Raph: I think you’ll agree with me, Josh, that it’s often quite difficult to begin drinking whisky. After all, there aren’t that many people our age who enjoy it like we do. A few people have said to me that they’re not quite sure where to start, so I’ll ask you a question: how did you get into whisky?
Josh: You had to pick a question with an embarrassing answer! OK, here goes: in 2009, I went on a coach tour of the West Highlands with my grandma. It was a great trip, actually (my first to Scotland), and one day we visited the distillery at Oban. The tour was fascinating, and we got to sample two measures – one straight from the cask, and one of the finished product. It was so enchanting to taste the whisky in the wonderful old building where it was built and aged. If terroir is important to wine, it was a vivid education in the centrality of the environment to whisky production. Oban is a salty, seaside dram that makes so much sense when you see its origins. What about you?
R: Ah, what a story! I don’t think many people will say that passion for whisky started with their grandma and a coachload of geriatrics. Well, my story is somewhat different: as you know, I can’t drink beer. Lager, ale, stout – I can’t stand any of them. Increasingly desperate at my inability to drink any normal ‘pub’ drink, one night I got myself a straight Jack Daniel’s and crossed my fingers. Amazingly, I really liked it (even if, admittedly, I’d simply necked the stuff). That got me thinking about whisk(e)y, and from there I was hooked. It was more sheer relief that I’d actually found a drink I liked. And then, of course, I realised that you liked it and we then had (another) common interest! But I think it took a little while for us both to really get going, didn’t it?
J: Absolutely: it’s an enthusiasm that requires extravagant means to pursue rapidly, after all! But I think that our stories demonstrate that you should develop your interest in whisky in your own way, at your own pace. I certainly wasn’t sticking my nose in the glass and plucking out scents from the off. At its heart, it’s a drink to enjoy, usually socially. Pouring a glass and enjoying the taste; trying a different whisky next time. That’s what it’s all about: enjoyment and exploration.
R: Exactly. But I think quite a lot of people who are keen to get into whisky are slightly apprehensive about the best way to proceed; especially as at our age it can feel a solitary journey. For a 2012 first-timer, what would be your best advice for them? How’s best to get into whisky?
J: Find a witty, well-written and comprehensive whisky blog to guide yourself on the way! Nah, just kidding: go on a coach tour of the Highlands with some pensioners. If that’s really not an option, then the first thing to remember is not to be too apprehensive. Try different whiskies to see what you like, and try your whisky in different ways. One important thing is not to think that single malts are for advanced drinkers. Dive right in with a Glenmorangie or Glenlivet, if they take your fancy.
R: Agreed – fortes fortuna adiuvat! And I wouldn’t worry about having to splash out on £30 bottles each time you fancy a new experience. You can buy small samples of different whiskies, and this is a great way to quickly pick up a decent palate. I’ll let you in on a secret, Josh (although hardly one that’s going to change the world): the three Glenfiddich reviews were all done with 50ml miniature bottles of whisky. Buying three large bottles of each would have set me back around £120; instead, I spent just over £10. So I tried three whiskies with a combined age of 42 years, for about the same cost as 3 pints of beer. Bargain, eh?
J: You’re not wrong there: as I wrote recently, whisky needn’t cost a fortune. We’ll hopefully soon be unveiling our value-for-money index, which will give us a way to say just which whiskies help to stretch those pennies the furthest. So don’t let cost put you off, and don’t let whisky snobbery either. Give it a go – on your own, with a friend, however you feel best – and you’re in for quite a ride.
R: Yep, I’ll be looking at other ways to get value for money and how not to get ripped off. I’ll also be doing a post soon about a whisky haven I’ve recently found in Birmingham. There are probably similar places near you. Whisky snobbery, you’re right, is a load of nonsense. Enjoy it how you like! But, as you say, it always makes the whisky taste that little bit better when you know you’ve got a good price for your dram. Should anyone need a friend to enjoy some whisky with, remember that I’m always free! (He’s not wrong! – Josh)
Don’t forget: if you’re a whisk(e)y blogger and want in on the action, get in touch with us to see what we might be ‘In Conversation’ about!