Hands up who’s sucked on a second hand bike chain. Or surreptitiously sniffed the chiselled palms of an East End mechanic at the end of the day. No? Well surely you’ve nibbled on the odd burnt match, right?
These might not be normal activities, but they’re sensations unquestionably evoked when you spend an evening in the company of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society.
My wife and I joined a tasting in Bistro du Vin’s secret whisky snuggle this week (a comfortable glutton’s den in the basement of their Clerkenwell branch) as part of the SMWS Whisky Live Week, and we were whisked to a whole new world of alcohol appreciation.
We’ve done our tasting time in the wine world. We’ve supped and sipped from Paso Robles to Avignon (via some really questionable Groupon-sourced sessions in London) and come to terms with nose, bouquet, body, complexity and finish. We’ve swirled until our olfactory receptors cried mercy. But we weren’t quite prepared for the dedication of the whisky crew.
Over a four course dinner that begun with beef carpaccio and a gloriously gritty steak tartare / raw egg combo, continued via a butchery demonstration in BDV’s storage room and a dry aged porterhouse with roasted bone marrow, and finished on a pave au chocolat with delicously chewy honeycomb, we were privy to some of the society’s finest malts and witnessed an almost out-of-body enjoyment from our new friends.
The SMWS prides itself on selecting only the finest batches of whisky from 125+ distilleries for its members, and produces only a finite and often tantalisingly small number of each from a single cask. They’re numbered following a system of identification my grey matter has given up to the drink (but I think it was something about the distillery and possibly date) and given abstract names that would do Mogwai proud.
We started with some lively openers, a 20 year aged, 54% zesty treat called ‘Classy & Attractive’ and ‘An Angel Fallen To Earth’, which came in at 50% after 36 years of aging and had a kind of vanilla, arctic roll hit to it. ‘Xmas Cake & Afghan Coats’ followed, a spicy, leathery, clovey kind of beast, and ‘Hot Embers At The Gates Of Hell’ certainly tried to live up to its name.
The seemingly benign ‘Oak And Smoke Intensity’ was the stealth bomber of the evening though. If I’d noticed the tasting notes – which talked of TCP, cinder toffee, diesel-soaked cherries, onion bhajis and mechanic’s hands – I might have been prepared for its Kwik-Fit kick. Uncompromisingly unusual but phenomenally moreish. It seems wrong to enjoy a drink that a professional taster has likened to “a lion-tamer’s whip”, but what can I say?
We had to leave before we developed a fetish.