For this year’s World Whisky Day we want to put a real focus on encouraging as many new people as possible to discover the delights of whisky.
Those of us in the know realise just how delicious, varied and versatile whisky can be. But there are still many out there who have yet to succumb to its charms. Maybe they have been scared off by a perception that it’s elitist or expensive or bound by too many rules. Maybe they had a bad introduction to it – maybe they’ve just never been encouraged to try a dram. As an open and inclusive celebration of whisky in all its forms, World Whisky Day is the perfect opportunity to spread the word and welcome them to whisky.
And to help inspire the next generation of whisky drinkers, we’ve been asking whisky lovers how they got into whisky, what they love about it and if they had a ‘light bulb moment’ or one amazing whisky that kicked it all off. We would love to hear your story too via email or on social media using #WelcometoWhisky. For now, take a look at what these whisky lovers had to say…
Bartender, Ryan Chetiyawardana (Mr Lyan)
I was drinking bourbon for the first part of my whisky experience (although Canadian Club and ginger ale was the drink of me and pals aged 16–18) – and usually in an Old Fashioned because I’m a fatty with a sweet tooth.
When I moved to Scotland aged 20, my palate had dried out a bit and I began drinking more single malts neat, and blends in cocktails. I worked at Oloroso when I moved, and immediately took a shine to the Suntory whiskies there because they were (are) ace, and I liked trying to sell stuff against prejudices. A real light bulb moment though was when I was working at Borough Hotel. A guest, noticing I loved my Scotch, introduced me to the Scotch Malt Whisky Society and single cask whiskies. Standard bottlings became like juice after that – hella delicious and complex, but easy and everyday. Single casks seemed unusual and fascinating. I’m kinda back between all these points now.
Whisky Ambassador for Bacardi, Georgie Bell
When I first tried whisk(e)y I wasn’t a fan. I remember finishing shifts at Tigerlily in Edinburgh and my colleagues drinking Makers Mark and Coke. I thought it was horrible! But then … something happened. I wanted to be a better bartender, and that included conquering the almighty Scotch category. So I did, but in cocktails. Sweet Rob Roys and Old Fashioneds were particular favourites. And then I entered an Aberfeldy cocktail competition and came third with an avocado and Aberfeldy 12 concoction. And from there – that was it. I remember finishing one particularly gruelling shift where a group of guys ordered probably around 20 Ardbeg Rob Roys, and all I wanted when I finished was one myself.
That was the beginning of everything really. I did my undergrad dissertation on whisky and regional identity, got a job at the SMWS to improve the relationship between my mind, my nose and my mouth, and did a second degree in distilling. I’ve almost come full circle now though – in the sense that now, more than ever, it’s my job to educate people like me when I was starting out – breaking down barriers and breaking down that (sometimes) intimidating dram in a glass to more than whisky – to flavour/occasionality/history/legacy/conviviality.
Blogger, Dave Worthington aka @WhiskyDiscovery
I never knew anything about whisky when I was asked to try a single malt that my sales manager brought in one Christmas. I really did need my arm twisting at the time, I drank Guinness and the occasional rum, and red wine when in polite company. I did try it, and quite liked it. The next Christmas he brought in another special single malt, a single cask from the Caol Ila distillery, and a Cadenhead bottling. I didn’t need my arm twisting that time and was happy to try it. That moment when it tickled my tastebuds flicked a switch within, it was like nectar, and I thought to myself, “Why am I not drinking this stuff?”
That weekend I went out and bought my first bottle of whisky – a Laphroaig 10 Year Old. That was on 19 December 2010. Over the Christmas holiday, I bought a couple more bottles and started reading everything I could about whisky. On New Year’s Day, I added a further two bottles to my whisky shelf and made a New Year’s Resolution to buy at least one different bottle of whisky every month. I’m pleased to say I have always met (and often exceeded) my target! At the end of 2011, I had around 30 bottles on my shelf, I started a blog, and I opened a Twitter account, then in 2012 I went to my first whisky show. The rest, as they say, is history. Whisky really did change my life.
Brand Manager for Walsh Whiskey, Woody Kane
My interest began with Irish whiskey as a young kid watching my grand-uncle Mick enjoying a Paddy’s while playing cards. The golden look of the liquid intrigued me as I would see the enjoyment that was had over a card game and a drop of the ‘creatur’, as Mick used say. As I grew I began to enjoy this drop myself. The differences that were held in each bottle was simply amazing. Through my college years, I began to work with other students and developed some appreciation classes where we would take time to explore the offerings of whiskey.
As time passed I began to learn about distillation and what it had to offer as well as the effects of maturation. Since then I have increased my knowledge and am working for Walsh Whiskey Distillery. The history, the science, the quality, the experience and the taste. Whiskey is really a thing to behold …
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Head of Marketing at R&B Distillers, Zoe White
My first experiences of whisky were the odd Jack and Coke on club nights out. Later, I remember approaching a bar and saying, “Do you have a whisky for people who don’t like whisky?” to which the reply came, “Gin”. I remember taking exception to this, feeling that I should not be discouraged so easily. I don’t know what I then ended up with – likely a lowland single cask felt to be good for first-time drinkers.
