Posts Tagged ‘whisky tasting


Whisky Live FEstival – CT Leg

Last week was insane.

There really is no other way to describe it. I work exclusively on whisky clients so you better believe when the FNB Whisky Live Festival hits, all there is to do is batten down the fucking hatches, grit your teeth and plough through it.



Wednesday, Thursday and Friday I worked between 14 and 15 hours straight. If I saw J-Rab for longer than an hour on each one of those days, it was a long time.

Thing is, in the evenings I was working one of the stands at the festival, pouring fine Irish whiskey and trying my best to teach people a thing or two about what I strongly believe is the most magnificent spirit ever distilled.

After three nights of doing so, I became and expert at reading the people at the stand and was able to divide your average festival goer into one of the following categories:


1. The Guys Who Go There To Get Hammered

The worst of the lot. These fuckers don’t give a rat’s ass about whether your whisky is triple distilled, peat smoked or distilled by God himself, all they want to do is get wrecked and then boast to their friends about how they went to the festival, learned nothing, staggered drunk in the streets and spent the night in jail.

Here’s how a typical conversation went with these fuckers:

“How much to taste the 16 year old?”

“Three tickets.”

“Three tickets?! Fucken ‘ell!”

I smile warily.

“Tell you what. I’ll give you ONE ticket,” the Guy Who’s There To Get Wasted replies.

“No, you’ll give me three.”

“Ag, c’mon man! No one’s looking!”

“That’s not the point. The point is the festival promotes responsible drinking. If I give you free whisky, you get drunk and make us look bad.”

“Ja, but the other stand didn’t take tickets.”

“Yes, well that’s because their whisky is shit.”

“Hahahahahahhahah! Ok, well how much is THAT one to taste?”

“That’s one ticket.”

“Do it! And make it a double!”

“Please die.”

They then hang around, stinking up your stand for at least another 20 minutes talking loudly to one another and waiting for an opportunity to top up their glasses when you’re not looking.

Filthy vagrants. How they ever afforded the R180 tickets is beyond me.


2. The Wine Drinkers

The Wine Drinkers have got it down. They swirl the whisky in the glass just right, check the colour, check the legs, nose it whilst holding the stem of the glass delicately between thumb and forefinger and then, FINALLY, actually taste the stuff and recoil instantly like a snake just bit them in the face.

Wine drinkers aren’t used the the high level of alcohol in whisky, so they make this cute little face after they take a sip like someone just fed them a handful of sour worms and then try and say something polite about it like, “Mmm, very smooth.”

Fuck me. If I had R10 for every time I heard someone describe whisky as ‘smooth’ I would have walked out straight out of there and into early retirement.

Guys, work on your fucking adjectives, seriously. I think you can do better.



3. The “Experts”

I love these little jerkwads more than you can imagine. The “experts” are a dime a dozen at festivals like this, they arrive in their fancy 3-piece suits with their work colleagues, honing of Aramis while they saunter up to the stands with the hottest promo girls and proceed to wow them with how little they know about whisky.

One such expert and his three cronies walk up to my stand and before he’s even said one fucking word to me, starts helping himself to my ice bucket, loading about five blocks into his glass before addressing me like I’m a piece of turd he’s stood in and saying, “So. What’s good here?”

“For a discerning whisky-drinker like yourself sir, I’d recommend the 16 year-old”.

“Ahh. Yes. And how much is that?”

“Three tickets.”

Tear, tear, tear. I take his glass and immediately dump all his ice in the spitoon.

“Hey, what are you doing?”

“If you’re going to taste a fine whiskey, I would recommend first doing so neat and only then adding ice or water.”

“But the ice mellows the whisky!”

“No. The ice locks the flavours of the whisky in, thus limiting what you’re actually going to taste.”

“Oh. Well. I’ve heard differently.”

At which point crony No. 3 jumps in with the classic, “I see you don’t have your 12 year-old available tonight.”

“There is no 12 year-old in the family sir.”

“The 12 year-old? Yes there is! Comes with a blue label, I drank some the other night at a mates place. 12 year-old. Look it up.”

“Really? And how late was it when you drank this 12 year-old because, to put it simply, it doesn’t exist.”

“I think you’re wrong.”

“Probably. I mean what do I know? I’ve just worked on this brand for the last year of my life, dedicating countless hours to studying every facet of its history, heritage and intrinsic brand benefits, but yeah, you’re probably right.”

“Good. Now make sure you have some for tomorrow night, people are going to want to taste the 12 year-old. In my opinion it’s the best one.”

Face. Palm.



4. The Students

Sometimes these guys are actually pretty cool. They’re interested in learning more about whisky and don’t mind admitting the fact that they don’t know much to begin with. As a general rule, I prefer chatting with them than I do most other festival goers.

But once in awhile you get The Student who is an expert in the art of faking and comes up to the stand all eager to broaden his knowledge and literally pogoing on the spot with enthusiasm.

“So the whisky, it comes from barrels?”

“Yes, all whisky has to be matured for a minimum of three years in wooden casks (mostly oak) to be legally classified as whisky.”

“WOW! And While it’s in there, that’s where it gets the flavours?”

“Yes. Whisky gets all its colour and at least 70% of its flavour from the cask.”


“Um, yeah. It is pretty amazing…”

“And the different spellings of whisky, one with the ‘e’ and one without, which one is which again?”

“Irish gets the ‘e’.”

“IRISH GETS THE ‘E’! Hahahaha! I flippin’ KNEW IT! How’s that hey!”


“So ja… how much to taste the 16 year old?”

“It’s three tickets.”

“Tell you what. I’ll give you ONE ticket.”

