Find your whisky rhythm

Powerful, evocative and emotional, music can heighten the senses and transport us to another place and time in an instant – just like any one of our Society whiskies. We asked BBC Radio DJ and SMWS member Vic Galloway to delve into his collection to match our flavour profiles to different musical genres. He embraced the challenge, and settled down at The Vaults to tell Helen Stewart about his own journey through music and malt


Is there anything more powerful than music? For many, it’s the highest form of art. It provides a snapshot into the culture of the times, stirs deep emotions and memories, and can send us to a different world with the drop of needle onto vinyl, or the play button. No words needed. The connection between music and whisky is strong.

The Society’s own Tasting Panel often pull musical references into their notes to help capture the character and mood of the whisky. From the Rolling Stones to Bob Dylan and even Scottish post-rockers Mogwai, many music artists have aligned themselves with whisky brands or released their own bottlings as an extension of their art, as Felipe Schrieberg investigates later on in this issue of Unfiltered.

Vic brings a few sleeve notes to the tasting session

Helen and Vic discuss their music and malt pairings at The Vaults


So, when it comes to bringing whisky and music together, it’s a natural match. In fact, playing with different styles of music and flavour to heighten the enjoyment of our whisky experience feels distinctly SMWS.

Flavour Profiling was born back in 2011, when I was working on introducing the Society into our first partner bar. We needed something simple at that time to help bar staff and guests select and decipher our whisky. I remember the expression of delight and recognition when I asked Kai, our spirits director, how he felt about us categorising our whisky by flavour instead of region. It was like the final piece of a jigsaw puzzle falling into place. Turns out a young Euan Campbell – our current spirits manager – had already created a form of flavour profiling for our Member Service team to use, but that’s a tale for another time.

Since then, this colourful device to identify our 12 flavour profiles has become as iconic as the Society’s green bottle and we’ve had great fun playing with flavour pairings over the years, from unusual foods to personality, wildlife and much more.

But as I sit here at The Vaults waiting for my man Vic Galloway, the idea of music matches feels so exciting. And as we settle down in front of the fire to enjoy a few drams together, it’s clear that Vic is just as happy to be here as me.

“I’ve done all sorts of stuff from TV presenting to radio shows,” he tells me. “I’ve played festivals all around the world and yet I would say... and I’m not just saying this, but being able to pair the finest whisky on the face of the earth to... I would like to think, some of the finest music on the face of the earth, that’s a pleasure, that’s an absolute pleasure.”


Like many, Vic’s music journey started with his parents. Growing up in a house that always played music inspired his now eclectic taste, and after attending his first live concert by The Damned in 1985 he discovered his calling.

“My dad was a classical musician and went to the Royal College of Music, but he grew up in the ‘50s, so he liked ‘50s rock’n’roll. I remember his compilations and that got me going. I discovered Adam and the Ants and Madness and that kind of era. I was just a wee boy then, but it completely blew my mind. Then when I got to a certain age, I was into punk, the Sex Pistols, Clash, Damned, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Buzzcocks and that opened the doors to everything, so reggae, hip hop, goth, indie.

“My first ever gig was The Damned and it was utterly life-changing. The stage was done up like a graveyard, the drummer set fire to his drums. It was just totally wild. I remember my friend James, James Yorkston, the songwriter, we walked out of that gig and we knew that that was it, that’s what we were going to do.”

Ever since, Vic has felt the need to be surrounded by music. As a multi-instrumentalist he plays in the Edinburgh-based band Check Masses, but is better known as a writer, BBC broadcaster and all-round champion of new music.

Originally from the East Neuk of Fife but now living in Leith, he regularly hosts live music nights in the city, showcasing and promoting up-and-coming bands.


Vic is clearly passionate about what he does, bringing people together to celebrate the new and unfamiliar. A true kindred spirit of the Society, and the perfect pairing partner for our whisky and music matches. “Music connects people like no other,” he says.

“More than film, more than literature, more than painting, music is the form that pulls people together. Pulls us together and it divides us into conversation, it’s amazing.

“I always try to challenge people’s preconceptions about what’s exciting, not just new, but older music as well.

“I love The Beatles, I love all the classic artists like everyone else does, but I also love so many artists that perhaps aren’t as familiar and I want those artists to be introduced to people.”

So what should we expect from his music matches? If Vic was a Society Flavour Profile, he tells me he’d have to be something spicy, everything he likes from food, music, clothes to his many tattoos is colourful and full of flavour. He likes to be bold but appreciates beautiful art as well.

He’s also proud of his homeland, writing the history of Scottish pop and rock in his book and exhibition Rip It Up. Expect the unexpected with some great artistic diversity and endeavour.