Whisky afficionados and those who simply wanted to find out more about this intriguing dram, sometimes known as the uisge beatha, meaning water of life, congregated In the Arthur Cowper Suite, at St Helens Masonic Hall.
Dave Rigby, the current master of Lodge of St George No 6048 who regularly organises these fantastic evenings, welcomed all to the hall and gave a warning, that the evening would contain alcohol, humour and terrible Scottish accents when quoting Robbie Burns. Dave was correct on all three counts, although strangely it can be reported that the Scottish accents definitely improved the longer the evening progressed.
Dave is extremely knowledgeable when it comes to anything whisky related, and his enthusiasm and passion for the subject is second to none. Dave explained that he is forced to tour Scotland in search of whisky, and how in his search he has travelled far and wide visiting many distilleries, researching suitable candidates for further study.
There is an aspect of science to the appreciation of a good whisky. Having presented everyone with their first whisky of the evening, Glenkinchie, Dave invited everyone to hold up their glass and peer through the golden hue. By swirling the liquid in the glass, it could be observed that the colour, which may be an amber hue or light yellow, and from those observations it can infer the processes which have imbued the whisky with that colour, it’s called observing the ‘lights’. The lights or rivulets which run down the side of the glass, give an idea of the alcohol content, the thinner the lights, the younger the whisky could be inferred.
The next stage was the nose of the whisky, by inhaling the scent of the whisky, notes of fruits, nuts and other scents could be ascribed, the first whisky tried had a hint of roast chestnuts and strawberries. As everyone’s sense of smell is individual, then varying opinions of the notes detected varied widely. It was a fun way to nose the whisky and see what could be detected.Next came the stage that was to take a small sip of the amber liquid, allowing it to settle over the tongue and explore and taste the flavours of the whisky, finally having swallowed, again explore the finish or after-taste, which surprisingly was very different to that of the palate.
It was then time to explore the second whisky of the evening, a Cragganmore, 12-year-old single malt, double matured, this is an amber whisky, with hints of apples, grapes, cranberries and raspberries, with a slightly smoky finish. David explained the differences between the first two whiskies explaining why the two whiskies were very different.
The third whisky was a blended whisky by Thompson Bros, this is a mix of single-malt and single-grain whiskies, which is blended and then bottled at Dornoch Distillery. With aromas of plum sauce, sultanas and Jamaica cake, this was quite different from the other whiskies so far.
David then talked through the various processes which were involved in the production of whisky, and how different distilleries varied their processes which resulted in the myriad of available whiskies and the differences between single malts and blends, as well as the characters attributed to each. It was extremely interesting to hear, and very educational too. After a short recess, it was time to move on to the second trilogy of whisky tasting.
The Glenlivet, especially selected, which this time was a Speyside whisky. Dave explained the colour or hue came from the barrels used which were Olorroso sherry barrels. This gave a darker hue to the whisky and the nose was described as hints of apricot, pineapple, greengages, citrus blossoms and toasted teacake. The Glenlivet had initially started business as an illegal distillery, David explained, which Charles Dickens had written about and became so famous, that King George IV on a visit to Scotland in 1822, specifically requested Glenlivet even though at that time it was an illegal dram. Judging by the murmurs of appreciation this seemed a firm favourite.
The next was Mannochmore which is distilled south of Elgin, Morayshire, taking water from Barden Burn, at the foot of the Mannoch Hills. This single malt was a deep russet, golden colour, with hints of forest fruits, blackberries and raspberries.
With the final whisky of the evening, and the author’s favourite, was another single malt, Dailuaine, Gaelic for ‘the green vale’ this is a Banffshire whisky, with a full-bodied fruity nose and smoky finish. The distillery, being famous for all its deliveries being transported by rail, with the steam locomotive ‘Dailuaine No 1’ being in use from 1937 to 1969, which is now preserved on the Strathspey Railway. A whisky and rail tour sounds like another excellent reason for Dave to carry out more whisky related research.
St Helens Masonic Hall Chairman Chris Maloney, then hosted a Dutch auction to raise funds for the maintenance of the Masonic hall. Numbers were called out a-plenty with the winners of the auction, winning their favourite whisky from the six bottles which had been extensively sampled that evening.
The winner of the main prize choosing ‘The Glenlivet’ which was a very popular choice, with runner-up prizes of an English whisky, and the winner of a small miniature whisky receiving rapturous applause was Ged Paton of Prescot Trinity Lodge No 3401. David thanked Chris for holding the auction and announced that the evening had raised over £800 for St Helens Masonic Hall, very well done to all who attended.
A very enjoyable evening, both entertaining and educational, if you would wish to explore more about whisky in general and discover a new appreciation or renew an old acquaintance look out for another of David Rigby’s Whisky Nights, highly recommended.
In fitting with the ubiquitous use of Robbie Burns it is only right that this article should end with a ballad/poem about whisky called John Barleycorn.
‘Twill make a man forget his woe;
‘Twill heighten all his joy;
‘Twill make the widow’s heart to sing,
Tho’ the tear were in her eye.
Then let us toast John Barleycorn,
Each man a glass in hand;
And may his great posterity
Ne’er fail in old Scotland!
Article by Mike Fox.