“Tell you what, I’ll call security and get your wasted ass thrown out.”

“One ticket it is! Hahaha! Irish with the ‘e’, I flippin’ KNEW it…”



5. The Suicidally Bored Housewives

Their husbands drag them there. They’re hating every minute of it. They wish they were at home putting a fine bottle of Pinotage to bed. Don’t try and converse with them. They are suicidal.

“Hi there ma’am, would you like to taste some of our fine whisky?”

“Oh, no thanks, I’m here with my husband” (Translation: Do you have any prescription-strength tranqs? I’m about to die of boredom).

“Well, you might as well taste a little whisky while you’re here.”

“Yes. I suppose I should” (Translation: Bring a glass of that vile-smelling stuff within three feet of me and I’ll eviscerate you with these uncomfortable fucking high heels my husband insisted I wear.)

“Here you go, give it a nose and tell me what you’re getting”.

“Mmm… smooth…” (Translation: Mmm… godawful…)

“Ok, now take a sip. You should pick up some softer honey notes at first and then a bit of spice around the sides of your tongue and some light, citrus notes on the finish.”

“Yes. Very nice.” (Translation: Are we done here? Because you know as much as I do I’d rather be at home right now banging the pool-boy).



So yeah, as you can imagine, last week was a lot of insanity followed by more insanity. Of course there are those who go to the festival and are lovely people and want to taste new whiskies and learn about them, in fact most of the people there are like that.

They just aren’t as interesting to write about as the others Winking smile

So wish me luck this week and apologies if the content gets a little thin. I’m flying up to Joburg tomorrow so come stop by the festival if you wanna say hi. I can’t say the stand I’m manning, but here’s a clue:

It’s Irish, and it’s 402 years old.

Peace out party people, have a killer week.



In Whisky There Is Comfort Still

I had this way of picking up things and drinking them when I was a kid, probably like most kids do. When I was 3, the electrician came at night to fix something or other and my mom offered him a beer, which he drank a sip of and left on the living room table.

I picked that bad boy up and drank the whole thing. Then I jumped up and down in my cot, laughing my ass off for about 2 hours and then I passed out stone cold and woke up feeling fine the next day. There’s Irish in me, not a lot (my grandfather was half English, half Irish), but enough 😉

I think about a year later I had my first taste of whisky. My mom has always enjoyed a whisky and soda in the evenings and had poured herself a glass and left it on her bedside table. I thought it was just water and took a sip, but unlike the beer, I didn’t down the whole thing because it tasted like crap.



I spent the rest of my childhood sober until I was about 12 or 13 and my good buddy Ricky T and myself drank our way through three six packs of his dad’s “Two Dogs Alcoholic Lemonade”. Two Dogs was like an aborted first attempt at an alca-pop and tasted awful, but did the job pretty damn well.

How we thought we’d get away with drinking his dad’s entire stash is something I don’t think we gave much thought, if any, at the time.

From that point, the story gets long and complicated and I won’t get into any of the details except to say that from an early age, I was never shy to drink like a goddamn fish. I’ve never been an alcoholic and have very seldom if ever gotten drunk alone or binged for longer than four days, but I learned to drink hard and I did it well.

At varsity I started drinking whisky because I thought it looked cool and for R6 you could get a double First Watch at one of the bars in Grahamstown and so naturally I drank that foul fucking stuff like mother’s milk. You could clean engine parts with First Watch. It’s Canadian whiskey, which means they use rye instead of barley to make it and because of that it can be quickly mass-produced and sold much cheaper than normal whisky. It’s nasty, but damn! It does the job.



Back then, a bottle of Jack Daniels was my idea of a fine whisky. Me, Barman and Graumpot had a tradition where we’d buy one another a bottle when our birthdays rolled around and sip it on ice. Bleaugh. What the hell were we thinking?

After varsity I drank Bells with an air of faux sophistication and thought myself an accomplished whisky-drinker. Eventually I tired of the taste though and gave up on whisky in general, that is until about three years ago.

I started working PR for the Whisky Live Festival and as a part of that, went on a number of whisky tastings and started to learn a little about the spirit. Over time, my interest for whiskey began to mature naturally because of the close contact I had with it and the people involved in the big liquor marketing and distribution companies in South Africa and I found the more I learned, the more I wanted to learn.

All of this culminated recently when I attended ‘Whisk(e)y 101’ with the College Of Whisky, the first part of the course they put together to train people to become whisky presenters. Since that course, I’ve been enjoying various whiskies on an almost nightly basis (Talisker, Singleton, Bushmills 16 y/o, a bottle of Dimple 15 y/o) and amazingly, this spirit, the flavour of which was once almost inaccessible to me, is slowly opening up.



I find myself admiring this amber liquid against the light, watching the legs fall and wondering what journey that dram took to find its way to me.

The thing about fine whisky is that it is made through a process that cannot be speeded up and as such, it is almost immune to the unnatural acceleration that has come to define the way humans do things.

I take comfort in that fact. I take comfort in the thought that somewhere across the world, a master distiller still picks his way through his distillery, nosing and tasting his whisky as it lies in oak casks, his palate able to almost distinguish individual atoms of scent and taste, waiting for the perfect moment to blend or bottle his whisky so that when it reaches us, all the way down here in Africa, the product we are getting is perfect in every way.

The simple pleasure I get out of enjoying a dram of good whisky far outweighs any of the times I drank the stuff to get shit-faced back in varsity which, I guess, is a clear sign that I’m getting old 😉

The end with, here’s one of my favourite whisky quotes, 10 points to the person who guesses who said it:

“The water was not fit to drink. To make it more palatable, we had to add whisky. By diligent effort, I learned to like it.”