I know heresy when I see it. So, when I was invited to a “Six Nations” rugby-inspired whisky tasting, I fired up the torch and sharpened the pitchfork.
Whisky from Ireland? Yeah, I’ll grant you that. Our Celtic neighbours are a dab hand around a pot still.
But whisky from Wales, Italy and France? Now someone is having a laugh.
And England? Blasphemy, I tell you, blasphemy.
So, off I marched to the monthly gathering of the Stonehaven Whisky Howff, our wee whisky club that meets in the Marine, with scorn in my heart. But you have to go through the trial before you get to the verdict.
The Welsh Whisky Co was up first with its offering, Penderyn. I’d like to tell you I loved it, but I’ve forgotten what it was like. What’s Welsh for nondescript?
The French were next in the dock with Brenne distillery, which was founded by a ballerina. Just a pity the whisky tasted as if it had been distilled through a sweaty ballet pump. What’s French for bowff?
Italy next, and I have to admit the stylish bottle for Puni had a bit of swank. And it was actually all right. What’s Italian for: “Gosh, that’s not bad”?
And, then, we had Ireland arriving. Finally, a whiskey worth the name – and even the extra E. From Dublin’s Teeling distillery, it was smooth, tasty and lingered nicely. What’s Erse for “nom nom”?
It was all I could do not to stand up and sing Flower of Scotland as the Tomintoul was being poured. It boasted flavours of different iterations across five decades from 1965, blended together to create this world-class, award-winning dram. No translation needed. Excellent.
And then – cue The Imperial March from Star Wars – the English. The English Whisky Co is from Norfolk, and the oldest distillery in Englandshire. Founded in 2006. I have T-shirts older than that.
Yes, I sneered. Then I tasted. Then I looked puzzled, then I looked appalled. Then I looked pleased.
I liked it. I mean, I really liked it. What the…?
Iechyd da, santé, salute, sláinte, slàinte, and chin chin
We could point to the fact this was the only peated whisky of the night, and I do like my dram to taste like it’s been stirred with a still-smoking log. We could blame the fact I was now five drams in. But I really enjoyed what our friends in the south offered.
So, when it came to the vote for the favourite of the night, I put my hand up to back the English. I was one of two. Yes – he was English.
Of course, Scotland was the clear victor, naturally, with Ireland and Italy coming second and third respectively. But I think the real winner was the idea of breaking down barriers and preconceptions around whisky.
There’s nothing wrong with exploring what other nations are doing on the malt front
Sure, Scotland makes it best; that’s a given. But there’s nothing wrong with exploring what other nations are doing on the malt front.
After all, who was it who said: “Wad some power the giftie gie us, to see oursels as ithers see us?” Right up there with “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”.
So, iechyd da, santé, salute, sláinte, slàinte, and chin chin.
(And thanks to Howff member Mike Grubb for coming up with and leading this genius tasting.)
Scott Begbie is a journalist and editor, as well as PR and comms manager for Aberdeen Inspired