The Whisky Lounge Guide To Whisky
Envisioned as a sort of Whisky 101, The Whisky Lounge’s Guide to Whisky does exactly what it says on the tin. Assuming zero knowledge on the part of any participants (your host excepted), the Guide is a ground-up introduction to the history, manufacture and stylistic traits of the world’s best spirit.
That makes it sound boring, but it’s anything but. The aim of the Guide is to ease people into the whisky world gently, unencumbered by jargon or complicated technical terms. Put simply, it’s about demystification, with the emphasis on breaking down the barriers to newcomers. Like all Whisky Lounge tastings and events, the class is informal, with each dram carefully chosen to demonstrate a particular style of whisky and attendees encouraged to ask questions and share their opinions of the glass in hand.
By the end of the evening the attendees will have tried high quality blended and grain whiskies as well as a selection of single malts from all over Scotland to illustrate the differences between pot and column still distillation, peated and unpeated malt and bourbon and sherry cask maturation.
After the general introduction (boasting, toilet directions, fire drill etc) is complete, I usually start the Guide with whichever blended whisky is on the menu that month. As an aside, I should explain that the whiskies used for each Guide vary each time, which greatly enlivens the whole process for us hosts. The evening’s guests sip on their first dram as I attempt to explain the fundamental importance to the whole industry of the humble blend, and how single malts as we know them wouldn’t exist were it not for the commercial imperatives of the blending industry and the insatiable desire for accessible, easy-drinking whiskies around the world.
This overview of blended whisky leads naturally to the grain whisky for Dram Two, which in turn precipitates a discussion of the differences between grain and malt and between pot and column still distillation. I find that this part of the tasting is usually the crux of the matter for the evening. It’s a challenge to put across simply quite a lot of information that most people had no idea they didn’t know in the first place. This is the time when technical terms are explained and when the most myths are busted and it’s very rewarding to watch the scales fall from the eyes of one’s audience.
With a new understanding of what the hell ‘malt’ actually means and their thirst for knowledge whetted, the class is (normally) putty in my hands by now, and chomping at the bit to get stuck into some single malt action. I duly oblige, generally kicking off with a Lowland dram before contrasting Speysides and a peaty Island or Islay dram to finish. These whiskies are accompanied by informative and occasionally amusing chat from myself on the topics of the infinite variabilities pertaining to fermentation, distillation, condensation and maturation; a foray into cask sizes and formerly occupying liquids, which leads inevitably, to the stresses that exponential worldwide demand for whisky has put on aged stock of single malt, leading to the emergence of the somehow-still-controversial new breed of No-Age-Statement whiskies (NAS).
As the tasting draws to a close I throw the floor open to questions before ushering my new friends to the bar for a post-event pint. I find that large quantities of fascinating new knowledge to digest makes people terribly thirsty.