A bar manager once told me that every bottle on his back-bar had a story to tell. This to me seemed to be a rather Romantic way of summing up the rich history behind the libations that lubricate most weekend evenings. After all, even the cheapest of whiskies and rums require the kind of faith that most people would consider foolhardy – a product, which after being made, requires a certain amount of time to age/rest, it hardly seems like the wisest of business moves. But that’s the beauty of alcohol and this was no better summed up than at my trip to The Birmingham Whisky Club.
Set up by Amy Seaton, who wanted to learn (and drink) more whisky, and Craig Mills from the Whisky Shop, the informal monthly tasting sessions attract a wide range of people looking to learn more about whisky. This month Pernod-Ricard’s Phil Huckle talked through six of the company’s Scotch whiskies, both single malt and blended. Actually talked through the whiskies is an unfair description; Phil romped through the Scottish highlands and history, regaling the group with stories of British kings, illicit whisky production worldwide and photographs of stunning Scottish scenery. I’ve been to a few rep talks about their products now and this was certainly one of the more entertaining.
The evening was split in two, with the first three whiskies (Strathisla 12 year old, Longmorn 16 year old and Chivas Regal 18 year old) being sampled first. Water is offered, both to sip throughout the evening but also to add to the whisky to open up the flavours. Each whisky is sampled, then water added and a discussion ensues. For anyone not used to tasting whisky (or not on a table with knowledgeable bartenders, as I was lucky to be sat with), Phil offered a few suggestions. Having been given a bottle of Chivas Regal 12 year old (which I used to make whisky cake), it was nice to be able to try another in the range, with the 18 year old having more spice and richness to it.
After the break it was back to the tasting and more tales. The Glenlivet 18 year old seemed to have a wealth of them with name disputes amongst its history. Darker than the previous whiskies it had hints of fruitiness, particularly pear. This was followed by the rich, sherry influenced Glenlivet 21 year old, which at £160 felt like a treat to be able to try. But I’m a sucker for a good story so hearing about the origin of Aberlour distillery’s A’Bunadh cask strength Batch 39 whisky was a good way to end the night. Released in limited-run batches this is the attempted recreation of a Victorian whisky found in the walls of the distillery, and at 59.8% ABV was the strongest whisky of the night, but had a nice sweetness to it.
So what did I think? For £20 the Whisky Club is a great value way to try a range of whisky and learn more about the product, particularly given the price of some of the bottles on offer. For anyone not used to whisky tasting it could possibly be difficult picking out the different notes in the spirit, but advice from the speaker and fellow table members is sure to help. It would’ve been nice to see a little more interaction between the group as a whole and for a room of around 40 people there were disappointedly few women, but this is sadly a wider issue within the industry rather than the fault of the organisers. Perhaps the idea of tasting six whiskies is a little too much for some and a spittoon might’ve been a welcomed addition to the table for those not wishing to drink so much, but it’s a nice position to be in where the only issue is too much of a good thing. Overall an enjoyable experience and one to repeat.
The Birmingham Whisky Club is taking a break over the summer, but will be back in September with a roster of events, including the monthly tasting events. Check out their website for more details: http://www.thebirminghamwhiskyclub.co.uk/