Last week I walked into a fancy steakhouse – one that’s run by one of Australia’s leading and most well-known restauranteurs and celebrity chefs. I was shown to my table and handed the menu. Wow! It showcased an amazing selection of gourmet choices, although with price tags to make most of us squirm. There was one particular steak that stood out – it was a particular cut of wagyu that sounded out of this world. As was its price tag! I’d love to have treated myself to it, but it was more than what my budget could justify. Besides, there were much cheaper steaks that also looked pretty tempting, and I couldn’t order two meals now, could I? I resigned myself to the fact that I’d probably have to order one of the cheaper, more regular cuts.
As I pondered this situation, a waiter brought the main course out to the couple who were sitting at the table next to me. I couldn’t help but notice that the man had ordered the very wagyu steak I was lusting for. As they settled into their meal, I leaned across and said, “Excuse me – I was just wondering if you’d mind cutting off a piece of your steak and giving it to me so that I can try it?”
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It’s nonsense, isn’t it? You’d never have the temerity to do such a thing or to make such an undignified request. So why does this very situation play out in the whisky world? We wouldn’t do it with food at a restaurant (yes, for the record, the above story was a fictional allegory), yet plenty of people are quite happy to make similar requests when it comes to whisky. It’s the dark side of samples.
Previously whilst writing a feature article on Indian whisky and reviewing the excellent Paul John whiskies, I – perhaps a little flippantly – introduced the piece by explaining and asserting that Indian single malt whisky had not previously impressed me. Prior to tasting Paul John, I had tried many expressions of Amrut over the years (my first back in 2009) and on a reasonably regular basis since. The simple truth is that I have not tasted an Amrut that made me think, “Wow, this is a great whisky.”
Of course, whilst those comments set the scene for the subsequent article on Paul John, they also simultaneously raised a few eyebrows amongst Amrut fans, not to mention the wonderful folks at Alba Whisky, who are the local Amrut distributors within Australia.
In deep TV announcer voice-over tone: “The following article contains drug references. It is intended for mature audiences. Whisky & Wisdom advises reader discretion.”
I’m reliably informed that alcohol is a drug. People use it, abuse it, rely on it, swear by it, and at it. It alters our mental state and makes us do things we might not otherwise have done if we were sober or clear-headed. For example, the other day, with a few single malts under my belt, I found myself drinking a blend. Fortunately, there were no witnesses…
When the Scotch Malt Whisky Society launched and commenced operation in Australia back in 2002, one of the earliest and most staple activities was a healthy program of whisky dinners. The tradition has never died and, here in Sydney at least, the Society continues to hold at least two significant whisky dinners each year for its members. When it comes to matters culinary, if you’re going to promote something as being uniquely special, delivering excellence, and showcasing “the best”, then you need to work with the best. For this reason, wherever possible, the Society chooses to team up with Franz Scheurer – the maestro of matching food to whisky.
It was a long time ago now, but back in 1988, UDV (now Diageo) made the momentous and ground-breaking decision to launch the Classic Malts range. The launch of those six whiskies drew newfound attention to the world of single malts and helped propel the whisky boom we now find ourselves in.
I often wonder about how the marketing team at the time set about choosing which distilleries would be featured in the Classic Malts range? Looking at the portfolio available to them, Glenkinchie for the Lowlands obviously chose itself, as did Talisker for the Islands. But what about Speyside? We know now that Cragganmore got the gig, which subsequently thrust that relatively small distillery into the limelight. But how different might the whisky world be today, and the fortunes of one or two distilleries if they’d selected, for example, Dailuaine, Knockando, Mannochmore, or Glen Elgin? Or Mortlach?
(or why Whisky Bloggers are annoying a lot of people right now)
So who was the first whisky blogger? Was it before or after WordPress made this caper so easy? Well, it was before. A long time before. Back in 1887, in fact. For that is when an ambitious chap by the name of Alfred Barnard first approached a distillery and cheekily asked for a free sample so he could write about it. Two hundred and thirty years later, and it turns out several thousand wannabes are following suit.
