A spirited education

Expanding your whisky knowledge will help you to appreciate it and bring you into an inner circle of like-minded people, says SMWS spirits educator Dr Andy Forrester

As well as features in Unfiltered and on our website, which is an ever-present source of whisky education, our team of whisky experts can be found in our venues or at events and tastings around the world, meeting members far and wide.

For me, back in my own early days of discovery, this was one of the most valuable benefits of being a member of the Society. Nearly 20 years later, it is now my job, as the Society’s spirits educator, to help equip our current band of whisky experts with that knowledge.

For me, that knowledge has always been an important element of the enjoyment of whisky. Sure, I liked the way a whisky tasted, certainly the way it made me feel (!), but most of all I was utterly fascinated by why it tasted like it did, where all the complex flavours and aromas came from, why these spirits were all different, how was whisky made?

So, that first truly memorable dram (Bruichladdich 10-year old, if you must know) was not only the start of a never-ending journey of exploration of the amber nectar itself, but also the beginning of a lifelong quest for knowledge and understanding. For me, the two are inseparable. The understanding enhances the enjoyment of the whisky, and without the whisky, well, the knowledge is… well, just that. Maybe that’s the scientist in me, but I think, actually, it’s common to all whisky lovers.

And it is not just the ‘academic’ aspect that makes a little knowledge increase the enjoyment of the dram in your hand. There’s practical matters too – like knowing when and why to add a little water (it brings out the flavours), how to nose and taste to get the most out of your dram, what kind of glass works best for tasting.

Then there is how a little knowledge can help you choose a whisky you will like – what kind of cask has it been matured in, is it peaty or not, what kind of flavours can you expect. Of course, our unique flavour profiling system helps with that, but dig a bit deeper, understand more about how the spirit was made and matured – and you can be sure you are getting what you expect – with the caveat that every single cask is unique and different of course – which is what we celebrate here at the Society.

Finally, let’s not forget that whisky is all about sharing – so having a bit, or even a lot, of knowledge up your sleeve to share with your mates is a big part of the enjoyment of whisky. We all like to impress our friends with a nugget of know-how or insider information.

And remember, knowledge is valuable currency at whisky festivals and gatherings the world over. It can unlock conversations and lifelong friendships. I hope, that as a (new) member, you will enjoy expanding your knowledge of this wonderful liquid as much as I have. I consider myself blessed to have worked with and learned from some of the most experienced and knowledgeable people in the industry. The real pleasure however is in sharing that knowledge with others.

And if you have a question and want to learn even more, just ask one of our whisky experts in our Members’ Rooms. They are always happy to chat and share what they know. If you are further afield, drop me a line at askthedoc@smws.com. We may even publish it in our regular feature in Unfiltered. Regardless, I promise to get back to you with an answer – either from me, or from one of the many distillers, whisky makers and scientists we are connected to across the industry.

That’s the unique and wonderful thing about this industry – the friendship, the camaraderie and the desire, freedom and willingness to share our experience and expertise with one another. Welcome to the inner circle of whisky knowledge and whisky passion. It’s there for the taking.

In good spirit,

Dr Andy