Friends thronged around, fine whisky in hand… and a whole lot of learning going on: last night a classic edventure unfolded, in a very civilised fashion. Most grown-ups have gratefully plonked education into a dreary dried-out department in the dusty history section of their lives. Thankful not to have to endure another classroom again. In succumbing to the damage of outdated Industrial Age schooling, that still haunts children around the world, we have forgotten so much of the exhilaration of lifelong learning.
Learning that is relevant, challenging (like taking up a new sport, a new language or blogging) and very often fun occurring outside of formal education constitutes lifelong learning. Last night was all about the latter. With a rowdy bunch of friends, I toured Scotland, region by region through the fire waters of her distilleries. The usual party small-talk vapourised through the subversion of getting us in front of a sea of twinkling glasses and an impassioned fellow, Chris from the College of Whisky. I think we were fairly well-behaved students until our learning materials started getting the better of us.
I have a ridiculously low tolerance for alcohol, but somehow managed to remember that I acted like a fine whisky. Apparently a quality whisky is like virtuous woman; the longer she takes to show her legs and the closer together they are the classier the whisky. “Legs” in this case being the trickles that run down the glass after a first swirling.
I gathered enough social currency around Scottish whisky to help me get some good conversation for future dinners, and hopefully make slightly more sophisticated choices than the usual (well-marketed) suspects henceforth.
I’ll share some of the learnings that particularly delighted me, with the suggestion, (if you tipple) that you get to fill in the gaps at a whisky class of your own soon, because there are no technical intricacies upcoming.
As with most subjects, teachers feel they need to take you through the history class first – mostly dull – but in this case fascinating. Those masters of miraculous architectural feats, the Ancient Egyptians were the first ones to discover the “water of life” that we know as whisky, in the alchemical search for gold. They captured the “white ghost” that emerged from heating beer and started using it for medicinal purposes. The Irish caught up eventually, fine tuning the distillation in the world’s first official whiskey distillery Bushmills. With the Scots hot on their heels. And it was Scotland where we landed for the night so here I’ll stay although the Americans, Canadians and even Japanese should not feel slighted.
Snobbery around grain vs single malt whisky I think we all knew; but the blends like the famed Johnnie Walker Black/Green/Blue/Blue and the artistry of the master blenders olfactory genius was well worth discovering. I’m ashamed to say that the only thing I really remember from this segment is that master whisky blenders shouldn’t have sex before going to work because the vomeronasal organ in the human nose stops working after orgasm (?!)
So the challenge is out there, and I imagine chefs would be affected too.. and must know: in the hour or so after orgasm your sense of smell is retarded. Please let me know if you’ve found this to be true, in the interests of learning, of course. (Told you learning can be fun!)
If the master blenders aren’t having fun, the cows, the angels and trees around the distilleries surely are!
During maturation 2% of the whisky in the oak barrels evaporates into the atmosphere (called the angel’s share). The cows are fed on the malted grain chaff from the first fermentation, still laced, we presume, with alcohol. Apparently the plants surrounding the distilleries suck in a good deal of the dizzying vapours too.
Somewhere along the way I learnt a little about my taste in men while swirling the golden stuff. For the most part whiskies are referred to in the feminine, but there is one area of Scotland that produces some decidedly manly characters. On the west coast, the islands of the Hebrides, drenched in endless rain, lashed by cold salty seas and thick in heathery peat bogs a very different whisky is created. Loved by some, reviled by others, its smokey, leathery, tar-like smells are potent and complex on first approach. First taste is hardcore, but it smoothes and opens up if you’re brave enough to keep sipping. We had a Caol Ila, my first. But I found out that Lagavulin that I adore, is a fellow island-mate on Isla. Chris suggested heading to Knysna and snuggling up to a little host of fresh shucked oysters (no lemon or chilli) and a terribly civilised snifter of Lagavulin.. as a learning experience naturally.
Anyone keen for a little edventure?