Yes, I’m aware of the irony. And I can hear the heavy breathing of the elephant in the room. But bear with me…
It’s the bicentenary year for Laphroaig – no mean feat for a little distillery on the coast of Islay to churn out the world’s most “richly flavoured” whisky for 200 years! And that means some special events and ambassadorial work for the distillery team as they mark the occasion.
It was a treat for all Australians then, when the good folks at Beam Suntory elected to send John Campbell, Laphroaig’s Manager, to our shores for a promotional tour. On a two week trip that saw him involved with endless tastings, appearances, interviews and events – including the epic “The Great Whisky Rumble” (read all about that one here), John spent his last night of the trip in Sydney to conduct an intimate Laphroaig tasting at Grain, one of the city’s newest whisky bars. It was a ticketed event, and yours truly wasted no time in shelling out $85.79 to book a seat.
Michael Jackson once compared a particular single malt to a car (e.g. “the Rolls-Royce of whisky”). Others have since compared certain single malts to particular Grand Cru wines. More recently, people have started writing tasting notes for whiskies and suggested various songs or bands to match and pair with the whisky. So, whisky and music is now a thing, right? Okay then, let’s take it one step further…
No one likes to admit it, but there was once a time when heavy metal was actually commercially successful, and major record labels were falling over themselves trying to sign up hard rock acts. The genre is lampooned today, and often labelled dismissively as hair metal. But, like me, you might be from that era when heavy metal was actually on top of all the charts and hair metal bands ruled the airwaves. But has anyone ever compared single malt to heavy metal artists? Perhaps now is the time. Get out the hair gel, put on your spandex, and take yourself back to the 1980’s. Here are my comparisons…
All whisky drinkers are on a journey. You may be just starting out and discovering the world of whisky via some casual drams of Johnnie Walker, or you may be an über-enthusiast who doesn’t get out of bed for anything less than a Macallan 50yo.
I’d been giving this some thought lately, as I’ve seen and read a bit of chatter on various whisky forums and discussion groups that hinted at there being some sort of series of conquests or achievements that you’re supposed to tick off as you continue your whisky journey. It’s almost as though you’re expected to graduate from blends; transition across to mass-produced single malts; upgrade to limited edition releases; stop by Islay to collect your Peat Badge; gain a promotion to take on cask-strength whiskies; and then make the leap into the industry as either a brand ambassador, a blogger, or set up your own distillery!
Of course, I don’t support or endorse such an observation for a moment, but I can’t deny that there does seem to exist some unwritten, barely-whispered gates or “checkpoints” that some folks feel you need to pass through if you want to assert or display a heightened sense of creditability as a whisky drinker. And by “checkpoints”, I mean drams. In other words, there are some whiskies you probably need to have tasted and conquered if you want to demonstrate you’re taking this caper seriously. And it seems like one of those whiskies is Port Ellen.
Back in 2007, a very special whisky event was held in Sydney, Australia. Held at Sydney’s iconic Claude’s restaurant, it was billed as “The Ultimate Ardbeg Dinner” and it featured an unbelievable line up of the rarest Ardbeg bottlings ever assembled, including the 1965. That particular event had been preceded a year earlier by an incredible Macallan tasting (featuring the full ESC range, as well as rare bottlings from the 1980’s). And, only a short time prior to that, there was the unbelievable Springbank tasting, which featured the entire Millennium range of Springbanks. These were the glory days of tasting and appreciating the uber rare, special, and expensive releases amongst Scotland’s elite single malt bottlings and distilleries. In terms of the rarity of the whiskies at the Ultimate Ardbeg Dinner, many thought such an event could never be equalled. We may finally have found a successor…
In 2015, it was time for what I’m personally labelling The Ultimate Glenfarclas Tasting – in this instance, the most incredible line-up of rare and special Glenfarclas whiskies ever assembled and tasted in Australia. (If a more impressive tasting line-up has been held outside Australia, I’d love to hear about it).