Chal­lenge ac­cepted

Scot­tish Field wel­comes a brand new panel of read­ers to the Scotch Malt Whisky So­ci­ety in Leith

Scottish Field - - SCOTTISH FIELD WHISKY CHALLENGE - WORDS ALI PEO­PLES IM­AGES AN­GUS BLACK­BURN

“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.

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