After all our hard work making the barrels, and touring the distillery, it was finally time to sample some of the fruits of our labour (or rather, the labour of others over the past decades).
This is what we whisky writers like to call ‘the whole point of the exercise’.
And what a fantastic tasting it was. Rather than simply pass out a few drams and get us to say whether we liked them or not, Ronnie took us through some really interesting aspects of whisky tasting – including some I’d never encountered before.
I’d never considered thinking about whisky in terms of its characteristics as reflective of different moods, and charting the course of an evening. There had always been whiskies that seemed a good place to start, and others that were a good place to end – but equating the mood to the changing of the seasons is a really nice metaphor – and one I’ll come back to.
Of course, what makes The Glenrothes a natural place for this kind of artisan approach to whisky production is the fact that their licensees are Berry Brothers and Rudd, the London wine merchants.
Glenrothes single malt whiskies are offered as a range of vintages, rather than released (in the more traditional way) in terms of their age. And in keeping with that, some of the ways in which the malts are discussed and understood borrow their language from the world of wines.
The private tasting room – the inner sanctum (or, if you like, the boss’s office) – contains a bewildering array of vintage malts, and a lot of different glasses, jars of different ingredients for comparing and learning about aromas.
The circular wooden table (not to mention the exceptional whiskies) makes for a convivial atmosphere, and, as is traditional in this part of the world, the conversation quickly turned from explanation to anecdote. Well-known drinks writer and retailer Dominic Roskrow was also in attendance, and the four of us (including Marcin Miller, the company’s PR – currently holding the camera) enjoyed a wide-ranging discussion.
A 32 year-old (1972 vintage, to use the Glenrothes nomenclature) became the occasion for a discussion about the correct accent for Latin speakers:
And Dominic related this whisky tale about just how long a ‘long finish’ should be:
It’s fair to say that what Ronnie describes as a ‘conversational’ whisky was doing its job well.
And you can expect, should you be one of the winners of the competition that the distillery is running from next week, that you’ll spend as much time (if not more) swapping stories over a dram as you will experiencing the whole whisky production process.
Because this part is, as I mentioned, the whole point of the exercise.
But there’s more to whisky than just making it and drinking it. There’s everything else that goes on around it – and in part 5, you’ll see the glimpse we were given into the culture and lifestyle that surrounds the Glenrothes.