but one which the Distillers have let slip. Historically we did sing the “Livery Grace” from the “Laudi Spirituali” written in 1545. Our Esteemed Clerk hastily assembled a Clerks’ Choir to lead the singing, which appropriately they did from the Minstrels’ Gallery. And for an encore they led the singing of the National Anthem – following the Loyal Toast. There were six Masters and two Past Masters present as guests – including a Master Musician – all of whom commented positively on the hearty voices of the Distillers and the Choir of Clerks. I hope we can now maintain this excellent addition to our celebrations and Banquets.
The following day was the Official Opening by the Duke of Sussex of the Future Zone, an OnSide Youth Centre in Dagenham. The Distillers contributed £50k to this venture, funds generated by our Whisky Auction in April 2018 which contributed to the Lord Mayor’s Appeal. It was exactly one year ago that the Auction had taken place and the Lord Mayor was present at the Opening where he presented a plaque to me, on behalf of the Company, in grateful thanks for our contribution. A second plaque is a fixture in the building, alongside those of other sponsors. Prince Harry spent over two hours touring the impressive facility, with state of the art sporting and musical equipment, and was thoroughly engaged when talking to the local young people, several of whom had helped design the interior of the building and who had chosen “Future” as their theme.
From then onto our Armagnac Tasting which was held at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society in Hatton Garden. 20 Liverymen and guests attended – a full house – for a tasting which included 40 year old Armagnacs…
The Big Curry Lunch took place in Guildhall sponsored by the Lord Mayor in support of the Army Benevolent Fund and other forces charities. Many Livery Companies took advantage of the occasion to display their wares and sell items for charity. The Lord Mayor’s Reserve English Single Malt Whisky, produced by Liveryman Daniel Szor at Cotswolds Distillery, was on sale, and doing a brisk trade. I was delighted to be invited to officially open the new Visitors’ Centre at Cotswolds Distillery later in the month, at a well attended event, followed by a tour of the Distillery producing gin, whisky and speciality spirits.
The month ended with a short visit to Armagnac to finalise details for the forthcoming Court Visit in early June. The Mistress and I met with the National Armagnac Bureau, the Mousquetaires of Armagnac and stayed at the hotel where we will be based for our visit. We sampled some excellent Armagnacs and were introduced to the unique ‘apéritif gascon’ comprising Armagnac and grape juice, made by only one family in Gascony using traditional methods. This took place in the pretty village of Fourcès during a flower festival which uniquely boasts a round Medieval square in the centre of the village.