Transparency is the key to enjoyment, however that is.
I’ve spent years behind the bar serving some of the most incredible whiskies, from striking vintage Port Ellens to stunning young Aussie malts, and everything in between. I am thankful that throughout this time I have earned the trust and respect of my customers. It’s a level of trust from the whisky community earned over time with choosing an incredible blend or a young whisky. One thing that stumps me to this day is people’s hostility over whisky category, style, age and, the thing that frustrates me most – how it should be consumed.
The greater community is still yet to grasp that whisky is something to be consumed and enjoyed with your friends, family and community, any way you choose. Want a whisky and cola? You got it. Want the best highball of your life, with a single cask, 20 year old Speyside? You bloody bet your bottom dollar.
In my travels over to Scotland from Melbourne, it was an encounter with a bartender in Edinburgh that made this matter painfully apparent to me. I was belittled and patronised for enjoying a single cask, peated whisky with soda after a long day of work. It felt awful! I respect this industry and want to encourage its growth to create a healthy, accessible community. I was made to feel like sharing my infatuation of whisky with others is wasted, as whisky is only for those who want to place it on a pedestal. A difficult situation to deal with. At that point in time I happened to be with those people I wanted to drink and share these sensational drams with, from incredible single cask Taiwanese drams all the way to the consistently great Johnnie Walker Black. Yet, I felt uncomfortable.
Since this encounter I have been ruminating on this, and how I could never, ever make a person who is excited about whisky feel this way. I am not in the wrong to enjoy an SMWS single cask Ledaig in a highball. I will allow my customer to have a dash of cola in his single cask Ardbeg. This is where the industry needs to get to.
I believe that this stigma comes from the dishonesty of marketing, the curse that plagues the greater whisky industry. The only way to break through this is transparency, communication and, finally, sharing!
Transparency is so crucial to the whisky that I enjoy presently. Any producer/bottlers that can tell me what I, as a consumer, need to know to understand what I am tasting and how these flavours are created. From mash bill to cask types and length of finishes. Even, for some whiskies, different maturation environments.
This level of communication can work on many levels, from producer to server, server to customer, customer to friend or person to person. It can be a communication of flavour, knowledge, or, just plainly, likes and dislikes. Each person will experience their whisky differently and has every right to enjoy it in their own way. Having the outlet to express your excitement and enjoyment genuinely, and without the threat of judgement, is crucial to the communication needed to allow this stigma to come to an end.
The final way for us to allow this industry to seem less daunting and overwhelming to new whisky enthusiasts is sharing. Share your time, your whisky and your knowledge while entwined in conversation. Sharing is so very important and crucial to the entire culture surrounding whisky. Share with those you love and enjoy spending time with, and to drink to their collective health. Share with people without diminishing their likes or dislikes, allow them to form their own opinions and appreciate them.
The Society has upheld these “commandments”, (if you will), for quite some time. They have provided a platform for people to experience whisky, their way. So I implore you, going forward, don’t be the Scottish judgemental bartender I encountered. Be kind and transparent. Communicate and share to the health of your friends, the health of your family, and the health of the whisky industry.
Written by Lachlan Watt. Lachlan is the bar manager at Whisky & Alement, one of the Society’s premium Partner Bars in our network. Want to learn more? Keen to be a member of the world’s greatest whisky club? Join here today!