George was one of my first main contacts in my whisky journey. He was working at the Soho Whisky Club in London, and helped get me started on my whisky story, pretty sure he poured me a Linkwood. That was a long time ago. Since then George has travelled and worked in Australia with Starward Whisky, has his own whisky wholesale business and has just launched “Fragrant Drops”, his independent bottling company. So lets get to know what 3 whiskies have marked out his whisky life.
George, you’ve been around whisky for while, but can you tell me what you do now?
I operate a whisky wholesale business, through which I sell bulk whisky that’s still matured in the cask. We also source spirit for bulk blended whiskies for export.
I know you from Soho Whisky Club originally, so I know you have had the opportunity to try some great drams. What’s your first choice?
Blackadder Raw Cask ‘Blairfindy’ 1964 (45YO) – Cask Ref. 4713 – 53.4% (single cask) – Single Malt Scotch Whisky. My whisky career began back in 2011, as a part-time barman at Soho Whisky Club, in London. During the following 6-7 years, I was fortunate enough to sample countless brilliant whiskies at work. This ‘Blairfindy’ (an unnameable Glenfarclas) was bottled by the world-renowned independent bottler Blackadder. It is one of the finest whiskies I’ve ever had the great fortune to taste. It is very rich, very dark and very complex – a true ‘Sherry-bomb’
Wow, so where do you go after that? What’s your second dram?
Starward ‘Nova’ – 41% (small batch production) – Australian Single Malt Whisky After several years of pouring drams and hosting tastings at the aforementioned Soho Whisky Club, I found myself yearning for a career change. With a longing to learn whisky production and a newly-acquired brewing and distilling certificate under my belt, I left London in search of distilling experience. I chose Australia as my destination. As luck would have it, I managed to snag a distiller job – at Starward no less! It’s nice to think that there are bottles of Starward in the world that were mashed, distilled, filled, re-racked, bottled or labelled by yours truly. Fully matured in Aussie red wine casks, the Starward Nova is bloody delicious!
That’s a pretty cool legacy to have. Now, your third and final dram, what have you chosen? Fragrant Drops Ardmore 2009 (14YO) Mezcal Finish – Cask No. 9001334 – 55.9% (single cask) – Single Malt Scotch Whisky. Fast-forward a few more years and I have found myself where I am today – running a whisky cask wholesale business and on the cusp of launching a brand of indie bottling – Fragrant Drops. (note, Fragrant Drops was launched in January 2023). Shameless self-promotion aside, starting an independent bottling range has been a dream of mine for many years. This Ardmore 2009 single cask, which has been finished in a fresh Mezcal barrel for a full year, was one of the first casks I purchased with the hopes of one day bottling. And it has finally, after several delays, been bottled. If you can find a bottle, I recommend it!
If you wish to find out more about where you can buy Fragrant Drops, you can find it here:
Emma is a member of the Glen Moray Distillery team, and I blooming love her! Why? Well, like me she is an advocate of the “C” word, and is #TeamManzanilla (a Glen Moray Warehouse 1 release), what more to like? Annoyingly she also seems to keep houseplants alive far better than I do. So , please take a couple mins to meet Emma.
Emma, thank you so much for taking time out to be part of What 3 Whiskies. I suspect a lot of drammers on social media know who you are, but for those that don’t, tell us a little about your involvement in the whisky world.
I have been with Glen Moray Distillery for almost 14 years now, here at the Visitor Centre. I also help with national shows and festivals, brand promotion and anything else that comes up. My main job is to make sure that each of our guests; whether they are coming to the site, to a tasting or to a festival stand; has a fantastic Glen Moray experience. It may be their 100th time trying our whisky or their first, but they should leave not wanting it to be their last.
In my time with Glen Moray I have seen the expansion and development of both the distillery itself as well as the range of whiskies we produce. I’ve been lucky enough to help choose new casks and unlucky enough to have to hand bottle and label entire releases, both of which can alter your bias towards a dram!
So what would be your first whisky?
Bowmore 15, an easy first choice as it is one of my favourite drams. Always a comforting and warm whisky, something that puts me in my happy place. Always a bottle in the house, and not one I grudge paying for at the bar either. It’s not my typical go to style which makes me love it more.
And your second? Is this where it all started?
Ardbeg Supernova – the dram that opened the door. I remember being very VERY new to the industry and someone gave me a sample of Supernova to try. I had never really had, and certainly hadn’t enjoyed any peated whisky up until that moment. It was less of a “I like that” moment and more of a “I survived that” feeling, I clearly remember thinking ok I definitely want to try more peated whiskies now.
Yep, I think peated was where I had my first “hello whisky” moment. So, your third whisky, what makes the grade?
Glen Moray 2003 Chenin Blanc
This was a single cask we bottled by hand at the Visitor Centre back in 2011 and it’s still one of my favourites. It encapsulates everything about my favourite type of whisky, it’s young, full maturation, cask strength and intense characteristics, essentially a very tasty kick in the face.
Emma can be found hanging around the dark corners of Twitter here:
I have met Colin a few times now. First introduced to me at a whisky show, our mutual connection being Dave Worthington. You may know Colin from his writing for various whisky publications and of course, he is one third of “The Three Drinkers” along with Helena Nicklin and Aidy Smith. Here are Colin’s #What3Whiskies;
Colin, thankyou so much for taking time out of your busy life to share your whisky history. Can I ask, how are you involved with the whisky industry?
