THE SUBLIME AND RIDICU­LOUS WORLD OF Whisky!

Both sublime and ridicu­lous, whisky, its rich his­tory, and its cashed-up con­nois­seurs de­serve your full at­ten­tion. Tim War­ring­ton took a dram or two for this re­port.

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When next you shop at Har­rods Depart­ment Store, con­tinue past the Château Latour 1982, take a hard right at the Jer­oboam of Krug Grande Cu­vée and you’ll find one of Lon­don’s great sites: The Dal­more Pater­son Collection. Un­like the palace that Buck­ing­ham built, Nel­son’s Col­umn or that arch of mar­ble, this land­mark is for sale – if you’ve got a spare £987,500. It’s whisky, you see – twelve 700ml crys­tal de­canters of brown wet­ness.

Cu­ri­ous what kind of thirsty pa­tron would pay nigh on a mil­lion pounds for a dozen bot­tles of whisky? Per­haps the same per­son who shelled out $94,000 for one bot­tle of 1955 Glen­fid­dich Janet Sheed Roberts Re­serve in 2011, or $460,000 for a 64-year-old Ma­callan in 2010. Granted, the lat­ter did come in a one-of-akind Lalique cire per­due de­canter.

It gets worse – or bet­ter – depend­ing on your views on lux­u­ri­ant al­co­hol ex­cesses. It’s gen­er­ally ac­cepted that the most deca­dent (and ex­pen­sive) whisky in the world is Is­abella’s Is­lay. It’ll set you back $US6.2 mil­lion per bot­tle. “To dis­cuss an or­der, kindly con­tact us,” quoth the dis­tillery’s web­site. I did. They were not avail­able for com­ment. Nei­ther did they re­spond to my re­quest to try be­fore buy­ing – maybe be­cause it’s about a quar­ter of a mill for a shot. True, the de­canter is made of white gold, di­a­monds, ru­bies and the finest hand-cut crys­tal but if we’re spade call­ing, the bot­tle is kinda eight­ies-ugly; the type of bev­er­age that should be con­sumed while wear­ing para­chute pants or

Some whiskies... taste like burnt arse.

any­thing with shoul­der pads. So, why not save the six mill and buy yourself a small is­land… or sub­scribe to DNA for the next 62,000 years?

Jour­nal­ism is thirsty work – por­ing over dusty, dry vol­umes and LED-back­lit glossy wide screens, so I thought why not quench my thirst for knowl­edge and whisky by writ­ing about whisky and drink­ing some (lots)?

Ac­cord­ing to Busi­ness In­sider Aus­tralia, “Some whiskeys con­tain chem­i­cals that only some people are ge­net­i­cally ca­pa­ble of tast­ing. If you can taste it, they taste like burnt arse.” Armed with this knowl­edge, I started with some trep­i­da­tion to­ward my lo­cal wine and spirit mer­chant, cau­tiously cu­ri­ous about the elixir of smoul­der­ing bum.

First of all, what’s the dif­fer­ence be­tween sin­gle malt and blended whisky? To avoid get­ting bogged down in te­dious nomen­cla­ture, we’ll ap­proach this in­for­mally as there are reams of le­gal guide­lines gov­ern­ing whisky con­tent and nam­ing con­ven­tions.

A malt whisky con­tains only bar­ley – no other grains. Grain whisky con­tains grains such as corn, wheat or rye (proudly brought to you by Jim Beam, Jack Daniels, et al). It may also con­tain bar­ley. A blended whisky is a mix­ture of grain whisky (about 40 per cent) and malt whisky (about 60 per cent). Vat­ted malt whisky is a blend of dif­fer­ent malt whiskys from more than one dis­tillery. Mon­key Shoul­der is a sublime ex­am­ple of a vat­ted malt whisky (a mix of Glen­fid­dich, Bal­ve­nie and Kin­in­vie). The crème de la crème is a sin­gle cask sin­gle malt: one dis­tillery, one bar­rel.

Sin­gle malt whisky is a con­fus­ing term, be­cause it es­sen­tially means whisky from one dis­tillery, not made in one cask or in one year. Take the Dal­more Trini­tas: it is a sin­gle malt even though it con­tains spir­its from 1868, 1878, 1926 and 1939. Ac­cord­ing to self-pro­claimed malt fa­natic, Michael Di­etsch, there is a “mis­con­cep­tion that sin­gle malt scotch is not a blended whisky, but this is a myth. Sin­gle malt scotch is a blend, but it’s a very spe­cific type of blend.”

I bought John­nie Walker Black La­bel Scotch Whisky. Why? Be­cause I recog­nised the la­bel and the nar­ra­tive thereon as­sured me it was “a gen­uine plea­sure to have in my glass.” And it was. I raced home, grabbed a big fat tum­bler of

Too much of any­thing is bad, but too much of good whiskey is barely enough.

Mark Twain

heavy crys­tal and poured. Huge sniff. I my­self could not de­tect arse, burnt or other­wise, but it had a strap­ping aroma and was smoother than I ex­pected. I would rhap­sodise about “hints of gun­pow­der” or shades of “fleshy Doyenne du Comice pears” but I’m a novice and my palate is still some­what un­so­phis­ti­cated. As such, I’m un­able to de­tect sub­tle nu­ances in the spirit… and, well, I’m not a wanker.

It was love at first sip. Ac­tu­ally, it was a greedy, glass-emp­ty­ing gulp. In­stantly I felt all Dean Martin and Humphrey Bog­art, with a twist of Diehard’s John Mclean. There was no­tice­able swelling in my tighty-whities: drink­ing whisky gives you big­ger balls. Okay so I made this up. But se­ri­ously, drain­ing a tum­bler of whisky is James-Dean-cool-as-fuck.

