I was in a bar in...Craigellachie

The Horrors of Blind Tastings

I have to admit I love and hate blind whisky tastings in equal measures. I love hosting them and trying to trick people like I did at Maltstock a few years ago when two of the whiskies in the line up were exactly the same whisky with very few people picking it up.

But when I am on the other side it is not so much fun, we have all been there - you're in a bar or at a whisky festival and someone hands you a dram and asks that dreaded question - “So what is that then?” As someone who is from the industry and who has literally been paid to drink whisky it is a no win situation, get it right (easier said than done) and people are like ‘well it’s your job’ get it wrong and it is all over social media that you can’t tell an Ardbeg from a Rosebank!

I have many stories about being given a dram blind and having to guess what it is - but one that really sticks in my mind was a particular evening in The Highlander Inn, Craigellachie. I was drinking merrily and playing pool with my mate Michael Dawson, many of you will have seen him at Glenfiddich over the years he is fairly recognisable, to be honest I have seen him in Glenfiddich advertising at whisky festivals all over the world which always makes me smile.

Michael Dawson and Struan Grant Ralph (also a good guy) in the Glenfiddich warehouse

Anyway, Michael and I had been playing pool for a while with the usual rules that whoever loses the frame buys the drink (either a pint or a nip) - so in fairness I was buying a lot of drinks as Michael always pretty much hammered me at pool. Time was getting on and I finally won a game, so I said to Michael to get me a dram, I didn’t care what it was as long as it was an Islay.

Michael orders me a dram and hands it to me and says - 'what’s that?' This was probably around the year 2000 to put things into context. I nose it and straight away there is no sign of peat! “Easy, it must be Bunnahabhain” Unpeated or “Highland” Caol Ila had not been released at that stage. “Nope” Was Michael’s response, much to my disappointment.

Right, time to think Mark, “Okay then it must be a Bruichladdich?” - “Nope”, “Bowmore Then?” - Wrong again! I went through all the distilleries on Islay and all answers were wrong!

“I thought I asked you for an Islay - what have you gotten me?”

Michael grinned and replied - “Well, I did get you an Isla…… A Strathisla!”

He certainly had me beat there - and for 20 odd years now I have been waiting for someone to ask me for an Islay - any Islay!

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