Scottish Field welcomes a brand new panel of readers to the Scotch Malt Whisky Society in Leith
“The scene that greeted our panel was like a fabulous chemistry experiment
It was a lovely bright morning at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society in Leith as eight Scottish Field readers arrived to take part in our Readers’ Challenge. The second part of our year-long Whisky Challenge (you can find the results of the Summer Challenge in the June issue), the Readers’ day gives enthusiastic amateurs a chance to judge whisky like the pros do. The scene that greeted our panel was like a fabulous chemistry experiment, small vials of whisky in varying shades of gold waiting in line to be tasted and reviewed. There were 68 whiskies to taste in total, so the room was split into two for a ‘knockout round.’ The initial task was to give each whisky a yes, no, or maybe from a range priced between £14 and £230, including both single malts and blends from across the whisky regions. Two senior judges from the main Whisky Challenge panel were on hand to provide guidance and advice to our intrepid tasters: Darren Leitch, National Regional Manager at The Whisky Shop, and Robin Russell, owner of Robbie’s Drams Whisky Merchants. Based on collective results from the morning, the 22 whiskies that made the cut were forwarded to the next round of tastings in the afternoon. With their palates refreshed after lunch, our readers stepped up to the tasting table to decide
what would be included in the top ten whiskies from this phase of the competition. Readers jotted down notes on the nose, taste and palate of each of the final 22. The three whiskies that achieved the highest score are to be included in the Scottish Field Whisky Challenge Grand Final – the concluding part of this year’s challenge. Most of the panel had some experience of whisky tastings, although a few of them conceded that the task of whittling down 68 drams to three outstanding selections in just a few hours was a little daunting. Leanne Williams was more than ready for the task ahead as her sister had been a participant in the challenge in 2017. Her sister – owner of the Piper Whisky Bar in Glasgow – had said she had learnt more here than at any other tasting event, so when Leanne saw the Challenge advertised on Twitter she decided to give it a go. Another challenger, Helen Strachan, was a more recent convert to whisky. ‘I recently attended a tasting at Waterstones which switched me on to whisky. It is a bit daunting, the number of whiskies to taste here today. I’m trying to be open-minded but I tend to like the smoky, peaty ones.’ Steven Angus revealed he had been into whisky for five or six years, after a rainy trip to Skye. One day he was out and about on the island and it began pouring with rain and before long he found himself in the Talisker distillery to take cover – he ended up going back three times! Steven had been to a few tastings but nothing like this and he was relishing the challenge. Another of our challengers, Colin Sim, said he had ‘always liked whisky, but in recent years it has become a passion along with my other hobby, cycling’. For Colin, cycling and whisky make a great pairing – but they can be expensive hobbies too. He felt the tasting was a real eye-opener, a great opportunity for anybody who loves whisky. Sometimes with whisky it isn’t love at first sight and for one of the panel, Neill Murphy, this was certainly true. Neill said he grew up thinking whisky was the devil. Then one day at a funeral he had a glass of Highland Park 12 year old and that changed his view completely. Since then he has launched a whisky blog whiskyreviews.net and has a daughter called Isla. He was right behind the challenge, viewing the blind tasting element as a great way of removing bias.
Top left: This year’s readers’ panel from back row left, Robin Howard, Neill Murphy, Colin Sim, Steven Angus, Alan Rose, front row: Leanne Williams, Jack Croxford, Helen Strachan.
Above: Colin taking in the scale of the task ahead.
Below: Leanne nosing one of the 68 drams.