A whisky tasting in a book shop…

13th February 2009, Comments 0 comments

“If there is a willing team of people to put it together, why not?” was the reasoning of Dianne Dicks, manager of the Bergli English Bookshop in Basle.

She had heard exciting echoes of the “Scotch Whisky Nosing & Tasting” held at the St. Gotthard Hotel in November 2008. So, she contacted Ken Reist, Expatica’s Sales Manager Switzerland, and offered her bookshop for a similar event (promising to clear away most of the books!). She even proposed a date: Wednesday, 4 February.

Reist, though keen to offer interesting events to the expatriate community, was a trifle dubious; it would take planning, promotion, sponsors and a qualified guest speaker. But he did manage it!

First, he contacted the star of the last show - Scotland’s ‘whisky ambassador’ active on the Continent – Malcolm J Andrews, who was fortunately available. The next concern was getting a collection of exquisite (and expensive!) single malt whiskies plus about 200 especially-designed ‘nosing’ glasses together. Help came from Classic Malts (Diageo trade mark), who would supply everything. Sponsors BMI airlines and NVC Insurance Center kindly offered the necessary financial support.

As for promoting the event, Dicks took that on herself and she soon found 20 eager participants! So, the ‘Bergli Scotch Whisky Nosing & Tasting’ became a reality. A special “tasting mat’ was even designed for the occasion.

However, that meant clearing out a bookshop that normally looks like this:

It took half a day with many hands on deck, but by 6 pm, the bookshop was ready:

Tables and shelves decked out with the tasting mats, seven malt whiskies, glass covers, water, and a useful Classic Malts booklet.


Just after 6:30, Andrews kicked off the evening with a highly-educational and most entertaining session on how alcohol was extracted from starch and then sugar in cereal grains. He explained that Scotland’s Single Malt Scotch Whisky consists of barley, the ‘king’ of cereals, that has been malted, mashed, fermented and distilled.

He underlined the importance of allowing whisky to mature for many years in oak casks, many of which are obtained from the Spanish sherry bodegas. This explains the colour of malt whisky, taken from the sherry sugars in the wood. Most Scotch whisky sold is in fact ‘blended’, meaning a marriage of ‘grain whisky’ (made from maize, wheat, etc) with malt whiskies from barley.

The participants also learnt that great amounts of whisky were lost through the wood during maturation (the angels’ share!), but that this evaporation assured the gradual “softening” of the alcohol to a sensation of velvet sliding down the throat.

Andrews took his audience deep into the art of ‘nosing’, explaining that our olfactory nerves at the top of the nose are a far more sensitive guide to enjoyment than the glands in the mouth. Each participant had a pipette to add a few drops of water to the malt whisky to break open surface tension, reduce the alcohol attack (at 43 percent) and release the maximum aroma for ‘nosing’.

The audience followed him attentively and, as they passed from region to region, were gradually able to chose their preferred styles of malt, from a sweet and heathery nose of the Highlands to a smoky and even iodic(!) malt in the western isles. One malt, Clynelish, was labelled ‘Coastal Highland’ and indeed yielded notes of the sea air absorbed through the wood during 14 years (!) of patient maturing.

Like French wines, the various regions of production are an indicator of style. Thus, by carefully sampling Lowland, Highland, Speyside, Island and Islay whiskies, one was able to establish personal regional preferences.

Finally, as an unexpected treat, Andrews produced a bottle of what was originally called ‘vatted malt’ but is now known as ‘blended malt’, a marriage of several single malts. This Johnnie Walker Green Label provoked a lot of interest and discussion.

Then, it was time to thank the most attractive of the sponsors, Madeleine Nay of BMI:

And finally to bask in the grateful thanks of Dianne and Madeleine after a job well done!

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