Since The Single Malt and Scotch Whisky Extravaganza is right around the corner, I thought I’d go back to the beginning of my journey through the world of whisky (I know The Extravaganza is 2+ months away, but since summer is practically over, it’ll be here before we know it!).
About 12 or 13 years ago, I received an invitation (for myself plus three additional guests) to attend Johnnie Walker’s Journey of Taste, which was held at The Union League of Philadelphia. I was a bit suspicious at first since the invitation mentioned a free cocktail hour with open bar, a whisky presentation with free whisky samples, and a free buffet dinner with even more whisky. FREE! FREE! FREE! I remember thinking at the time that this was too good to be true. Lucky for us, I couldn’t have been more wrong. The Journey of Taste was an experience that we’re still talking about to this day.
Since the event was sponsored by Diageo, the parent company of Johnnie Walker and many Single Malt Whisky distilleries, all of the drinks on hand were from their portfolio. The happy hour consisted of numerous appetizers, and the open bar featured drinks made with Johnnie Walker Red and Black label.
Once the cocktail hour ended, we were ushered into another room for a presentation and whisky tasting led by a Johnnie Walker Brand Ambassador. Each guest was given a placemat with six wee drams of whisky that were arranged on a map of Scotland. We were given four Single Malt Whisky samples (Dahlwhinnie, Lagavulin, Cardhu, and Talisker) and two Johnnie Walker blended whisky samples (the Red and the Black). The Brand Ambassador gave us a brief explanation as to how blended whisky is made and how all of the various regions of Scotland produce distinctive whiskies that are used in Johnnie Walker’s blends. He then gave us a brief explanation of each Single Malt Whisky and instructed us to sample them, and tell him what we thought. When it came time to sample the Talisker, I remember someone saying that it smelled like iodine. The Brand Ambassador explained that since Talisker comes from the Isle of Skye, the taste of the sea has made it’s way into the whisky. This was my first experience with these whiskies, and at that time, the Dahlwhinnie and the Cardhu were my two favorites (Talisker is now my favorite of the four). They are both very approachable whiskies and are a great way to start experiencing the very individual nature of Single Malt Whisky. After we sampled all of the Single Malts, we were ready to sample the Red and the Black blends. It was a very lively crowd, and it was amusing to hear everyone’s comments. Once you sample the Single Malts, it becomes very apparent how they’re used to create the blends (Cardhu is one of over 30 Single Malts that is used to create the Black label).
After the presentation, we were treated to a buffet dinner and even more Johnnie Walker drinks (we were also given a sample of the Gold label). Cocktail hour, whisky sampling, buffet dinner. You’d think this would have been enough given the price of admission, but alas, you’d be wrong! Before leaving the venue, we were given one last surprise… two 200ml bottles of the Red and Black label! Now that’s what I call a parting gift.
I experienced a very interesting side effect after attending this event. Though I still like the Johnnie Walker blends, I rarely find myself drinking them, and I never order them at a bar. Once I was exposed to the world of Single Malt Whisky, it was difficult to go back to the blends. When I crave something smoky, I pour myself a dram of Islay whisky, when I want something subtle, I reach for a Highland or a Speyside whisky. It is each Single Malts unique characteristics that I find fascinating, and it is the wide variety of unique whiskies that will keep me on this journey for many years to come.
Categories: Booze Banter