Whisky tastings improve the drinking experience

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It has always struck me that people in these islands – especially Scots and the Irish – have a strange attitude to drink, epitomised by a onetime friend who once said: “If I can remember the end of a party, it wasn’t a good one.” Of all folk in Western Europe, it seems we (especially when young) too often drink only to get tanked rather than enjoy the great taste and inner relaxation drink can bring.

However, one can ask if this is a chicken-and-egg situation. If the powers-that-be take a finger-wagging attitude to drink, then people will react obstinately and drink more. I had long thought that, were taxes lower and the policy more relaxed, people might drink less and adopt the “continental” way of enjoying drink with food as one interwoven process. However, sad to say, longer UK pub hours and lower alcohol prices in real terms do not seem to have produced that result.

Interestingly, the one area where the “continental” approach has in some way crept in is among dedicated whisky drinkers. More than many others, they take whisky drinking seriously, as an opportunity to enjoy the infinite different styles and tastes of whisky, whereas the hardened drinkers seem to have shifted to vodka.

That is why I enjoy whisky tastings, whether as host or guest, and whatever the choice of malts or blends on offer. To appreciate the differences between each whisky you must have your wits and taste buds operating and keep them that way. Even after several drams, it has always struck me how cogent and focused the participants remain, and how perceptive their comments about each whisky are.

Not that they all agree on the merits or otherwise of each malt. One man’s delight is another man’s bilgewater. However, I have yet to see anyone at a whisky tasting get blootered – and everyone always makes advance arrangements to get home, by taxi or otherwise.

This represents an interesting shift in Scots’ perception of their national spirit. The old Glasgow days of a hauf and a hauf (one nip, one half-pint) has shifted from whisky being the hard man’s drink to the thinking man’s drink – which ties in with many drink firms’ concept of “Don’t drink more, drink better.”