In 2015 I accidentally got a job with R&B Distillers. I worked in the same building and was looking for a new challenge when it landed at my feet. Nevertheless I took a little while to accept because I wasn’t sure if I could do the job when I didn’t like whisky and knew next to nothing about it. I expressed this concern to Co-Founder Alasdair Day who told me, “It’s a good thing that you don’t like whisky.” I was sceptical but he said that because I didn’t like it I wouldn’t be distracted or confused, I’d just be able to differentiate the things I didn’t like about whisky and communicate what was to like with customers.
Two years later and I’m often asked if I like whisky (for some reason it’s still too often expected that as a woman I don’t) and I like to say: “It’s an occupational inevitability.” But it’s one I’m happy occurred. I’m definitely not a connoisseur and there are plenty of whiskies I still don’t like but I know a lot more about whisky that I once did, more than I realise until I’m talking about it. I have favourites and I’ll try anything once.
And I still remember one day during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in George Square when for the very first time I ordered a whisky outside of a work situation and completely of my own accord. Then I knew, this was sticking.
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Founder of Bramble Bar, Edinburgh, Mike Aikman
My dad was a malt drinker and the way he appreciated the hell out of every drop, contemplating it as he drank it, was what sparked my initial interest in whisky. Eventually I tasted it and thought it was horrible (I still remember the burning feeling in my belly actually!).
As I headed into my mid-teens, me and one of my best mates didn’t really enjoy the vodka, cider or alcopops that everyone else seemed to be drinking, so we thought we would give whisky (ALWAYS cheap blend) and Irn Bru a go. Sounds terrible but for a young palate, the sweetness (and caffeine) in the Irn Bru helped take the burn off the whisky.
My lightbulb moment was my first peaty whisky (Laphroaig), which I found intriguing as I had no idea whisky could taste like that. I’m not sure I loved it at first but I was intrigued enough to try again and it wasn’t long before I was hooked. I think I would have been 20 at this point …
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Lindores Abbey Distillery Founder, Drew McKenzie
My relationship with whisky relates back to when I was only about thirteen and on a fishing trip with my father in Perthshire. At the end of a fruitless day, he and his fishing companions were having a consoling dram and full of bravado, like any 13-year-old, I asked if I could have one. My first sip made my eyes water and set my throat on fire and they suggested I might like a wee drop of water. By the end of this my glass was 95% water to 5% whisky and even then I was struggling, so I wouldn’t put it down as my favourite memory.
Several years later when I was about 18 one of the same friends visited us at Lindores Abbey. It was a beautiful evening so we were all sitting outside in the Abbey ruins and someone produced a bottle of Macallan. I’ve no idea of its age, but all I can remember is thinking, ‘Wow, now I can see what all the fuss is about’. But this time I had it at 97% whisky and 3% water!
Retail Development Manager at the Famous Grouse Experience, Lucy Whitehall
My first experience of whisky was most probably my dad letting me try a wee tot of his dram when I was younger – to which I scrunched my face up and certainly didn’t appreciate the gesture. Little did I know then that I’d be travelling the world with whisky.
I started working at Glenturret Distillery, home to The Famous Grouse Experience, as a part-time tour guide aged 18 and even then, whisky was an acquired taste and I didn’t think it was for me. Once I graduated, I decided to take a full-time job at the distillery. The more I learned about whisky and appreciated the skill, people and stories behind it, the more I truly appreciated it for what it is: an amazing Scottish product. At 25, I became Global Brand Ambassador for The Famous Grouse and travelled the world to share its story with others.
The first moment I truly fell in love with whisky was the first time I tried a dram in the hills near my home in Crieff. The environment really helps you to immerse yourself in a product and the beautiful scenery of the hills by Loch Turret, some nearby sheep, a few distant calls of a grouse and a fine dram to sip away on is my idea of heaven. It was definitely love!
Stillman at Glenturret Distillery, Ian Renwick
My first experiences of whisky were as a young piper and I have to say, they were not all necessarily positive experiences. I remember being passed a silver quaich full of warm, metallic tasting whisky at a Burns Supper in front of hundreds of young farmers. I finished the lot and tried to pretend I liked it but to no avail. I did however get a round of applause.
My big whisky moment didn’t happen overnight, it has grown over many years. After starting work as a stillman at Glenturret Distillery, I realised very quickly the importance of what I’d got myself into. How us Scottish folk have taken three basic ingredients and turned them into Scotch is nothing short of alchemy. This process, although very simple, has been twisted, pulled, pushed, mixed, turned, cut, sliced, tested and refined over hundreds of years by thousands of passionate people. We have created a product that is second to none and loved all over the world. With this knowledge and my 21 year “apprenticeship” making whisky, my whisky moment has finally happened and now continues to happen every time I have a dram.
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Managing Director at Toulvaddie, Heather Nelson
The first time I tried whisky was probably as a child at new year – stealing from a glass, and did not like it very much! When I turned 18 my dad offered me a dram. However the first time I really enjoyed whisky was a bottle which my brother, who lives in Amsterdam, brought home on a visit. It was a bottle of Black Grouse, and that was it then, I was a whisky fan.
I then went back and tried the whiskies which I had previously dismissed and actually began to appreciate the different qualities of them. I mostly drink my whisky neat, but have been known to put a little ginger ale in on a hot day. My advice to people trying whisky for the first time is take your time, whether it’s a big peaty Islay, or a soft Speyside – no dram should be rushed.
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