I am a journalist, TV presenter and I am a director of Cask Trade. I started in the industry just thirteen years ago in 2009 writing with LUX magazine and Condé Nast. Nowadays I spend my time writing for Club Oenologique, and the on-line magazine for ‘The Three Drinkers’; I also make a podcast called ‘Bring a Bottle’ which is ‘The Three Drinkers’ podcast. I also enjoy advising Cask Trade, which I think is the best cask trading company out there, otherwise I wouldn’t be working with them. We supply independent bottlers all over the world and help those wanting to live the dream of owning a cask of whisky.
Your first whisky then, what was it, and why you have chosen it?
Lagavulin 16 year old. When I was a teenager on a shoot in the boarders of Scotland, which my home country, it was a freezing cold day and I was frozen to the bone. A game keeper took pity on me and handed me a hip flask. It warmed and cheered me up, and I thought it tasted amazing. I was told it was Lagavulin in the hip flask. My love of whisky started then.
Moving onto your second whisky now, what did you choose?
Mortlach 70 year old by Gordon and MacPhail. This expression was launched at Edinburgh Castle in March 2010 and up to that point I had not tasted any very expensive or whisky older than 40 years old. I had always wondered if the super rare and expensive bottles of whisky were worth all the fuss. This whisky showed me that this one at least certainly was, and that there would probably be many others to come which would be just as good. It remains one of the top ten whiskies I have ever tasted. That day was also a day I’ll always remember of meeting old and making new friends with a reception and dinner at the Castle.
And your third and final dram please…
Johnnie Walker Black Label 12 Year Old. In the world I work in I get to taste a great deal of whisky. Time is spent writing notes, analysing, and contemplating the quality of each whisky. Although I take great pleasure in my work, sometimes I just want a whisky to drink. If I can’t think of what I might like, I’ll always reach for the bottle of Johnnie Walker Black Label. It has great complexity with lots of fruit and touches of smoke, but above all it is easy to drink, mixes well with a lot of different mixers, and takes water well. It’s a pleasure to simply enjoy the drink and not have to think about it. It also doesn’t break the bank and once I’ve finished a bottle, it goes on the shopping list, and I replace it. I believe it is the best all round whisky in the world.
You can find out more about Colin’s work at the following links:
I first met Sophie, virtually, via The Whisky Circus a couple years ago. She is a rising star in the English whisky industry, working as a brewer and distiller for Cooper King Distillery in York. A wealth of knowledge, great palate and pure joy to be around. My memories of Sophie during the UK lockdown were very much about post-it notes when she was studying and of course #FreeJosh (some may know what this means, others won’t, but lets just say a source of amusement for many)….anyway, over to Sophie:
So Sophie, I’ve given a info little about you already, but lets hear from you; how are you involved with the whisky industry? and for how long?
I am a brewer and distiller at Cooper King Distillery in York. I’ve been working in the drinks industry since I was 19 years old and have been making whisky by hand for the past 3 years. I’m a huge advocate for showcasing that the whisky industry is for everyone. I believe that bringing more diversity to a currently male-dominated industry, will help create a more sustainable, a more interesting, and more varied world of whisky for everyone to enjoy.
There has been some great progress, with many fantastic women in whisky, creating incredible products, making leaps and bounds within the industry. Though, we’re not there yet. The day I feel the whisky community is accessible for all, is the day I’ll finally stop talking about it!
So what is your first whisky, and why you have chosen it:
Whisky has been a part of my life since I was a toddler, holidaying on Islay, playing around in peat bogs. Bruichladdich Classic Laddie was my first ever dram, my first Islay whisky, and my first beverage that made me realise alcohol isn’t all burning stuff! Laddie is light and floral with sweet barley undertones, which is perfect for someone who is just old enough to drink… It will always remind me of good times, and always tastes as great as the first time I tried it.
And your second whisky, why this one?
Loch Lomond Single Grain (unpeated) is my second choice. The Loch Lomond team have created a wonder here: malted barley distilled in coffey stills creates wonderful, spiced apple pie notes. It’s incredibly good value – under £30 a bottle – and always one I keep in the drink’s cabinet. It’s blooming fantastic, and a rarity to find such a good dram at this price.
And your last whisky, what made you choose it?
My third whisky is Ben Nevis, 12-Year-Old, White Port Pipe Finish. The balance between spice, sweetness and alcohol is exquisite My appreciation for how they blended this so perfectly has increased tenfold since I started blending whisky myself. I’m not sure if my Dad still has one buried away in his collection, but I may have to persuade him to crack this open at the next special occasion. Now a hard to find whisky, it was the one dram that made me consider a career in producing the sweet stuff myself.
Social media handles: Twitter & Instagram: @whiskysophie
So, you will notice I don’t have a picture of John, but I think his work will give you a good idea of what he’s about. I first started “chatting” with John over on Instagram. I actually entered a competition and won some art from his studio. Studio? Not distillery? Yep, as I said this page would be about people with many different connections to whisky. John is the founder of “Whisky Studio”, a consultancy and creative agency working with Scotch whisky, but he’ll tell you that below!
So lets meet John and find out what.3.whiskies have defined John’s whisky wanderings.
