The drams that are memorable are memorable first of all because of the place, the moment and the people I shared the whisky with. Some of the drams are fantastic because of the quality of the whisky. But many are memorable because of the resonance of the moment. This is an important thing to underline about whisky, that it is a sociable drink. Whisky is about sharing.
It is not about sitting down and jealously guarding your glass from other people.
A large part of what makes a whisky special for me is drinking it with the right people at the right time.
I suppose the first most memorable dram is what I like to call the “lightbulb” moment. You know, that moment in those Hollywood cartoons when someone suddenly thinks of something and that light bulb appears above his head. My lightbulb moment, when it comes to malt whisky, happened over a Talisker. An old version of Talisker, the eight-yearold. I was with two friends...in the late 1980s, and we were driving to a dance.
This is in the far west of Scotland, a really remote part of Scotland. Typical Scottish landscape. It was a 30-minute drive through some tough roads. So we decided we needed some fortification for the journey. Not for the driver of course, just for us passengers.
And Talisker was what we had with us. And it was at that moment; drinking the whisky, and looking out at the landscape... It all just seemed to make sense. The whisky was from this landscape. I, as a Scot, was from this landscape. It all made sense.
But also I could make no sense of it whatsoever. I had no idea how these flavours got into the whisky. So that day I decided to learn more about whisky.
I originally studied English at university. This was during the recession in the early 1980s. It was hard to find jobs. Eventually, I went to work for a wine merchant. I was still working there when the great Talisker moment happened.
I genuinely still see that landscape when I drink whisky. If you remove whisky from its history, its people and its landscape...it just becomes a product. The problem that spirits have worldwide is that people think of them as technological products. They think spirits are industrial, while wine is considered a product of the earth. And people get very excited about things such as terroir.
They don’t think about whisky in the same way. But they should. Whisky is absolutely a product of where it is made.
And I find it interesting that the more I learn about whisky, and about the chemistry that gives it taste and flavour, the more I learn about the environment in which it is made. The more you look, the more you see how the local culture resonates in the drink.
And it is troublesome if people lose sight of that and if industries lose sight of that. Because then, whisky no longer becomes the manifestation of all that is Scotland. It becomes just another product. The magic is gone. And it is the magic that people latch on to.
After drinking whisky now for many years, the experience is still magical for me. Right now, when I look around my cluttered office...at the moment, I have 40 new whiskies waiting to be tasted over the weekend.
These are 40 flavours I have never tried before. There are always new products, new people making and drinking it, new iterations...it is always magical.
You hear a lot of people talk about how whisky is about much more than just the spirit in a bottle. And this is not bullshit. (Pardon my English, but I am from Glasgow.) There are seemingly endless layers to whisky. It is much, much more than just a product.
Talisker is still one of my favourites.
It is like how you never forget your first kiss. But I find it funny when people ask me what is my favourite whisky. Right now, any one of these 40 whiskies in my office could become my favourite for the next few days.
Another one of my unforgettable drams was in Japan. I’d never drunk a Japanese whisky till I went to Japan.
I land in Japan, take the bullet train up to Kyoto, and then drive up to the Yamazaki distillery. So I am jet-lagged, culture-shocked, all this is going on, and we immediately start off with a tasting.
And I get this glass of whisky presented to me. It smells like nothing I’ve ever smelt before. The whisky was brilliant. But the aroma was completely off the wall. So I asked Seiichi Koshimizu, the master blender, how he would describe the aroma.
Koshimizu-san immediately says, “Ah! This is the aroma of Japanese temples.”
Which was not hugely helpful (laughs), because I’d never been to Japanese temples. He was right, of course. The whisky was aged in Japanese oak that has the same chemical compounds as the material used to make the incense sticks burnt in Japanese temples. At that point, I knew I had to find out about Japanese whisky. These days, I go there a couple of times a year.
Then there was the time I went to the Wild Turkey distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, in the US.
And Jimmy Russell, the master distiller, has been making Wild Turkey for some 60 years! It is quite an experience to sit with him, this Buddha of whisky making, and drinking the whisky in the land it comes from.
After all these years, I still get surprised by whiskies. For instance, sometimes you come across distilleries that weren’t well known because they were used mostly in blends. And then suddenly you find whiskies from brands such as Balblair and BenRiach that are excellent. That just comes from nowhere.
Also, two casks from the same distillery, filled on the same day, sitting next to each other all the time, and then when you open them they taste very different. They have completely different personalities.
If I were to be stranded on a desert island with just five or six bottles of whisky...well, there has to be a Talisker.
Then a Redbreast, probably the 12-year-old cask strength. It is higher strength and it’d last a little longer on the island if I kept adding water. I would take a Balvenie, probably the Tun 1401. Definitely a Highland Park 18 years old. I think it is the industry’s second-favourite whisky. It just has this exemplary balance. Then I would take a Springbank 15 years old, an encapsulation of so many whisky characteristics in one bottle.
Dave Broom has written about spirits for more than 20 years. Besides writing primarily for the Whisky Magazine, Broom contributes to other publications including Malt Advocate and imbibe. He is also chairman of the judging panel at the prestigious annual World Whisky Awards.
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As told to Sidin Vadukut.