On Thursday evening I was privileged to be invited to the Scottish Field Whisky Challenge Awards Dinner and Presentation at 12 Picardy Place in Edinburgh. A rather upmarket affair where I was lucky enough to brush shoulders with and chat to some of the most interesting people in our industry.
So I brushed off my best suit and met up with fellow Whisky Adventurers Patsy Christie of Mixxit
UK, and Doug Clement, a professional Championship Golf Course Caddy and Managing Director of the future distillery near Kingsbarns
in Fife. Our first stop was the wonderful cigar garden. Pete from Inverarity Vaults
was on hand to explain to us the finer points of cigar smoking, and the things to look out for in each of the products he had on offer. Patsy and Doug decided to try a smoke, and opted for an Ashton and a Monte Cristo Open, while I decided a Johnnie Walker Black Label and some passive smoking would keep my innards happy without feeling left out. (I love the smell of cigars, but made a conscious decision years ago not to smoke anything.)
After a delightful discussion with Pete, we were invited up for dinner at 7pm. I was delighted to find that apart from Doug and Patsy, there were no other recognisable faces at our table. We had a whole evening of connections to make. Looking around there was also a plethora of old friends dotted all over the room. The best thing about all of this was the fact that all of tonight’s nominated Whiskies were on the tables so some cross conversation was inevitable.
On our table we had
GlenDronach 18 a sherried monster of epic proportions
Mortlach 16 probably my favourite from Diageo’s Flora and Fauna range
Lagavulin Distiller’s Edition a legendary PX finished Lagavulin, this year’s edition being extremely memorable for it’s deep smoke after long scents of dried fruits and treacle
Cutty Sark 25 a gorgeous woody smoky blend from Cutty Sark (disappointed to say that some on our table refused to try the blends, they missed a gem here!)
We also managed to sub in a Glen Garioch 18 year old with all it’s floral deliciousness and a bottle of Black Bull superior, a vanilla sweet and spicy blend.
All in all the conversations were easily oiled.
To my right sat a wonderful gentleman called Nigel. He proclaimed to know nothing about Whisky and told us he came for the wine. It transpired he was a barley farmer. I don’t think he was expecting a long, detailed conversation about barley, but sometimes
I can’t help myself. He managed to confirm everything I wrote about in my craftsmen series episode about Barley farmers
, and was somewhat pleased that someone had even covered the subject. We could have been there for ages, if it were not for the gentleman on my left.
On my left was Mr. Colin Ross. Colin has been in whisky for over 40 years and now is the managing director of the Nikka owned Ben Nevis distillery
. His tales of growing up in Scotland surrounded by whisky and agriculture were amazing. It transpired that my first real role model in Whisky, Distillery Manager Charlie Smith, was in the same class as Colin at school, it also transpired that nearly every other inspiring character I have worked with or under, has a great friendship with Colin, and it is easy to see why. Nigel, Patsy, Doug and I listened with great interest as Colin regaled us with stories of cask sales, Japanese business trips and the secret Ben Nevis he is producing at the moment. I can’t wait for it!
After dinner, I did the rounds and ended up gathering a group of Adventurers and heading to the Basement Bar
on Broughton Street. Besides Patsy and Doug, we were joined by Tatsuya from the Highlander Inn and his colleague Yumi, who was about to embark on a month’s work at Bruichladdich Distillery.
Basement is one of Edinburgh’s Hidden Gems. Under some stairs at the top of Broughton Street, you walk in to find a cosy lounge area with an incredibly well stocked bar on the right. Behind this bar is a group of some of the most enthusiastic and talented bartenders in the city, they clearly love what they do!
A custom I have in bars is to go to the bartender and ask for a random spirit. The spirit chosen and reasons for it as well as the enthusiasm of the bartender will often determine how often I return. Needless to say I am in Basement quite often. Our bartender returned with a Blanco Tequila and a NEW TASTING TECHNIQUE. I was overjoyed. The random spirit was great, but the new piece of information was invaluable. So enthused was I, that I shared my Mexican nosing trick
with him, and now he had some new info to give to his next customer.
Having spent an entire evening talking shop, sharing stories and communicating about barley at the highest level, it was a twenty second sound bite from my bartender which honours the title of this blog. For anyone out there who works behind a bar, remember that you are story tellers. You are not selling drinks, you are selling experiences. If you make a cocktail or pour dram, give the customer a story while your working. You empower them when they go back to their group, you have enhanced their evening, you have ensured another round and probably a bigger tip. Show off your knowledge, your customers love banter.
So here is that snippet of information:
If you ever feel Olfactory Sensory Overload (a sensation which causes you to lose your sense of smell for a little while) recalibrate your receptors by sniffing the inside of your elbow.
Try it, it works!
In my glass: Jose Cuervo Reserva De La Familia