Monday, 20 July 2015

The Purpose of the Pilgrimage

My fascination with Whisk(e)y began with my first meaningful memory of the stuff, which is of being a restless little oik of about 10 years old on a distillery tour watching my father perform a blind tasting and thinking he had just pulled off a magic trick.

15 years and many many drams later I am irretrievably in love with Whisk(e)y in all its myriad guises and nationalities, and it is my heartfelt ambition to convert as many more to the cause as I can. Hence this blog. There are over 100 distilleries across the United Kingdom currently distilling, maturing and bottling their own product, and each is unique in character and in flavour. Which means that there must be a Whisky out there for everyone! Perhaps your favourite dram will be a rich, fruitcake-flavoured Sherry matured drop, or perhaps you'll take to the silky vanilla and coconut that comes from American ex-Bourbon barrels. Possibly your calling is a light, lemony lowlander like Glenkinchie, a round, creamy, fruity Speysider like Aberlour or Macallan or on the opposite side of the flavour spectrum you might thrill to the intense smoke and seasalt that is the hallmark of so many great Islay malts like Laphroaig or Ardbeg. It may be that, like me, you find yourself looking for a dollop of all of the above, and that the Highland Parks or Springbanks of this world are what keep you happiest, or perhaps your perfect dram doesn't come from Scotland at all, but from Ireland, from England or from the superb still of Penderyn in Wales.


What if, standing in a Supermarket or Specialist Liquor store you find yourself faced with row upon row of bottles, each claiming to be unique in purity and character, but each using much the same Marketing Strategy to entice that well-earned cash from your wallets. And let's not beat about the bush - Single Malt Whisky is not, for most of us (emphatically including myself), a small outlay. And if you light upon a bottle that is completely not to your taste then you could be forgiven for shying away entirely and looking to more affordable and reliable drinks.

So this is where I come in. The Whisky Pilgrim. Over the next 18 months I will endeavour to visit every Distillery in the UK and Ireland and taste its flagship expression. My tasting notes won't be accompanied by scores - they are simply designed as flavour maps for you, dear reader, so that you can pick the malt that sounds most enticing to you specifically. Because the objective 'best' may not encapsulate the tastes you're after, and that is by far the most important, indeed the only reason that you should invest in a bottle of Single Malt. There is no point drinking something you don't enjoy purely because a critic, however respected, experienced or insightful, has deemed it superior to all others.

Obviously there are hundreds of Whiskies which this blog won't cover; as I mentioned it's the flagships we're after. Because these whiskies are the most commonly available, the most affordable and the most indicative of the overall style of a distillery. And once you've figured out where your loyalties lie you can explore the wider (and more expensive) range that your chosen distilleries have to offer without risking vast sums on a bottle you may not enjoy.

So without further ado, let's crack on. There are 5 countries to visit, thousands of miles to travel and many many whiskies to drink. I'm looking forward immensely to the journey, and I hope you'll come along on it with me.


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