John, how are you involved with the whisky industry? I founded Whisky Studio in 2018, a creative consultancy and design studio for the Scotch whisky industry and its consumers. Our studio ambition is to help brands and consumers engage with whisky in creative new ways, working with inspired minds to bring whisky to life in design, form and function across creative strategy, marketing & brand, visual identity and graphic design services. I am also a contemporary whisky artist with my own range of artwork, prints and ‘WhiskyLabel’ clothing line.
So come on, name your first whisky, and why you have chosen it:
Douglas of Drumlanrig, Laphroaig 10 Year Old
The Palate Opener: the first independent bottling I ever experienced. A gift from my now wife relatively early in my whisky journey, it opened my palate to the world of cask strength whisky and how aromas, flavours, mouthfeel – the whole senosory experience – could make you feel and change the way one enjoys a dram they previously thought they were familiar with. I finished the first bottle quite quickly, but found another hidden away online; it’s kept under lock and key only to be opened when the moment calls…
And your second whisky, why you have chosen it?:
The Macallan Concept No. 3, David Carson
The Eye Opener: I worked with The Macallan around the time that the Concept No. 3 collaboration with David Carson was released. I was lucky to peak behind the creative curtain and see what went into a whisky / creative partnership. David’s approach, his visual storytelling ability and unique aesthetic opened my eyes to what design could be, way beyond what was conventional; it almost implanted a ‘licence’ in my own creative journey to be bold, different and try to take clients and consumers on a journey with their eyes before their noses or palates. His work, and this whisky in particular, influenced many of my own design principles. If I’m ever feeling sheepish about pushing creative boundaries, I pick this bottle up from my desk and remind myself what’s possible. The whisky’s pretty good, too, reflecting Carson’s coastal aesthetic and design contributions.
And lastly, your third whisky, and why you have chosen it:
Whisky Studio ‘Abstract Sensory Journey’, The Single Cask Family Series
The Mind Opener: I thought long and hard about including one of ‘my’ whiskies on this list, so ended up including four… This collaboration with independent bottler The Single Cask represents a culmination of the above choices. It’s always been a dream to have my work on the front of a bottle of whisky, and I’m lucky to see that become a reality through Whisky Studio. TSC were one of the first to see potential in my creative style, so we worked together to create a series of 4 bottlings (two Benrinnes, one Mannochmore, one Teaninich) called the ‘Abstract Sensory Journey’. Each label captures an element of the whisky sensory journey – sound, sight, aroma, flavour – and even a couple of TSC’s ‘cubist’ bottles. Like a lot of my work the designs are contemporary and abstract in style, inspired by two of the greats Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali. The images are set on the Whisky Studio signature pink background and even have our logo on the bottom. It was a special moment to see these in the flesh and hopefully help open people’s minds as to the qualities of whisky appreciation as they pick up the bottles and enjoy the glorious liquid inside.
If you want to know more about John and Whisky Studio, details are below.
Iain Allan is one of the nicest people I have met in the whisky industry. A regular at whisky shows and pops up on on-line tastings as well. Many consumers, like myself have parted with hard earned cash after listening to Iain chat about the latest drams from Glen Moray, so watch out!!
So, pour a dram (preferably a Glen Moray) and read about what.3.whiskies have defined Iain’s journey in the industry. (Star Wars costume not required for reading).
Iain, how are you involved with the whisky industry? How long? I am the Global Brand Ambassador and Visitor Centre Manager for Glen Moray Distillery. I have been involved directly in the whisky industry for 21yrs but was manager of a wines and spirits store for a few years prior…..I’m never sure whether that counts, I think it does so let’s say 24yrs.
So tell me, what’s your first whisky, and why you have chosen it: My first whisky will be Highland Park 18yr. When I first joined the whisky industry my first few days was spent at Highland Park for my training/induction. It was my first “peak behind the curtain” of the industry and realisation how much learning was in front of me. Daunting as it was, those delicious drams of 18yr helped soothe my anxiety and as such will always be a dram I have fond memories of and will look to pour whenever I can.
And your second whisky? Why is it special?: Whisky has always been around and I can remember quite clearly my “lightbulb” dram which was a Balvenie Doublewood but I’ve decided to choose something different for my 2nd dram and that is the Glen Deveron 10yr. This is actually my dad’s favourite dram and it is a staple purchase every Christmas for him. The reason I choose this one as it was my dad’s influence and love of whisky that led me to want to be a part of this fantastic industry.
And lastly your third whisky, and why you have chosen it: This one is more of a moving target and not intended as marketing spiel…..honest! But it is the next new Glen Moray release (right now that is the new Elgin Edition). The reason for this is that I get so close to whatever whisky that may be and as such get so excited to pour it for people at whisky festivals, at the distillery etc and to see their reaction. A lot of work goes into getting a whisky from cask selection to the shelf and there is always a genuine sense of excitement to see that bottling finally released into the wide world and for it to be enjoyed, as it was intended when it was laid down however many years ago.
If you want to know more about Iain and/or Glen Moray, details are below.
Social media handles: @GlenMorayIain (twitter) @glenmorayiain (Instagram) iain-allan-7407836b (LinkedIn)
……four words that would on occasion make a cold shiver run down my spine. But I’m not here for that conversation.
I’m writing about the need to talk.
To talk. To converse. To communicate. Effectively.
