Memory drive

Society member Ann Bingham tells us how a computer disaster and losing her Society tasting notes helped to unleash a flood of new memories from tasting events she has attended over the years

When the coronavirus pandemic came into our lives, like so many others I moved my whisky-tasting activities online. A colleague asked me: “What difference does it make – you’re still tasting the whisky aren’t you?”

But of course, it’s different! It’s not just opening a bottle, pouring a dram and tasting it is it? I attend a few tastings a year, I meet friends, catch a train, have a swift half pint on the way while we all catch up before heading to the Members’ Room at 19 Greville Street in London.

There’s always a jolly atmosphere, full of expectations for the evening ahead. We look forward to meeting other members, the anticipation for what’s to come, the eager reading of the Society’s Tasting Notes, the friendly banter, welcoming of new members, and of course the warm welcome of the SMWS ambassadors who make everyone who walks through that door feel as though they are long-lost friends.

Now, I’ll admit, I do like a nice spreadsheet – no, don’t stop reading! I keep my own tasting notes and write them up at home after the event.

The Danish have a word for it, hygge, and I think the Scottish equivalent is còsagach

One of the reasons I started doing this was because of the powerful memories tasting the whiskies always brought back – that drive in my father’s old Ford Anglia car, the leather seats, walking into an old-fashioned sweetie shop, the memory of the school kitchens. I recorded all these memories that the various Society whiskies evoked alongside each of the cask numbers in my spreadsheet. Imagine my horror then, when I turned on the laptop ahead of a recent virtual tasting to record my notes and there was no file, nothing. Gone…and now I know what the expression ‘my heart sank’ really means.

What to do? I trawled through photos, social media posts, I contacted friends, and of course the wonderful ambassadors, pleading for notes, numbers, anything I could use to recreate my own notes.

It took a couple of weeks, but between us we managed to find notes for all but one of the tastings and I gradually rebuilt my spreadsheet.

And that’s when I started to notice something else – the memories that were coming back to me were not of the childhood variety, but as I was entering my new data, I was remembering the actual tasting events: where we were, the stories, the jokes and the wonderful feeling of being surrounded by like-minded friends, enjoying wonderful evenings and adventures in exploring new flavours.

It wasn’t just the taste of the whisky that brought back memories, it was the tasting of them that helped me to create new ones. So no, as good as the virtual tastings are, for me there’s no substitute for the warmth and camaraderie of a physical event.

The Danish have a word for it, hygge, and I think the Scottish equivalent is còsagach. If I had to explain it in terms of whisky, I turn to that 14-year-old Cask No. 125.76: Like meeting an old friend or the delightful 16-year-old 26.118: Happiness is a warm hug.

The good news for Ann and all of our members is that our Members’ Rooms are now open and our tasting events are back underway, with certain restrictions in place due to the coronavirus situation.