Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Thoughts on Scotch Tastings

Be Knowledgeable
I was thinking about organized scotch tasting events that I have attended in the past.  Some were good and some were well, like watching a car accident in slow motion (and that's being charitable). 

For me, one of the key elements to a successful tasting is the person leading the tasting be knowledgeable.  That means, not being a newly minted 26 year old MBA in a Hugo Boss suit, who you know has no real knowledge and passion for whisky, and is doing the brand ambassador gig because they couldn't get on Wall Street where they think they should be.  They may be friendly, but also pretty vacant to borrow a title from a little ditty by the Sex Pistols.

Don't Be Arrogant
At the opposite extreme is the stuffy grandad, in his Harris tweed jacket and kilt, who acts like he is doing you a big favor by guiding you through a few malts.  You paid money to put up with an insufferable old crank?  Not!

He grimaces when the novice taster opines that blends are better than single malts or seems to be in extreme pain when somebody asks whats the difference between a blend and a single malt.  Patience!  These whisky tasting leaders need to learn patience.  Yes, they have heard those questions a million times, but if it pains them too much like dental work in the Marathon Man to answer, well it's time to hang it up.

Traits of a Good Leader of a Scotch/ Whisky Tasting
So, what makes a good scotch tasting?  Somebody leading the tasting that is: (1) genuinely passionate;  (2) is obviously having fun;  (3) is not taking himself/herself too seriously; (4) while knowledgeable, is not going to recite distillery mechanics and history that will make you drool with boredom like a hapless student marooned in an early 20th century German lit college class, I mean are Thomas Mann and Herman Hesse like the most boring writers of all time or what? (5) pours plenty and always has a special bottle at the end that was not on the agenda.  Special bottle?  Yeah, like I was at a tasting when the the brand rep for Highland Park pulled out a bottle of 25 or 30 year old Highland Park like Jesse James drew his gun!  Now, that's excitement!

So, those are a few pointers for the big multinationals to consider when hiring their brand ambassadors!  Now, I must say there are some reps who are certifiable whisky nuts and do a super job.  Sam Simmons started a whisky blog (Dr Whisky) back in I believe 2006 when there were like 5 such blogs on the web.  He has since become a brand ambassador for I believe the Glenfiddich line.  He knows his stuff.  There are others too who do an excellent job.  And so, when they do a great job, you should let them know in an email, so they can forward it on to their boss!  Hopefully the boss will hire more whisky nuts, which will benefit you and I!


Jason Debly

Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2011. All rights reserved.   I do not own any rights to the car accident photo.  It was taken by Shuets Udono who has granted permission for its reproduction here.  The video of the Sex Pistols crooning "Pretty Vacant" is posted for the purposes of nostalgia, education and entertainment.


  1. A very enjoyable post - You have completely summed up my feelings about this topic. I also think I could apply the same standards to the blogs I enjoy reading!

  2. Thanks! Whisky Critic!

  3. Had my very first 'Tasting' on Thursday night. Balvenie
    went for 2 hours, so it wasn't overlong or late especially being a work night. Great evening. Samples were with cured meats. He was the Australian/New Zealand rep. Knew the product... Very Passionate... Answered ALL questions, Stayed on afterwards to chat and never talked down us. My workmate (who saw the ad) and I walked out very happy. My normal whiskey buddy was crook... and very jealous
    Looking forward to more nights.
    AL (from OZ)