We need a dialogue, a tete-a-tete, a consultation, a sit down and thrash this out.
We need more than one person or group in a room, constructively talking with each other. Not a Zoom or panel where one group is talking to a group of people who already agree with them and nod encouragingly, while being silently observed by many others.
We need to be constructive in our comments, and to quote many a good leader “don’t come to me with problems, bring me solutions.”
Fairly sure all the above can be applied to myriad situations, but this is my whisky blog, so you already have an idea of where I am going.
For those who may not know, I am ridiculously enthusiastic about whisky; not just the drink but the people, even more so those people who are new to whisky. I have enough experience in working at whisky events, working in male dominated industries, working as a leader, managing people, managing projects and in my endless career a serious bent for Health & Safety.
I am also a brand ambassador for a whisky company.
Just over 3 weeks ago, the London Whisky Show took place at Old Billingsgate. As usual it was three days of fun, ridiculously demanding work, seeing so many people. Meeting old friends and new. The show had its highest numbers ever (I think, maybe I will get TWE to confirm), but it was busy. It wasn’t the first show since CV19, but an uptick in attendees.
For those who don’t know, the layout downstairs is quite open with space to move around. Upstairs is a little more compact. Stands facing each other along the “corridor” and are packed in quite closely next to each other.
Now, here is my H&S head:
I pulled our stand out a little to give space to be able to move around easier. It can get a little claustrophobic behind a small busy stand, plus when surrounded by lots of people you need a way out. It’s quite simple. You need exit space.
I made myself aware of who is around me exhibitor wise, talk to people, be aware of who my neighbours are.
Know where security is. Who are they? How are they dressed? How can I contact them?
Read the exhibitor pack. It holds the information regards H&S during the day, contacts etc.
So, under HASAWA 1974, as an employee, I have done my checks. As an event organiser TWE have done theirs. This is the conversation. This is two groups working together. Now, the last part of this conversation is the client. On the website there is a code of behaviour for everyone who buys the ticket. This part is the “unknown.” TWE had taken measures regards behaviour expectations from visitors at the show, but what they can’t do is know that everyone has read them, taken them on board and will behave accordingly.
So next step is further risk management. This is in the form of security, exhibitors agreeing their part of the H&S contract. The rest? Well, that’s down to people holding themselves and each other accountable.
Having worked in area’s that need high level H&S legislation and enforcement, I can tell you now, NOTHING is ever perfect and not every scenario is covered; new ones pop up all the time.
Now, I’m an eyes everywhere person, watching and monitoring crowd behaviour, understanding from experience which session may have more issues than others. Saturday afternoon can be quite fraught at this show. More people, more alcohol = more problems.
I used to be a Licenced Door Supervisor (a bouncer). If you’ve met me, you’ll appreciate I am suited to that job. But it came with amazing training, and I have a skill set many don’t. I can see who may cause a problem and when, sometimes hours before it happens. But we’re not in Minority Report so you can’t remove someone because they MAY behave a particular way. But my skill set also gives me the confidence to be able to step in and deal with problems should they arrive.
It also means that when I am in a room, or any kind of space, I am looking for doors, exit routes, and with regards to whisky shows, how stands are set up, how people are behaving.
Now, next to my stand was a stand monitored by a full female team, who are not particularly tall (fact not opinion). That stand was busy, and should it have had any problems, trust me, no-one would have seen it. The exhibitors would have been blocked from view very quickly and easily. So, a conversation needs to happen about set-up, and we need to design more safety into that somehow.
So, with all the work done to make an event welcoming and safe, there will still be people who have a negative experience, whether they be visitors or exhibitor/event staff.
Organisers have done full due diligence regards H & S.
Exhibitors have done full due diligence regards H & S.
Visitors have been advised of expectations and various other H & S on the website.
These are the three parts of this conversation.
So, what happens if someone has a negative experience?
Well firstly, we need them to speak up, if possible, at the event/venue. The sooner the team know of an issue, the quicker it can be resolved, and the person supported appropriately.
If that wasn’t possible for whatever reason, then as soon as possible after, contact the event team by email or telephone. My advice is always put something in writing. Your experience is important. Your thoughts are important. There is NO silly scenario. If you felt blocked from getting to the stands to enjoy the whisky, say so. If you felt ignored by exhibitors at a stand for whatever reason, say so. But say so to the people involved so the next conversation can start. The conversation that is about your experience, and what can be done to try and ensure it doesn’t happen again.
If a stand was too busy there can be many remedies: firstly, the simple one, walk away and see if it’s a little less busy later. If it was too busy all day, then the feedback is that that stand needs to be bigger, or in a different space.
Thirdly, if you have the confidence (and I say if, because I know too well that many don’t) find a way to speak to someone on the stand. In all my time doing this work, which is few years now I have not met ONE exhibitor who doesn’t want to take a little time to help someone. Most of the people who do this work do it out of passion…because its too much hard work to do just to earn a crust. We want people to have an enjoyable experience.
Now, what doesn’t work is not speaking up to those who can help. Speaking blankly into social media to highlight a displeasure or negative experience is useless. The entire world is not on social media and many of the bigger company’s socials are not managed in-house, so your comments will not go to those who can help you.
Social media is not a space for meaningful, constructive resolution behaviour. We see it every day, we know this.
