The other evening I was reminded of the reasons I love working with Whisky.
The first things I learned as distillery tour guide at Glenkinchie were the ins and outs of making Scotch Whisky. The second lesson was the insignificance of all this info compared to the importance of enjoying Whisky with friends.
Production is incredibly important, and that is why I love sharing insights of it on this blog, but this blog and those insights would mean absolutely bugger all if they were not discussed over a good dram or two with friends the next time you convened to enjoy the finer things in life.
The other night I sat with a group of friends and fellow Whisky Adventurers and shared a few drams whilst both evaluating these spirits and sharing stories. The results reminded me exactly why I stayed in the Whisky Industry. Hopefully, at some point you will have made the same connections, or will have a similar epiphany moment as your own Whisky Adventures continue.
Picture the scene:
Sat round a mahogany table were a Canadian friend, a French Ami, a German freund, an English pal and myself. We had 7 whiskies to decide upon and it was my job for the evening to collate our experiences and draw our overall conclusions.
We were armed with 7 nosing glasses each, a jug of natural spring water, paper, pens, 7 random Whisky samples and imaginations primed for going wild.
This may sound like a rather traditionalist ritual, and in many ways it is. It just so happens that it is one of many ways we like to get our kicks out of Whisky, as well as a great opportunity to get our olfactory senses up to scratch.
(I should also point out that there were no books in sight, no phones for fact checking, no labels being read out and no complicated scoring system. For each dram, we only had to decide if we liked it or not in our present mood and surroundings, as well as recording any other thoughts which sprung to our minds.)
Anyway, when looking back at the whiskies, we decided that, although all fine spirits, nothing special really stood out in 4 of the 7, the remaining 3 were great, but not amazing. This, in many traditionalist circles would have meant that the night was a complete waste of time. Why even bother?
Well, not in our circle. The contents of the glass should never be the focus of attention, these spirits should be the glue that keeps us together throughout the 3 hour session, and they are the oil for the conversation. Especially when the group are meeting for the first time. (I was the common link between the group, our Canadian friend had never met anyone else and our English pal was only acquainted with two of us previously, yet we managed to sit and have a rip-roaring barn stormer of an evening discussing everything we loved and loathed about these drams.)
Every so often we would share a piece of useless information about the distilleries in question, and more often than not a personal Adventure with a dram from the past would jump into the middle of the table. As the night wore on, barriers were dropped, tongues loosened and muscles relaxed. The sharing of stories over a dram or two is one of the loveliest things you can experience. For every story you share, two or three come back at you. The conversation flows and the connections deepen. It is the best spirit in the world for making friends as well as doing business.
I sit here reading the notes from the other night and the one thing that has jumped out at me, prompting me to write this up, is the sheer honesty in the scripts. The best thing about these notes is that everyone brought themselves and their past Whisky Adventures to the table. They are probably the most diverse, artistic and downright magical notes I have ever seen.
In what other room would we have colours described as Loonie Coin Gold, Aix-en-Provence Olive Oil or Scottish Claymore?
How many people can say they have enjoyed a dram during the Islay Beach Rugby Championships, or would recommend we drink one whilst windsurfing in BC, or even at the top of the Eiffel Tower?
What single expert would have experiences enough to describe a dram as Auntie’s Apfel Strudel, Maple Syrup (straight from the snow), Sommerset Scrumpy Cider and Freshly Mown Bowling Greens?
These little details and flashes of inspiration are the reason I love analysing Whisky. They are also the reasons I never publish scores for whisky. Everything is dependant on circumstance and company, feelings and occasions, the right dram for the right time.
Personally I feel that a conversation provoking Whisky that is not to everyone’s taste deserves it’s spot on the back bar of any pub just as much as the Whisky that has been engineered to deliver a comforting silence over everyone who drinks it.
That is why when I do conduct quality control on a professional level, I not only analyse what is in the glass, but also what surrounds the glass.
P.s. I will not publish the notes here, as I urge you to sit down with your own friends and discuss a dram or two with no previous knowledge of what is in your glass. I think you’ll be surprised at what you find!
In my glass: No idea, but it is absolutely delicious. Shame my friend here disagrees!