Guest blog #7: The journey toward knowing whisky
Guest blogger, Jason Young takes you along on his journey toward knowing whisky. He blogs along the way at www.discoveringdionysus.com and asks for your guidance here.
When John posted the question ‘What do you know,’ I thought it was perfect because it is a question I have been asking myself for awhile now. Or, more specifically, I have asked how people like John have come to know what they know, and how I might gain some of that knowledge and experience. You see, I am a mere 24 years old and am just beginning to explore the wonderful world of malted beverages. As I continue this exploration, I have become more interested in appreciating their many nuances and this, in turn, has led me to scour the many great writings and reviews out there by people like John. While these writers have taught me a great deal, I often wonder how they managed to achieve the level of expertise that they now possess. In this blog post I wanted to share my own strategy for gaining tasting ‘expertise,’ in the hopes that I might spark a conversation about how others have learned to better appreciate and understand their drams. Hopefully some of the comments will help me and other young whisky lovers as we fine tune our palates.
Obviously, the most effective (and enjoyable!) way for me to better appreciate a good whisky is to try as many different whiskies as I can… nothing beats experience. Since college my whisky collection has steadily grown from a young bottle of Glenfiddichto now include aged malts from around Scotland and the rest of the world. However, this can get quite expensive, particularly when you want to taste some of the older or rarer varieties (and who doesn’t?!?). So, lately I have been looking for ways to expose myself to a larger variety of whiskies for a lower cost. One strategy is to go out to a good whisky bar, but, unfortunately I haven’t found a great one around me. Instead, I recently came across Master of Malt’s sample collection, which allows me to buy a handful of miniatures for a fraction of the cost of a full bottle. I purchased about half a dozen samples from them a few weeks ago, and I have to say that it was a great experience. Lately I have also been thinking about joining For Scotch Lovers’s Whisky Explorers Club, which sends out 24 50mL samples a year to members. I’m curious what other strategies people use to get their whiskies? Obviously, receiving free official samples from distilleries would be nice, but I don’t see myself becoming lucky like that anytime soon…
In my mind, though, it isn’t enough to simply taste a dram… drinking, and its appreciation, is a social phenomenon and I find that sharing the tasting enhances the experience and leaves everyone with new perspectives. Nothing is better than getting a couple of friends to bring over their own bottles, put them all up on the table with a couple of glasses, and make a night of it. However, even when friends aren’t around, I have found another way to socialize my drinking experience—writing. Very recently I started my own blog (www.discoveringdionysus.com), where I am attempting to explore the process of growing a better appreciation of various wines and spirits. I find it has been extremely helpful, if only on a personal level, to write down my thoughts on whatever I am drinking. I often then go out and find other reviews of the dram, so that I can directly compare my experience with other people’s thoughts. At times my own notes correlate closely with others, and at other times I swear that some flowery reviews must simply be invented as part of a poetry project… But, at any rate, not only have those comparisons been very rewarding in themselves, but throughout the process I have encountered many new blogs and magazines that have helped me hone my tastes and expand my knowledge. So, perhaps another question for discussion is, what are your favorite sources of whisky knowledge (aside from What Does John Know?, of course)?
Finally, there are more institutional ways to expand one’s palate. I will admit that this is an area that I haven’t explored much, but I would love to learn about any good opportunities. For example, in college I took a semester-long wine tasting course, and I strongly believe that those classes did more to evolve my relationship with wine than anything else I’ve ever done. In all likelihood the techniques I learned in that class probably highly influence the way in which I taste other beverages. I would love to take a similar class created specifically for whiskies. I am even interested in the whisky nosing kits I sometimes see advertised, which supposedly help me identify the scents in my whiskies. I would also love to visit more distilleries, or perhaps participate in some of the society events that I sometimes read about. In the past I have only ever been to the Jameson distillery, but it was a blast, so I’m hoping to save my pennies for future international outings.
So, these are a few of the ways that I’ve thought of to increase ‘what I know.’ Hopefully I have gotten you to think a little bit about how you have come to know what you know, and hopefully you will share your journey with me. I would love to know about great places to buy or drink odd drams, obscure magazines I might subscribe to or books I might find, or classes and events I might look forward to attending. I will say with utter certainty that the one thing I do know is that I am very excited to be a new member of this great community!