There is also an element of unfairness in bringing something to social media without having been in conversation with a company/person first. Give them the opportunity to listen and help you. Your conversation with them could highlight something they didn’t know was happening and can also lead to change in company training, behaviours ect and not only does this help you, but everyone else who then visits that show or venue.
In all these spaces, events, venues etc if a person has behaved in such a way to negatively effect another person, verbally, physically etc and they can be identified, then something can happen to remove the privilege of attending such spaces. A ban can be put in place, a membership revoked.
But in order for these things to take place, we need to have those conversations.
I don’t believe in “X-only” spaces. But I do believe we can make things easier for people. I personally am not great in crowded spaces, and if my head isn’t in the right place, I can have a panic attack. Could event organisers arrange shows that are a little quieter? Less people? A different set-up? I expect so. But has the need for that ever been identified, I expect not. Not in a direct constructive way anyway. It’s likely a ticket may cost more due to overheads of an event taking in less people at a time, but its still an option and yes, it should be looked in to.
So, lets start talking to each other better. We can find solutions together and we can all attend an event or visit a venue feeling confident that we will have a pleasant experience.
And my commitment to you, as a visitor, as a fellow exhibitor, as member of the whisky community, I’m keeping my eyes out for you, I will listen to you, and I will help you.
I realise I don’t write on my whisky blog very much and there are various reasons for that; I don’t cover what other people already cover. I only really write when I have something I feel is worthwhile saying. Oh, and I don’t do reviews here. (sometimes on my Instagram, but not churned out like there is no tomorrow, I mean how many times can one whisky be described from one persons point of view….)
But looking back on my posts, something they seem to have in common is people, my observations of people, behaviour, kindness, but always about people. And this is what I love most about whisky. It’s all about people.
So I wanted to use this little space provided to me via the world wide web to highlight some of the people that have made an impact on my whisky life so far. This thought process was triggered by bumping into a whisky industry acquaintance in Milroys and me happily telling him I’m now a brand ambassador. His response was so positive and supportive that it triggered this whole thought process. It’s been quite the ride and well, I never expected to be doing what I am doing, so read on if so inclined.
Let’s start with my dad. He liked a dram, I remember Johnny Walker Red being in the house. I remember when I was old enough to buy him a bottle for birthday or Christmas, I would agonise over it, knowing absolutely nothing, then realising that it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. He would do a bottle of Naked Grouse (I thought the bottle was pretty), in two days over Christmas. But I also remember hating the smell of whisky and retching when I smelled it. I vowed it would never be a drink for me. My dad passed away before I really got into whisky. It’s sad that I will never share a dram with him. (It would have been the cheap stuff mind you!!)
When I did make a move towards drinking whisky it was off the back of a health diagnosis. Ironic eh? But essentially it boiled down to finding a “clean” alcoholic drink, that would pretty much be all I could drink. So, from hating the smell deciding it’s now the drink for me, I needed help. I approached the Soho Whisky Club, London. Where I met George Keeble. I explained the situation him, and he signed me up to the club and served me my first real dram, a Linkwood. From that moment on, I immersed myself in whisky (not literally, though it could be interesting) but I tried to visit the club every couple of weeks, I went to tastings, bought bottles and began following whisky people on Twitter.
After a while my relationship with the SWC dwindled and another whisky friend, Jason Vaswami introduced me to Milroys, Soho. Well, that was the beginning of a new beginning. Milroys staff are a rare breed. Their knowledge of whisky, customer service and welcoming demeanour is EVERYTHING. It’s why I keep going there. Now, Eddie de Souza was, for me the main man in Milroys. Extraordinary knowledge, his perception of client and their palate outstanding. I never make a second decision in Milroys. I make the first, what mood am I in, then ask the staff to suggest a dram. Happens every time I visit.
Back to Eddie. When he had time, he took time. Time to chat, to engage, to teach, to connect people. It’s a rare skill and I will always be thankful for Eddie’s guidance on my whisky adventures. I would also mention Simo here too. Simo owns Milroys and has allowed me opportunities many who want to work in the industry would die for. I have worked at Milroys Spitalfields both in the Dram House on the whisky side and in my day job, designing the big moss wall in the cigar terrace. It really is one of my favourite projects.
Another person who has had a HUGE impact, and actually got me started working every now and then in the industry is Mr Dave Worthington (or Boutique-y Dave to many).
I met Dave via Twitter and one day he let me know about a Boutiquey Whisky tasting at Black Rock Bar, London, would I like to go? Now, meeting a person off social media can be a little dodgy. But I went. Dave was an absolute delight and remains one of my favourite people in the industry. We chatted whisky all evening. Towards the end he asked me I would fancy doing a stint at a whisky festival at the Oval, Kennington. My initial response was to do myself down and state that I knew very little and probably would be terrible. Dave responded with, “Well, you’ve just chatted with me for three hours about whisky, you’ll be fine.” And I was.
Dave has been a cheerleader promoting women in whisky, giving people a chance and sharing his encyclopaedic whisky knowledge. From that first conversation I have worked at a number of whisky shows and continue to build my own knowledge and experience.
The person I mentioned right at the top of this piece is James Goggins, who at the time I first met him was working with Atom and was running the Boutiquey tasting where I first met Dave. I have since bumped into James in various places, as you do with the industry. So when I saw him last week and told him what I am doing now, he was happy for me. He mused that some people want to be in my position (BA) and that very few get there, he was genuinely thrilled for me. It made me realise, again, what a privileged position I find myself in.
