Better shared

A home tasting is a chance to enjoy the company of like-minded spirits in the comfort of your own surroundings. In Unfiltered issue 42 from February 2019 we sampled one gathering and asked members for their tips on hosting the perfect get-together


It’s a chilly winter’s evening in Scotland’s central belt, somewhere between Edinburgh and Glasgow, but with 10 of us cooried in together in a cosy wooden cabin, it’s snug, warm and convivial. The selection of whiskies on the table in front of us is also helping to ward off any chill and provoke spirited discussion.

I’ve managed to get myself an invitation to a home whisky tasting organised by Jim Coleman, an ambassador for The Scotch Malt Whisky Society and a familiar face for members lucky enough to visit The Vaults on a regular basis. Jim has constructed the cabin in his back garden as the perfect little shrine for sharing the delights of a dram, with not only bottles surrounding us but all manner of whisky paraphernalia. Around his specially designed tasting table this evening are a mix of friends, neighbours and family – Society members, fellow whisky enthusiasts and relative newcomers to the wonders of single cask, single malt.

ABOVE: SMWS ambassadors Jim Coleman and daughter Nicola Young

ABOVE: a wee drop of water to open up the dram

Jim has set out five glasses for the tasting, along with water, chocolate and some oatcakes. It seems like he’s thought of everything, including an intriguing selection of drams.

“I like to do a five-dram tasting, and choose the whiskies depending on who’s attending,” he says. “But I mix it up between premium blends, a variety of distillery original bottlings by cask type or from different parts of the world, and always at least one single cask Society dram.”

This evening is certainly an interesting line up. First up isn’t even a whisky – Jim’s chosen a crisp Kintyre gin from the Beinn An Tuirc distillery near Campbeltown.

The region might be better known for its whiskies, but this is a delicious fresh gin made with a mix of 12 botanicals, including locally sourced Icelandic moss and sheep sorrel.

Then he gives us a taste of Glen Moray’s experimental Cider Cask Project, which goes down well with everyone at the table with its fresh green toffee apple notes. Non-Society members are up for a treat next, with a dram drawn from the cask that sits on the bar at The Vaults. It’s a “fill your own” bottling from distillery 55, which spent its first 12 years in an ex-bourbon cask before being transferred into the second-fill port cask on the bar. The whisky’s light pink tinge and port wine notes are widely appreciated by the entire cabin crew.

At this point we take a break for some hearty food courtesy of Jim’s wife Jacqueline, who’s sustaining us with a choice of shepherd’s pie or macaroni and cheese.

“I always recommend taking a break for food, something that’s not too highly spiced,” says Jim, before we return to the cabin for the last two drams. Again, he’s chosen a couple of seriously contrasting bottlings – Cask No. 105.20: Fluffy banana pancakes is syrupy, sweet and bursting with notes of lemon sponge cake and icing sugar from this Speyside favourite. Another thumbs up from around the cabin, before the final dram of the evening.

ABOVE: a Society bottling filled at The Vaults

ABOVE: Nicola reaches for the ‘fill your own’ Vaults bottling

Jim’s saved a bottling from the Society’s Heavily Peated flavour profile for last, Cask No. 10.163: Treacle on a bonfire. This one is slightly more divisive, as you might expect, but even the non-peat freaks are appreciative of the whisky’s smoky charms.

Jim invites us to name our favourite dram of the evening, prompting much reflection and discussion about the bottlings we’ve sampled. Animated conversation rings around the cabin as glasses are swapped, nosed again, topped up, before another bottle finds its way down from the shelf. If you ever needed evidence that whisky is better when shared – this is it.

Unfortunately, as the disco ball comes out, it’s already time for me to head back to the city. I leave Jim’s cabin not only with the warm glow of whisky in my system but with the gentle buzz of an entertaining evening spent in the company of kindred spirits. Now it’s time to take inspiration, and set up a home whisky tasting of my own.

*Job titles and information were correct as of time of writing in 2019


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