Amongst Friends

I’ve been quiet for a little while – basically, I got a new job in a new city, and with the moving and the general change of pace I haven’t felt much like writing. But last Saturday I went along to the Whisky Exchange Whisky Show, and who’d have known? Suddenly I’m inspired again!

It’s a pretty awesome event, not least because of the vast range of whiskies on offer. Anyone who’s anyone had a stall there, and a good number of brands that aren’t. (Yet, at least. From what I saw of distilleries like Teerenpeli, great things lie ahead.) But just as important were the guys on my side of the counter, the fantastic community of people that make you remember that there’s more to whisky than drinking alone in a dark room, cutting the spirit with your tears. I will never get tired of talking about whisky, and the sheer potential to do so at the show was almost as intoxicating as the stuff itself.

It was something I felt very strongly at Ardbeg distillery as well. Big Ben and I had been struggling to decide between their “across the decades” tasting, with whisky from each decade back to the 1970s, which appealed to Big Ben because he was looking to try something from pre-1975, which is legendarily hard to accomplish; and a “deconstructing the dram” tasting, focusing a bit more on the chemistry, which, as the proud owner of a more-or-less unused chemistry degree, appealed to me. I won, by dint of the fact that Ben reckoned he could get a dram of old stuff anyway. Spoiler alert – he was right.

Ardbeg HPLC

That’s my kind of picture. It’s an HPLC of the various phenol compounds found in Ardbeg 10yo, by the way

The tour group was a great bunch of people – some knew more than others, as is always the way, but no-one was insufferable about it. (Trust me, that part is pretty rare.) We were all just chatting and having fun. The deconstruction part, where we sampled a range of casks that would eventually make up the 10 year old, Uigeadail and Corryvreckan, was fantastic, a fascinating insight into what it takes to make the same thing with different materials. But the real stand-out moment for me came at the end. Our guide took us to a little back room stacked wall-to-wall with some of Ardbeg’s finest releases, and told us each to pick one. I went for the 3rd release of the Supernova, which was amazing – all the flavours Ardbeg is known for, but fiery and savoury. I can’t remember what Big Ben chose, but afterwards, our guide asked us if there was anything else we had an interest in, and Ben asked if they had anything distilled before 1975. She had a root around in the drawers of sample bottles, and eventually came up with a sample of a bottling done for the Belgian market, distilled in 1974 and bottled in 2005. But there was a problem. Ben had been waxing lyrical, and about half the room had become interested in trying this stuff. So when this bottle came out with barely a mouthful in it, it became pretty apparent that a lot of people were going to be very disappointed. And without any sort of prompt, in almost perfect unison, the entire room said, “Give it to him.” Everyone was genuinely happy at Ben’s happiness, there wasn’t even a hint that anyone would rather take that dram for themselves. I’m generally a cold, heartless bastard, but even I was a little moved. So what I’m basically saying, guys, is keep being awesome. This is a community that I am genuinely proud to be a part of.

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