Thoughts after a decade of whisky shows: drink whisky because it tastes good.

For more than the past decade I’ve been talking whisky at festivals; private functions; corporate tastings and generally around and about. Talking about whisky is a real privilege, sharing passion, opening up the minds and palates of the public. The expression on the face of someone for whom whisky suddenly makes sense, the joy of a seasoned whisky lover discovering a new brand, or expression is what keeps me going. That, and the brotherhood of whisky lovers, or the whisky fabric as its become known. It is, some people say, a job, which is true as I am paid for what I do, but really it’s the type of job one can do only if one has a love for whisky.

To put things in context, I don’t sell whisky and don’t work for any specific company. I am independent, don’t have report to anyone head office and quite simply, I wont talk about whisky unless I think it’s something good for the public. I don’t do the standard sales pitch, don’t get commission on sales and what I am paid is unrelated to whisky sales. So I am comfortable outside of the business world that is the liquor industry, free to be a talking head, free to say what I feel.

For the past few years I’ve been fortunate to include the Glen Grant range of whiskies amongst those I present. They’ve been a firm favourite with the crowds over the past few years and more and more people are moving towards this historic distillery. Started by whisky smugglers around 1840, it has a rich history and if you are luck enough to visit the distillery, you’ll enjoy a dram of something very special from a safe behind a waterfall at the bottom of a lush garden.

I enjoyed tinkering with these Speyside Single Malts a while ago and revisited the different expressions in earnest at the suggestion of Hector Mc Beth, who I call professor whisky. The range now available in South Africa is The Major’s Reserve, a NAS fresh, light, fruity malt; and the 10 year old and 16 year old becoming more layered, intriguing & full bodied with more maturation. The 10, as it happens, won Gold awards in Jim Murray’s whisky bible for 2013 and 2014. But as much as awards are important, it’s always nice to see how the general whisky loving public responds to the most important part of whisky – liquid on lips. After all the tasting notes and awards and marketing and this expert and that it all comes down to one thing – how does it taste, to you, the consumer?

And that’s where the Glen Grant range delights. At the festival, the average consumer comes along and asks for the 16 year-old. Good choice, but I like to take people on a journey so start them off with The Major’s Reserve. I also use that whisky as an introduction to people that come along and say they don’t drink whisky. And there are a few. You see, at the recent Wade Bales festivals consumers had a choice of superb wines or outstanding whiskies, so I had wine drinkers coming along with partners or alone, saying they don’t drink whisky or don’t like whisky. Fantastic. It allows me to play, to demonstrate the flavours of good whisky, the different ways there are to enjoy the water of life and I’ve found the Glen Grant range quite perfect. It just tastes great. It’s really that simple. The Major’s reserve is perfect on it’s own or, as I enjoy in summer, with a slice of orange and some ginger ale. Yes – some people still maintain that whisky should only be drunk neat. Or whisky must have an age statement. Or that adding anything other than pure spring water from the mountains of Scotland is sacrilege. Not in my book. Whisky was made to drink and if people want to add things, that’s fine. A cocktail – perfect. Age statements? This new uproar about NAS seems to ignore how thing were 50 years ago, or take into account the popularity of perhaps the most recognised NAS whisky, Johnnie Walker Blue Label.

So let’s get back to drinking whisky for the enjoyment of it, not for anything else. Let’s think about good old-fashioned value for money and move away from bling. And then think about what the Glen Grant range has to offer, whether you enjoy the fresh fruitiness of the Major’s, the nuttier, creamier 10 or the crispy intensity of the 16, there is something for you. The Major’s goes for about R 250, 10 at R 390 and 16 at 750. Pretty decent.

Drink whisky because it tastes good.

Isn’t that what it’s all about?