That was a week ago and since then I’ve tried Sul­li­vans Cove Sin­gle Cask French Oak Whisky and Glen­fid­dich 18-Year-Old An­cient Re­serve Scotch Whisky. They too, were a plea­sure to have in my glass and my tummy. I should point out that whisky is an ac­quired taste, but a taste well worth ac­quir­ing.

To e or not to e.

Is there an e in whisky? Yes and no. Where is the spirit made? In the United States and Ire­land it’s Whiskey, but in Scot­land, Canada, Eng­land, New Zealand, Aus­tralia, Ja­pan and pretty much the rest of the world, lose the e – it’s whisky.

What’s in a name?

Ev­ery­thing. The word “whiskey” is an an­gli­cised ver­sion of the phrase uisce beatha, which means the “wa­ter of life” in Gaelic – coined by Ir­ish monks as they dis­tilled their al­co­hol be­fore ves­pers. From the mis­pro­nun­ci­a­tion of uisce came whiskey/ whisky.

Scotch

Scotch is al­most uni­ver­sally ac­knowl­edged as the term for Scotch whisky, ex­cept, iron­i­cally, in Scot­land where it’s re­ferred to as whisky.

Who in­vented it?

‘Twas the Ir­ish, to be sure, back in me­dieval times. At least that’s the gen­er­ally ac­cepted ver­sion – for medic­i­nal pur­poses, of course. From Ire­land it spread to Scot­land where it was per­fected and thence on to places fur­ther east, like Ja­pan, In­dia… and Tas­ma­nia.

Can you feel the burn?

Whisky must con­tain at least 40 per cent al­co­hol by vol­ume (ABV), which is the statu­tory min­i­mum in most coun­tries. This equates to 80 proof (proof is twice the al­co­hol level). Bruich­lad­dich X4 is, ac­cord­ing to the dis­tillery’s web­site, the world’s strong­est whisky. This blaz­ing am­brosia (which is still ma­tur­ing and has four years to go) will have an ABV of 92 per cent. Ac­cord­ing to Mas­ter Dis­tiller Jim McEwan, who has sam­pled the Bruich­lad­dich X4 and lived to pen tast­ing notes, “It’s bril­liantly fresh and fizzy with an ex­tremely pleas­ant af­ter­burner ef­fect.”

Do you need a pe­nis to drink whisky?

No. Many years ago, my re­doubtable, chain-smok­ing grand­mother asked me to pour her a drink. I reached for the Bai­ley’s Ir­ish Cream. I still re­mem­ber the st­ing of her walk­ing stick across the back of my legs. “I said drink, Lad­die!” Granny took her Bal­ve­nie Sin­gle Malt with a splash of wa­ter.

Ban­ish the Bai­leys

When I went to buy my first bot­tle of whisky. I said to the sales­man, “I like Bai­ley’s so I’m sure it’ll be fine.” He sug­gested I grab a bot­tle of ad­vo­caat and drink it in my bra and panties. I shit you not. Bai­leys is like put­ter­ing along on a Vespa side-sad­dle, but with whisky in your tank, you’ll make the same trip at warp speed, on a Har­ley with 2,000 CC-s of grunt throb­bing be­tween your legs.

How old are you?

The age state­ment on a bot­tle of blended whisky refers to the youngest. A whisky may be re­ferred to as a 12-year-old, but it may con­tain spir­its that are 14, 15 or even 18 years old.

A glass half full

From what sort of glass should one sip whisky? A whisky tum­bler is fine for an evening tip­ple of Bruich­lad­dich, Bun­na­hab­hain or Auchen­toshan. But if you’re en­joy­ing a more pro­fes­sional tast­ing, the tulip-shaped nos­ing or tast­ing glass is bet­ter to cap­ture the whisky’s aroma. Al­ways thor­oughly rinse your glass­ware to ban­ish any de­ter­gents. >>

Can’t find your glasses?

– Villeroy And Boch Scotch Whisky Sin­gle Malt Is­lands Whisky tum­bler 100mm – $40.95 villeroy-boch.com – Water­ford Crys­tal Lis­more Cobalt DOF Pair – $299 wwrd.com.au – IKEA Frasera Whisky glass – $1.99 Ikea.com – Riedel O Tum­bler Spir­its Glass – $44.95 a pair riedel­glass.com.au (ideal for a tast­ing ses­sion)

In the mix

Adding a mixer to a fine whisky is like putting a spoiler and mags on a lux­ury Ger­man car: vul­gar and un­nec­es­sary. Ex­punge the phrase “scotch and coke” from your speech. Hav­ing soundly trounced this no­tion, there are ex­cep­tions: whisky cock­tails.

Whisky Cock­tails

Purists will wince and should look away now, but cock­tail mixol­o­gists cluck ap­prov­ingly over happy hour sta­ples like the Whisky Sour and the Old-Fash­ioned.

Ja­pan

Sorry sake, but whisky is smash­ing you. Ja­pan is the third largest pro­ducer of whisky be­hind Scot­land and the United States. Yes, the Ja­panese pro­duce more whisky than the Ir­ish. Nikka’s blended whisky from the bar­rel has an un­pre­ten­tious rec­tan­gu­lar bot­tle but the nec­tar within scores highly on the nom nom scale.

Scot­land

Talisker 10-Year-Old from the Isle Of Skye is the malt to ac­com­pany hag­gis (and many other dishes). Sweet and lightly smoky, but watch out for the chilli-pep­per hit in the fin­ish. Robert Louis Steven­son re­garded Talisker as the “King Of Drinks”.

Frisky whisky

If whisky makes you amorous, break out the McCon­dom – whisky-flavoured con­doms. Rock your Scotch at her­ita­ge­of­s­cot­land.com.

Mad Men made whisky drink­ing on the job cool!

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