Schoolday Saturday?? When the subject is whisky and sampling the subject is to be encouraged, school on a Saturday seems an entirely reasonable idea!
The classroom – a splendidly appointed room at the sumptuous Hotel du Vin, Harrogate. The teachers – Eddie Ludlow and Joe Clark from Whisky Lounge with Ed Bates sitting in, as he’s going to be teaching the school in London. And the first time I’ve had grilled salmon for school dinner.
Having spent the last few weeks drinking mainly single cask malt and grain whisky, starting off with some more mainstream malts was interesting – it’s easy to overlook them in the quest for the perfect cask, but there’s good stuff out there.
But before we get to taste, we get an in depth description of the art of whisky-making. OK, so I’ve heard it all many times before – but there’s always the odd thing you’ve not appreciated previously, or some nuance that’s escaped you before, and you’ve got to keep listening intently in case Eddie gets something wrong – as if!
Glenkinchie 12yo, Dalwhinnie 15yo, Singleton of Dufftown 12yo , before moving on to something peaty – Kilchoman 2006 to illustrate the effect of smoke. The discussion of wood is accompanied by two Balvenies – Single Barrel and Doublewood.
And so to lunch, slight hiccup over an unexpected vegan, but they found something suitable, and the subsequent discussion of various other weird and wonderful(?) dietary peculiarities – well peculiar to us omnivores – pescetarians I’ve worked with before, but fruitarians? Anyway whisky should fit into most diets – so long as we don’t dwell too long on the duties of distillery cats…
Back to the whisky, and kicking off the session on blending with a dram of Grant’s Family Reserve – not a bad drop for a blended scotch, though Grant’s Ale Cask is better (of which, more later).
The other scholars were paired off for the practical blending exercise, which left me on my own – all the more to drink! 8 samples of 40% whisky to blend together into a drinkable blended scotch. One rule – use all the grain.
Left to my own devices, my blend had to be called Whisky Cyclist – a light blend eschewing peat and sherry, but the judges (Eddie, Ed and Joe) felt the Smoky Crack just pipped it. The blended malt made with some of the rest of the whisky was much better though imho. Alas, my bottling technique needs work, and some of the great whisky cyclist blend never made it to its intended bottle.
No whisky education would be complete without a quick trip around the world, after all whisk(e)y is produced elsewhere. Power’s Johns Lane is a great example of Irish Pot Still whisky. Buffalo Trace, Jim Beam Rye and Balcones True Blue Corn Whisky show that the USA is good for something. Mackmyra Skog’s barley bar code and the black band holding the metallic label on to the bottle brought a surreal packaging touch to the occasion – and the whisky wasn’t too bad either! A quick trip to Japan for a Hakushu thence back to Ireland for peaty Connemara.
After all that hard learning, time for the exam and 30 questions on what we’d learnt – I knew most of the answers, but whether the handwriting – always awful even before whisky will be readable is another matter. Then it’s time for the Graduation certificate and the School Photo before a final dram of Balvenie 17yo.
Finally, back to Grant’s Ale Cask. Last week at the SMWS the bar staff were discussing what the best ordinary blended scotch was – my suggestions of Compass Box’s Asyla and Great King Street were not regarded as ordinary – and then I remembered Ale Cask. Before the school I’d popped into Waitrose and there it was on offer for £13. Having mentioned it during the blending session it would have been rude not to crack it open for anyone who could still manage another dram. And I wanted to compare it to the Family Reserve – Ale Cask won hands down.
All in all a fine way to spend a schoolday. Eddie’s touring the country with his school, so soon there could be one near you.