The next person I want to thank would be Sorren Krebs. At the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, Sorren set up The Whisky Circus and invited me, amongst many others to join. This little group of whisky enthusiasts, from the UK, Europe, Canada and more became a wonderful family of drammers. Not only were there whisky tastings, online parties (no, I can’t talk about them, what happened at the Christmas Party, stays at the Christmas Party), but some really lovely and genuine friendships came about, and although I stepped away from the Circus some time ago, those friendships are still there, with friends visiting from France, and me actually leaving London to travel ‘norf’!!
Via The Circus, I got to know Richard McKeand from Mackmyra. He helped us organise an exclusive bottling which was lovely. One day, Mackmyra invited me to be involved in an online tasting of Bjorksav with Angela D’orazio. A while later I was invited onto the Mckmyra online Pub which was great fun.
And now, here I am working with Mackmyra (freelance) as a brand ambassador, where last week I held a whisky tasting in Milroys, my first solo outing and it was brilliant fun. The feedback has been excellent.
There are so many others in my adventures, Graham and Faye Coull of Glen Moray and now Dingle fame. So welcoming, so lovely and I genuinely can’t wait to get my A into G and sort out a trip to Ireland to visit them. Warren and Craig, brothers from north London. When I busted my foot in 2019, I had to spend a lot of time at home recovering (long story), and these gents kindly “encouraged” (dragged) me back into society and I will always be grateful for that.
The thing is, I never set out drinking whisky, with a mind to “working in whisky”, it’s been a natural and fun progression and I have no idea if I will take it further or just stay where I am. All I know is this; every person you meet in whisky, whether as customer or as an industry bod can have an influence on your journey. And I can honestly say that most are bloody lovely!! Yes, even you!
And they/he are right. In a world that is just hard work right now, we can only just keep walking.
Don’t worry, its not going to be a heavy blog. In fact, I am going to indulge in a little bit of reminiscing over a trip I had to Edinburgh a couple of weeks ago. It’s basically a review to be honest, but in two parts. So grab a dram and settle in.
Part one is about my attendance at a tasting, and part two is about visiting the Johnnie Walker Experience.
I’ve never been to Edinburgh before and a couple of months back I was contacted by a member of the “International Wine and Spirit Competition” (IWSC) team, to invite me to a the IWSC Scotch and Worldwide Whisky Tasting, 2021.
The section of the day I was able to attend was to take part in tasting whatever I wanted from a selection of approx. 250 gold and gold-outstanding medal winning whiskies from all over the globe. Now I must admit the old ego did swell a bit. I’ve never had the opportunity to attend something like this before. I checked travel and accommodation costs and realised that yep, it was game on.
Now, I haven’t stepped foot into an airport for a couple of years, and quite frankly I was so happy to be flying again (even if only to Edinburgh) I didn’t even mind the irritating child in the seat behind me!!
I got into Edinburgh, jumped onto the shuttlebus and within 30mins was happily checking out my hotel room. Next morning up and out around Edinburgh until the tasting in the afternoon. Edinburgh is just perfect for me. Lots of architecture, walking, mooching, exploring. Coffee, haggis and whisky. What’s not to like?
In the afternoon I made my way to The Balmoral. When I made my way to the whisky tasting itself, I honestly thought that people would be there talking us through the whiskies and it would a bit like a show.
NOPE!!!! There’s the whisky, here’s a glass and off you trot. Free pour, drink what you want and try to not make a tit of yourself, and, dear reader, you’ll be pleased to know I didn’t.
In fact it was quite a sedate affair. Firstly, the overwhelming issue is “where do I start?” what do I try first and why that one? Do I go for age or colour, country or reputation?
Well eventually I settled in and tried to ensure I tried some that I haven’t before.
Here is a little run through:
Abosolo – Mexico, 2yrs old.
Arran Sherry Cask
Glenfiddich Gran Cortes XXII
The Dalmore 25
Swiss Mountain Single Malt 8yrs
Golden Blue – The Summit 20yrs (South Korean)
Canadian Club The Chronicles 43yrs
Lark – Chinotto Cask release (Tasmanian)
Mountain Distilling Company, 3 yrs Red aged Gum cask (Australia)
Stork Club – Smokey Rye (German)
Glenmorangie Sonoma Cutrer Reserve 25yrs
Ardbeg Committee “Discussion” 8yrs
I’m not going to say there was one amazing dram, because they are all amazing for various reasons. Even the one that I really did not take to had some merit. My sole purpose here was to explore, and I did.
Apart from whisky, the other great part was of course meeting people. And I noticed that it seemed the majority of the people attending this particular event was female. Now, it was trade and press; Are there more females in the press side of whisky? Or was it just that way on the day. Whatever, it was noticeable and welcome. I met some great people and it was lovely to talk whisky, be introduced to new whiskies. However, word of day was “Interesting”….
Now, as the song goes, “Lets, skip to the good bit”.
The Johnnie Walker Experience. I could not visit Edinburgh without visiting this new and well publicised attraction.
I will wax lyrical, I will sing its praises from the rooftops and I will tell you to visit. (Note, I was not invited, I paid for myself and so this is a completely honest review). I will try not to give any spoilers. This is new and I think you should all have your own experience of it, not mine.
