So, my first ever blog happens to be about my first ever Twitter whisky tasting experience. I’m hoping that neither will be my last!
I’ve been a whisky fan since attending my first tasting in my late 20’s and have been a member of Twitter for over a year. Despite following a number of whisky related Tweeters (Twits?) I had not heard of the concept of an online tasting until earlier this year when I caught the tail end of a Bowmore tasting session. I was intrigued at the idea of participating in a tasting from the comfort of my own home so I dropped Bowmore a note asking how I could get involved. They made a note of my details, said they’d contact me and, sure enough, a few weeks ago I had a message from Bowmore asking if I’d like to participate in their next Twitter tasting on April 2nd. Funnily enough, once I’d confirmed my interest I then noticed that our friends at Arkwrights were embarking on their first online tasting in conjunction with Steve Rush at The Whisky Wire… needless to say I registered my interest immediately (especially considering that the tasting is taking place the day after my 34th birthday. I thought it could be an additional present!).
Fast forward to Thursday 28th March and lo and behold a parcel arrives from Bowmore. Tearing open the bag in which the box is wrapped, the first thing I noticed was the unmistakable heady scent of peat smoke so associated with Islay malts. Not just a faint, lingering whisper you may expect from a parcel packaged in the Bowmore Distillery but a worryingly strong “that can only be from a broken bottle” smell. Sure enough one of the four bottles contained within the box was indeed empty. To be fair the bottles were well protected, unfortunately one of the caps was not fastened correctly. This premature nosing of a fine whisky proved to be a bit of a disappointment (I picked up hints of cardboard and shredded paper mingled with citrus and the aforementioned smoke) my three year old daughter liked the smell though “Lovely that is Daddy!”.
Aside from the disappointingly empty Bowmore Tempest 3, I’m left with a neat set of instructions on how to take part and three other bottles: Glen Garioch Vintage 1995, Auchentoshan Valinch 2012 and Bowmore Tempest IV. The theme for the tasting is #LoveFirstFill with all whiskies being cask strength first fill bourbon casks. We are invited to be online for a 7pm start… a bit of a gamble in my household given that’s the time the kids should be asleep by.
Thankfully on the day I was free for the 7pm start. I set out the whiskies, glasses, water (and ‘official Arkwrights tasting’ pipette) and logged into Twitter. Sure enough Gordon Dundas (a Brand Ambassador for Morrison Bowmore and Master of Ceremonies for the evening) was already online reminding people of the hashtag (#LoveFirstFill) to use for the evening to ensure all participants could view any related tweets. Just after 7pm the tasting kicked off. Gordon suggested that we would spend 20 minutes on each whisky with a view to ending the event at 8:30 ish. There were approximately 10 of us active in the tasting session, I was expecting more however it transpired that some of the planned participants hadn’t received their samples. It may well be that some people didn’t log on during the event or maybe were happy to just take part without passing comment. Whatever the reason, 10 active participants was a good number… it meant I didn’t get lost in a flood of tweets. I think you could probably double the number of participants and still feel comfortable with the volume of messages.
Moving on to the tasting, we started with the Glen Garioch. Gordon invited us to nose the whisky and provide our comments and opinions. Being limited to 140 characters does provide you with the need to focus your summary. It was interesting to see the comments pop up on screen and note the similarities in what people had discovered. Gordon then invited us to try a dram without water before adding a few drops to see how the whisky developed. There were differences in opinion as you’d expect… yet patterns emerged once again. Numerous people picked up on a “citrusy toffee quality” that was loved by some but not others.
We moved onto the Auchentoshan. At this point I should say that in the past I sometimes refrained from passing comment or opinion during tasting events, possibly due a lack of trust in my palate? Or maybe a concern that my comment would be dismissed? I’m not sure… what I do know is that taste can be subjective and just because one person picks up “a slight perfume of pear drops” doesn’t mean that everyone will. Over the years I’ve learned to trust my palate and have more self-belief. In this new environment, where there aren’t numerous pairs of eyes staring at you whilst you comment, you feel encouraged to be more forthcoming with your thoughts. There were many seasoned tasters present, but for those less familiar with tastings this is a great environment in which you can voice your opinion and build confidence. I suggested that this whisky had an almost brandy like quality to it… almost immediately others picked up on my comment and agreed. “That’s it!” said one, “I thought I’d picked up a ‘winey’ note!” another agreed stating that “it seems to develop from grape to brandy to grappa”. These sorts of comments do help affirm that your opinion is indeed valid.
I missed the Tempest 3 tasting obviously (luckily I’d saved a splash of the Glen Garioch so I sat back and enjoyed that whilst reviewing the comments) so next for me was the Bowmore Tempest 4. This was somewhat of a treat given that it hadn’t been released for general sale yet. I really enjoyed this dram… in fact this was the clear favourite of the evening. More than one person picked up on the coastal qualities of the whisky, with a general agreement that the smokiness of the whisky was more delicate that people were expecting. My comment “picking up the initial salt… gives way to a lingering campfire. Soothing!” was retweeted by Bowmore themselves, I felt quite chuffed about that! Simple things hey.
Sure enough, we’d spent approximately 20 minutes on each whisky and it was around 8:30. I stayed online for another 20 minutes or so sharing opinions with my fellow Twits. We compared favourites for the night, discussed other whisky matters and spoke of future tastings. Turns out a couple of the participants will also be joining in on the grain tasting on the 24th, I look forward to chatting with them again.
To summarise, I would have to say that my first Twitter tasting event was a highly enjoyable experience. Spending 20 minutes per whisky was about right, the number of participants although down on expected numbers, provided adequate discussion without being overbearing. And the whiskies sampled were varied and very enjoyable. As I mentioned, the Bowmore Tempest 4 was my favourite of the evening. It’s a small batch release (2000 cases worldwide apparently) that will be available in early May. I’m lead to believe that Arkwrights will be stocking it, and I’ll be asking Fran or Ken to make sure they set me one aside!
I’m looking forward to the Twitter tasting on April 24th even more now. If you’d like to follow it, be online at 7pm and search for #GrainWhiskyTT. Until then, Slainte!
Kieran Smyth – 06/04/13
We are pleased to welcome Kieran as our new guest blogger. He regularly attends our whisky tastings and when we found out he was starting his foray into whisky tweet tastings at the same time as we were partnering our first tweet tasting with The Whisky Wire we thought it would be a great opportunity to get a very personal viewpoint on what it’s like to take part. Many thanks to Kieran for this first post and we look forward to more to come.