Luke Blackall: The what, where and how of whisky-tasting

Man About Town
  • @lukeblackall

For a long time, I thought I didn't like whisky. I put it in the category of things that I wasn't grown-up enough for, like mortgages, Madeira and Midsomer Murders.

I suspected that if you really wanted to like and understand it, you had to have gone through some sort of trauma, presumably one that involved losing all your taste buds.What didn't occur to me was that I was just drinking the wrong stuff.

In my student days, when I made a few, valiant attempts to enjoy it, the quality of whisky we bought fitted the parsimony of our surroundings. I didn't spot that, however; I just thought that whisky tasted how I imagined Brasso might taste, had it been set on fire by a flash barman.

But as time went on I started to realise that there was more to the stuff. And this week my education was fast-tracked when I was invited to a whisky tasting.

It's the time of year when everyone wants to show off their latest produce. The previous week I had been invited to an event by The Singleton (one of the best-looking bottles around) and this weekend sees the Whisky Exchange's show at Vinopolis in London.

But back to Monday. I took my father, an aficionado of such things, to tell me what was "smoky", what was "biscuity" and what had been aged in Bourbon barrels. In my previous whisky-drinking days, I'd just jotted down such notes as "face-twisting" and "shudder-inducing".

I also learned that I had not only been drinking the wrong stuff, I had also been drinking it in the wrong place. Monday's tasting took place at the Deck, on the top floor of the National Theatre in London. I imagine that anything tastes better while taking in the views of the Thames on a sunny autumn evening.

As we travelled from the Highlands to Islay via Skye, two whiskies stood out: the 35-year-old Talisker (always a treat to drink something older than you) was remarkable, while the 21-year-old Lagavulin I could drink every day.

But given that they cost £525 and £350 respectively per bottle, I might wait a little longer before I can afford this particular pastime.