* This article originally appeared on the Huffington Post UK on 19/4/17.
What turned you on to whisky? Was there one experience or a particular whisky you tried that got you hooked? What made the biggest first impression on you? How did you get in to whisky? These are questions that I get asked on a regular basis.
Getting started in the whisky world can be a daunting experience. I found it that way to begin with. There are lots of things that you hear or read that could be true, but you just do not know. These include numerous well-known stereotypes and opinions – Should I add water to my whisky? How about ice? Is single malt better than blended whisky? And so on.
When I was taking my first tentative steps in to the whisky industry some years ago there were not really the resources that are available to consumers now. There were very few websites and blogging was in its infancy. Information for the beginner was particularly poor with those sites that were around seemingly aimed at a connoisseur level of drinker. While they were good to read, the language and pitch made them slightly inaccessible and intimidating.
This is partly why we started writing Whisky For Everyone. We wanted to put things across to beginners, as beginners ourselves. And it has proved very successful. In fact, many readers and fellow bloggers have told us that we were one of the first things that they read and were influenced by, which is a huge honour.
However, none of this answers the original question of what turned me on to whisky. A very early whisky memory was a holiday up to the Highlands of Scotland about 10 years ago. During this we visited the Glenmorangie distillery and I remember being fascinated by the history of the place, the production process and the different whiskies that we sampled.
Fast-forward two or three years and the next milestone was the visit to a whisky show in London called The Whisky Lounge. It was not the first show that I had been to – the previous one had made me feel quite intimidating and slightly disillusioned in a way similar to that mentioned earlier.
What made the impression about The Whisky Lounge was the outlook and modern feel of the event. This is something that they seem to have maintained in their shows around the country to this day. Games, fun, teaching, engagement with brands and the opening of minds took the place of the stuffy old-fashioned views, overly geeky facts and those tired old stereotypes about whisky. It was an environment conducive to learning and inspired me greatly.
As for the whisky that got me properly hooked? This was Highland Park 12 years old. I had spent years hating whisky (or thinking I hated it) after getting terribly drunk on some cheap stuff at university. Then I sampled this out of the blue at an event that had whisky tasting on the side. It was a revelation and showed me something that I had not expected. Again, I was inspired and determined to find out more about whisky and the different flavours.
The rest, as they say, is history. I am now writing and talking about whisky for a living. You can learn about whisky in so many ways these days – there are a plethora of blogs, websites, books or magazines. However, in my view the best way is to get out there, talk to people and actually taste the stuff.
Doing this in a relaxed, fun and friendly environment is why I have a lasting impression of those visits to the Glenmorangie distillery and The Whisky Lounge festival so many years ago, and that first sip of Highland Park single malt. They all helped to set me on my current path. Why not give it a try too?