As an outsider to the premium spirits industry, a simple intrigued-drinker-turned-passionate-spirits-blogger, peaking through the letterbox of those imposing, wooden doors, initially seemed the only way I could get any glimpse of what the hell was going on inside that mammoth, alcoholic mansion!
But I wanted in. And since launching my spirit blog back in March 2015, I soon found those doors were a lot less ominous, a lot less towering and I didn’t need any special members-only key.
Boozy beginningsBefore I started blogging about premium spirits, this industry always seemed terribly elitist, guarded almost. By what, who knows? Probably one of those Illuminati fellas!
There is still a thin, imperious veil draping ever so elegantly over the industry that can unnerve us outsiders. But gone are the days when fine spirits were only sipped by Mad Men-esque ad bosses in leather clad, mahogany laden offices or quaffed by men at upper class dinner parties whilst the women talked ironing techniques; today this industry is a lot more accessible - you just need to get past that perceived facade.
You see, we no longer want to carry on drinking that little bottle of corner shop gutter water that feels like it's stripping our insides clean out!
You see, we no longer want to carry on drinking that litre bottle of corner shop gutter water that feels like it’s stripping our insides clean out! Us, the people, the fascinated drinkers; we want to quaff some damn good booze too but also learn and understand what each bottle is about.
Braving The BarAt first the only way I thought I could get to sample premium spirits, without forking out big bucks on a bottle I may not like, was through bars and well, bartenders.
But this didn’t always go as smoothly as first anticipated. Not only was it tricky to grab two minutes with one (especially when they’re run off their feet), but when I did it’s fair to say these boozy scientists often made me feel smaller than a pair of Borrowers socks! Yes, I know I asked for Ka-shakka and not Ka-chassa (Cachaca) but don’t give me that look like I’ve just killed your first-born. And come on guys, Auchentoshan? It was bloody hard to say! Give me a break here; I was only trying to learn!
Yes, I know I asked for Ka-shakka and not Ka-chassa (Cachaca) but don’t give me that look like I’ve just killed your first-born.
And it’s that intimidation that can be a huge stumbling block when trying to get your head around premium spirits. But don’t let it put you off because if you’re respectfully persistent, some of these alchemists will help you along on your alcoholic journey and they certainly did for me.
However, you will come across some pretentious intimidation from insiders who deem us too uneducated to get involved, but these folk seem to forget that they too were uneducated once and that everyone has to start somewhere.
But so what if you don’t know the inner workings of a pot still or your knowledge of fermentation is a little hazy, that doesn’t mean you can’t appreciate a damn good Bourbon or Gin when you’re sipping one. That’s the great thing about this industry; you’re on one glorious, infinitive journey. You’re always learning, always finding new bottles and always discovering new flavours; that’s what makes this all so exciting, so captivating.
You’re always learning, always finding new bottles and always discovering new flavours; that’s what makes this all so exciting, so captivating.
Flavour BehaviourSo the next hurdle I had to get over was “what the hell do I bloody start with?” Drowned by the infinite number of bottles out there it’s hard to decide what to go for first, so I pretty much dived in headfirst. I simply picked bottles on flavours I knew I already liked; for Gin that was citrus, for Rum it was vanilla and chocolate and for Bourbon it was toffees and caramels. But when these bottles arrived, the impending task of tasting them seemed incredibly daunting.
The more I sampled the more I was able to pick out differences between bottles and compare and connect flavours.
However the more I sampled the more I was able to pick out differences between bottles and I started to compare and connect flavours. But if I’m completely honest, at the beginning I struggled to distinguish a lemon peel from a freaking juniper berry and looking back on my old tasting notes, I described one gin’s aroma as: ‘smelling like cat biscuits’. Probably not a tasting note you’d find in Jim Murray’s Whiskey Bible, but I had to start somewhere!
Girls are Bossing the BarLastly, it had also appeared that I'd walked in on one highly testosterone fuelled knees-up! Lads certainly do dominate this industry and there have been times where I’ve been left with girlfriends whilst the guys popped out for a cigarette and talked booze (I did nearly take up smoking again!), or been dismissed as just someone’s alcoholic other half.
But once I got involved, I found there were some damn headstrong women out there kicking some serious alcoholic arse and giving those boys a run for their boozy money. And that's simply amazing to see.
There’s even a women’s only cocktail competition. Launched in February 2011, Speed Rack is an all-female speed bartending competition that not only promotes women in the spirit industry but also raises funds for local and national charities. Even Bloom Gin got in on the action. They launched a women’s only cocktail competition in 2014. So kudos to you guys!
Tasting is about your perception, your preferences and your likes and dislikes, so there's no reason to feel intimidated and no reason to be discouraged.
But what makes this industry so exciting, so dizzying and just down right bloody awesome, is you can make it what you want to make it. Tasting is about your perception, your preferences and your likes and dislikes, so there's no reason to feel intimidated and no reason to be discouraged.
Alcohol is the creator of some of our finest memories, the generator of our most questionable stories and most importantly: the proverbial elixir of life, the eternal PVA glue that bonds our aimless human race together like nothing else.
All you need to do is don your Speedo’s, strap on your goggles and dive in headfirst, because you’re indulging in a world that will blow your freaking mind!