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October 22, 2011

The Whisky Conversation

Many of the most passionate devotees across numerous diverse pursuits would agree with me when I say that, irrespective of the favoured activity in question, cogitating upon and talking about it contribute enormously to maximising appreciation and enjoyment. Every interest – and I feel this is especially true of whisky - benefits from equal portions of anticipation, evaluation and participation. I am only too aware – and if I forget, the twice-monthly Quaich Society meetings and their aftermaths remind me – that one cannot be forever drinking whisky; but one can sure as hell natter on about the subject indefinitely.

I will go into far greater depth in a later post, but the Scotch Malt Whisky Society rolled into St Andrews for this week’s tasting with five bottles of single cask, cask strength, distilled discussion. The epithets for each expression assert this quality, and as we tucked into Old Jazz Bar and The Antagonist, tongues were loosened. I had Quaich Soc old-timers come up to me afterwards and beam that it was the best tasting they had been to. Ever. Much of the credit – maybe around 99.9% – must go to our host, Craig Johnstone. With charm, affability, professionalism and frankly frightening levels of knowledge and expertise, he imparted the confidence I suspect some of the 60 tasters were in search of when contemplating the wild beasts in their Glencairns. That production details and histories were interspersed with Craig’s own extensive encounters with the drinks industry internationally, with many of these boasting hilarious consequences, the entire room could put their trust in his juggernaut of an interest.

And without a doubt this is what makes whisky such an eminently-discussable topic. Those who speak for whisky, when hangovers, deadlines or time of day preclude sipping the stuff and communing with it personally (although on the latter criteria, Craig was very forthright in his condoning of “breakfast whiskies”), are so often engaging and dynamic also. To nurture a fledgeling hobby they brought their powers of curiosity and investigation to bear; to transform it into a pre-eminent passion they sought out personal interactions with the spirit, its people and process, to sustain the obsession they battled to make it their job. Who wouldn’t want to talk to those who suit up to go to work, but for whom the whole exercise is simply constructive, engrossing leisure time with a pay cheque at the end of it?

I’ve been very fortunate over the last couple of years to tap into this whisky conversation, encountering people who go beyond the off-licence for their drams. With distillery managers and staff, brand ambassadors, shop owners, other bloggers and even fellow students I am engaged in a free-flowing, richly-layered dialogue, not just about whisky in the bottle, but about how we have been compelled to experience whisky in the distillery, in the landscape, in the bars, in the trade shows, in the homes of those who make it.

Whisky is a launch pad to other matters – other cultures, other flavours, other ways of seeing the world. The borders of a love of whisky are contiguous with an appreciation of all artisanal products; when the plethora of pockets of Scotland have been explored, there is always the rest of the globe, and the people you meet in the process will continually amaze and surprise you with their generosity, knowledge and enthusiasm.

After having given me five single cask, cask strength drams of his, I thought I had better show my appreciation for Craig’s performance by offering him one of mine. The Aberlour 16yo was uncorked, and the conversation continued.


Keep track of what whisky matter Craig is presently mulling over via his blog – it’s as diverse (and brilliant) as he is: Whisky Adventures.

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