I booked the “Journey of Flavour” tour.
The Johnnie Walker experience starts when you book, before you even get there. When you book your tickets online, you will be sent a “taste” questionnaire. Now, I will say two things. 1) DO THE DAMNED QUESTIONNAIRE and 2) the wording I feel needs to be adjusted. It asks how “often” you experience flavours, not how much you like them. I personally feel you should answer on “like” to get the best experience later on.
When you arrive, the team will welcome you, explain the process of your tour. They will help you take a selfie with the Johnnie Walker Statue if you want to. When the tour begins it’s like being welcomed to the factory run by Willie Wonka. (I did ask at one point if the walls are lickable!!)
This place is SLICK. It’s stylish. It’s modern, bright and airy. It makes you walk around with your mouth open and eyes flitting all over the place.
Now, as I said I’m not going to give out spoilers. But I will note the following:
Johnnie Walker is owned by Diageo, and Diageo are a very forward-thinking company. Innovation runs through the veins of the company, and innovation ran through the veins of Johnnie Walker.
The whole tour is informative and fun.
The building and the experience are designed for looking to the future while acknowledging the past and experiencing the present. It IS designed with social media in mind and this isn’t a bad thing, it’s an “engaging with your audience” thing.
As an example, at one point, when you are sat in a futuristic bar, sipping your personalised cocktail, you are told to move the wooden board to one side. Under the board is a light. You are advised at the point that to take a good picture for Instagram, you should place your drink over that light.
There are a number of points like this on the tour. Those people at Diageo and JW, they know exactly what they are doing. They are bringing a brand screaming into the social media age with fun and engagement. And it works.
You are taken through the tour by a great technical and visual experience, along with a score that really excites you and, in some places, involves smells and tastes to accompany all of this.
If you didn’t care about or take seriously Johnnie Walker whisky before, you will emerge from this with at least an appreciation for the drink.
I was like that a little. I have a bottle of Black label at home, never touched it. When I got home after visiting JWE I was inspired to mix a cocktail and add it to my #12Under30 list. The appreciation at least is there. Then I went to a tasting and tried the Green Label, 15. Now I’m hooked.
As with all attractions, when this is all over, you “Exit through the gift shop”. And here, again is a good experience. The staff are quick to acknowledge you, quick to assess if you want/need help and are quick to adjust to that. So there is no hovering or pushing, but helpful if you want it. Spot on.
Now, if you are a whisky nerd, you’ll probably know a lot of the history and how whisky is made etc. That’s ok. YOU WILL STILL ENJOY THIS.
If you are tagging along with the whisky nerd in your life and you aren’t much of a fan, that’s ok. YOU WILL STILL ENJOY THIS.
I want to go back to experience the restaurant and based on the menu, again they demonstrate a modern thinking approach. Instead of leading with meat centred meals, it’s all vegetarian forward, to which you can *add* meat.
There is a driver/non-alcoholic option for the tour, so do tell the guide.
So again, in the words of Johnnie Walker “Keep Walking”.
I haven’t written here for quite some time. It’s been a bit of a year hasn’t it? And I always said, I will only write when something triggers me to do so. Much of my thinking time this year has been captured by politics and climate issues, and when I have a spark of a topic, it’s disappeared pretty quickly as more important thoughts come into my head. So with all that in mind, I haven’t written much. I won’t ask for forgiveness, I never said this would be a regular gig.
Many people blog about whisky therefore many topics are covered. I won’t necessarily write about any particular whiskies here as there are great whisky review blogs out there. You don’t need my opinion as well.
I have however embarked on a little series on Instagram called #12Under30, where I choose an easily accessible whisky to write about. The whole idea is that its always under £30, easy to find and doesn’t bust your budget, especially if you are new to whisky. Its at @cevokins on IG.
Now, believe or not, all this rambling on does lead to the point of this piece, and why I am writing it.
I’ve been drinking (and enjoying) whisky seriously for around 9 yrs. 7 of which have been ‘guided’ and yet I will still call myself a newbie to the drink and the industry. Others may disagree; I have around 80 bottles (all open) at home, ranging in price from £20 – £800+, though the average is around £65 – £80. I have a couple of hundred dramples (drams/samples) from swaps or tastings. I have had the privilege of working for a well known independent bottler at London whisky shows over the last few yrs, I have had a stint at Milroys in Spitalfields, and take part in online tastings. In reality, I can hold my own when chatting about whisky, but I do it my way.
You see, I still feel, as I said quite new to whisky and my early experiences still sit quite fresh in mind.
I remember my first paid for, professionally given tasting at The Soho Whisky Club. I felt so out of my depth. I was in a room of what I thought were experienced whisky drinkers and as we were going through the drams all these nose and palate notes were being thrown around and all I could think was this “Vanilla, I can taste vanilla”. That was it. By the 5th dram I was half cut, promising to buy a bottle of Coal Ila and had another 2 drams to go. (I learned pretty quick you don’t have to drink the WHOLE dram at a tasting, I also learned to bring my credit card with me).
But back to the tasting notes; vanilla. That’s all I could name for my first few tastings. Then one day I got blackcurrant, I wrote it down and showed my friend. When the person giving the tasting said that we may pick up black currant in the notes I was elated!! I was getting better.
