If you want to quickly increase your level of whisky experience, there’s one sure way – join a club!
A few years ago at my last place of work, I was invited to join a Scotch club. The club worked like this: every Friday, one nominated member brought a new unopened bottle of Scotch, and all the members had a pour or two. If the bottle wasn’t dead it went into the club stockpile, and after the main feature members could dip into the old bottles. The only rule for the weekly bottle was that it had to be a single malt that we hadn’t had before, although we did occasionally branch out into blends and other kinds of liquor (the keyword here being “occasionally”).
If you can get a good number of people interested, this can be a really good way to try a lot of whisky – we had around 20 members at our peak so that meant you were only buying two bottles per year or so, but you were trying 50 different single malts for the price of your two bottles.
Now, trying a lot of new whiskies is great but the real benefit comes from trying different ones back-to-back. It takes a while to develop your taste for whisky if you’re just getting started, but if you can try two types one after the other then you can probably easily pick which one you like best. Once you do that, you’re on your way to finding your favourites.
Nowadays our Scotch club meetings are held less often, our membership has shrunk and the rules have changed; we now each bring a bottle to the meeting. Now that we’re all snobby aficionados the selection tends to be a bit more interesting too! The photo above is from our last meeting; the standout bottles for me this time were the Laphroaig 18, the Yamazaki 12, the Glen Mhor 27-year-old and the Shackleton. Like all tasting sessions, though, it’s not just about what works for you; it should also be about what doesn’t work, and why. Every different dram you taste helps to inform you as to your personal likes and dislikes, especially if you take the time to research exactly how each type is produced (don’t rely on the poetic packaging notes!).
My emphatic advice, then, is to join a whisky club, or start one if you have like-minded friends. It’s fun, and as a side benefit will increase your practical, hands-on whisky knowledge more than just about anything else!