The Whisky Tasting Club

Whisky – a fashion item?

For many there’s a view that Scotch whisky is an old man’s drink. For many, though, that view is a British-centric one. Whyte & Mackay’s master blender Richard Paterson in particular used to get very animated on the subject. In older markets such as Britain, he argues, Scotch whisky had an older profile. But across the world there are markets where Scotch is the drink of choice among the young and fashionable.

 And it’s been this way for many years. As far back as the early 90’s  Les Bains Douches was one of the coolest clubs in Paris and your entrance fee included a bottle of Johnnie Walker. Single malt whisky has been the drink of choice of fashionistas in France, Italy, Spain, Venezuela, Brazil and across a range of other markets for years.

But here’s growing evidence that malt whisky isn’t dead in the water even in the United Kingdom. As discerning drinkers look for drinks with heritage and provenance they inevitably arrive at malt whisky. Internet blogging sits are revolutionising the way we think and talk about whisky, and there are a number of new and young whisky enthusiasts that are helping to bring whisky to a new audience.

You know something’s afoot when a men’s fashion magazine such as Esquire starts talking about whisky as the perfect drink of choice for its discerning readership. So far the magazine has hitched up with premium bourbon Woodford Reserve, but talking to the magazine’s features editor last week I was pleasantly surprised at the positive attitude the magazine had towards single malt as well as bourbon.

I was the speaker last week at an event organised by Esquire at William & Sons, a shop which backs on to the Connaught Hotel in Mayfair, London. It’s the sort of shop where everything is in cases, highlighted by individual spotlights, and immaculately suited staff fuss around you as you peruse cufflinks costing hundreds of pounds and designer watches costing thousands.

My job was to explain to 50 Esquire readers who had applied for free tickets to the event where bourbon slotted in to the whisky picture, what premium bourbon was, and what Woodford Reserved had to offer the category. A pleasant chap had flown in from Geneva to explain quality Swiss watches at the other end of the room, and while we spoke guests enjoyed Woodford cocktails prepared by the legendary mixologist Jake Burger, who I hadn’t seen since Hallowe’en night some three years ago when he was dressed as a mustard pot shortly before we were asked to leave the Pendennis Club in Louisville, Kentucky. But that’s another story.

We had arrived three hours before the event was due to start, plenty of time to feel very intimidated and to get nervous. But I shouldn’t have worried. The Esquire readers were brilliant – self assured, professional and successful, but interested in whisk(e)y, keen to learn, and bubbling with informed and intelligent questions. And they were all young – late 20s and early 30s.

I came away from the event refreshed and inspired, and utterly convinced that whisky of all styles as a very healthy future even here is old Blighty.

The Esquire event wasn’t an isolated event, either. As part of my speaking tour in support of the Michael Jackson Malt Whisky Companion I held events in Oxford, London, Norwich and Edinburgh. All of them were well attended and at each the groups was made up overwhelmingly by people aged under 40 and with a good proportion of women.

There is no doubt that new media is at the forefront of the whisky boom. Facebook is proving to be a vital tool for attracting new recruits to the world of whisky, and a lively forum for tweets has emerged. I’m so encouraged by it all that I’m putting together a much bigger speaking tour for November in support of my new book The World’s Best Whiskies, and I’m delighted to announce that Maxxium, home to some of my favourite whiskies, is considering sponsoring me and providing tasting stock for events across Britain.

All of which puts a positive spin on what is a pretty depressing state of affairs in Great Britain right now. We all know that we’re in for two or three years of misery and depression, but whisky seems to be mining a rich vein as an affordable luxury and a value for money escape route from all the dire news coming from elsewhere.

There are other reasons to be encouraged abut the months ahead, too. For me the changes at American whisky magazine Malt Advocate are particularly exciting. The magazine is excellent but has had limited opportunity to shine on the world stage. Now it’s set to get a cash injection to broaden out and increase its circulation.

I’ve just been invited to occasionally provide tasting notes and I’m absolutely delighted to have been given the chance. The first few go in this week. I tried to play it cool, hold back a bit and prove myself a harsh critic – and then they asked me to review the excellent Laphroaig Triple Wood and Cairdeas as well as the new Caol Ila 25 year old, effectively blowing any chance of laid back objective criticism well and truly out of the water.

The reviews will appear in Malt Advocate but before then, on editor John Hansell’s blog, What Does John Know? If you haven’t already found this excellent site it’s at

As a taster, below is the Caol Ila review.

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  • Steffen Bräuner

    Jul 5th, 2010

    Well, taken the fact that young people today drink breezers and sweet sugarciders like somersby and rekordelig (possible scandinavian brands?), lagers with no taste and/or added limonade, its quite nice to see that a strongtasting beverage like quality whisk(e)y can embrace younger and younger people

    I am not sure if drinking whisk(e)y will ever become fashionable, especially with old farts like me around, but I think people in general grow up with some kind of quality sense.

    This can also be seen in food trends, and even thou the majority might not care about this, the minority that does grows


  • I appreciate any efforts to get whisk(e)y out of that clicheed old man’s drink corner. But I doubt that going the chi-chi fashion and luxury way is right answer. Fashion is very volatile and I don’t think it’s good to use it to transport your message.

    You have to convince the people with the quality of the spirit and not by making them think it is hip (I don’t mean “you” personally, Dominic). Otherwise they will just move on in a few years time when another drink gets more fashionable.

    And in that respect, Woodford Reserve certainly is a solid bourbon. But do Woodford cocktails really match up against all the true luxury displayed in a shop that caters for the top of the crop?

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