On Thursday 6 October, I had the pleasure of attending a whisky tasting at Hotel du Vin. Organised by the St Andrews Whisky Society, these regular tastings are frequently oversubscribed: By 7.30, the hotel ballroom was crammed with guests, the multitude of attendees ranging from experienced whisky drinkers to those who were mere novices to the craft. Falling into the latter category, I approached the tasting with a certain degree of trepidation. Fortunately, both the committee and the host ensured an accessible evening, as over the course of three hours they provided every guest with a deeper understanding of whisky.
This week’s tasting was hosted by the Glasgow-based Whyte & Mackay. Aided by a slideshow, Whyte & Mackay’s Premium Brands Manager Scott Grierson walked us through the history of whisky and of the many distilleries owned by the company. Considering that Whyte & Mackay holds three percent of the UK whisky market, the slideshow provided a fascinating account of the enterprise’s evolution from small producer to nationally-renown brand.
Lest the history lesson grow stale, Grierson’s trivia was punctuated with periodical tastings. Throughout the evening, guests sampled six whiskies, each with its own unique flavour and background. I myself was partial to Diurachs’ Own, a sixteen year old whisky from the island of Jura. Coached by the committee, I was able to draw out the scent of vanilla and ginger, followed by the sweet taste of orange and chocolate. Another standout of the night was our final sample, Dalmore King Alexander III. In addition to its delicious taste, Alexander exemplified the cost effectiveness of the event: The bottle would ordinarily cost £165, yet we could sample it for less than £1 per dram. Guests could then claim discounts at Luvians using their placemat as a voucher.
Also included in the ticket price (£5 for members, £10 for non-members) was a stemmed whisky glass (exclusive to this tasting only), a choice of a sweet or smoky cocktail, and a sample of sherry. The evening culminated in a raffle, held in support of WaterAid. The two first place winners each received a full bottle of Fettercairn single malt, samplings of which were offered to the next three winners. Guests also had the chance to win one bottle of Jura Prophecy and three drams of of the limited edition, £1000 Dalmore Quintessence, the first single malt to be finished in five red wine casks.
Overall, I found the Whyte & Mackay tasting to be a testament to the Whisky Society’s reasonable prices, impressive organisational skills, and knowledge of their craft. At only a tenner for non-members, the events are a low risk venture into the world of whisky. I would heartily recommend them.