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Out and About

Whisky Live
Two days of non-stop whisky tasting? Sounds perfect. A test of endurance, and of education and of taste memory, and more. This is a two part story. For pure whisky, scroll on down.

Whisky Live” was an oversized, brash, confusing and incomplete aff air, as befits its location in an unfi nished building in Moscow City, that oversized, brash and confusing affair. The festival was a mixture of trade fair, carnival, evangelistic mission and supermarket. It was hosted in a dozen unfi nished shops: bare concrete floors with interesting trip hazards between kiosk and corridor, which were well tested later in the evenings. These surrounded a giant atrium, half filled with a red steel sculpture which was half constructivist “Tatlin Tower” and half Forth Bridge, dropped from a great height. The air was half filled with a noisy rock band then the bagpipes, emphasising the event’s confusion of purpose. Oddly, it started in mid-afternoon, when most people are busy at work. The invitedonly guest-list blended the enthusiasts, the curious, the social mixers and the hard drinkers quaffing free noggins*.

To whisky! It is not hard to make a bad spirit. A cheap beer, wine or fermented potato soup can be boiled to separate hooch from voda. Lesser products are obvious proof of this, including raw grain whisky. Making an aqua vita to savour, discuss, remember and lift your own spirit requires expertise, patience and time. Blending grain and malt whisky to make a decent Scotch is a remarkable blend of art and science that deserves our regular appreciation. Whisky Live offered an education of the Malted palate. The world’s distillers and marketers competed for our attention.

Dozens of the finest Scotch Malts. Blends of bewildering variety. Whiskies from Ireland, America, Georgia and Japan. Where on earth to start? Heaven is a good place: THE Glenlivet. The first legal Scotch. The benchmark. This wondrous nectar speaks for itself, but we also had the kilted Neil Macdonald and Valentina to explain the fi ner points and pour the precious dram. Their exposition was expertly enthusiastic. All the great Scotch Malts share the principles, which were reiterated across the fair. A simple process, executed to perfection. Time in the barrel to add subtlety and soak away the disagreeable members of the chain (methyl, propyl and butyl, since you ask). The water, the peat, the distiller’s nose. The aromatic esters which grace the taste buds. And so much more. With lifetimes of learning awaiting, get started!

Kilts and sporrans were much in evidence, by no means all above Scottish knees: Igor displayed an enviable knowledge of the Highlands. A big team from Inver House-InBev included kilted Rowan and Derek, with their Old Pulteney, Speyburn and, most revealing, a gloriously smooth and refreshing An Cnoc. Remember the name even if, like me, you cannot pronounce it. In the same stable were also the splendidly English suited and bowlerhatted Tom and Jan making an original pitch for the unusual Hankey Bannister. A strong seller in the export and long drink sectors, this singular blend breaks all conventions. No true whisky explorer should miss this interesting taste. Time and renal risk prevented me from tarrying longer with the Glen Grants, this time, in all their splendid variety of ages.

It is impossible to cover all the range. Trying yourself is essential. For me, guaranteed enjoyment and gentle exaltation are in almost any of the great Speyside and Highland Malts, as above, Glenmorangie or Orcadian Highland Park. When the taste buds are adventurous, to Jura, Skye or Islay. Of the others at whisky Live the most interesting was Nikka from Japan, acceptable at 10 year old, but hopefully smoother at 21. These all need more time, both to practise their art, and longer in the oak. Feel free not to agree: I don’t mind, I write this with a Macallan at one elbow, and a Lagavulin at the other (only to ward off a cold) so I am as mellow as they are. Good health, or ‘Slainte’! as they say.

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