It is hard to think of a more dramatic setting for an event than the one Laphroaig has picked for its live on- line tasting event.
We’re in an enclosed terraced area of an Italian restaurant on the edge of Sydney harbour in the shadow of the world famous harbour bridge. Directly in front of us is the iconic and magnificent Opera House, which oversees the constant procession of boats and ferries in Sydney’s busy working port. By early evening the irresistible aromas of barbecued meat drifts across the terrace.
Paradise? Not quite. I’d like to have completed the picture with an account of a golden sunset and the gentle warmth of a spring breeze, but all day Sydney’s weather has been fractious and moody, and sometime around six the skies darken dramatically, the Opera House disappears in to the gloom and it starts to pour with tropical intensity, the rain drumming off the terrace roofs. Oh well, you can’t have everything.
The event’s due to start at 8pm and from 6pm the atmosphere starts to grow. A platform has been built to the right of the restaurant, and the area has been converted in to a film set, floodlighted and surrounded with cameras. There are rehearsals, and introductions to be done. The panel includes a couple of famous Australian foodie types, Laphroaig’s distillery manager John Campbell and brand ambassador Robert Hicks, and, to the right, the reason we’re in Australia.
Lynn Johnston is the great great grand-daughter of one of the Johnston brothers who founded the Laphroaig distillery in the 1850s before he sold his share of the business for £350 and sailed for Australia.. She and several other of the Johnston clan are guests of honour and Lynn herself proves to be an articulate ambassador for the whisky.
The guests, many of them Friends of Laphroaig , start to arrive from 7pm, drinks are served, last minute instructions are issued and then, on the stroke of 8pm and with the weather clearing, we’re off.
The show is amazing and goes like a dream. Well almost. At one point the barbecue threatens to get out of hand, smoke starts to fill the terrace and the panel looks to be in danger of disappearing in to the haze. Talk about smoky whisky.
But it’s a temporary distraction, and order is quickly restored. The main tasting consists of Laphroaig Quarter Cask, Triple Wood and an absolutely stunning Cairdeas 30 year old? We’ve been told to keep our phones off but I can’t resist a peek at Twitter. And wow! Across the world the live event in front of me is being discussed.
“They’re shooting through these whiskies aren’t they?” says someone to my left.
“They are going very quickly,” someone tweets from America.
“Loving the Quarter Cask” an Israeli tweet announces.
“My favourite’s the Quarter Cask” the bloke opposite me comments. It’s an amazing interactive experience and an emotional one. A world brought together because of a simple Scottish malt whisky.
Meanwhile the panel’s starting to have fun. Lynn Johnston is a revelation, and John Campbell and Robert Hicks have fallen into a natural double-act and are bewitching all before them, John solid, thorough and informative, Robert the maverick uncle, irreverent entertaining and funny.