It actually took me a good year or so to my head around a couple of things. Firstly, my palate wasn’t rubbish, it was just not used in the way we use it in whisky. Most of taste is from smell, its also very much from suggestion (hence if you ever meet me on a whisky table, I will not give you tasting notes before you try the whisky). The way the brain works with the scent and taste senses is complex. A fleeting smell, less than a quarter of a second can trigger a memory or a feeling, and then that connects to the smell that was there with that memory or feeling and if you are lucky you can name it. But more often than not, the process is so quick its gone before we can recall it.
Other times the smell and taste are wonderfully obvious, and we can connect them quickly to words.
Over time I have found my nose and palate has developed well within my own parameters and experience (this is important!!!). For example, I will never say I can detect crème brullee within a whisky. I’ve never had one, so how can I. But for me the same whisky may give burned brown sugar and custard creams.
I also have little tricks I’ve learned to detect different smells in a whisky, from how I angle the glass, to closing nostrils (one at a time), to breathing in through my nose with my mouth open (try it, weird but you get different scents). I also still rub a little of the whisky on the back of my hand, let the alcohol dry off and I am left with another layer of scent.
When drinking, I sip first, enough to cover my tongue, but not enough to swallow, make a note. Then a normal sip, make another note. Then a 10-20 second stint just holding the liquid in my mouth, make another note. Take a sip, hold my nose, hold the liquid for a 10 secs, swallow, release nose, make a note. All these little exercises get the liquid and tiny particles to different parts of your mouth and nose, and all those parts give different experiences of scent and flavour. But please believe me, I only really do this in tastings.
Going back to my point of “Can’t find the words for the whisky”. The other day I was on a tasting, a few of you reading this were likely on that same tasting (it’s an online Twitter one).
The whiskies we were trying were created by their team to be accessible both financially and by flavour for the drinker, especially those who are new to whisky. With that in mind I entered into this tasting with my “newbie” head on. If a whisky is to be for a new drammer, then its not going to be complex with multiple layers of nose and palate notes. It needs to allow the drammer to identify at least one flavour note easily, it’s a confidence builder. And for me, these drams absolutely nailed the brief. They were simple, with between 1-4 main notes. They were sweet. They were very smooth. They avoided all the things that people who don’t like whisky say; “it burns, it makes me retch, its like TCP”. One was a little too one dimensional for me, but that’s me, someone who has been drinking and tasting whisky for coming up to a decade, not someone who recently decided to try whisky.
As the tasting went on, I was amused (amused is the politest word I can think of) when I saw notes with lists of seven or more scents/tastes per dram. Look, you can say “Custard cream, crème brulee, hints of Devonshire clotted cream with a dash of Madagascan tesco finest icecream” as much as you like. But in reality you’ve used 4 terms to describe vanilla. JUST SAY VANILLA!!!!
Again, these drams were not complex nor crafted to be and I feel sometimes we forget that. If I was new to whisky and was told that whisky “a” at cost “b” was a great place to start your whisky journey, then saw all these tasting notes, I would be terrified that I was a complete idiot if I couldn’t find all those flavours.
The online tasting community is brilliant, but I do feel sometimes there is a weird competition to come up with the most complex, unusual tasting notes. (Nosing I understand, it is more evocative than tasting, but seriously!!). Do we really need ten ways to describe lemon? Do we mix flavour up with something else? Sweet is sweet, salty is salty, and they sit at different parts of our mouth and tongue. Lime and salt trigger the same part of tongue, they are interchangeable. Wet and dry, thin and thick, all what we call “mouthfeel”, literally how something feels in your mouth.
I do understand that tasting notes are likely from personal experience, but honestly, when was the last time you laid in a field eating sweet sticky sileage with a side of burned Pirelli tyre rubber?
Continuing with words in whisky, I saw a conversation the other day where a whisky had been described as “entry level” and that peated whisky was a seen as a point of being a more experienced drinker and if you like it you have progressed. What absolute nonsense.
Using this kind of language really keeps the “club” going, like there is some kind of progression route and until you can drink “a, b and c” then you can’t try or appreciate “x,y and z”.
There is a thing called “Dunning – Kruger” syndrome/affect, and I do wonder if this is part of the situation. (Google it, is that you??)
There is no hierarchy and if people try to claim one, they need to check their drinking ego. My first whisky was Aberlour 12, hated it. My second was Talisker 10, blooming loved it. My preferred whisky has always been peated, and oh, I love a filthy Ledaig. My whisky collection is probably a 70/30 split of peated/unpeated.
Words like entry and beginner can either degrade the person drinking it, or the whisky itself. If it’s an easy sipper, like the drams we had on the tasting noted above, lets think about using the word “accessible”. Open for everyone. Maybe we can have something a little more complex afterwards to balance the tastebuds?
Whisky is an inclusive drink, so I for one will be more careful about keeping that inclusivity with the words I use. I don’t want to be responsible for putting someone off what is fundamentally a wonderful drink with a wonderful (generally) community drinking it.
Final thoughts: Its just a drink. Drink it how you want, don’t worry if you can’t find the flavours everyone else is (they’re probably making it up anyway). Find your own flavours, from your life experience, find the scents from your own memories.
It’s your whisky, in your glass, in your hand and only you are drinking it. (though I will question your tyre eating habits).