There is an abstract phrase I use often in tastings.
Be the slow drinker.
Slow down. Drink better. Drink less. This is not some evangelistic preaching of avoiding a good tipple. Hell no. Neither is it to say you actually should buy less (especially when it comes to SMWS releases because come on is that even possible) and/or spend more coin on subjectively viewed better quality (take the current prices of recent SMWS Malt of the Months which are priced almost ridiculously low in comparison to other well-known brands). No, what it hints at is by slowing down and applying appreciative enquiry you simply don’t need anything else but what is in your glass for satisfaction. Let’s put this in perspective and round back on the discussion later.
Have you had those moments early in your whisky journey when a whisky just stops you in your tracks. Bam! It (the whisky) has not even made it to your lips and you find yourself just slowing down. Sure you have. Have you asked why? The earliest time I genuinely remember having this experience was with the Octomore 1.1. I was blown away by it. I did not want to taste the whisky in case I lost that moment. The sheer complexity of youth. Yes, you heard it right, I said “complexity of youth“. It was not the peat. It never was and I wager peat is secondary in what that whisky offered. Peat was the marketing but sensory engineering was the crowning achievement.
At the time of tasting, I had little concept of what peat was at that stage truly. It was an experience from end to end. It slowed me down. I fretted at the concept this experience was going to end and it was only at a tasting! That was a moment. The moment that changed my entire approach to alcohol, but it did not change what I drank, how I spent my dollars, or what I chose to consume on a regular basis.
We see the newbie at tastings all the time. Determined to taste as many things as possible, as quickly as possible, as often as possible. That is an exciting time for the whisky grommets so don’t begrudge them for diving in headfirst. Hell, I did. The concept of the “whisky smorgasbord” at a spirits expo…mind blowing! Take it to the next level and we certainly see our share of the SMWS gromms wrangling in their first Outturn haul. Gotta open em’ all.
At some point though we all find ourselves slowing down even if we do not notice it. We take our time and not just because we get technical with our spirits. Our knowledge is expanded sure and our palates are developing and we even use the term smooth less but that still is not it. What is going on is we simply start taking notice of when, where and how we enjoy our whisky and by realising that we become “the slow drinker“. Boss level achieved.
Don’t go shaving your heads though because you have reached enlightenment. I mean come on who wants to be Tripitaka when you can be Monkey “Great Sage, Equal of Heaven” instead. Even Gokū slowly edged towards enlightenment. Hand me a bottle of Jack Daniel’s and I will make it last as long or as short as a Society cask from distillery 66. Build your own appreciative enquiry into what you drink. Care less for where it came from and spend more time with what it is saying to you.
I’ll finish by reflecting on what matters most. SMWS is about flavour. We see this not only in the way the colour codes work but also in how they are chosen to how they are named. Age? Well, you can take it or leave it as it is just the background noise, as is the distillery name itself. This, by engineered nature, is slowing down the experience and driving enquiry to what actually matters (at least to me). So I say it again “be the slow drinker”.
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Written by Matt Wooler
Matt is a long-term member and appreciator of the Society and has regularly showcased the Society at his own tastings through Dramnation as well as regularly hosting Society events in Sydney. This piece was originally written for the 2021 November Outturn.
Edits: Adam Ioannidis