Saturday, 11 December 2010

How to Drink Whisky Like a Man

Fri 12th November

“I'm a simple man. All I want is enough sleep for two normal men, enough whisky for three, and enough women for four.”
-Joel Rosenberg, Author

We're around the back of the Natwest in Lees, where there’s a row of nondescript terraced houses. Ollie knocks on a door. The five of us, we wait.

A stern-looking guy in his forties answers. We tell him we're here for the whisky night.

The guy takes our tickets and leads us up a staircase to what appears to be the landing in his house. When he opens the door, however, the room we're taken into must take up half the terrace. Lees Labour Club is a small venue, compares to most clubs, with a tiny bar in the corner and a pool table and school tables pushed against each other in blocks. The wood décor hasn't been updated in a long time. Neither have the fashion tastes of the patrons, who are all male and mostly in their forties.

An ageing man in a kilt welcomes us and begins to tell us the origins of whisky production.

I was trying to jot down opinions on each whisky when it occurred to me that successful whisky–tasting is an impossible feat. Many tasters will suggest this technique for good tasting:

1)    Take the whisky in the glass with no ice.
2)    Take three deep sniffs. On the first sniff, you’ll take in the alcohol. Kilt Man says that many people don’t get past that first sniff. At 40% alcohol, it’s understandable. On the second sniff, you’re likely to notice the cask- the oak or sherry that the whisky was left to age in. On the third, you’ll notice the elements fused into it’s distillation. You might pick out the charcoal used to ferment the husks of grain, before being cooked up to liquid. You might note the smoke from the burning peat, placed under the grain in the distillery.
3)   Sip the whisky. Chew it over. Let it mellow on your tongue. Again, the alcohol hits you first. Then the brand’s distinct taste becomes evident.
4)    Swallow. Different whiskies will give differing types of after burn. This glow is all part of the whisky-tasting experience.

Here’s why you can never accomplish successful whisky tasting. To compare whisky, you must take into account all of the above- smell, taste, after taste. To get all three of those, you must swallow.

For want of a better expression.

As each shot is at least 40%, it won’t be long before the whisky impairs your judgement and you don’t know what you’re tasting. Brighty exacerbated this problem when he hid the water jug under the table and wouldn’t bring it back out. We were on-track for steamingness.

Many whisky enthusiasts recommend spitting out the whisky after tasting, so you’re sober enough to appreciate other samples. But by doing this you miss out on the afterglow- and what fun would a whisky night be if you didn’t get hammered and dish out the banter?

During the drinking, Kilt Man tells of the history behind whisky production, describing how the Irish first learned how to cultivate grain using acidic soil. This type of earth, he says, is best for growing oats and barley. He describes the mashing, fermentation, distillation and maturation needed for a good single malt and how the techniques of the late 1400s started to develop towards today's whisky-making systems. The Irish then gave the idea to the Scots, who began to mass-market whisky as their own.

Whisky is one of the “spirits”- an alcohol type that got its name centuries ago when drunk people believed a “spirit” had taken over their mind. The name stuck.

Whisky ages in barrels. When it’s taken out and bottled, that’s when it stops ageing.

A Christies auction once saw the selling of one bottle of whisky for a record-breaking £2000.

Some whisky brands use one individual batch of grain from which to distil their liquor. We refer to this as “single malt”, and all the whiskies we tried fell into this category. They were:

Glen Parker
From the Tommy Tool distillery. Pretty good, of what I remember. GP is one of the lowland malts, which are always good to start a session with.

A smooth, before-dinner whisky.

An eighteen-year-old malt, also a “session whisky”. The most “middle of the road” whisky and the most popular of the night.

From Dufftown. I already have a bottle at home. A fine malt.

“With this one,” says Kilt Man, “You might get a hint of TCP. This is from Isla, and it’s the most expensive of tonight’s whiskies. It’s one for the road. You’d basically give this to someone to get rid of them.”

I take a sip. It’s dark, and somewhat pungent. It ain’t the best of tonight’s samples.

“It’s also good,” Kilt Man says, “for removing sheep ticks.”

Throughout the talk he’s getting the punters involved by asking questions about Scotland’s history.

“What happened in 1745?”

“Fez bought his shirt,” mumbles Brighty, glancing at Fez's militia-style black button-up.

“The Jackobyte revolution,” answers someone on the adjacent table.

“Correct.” Kilt man dishes out an extra shot for the man with the right answer.

We all agree we should have paid more attention in History.

Dun Liere
For a bit of variety, Kilt Man throws in an Irish whisky. It’s pretty good, considering that it’s a supermarket’s own brand. I might pick up some Dun Liere next time I’m in Sainsbury’s.

An any-time whisky. This eighteen-year-old is particularly good for drinking outdoors. Kilt Man tells us that whisky was, for many years, an outdoor drink. It was what you took with you in a flask, when you went shooting stags or fishing trout and salmon. Today, whiskies are all generally marketed as indoor drinks. Mostly…

Like you'd get any signal there anyway...

I can’t resist cracking an old Bobby Davro classic.

“Personally I like my whisky like I like my women: a good sixteen-year-old mixed up with coke…”

Brighty takes my notebook off me. A few minutes later, he hands it back and there’s a biro image of a bald head with it’s mouth open. There’s a phallus pointing at the head, with tiny dots coming out of it. The picture’s title suggests it represents one of our team. There’s also a speech bubble implying that the man loves “schlong.”

Kilt Man mentions that, in certain parts of Scotland, you can buy personalised kilts like the one he’s wearing. “They’ll print any name,” he says, “especially British names like Patel.”

The night is sponsored by Stanley Ogden Butchers of Grotton, who have provided a giant portion of cow. One of tonight’s organisers is cutting steak slices off the cooked platter and slipping them into buttered muffins. They are the best steak sandwiches I have tasted to date. I hammer three of them. The record is seven, apparently.

I'd like to say Glentauchers was my favourite of the night, as it was the best of the scotches... But the Irish Dun Liere had a strange appeal. Looks like my personal whisky collection is going to have a bit of variety... after payday.

Whisky night runs again next May. I got a ticket through word-of-mouth. This kind of joint don't do no internet marketing.

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