For someone who doesn’t drink alcohol, and hasn’t since 2000, and for someone who has never liked the taste of whisky, I am absolutely fascinated by Malt Whisky, especially Single Malts. It started in the early 1980s when I first visited a distillery, Glenturret. I loved everything about it: it’s remote location, it’s history and the links with the illegal stills, the beauty of the copper pot stills, immaculately polished, the ceremony of tasting and drinking whisky, special elliptical glasses designed for drinking whisky, the debates about whether water or ice should be added, the amount of distilleries that there are, the different flavours of the Malts depending where the distilleries are and the source of their water, the smell of the grain, the sound of the burn that provides the water……… I like the fact that there are so many books written as ‘guides’ to the Whiskys, with stunning colour photographs. I love the fact that Scotland has developed the Malt Whisky Trail, taking you from distillery to distillery, better to be done by coach since they are usually in remote locations, with no public transport, yet part of the tour is about tasting the different whiskys.
Since my visit to Glenturret, which I have revisited on many occasions, I have been to many other distilleries. Distilleries that have some kind of Visitor Centre, always have shops full of related items from crystal glasses to water jugs, decanters to silver quaiches and often tea towels. I have many a tea towel from a distillery but also some about the process of making Whisky but I haven’t seen the Flavour Map before. Jenny bought this for me last Christmas; it is just the sort of Tea Towel that I like, lots of information, presented in an unusual manner, it’s stylish.
The centre of the tea towel is a grid with ‘Smoky’ at the top and ‘Delicate’ at the bottom, with ‘Light’ to the left and ‘rich’ to the right: a number of Malt Whiskys are placed within the grid, in relation to their taste. I am a bit shocked at how many of those whiskeys I have seen made! The fact is that there is a whole industry set up around ‘Whisky Tasting’. I remember, one year at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, going to the Scotch Malt Whisky Society for an evening of Gaelic music, lectures on Malt Whisky tasting and then sampling a few varieties; it was unusual event because, on this one occasion, the Scotch Malt Whisky Society was open to non-members. No opening a bottle and having a quick drink; the ceremony of drinking Malt Whisky is more complicated than that of a Japanese Tea Ceremony, sniffing it, trying to identify the aromas, swirling it around in the glass, warmed at the base by your hands, another sniff, a taste and repeat the process. The key to the Whisky Tasting Ceremony is the aroma. There are four primary tastes but thirty-two primary aromas. Every sample of Malt Whisky presents a bouquet of aromas – in some cases 20-30 identifiable scents. Wittgenstein’s belief that “the limits of my language mean the limits of my world” possibly sums up the whole Whisky Tasting Ceremony: you have to have the language to describe the flavours. This is why the grid in the centre of the tea towel is surrounded by bowers of hedgerows, leaves, fruits, all of which contribute to the language of the aromas of Malt Whisky. Aromas fall into groups of ‘woody’ (possibly cigar boxes or aniseed), ‘winey’ (maybe bitter chocolate or Chardonnay), ‘cereal’ (could be hen’s mash or boiled pork), ‘fruity’ (might be oranges or acid drops), ‘floral’ (might be fabric softener or fir trees), ‘peaty’ (possibly TCP or anchovies), ‘fenty’ ( could be plastic mac or tea pots) and finally ‘sulphury’ (Match box or pencil eraser) and much more.
My interest in Scotch Malt Whisky included the collection of miniature bottles of Malt Whisky. John built four sets of matching shelves, six shelves in each, each shelf would hold between 6 and 8 bottles each; that’s a lot of bottles. They did make a wonderful display but were a devil to dust. After John died, they were a significant reminder of his love of distilleries; but after a while, actually after about 15 years, I realised that the miniature Whiskys were not mine and I had lots of other reminders (like tea towels) and decided to give them away. Lynn and Helen really like good Malt Whisky so I wrapped each up, individually, with a note saying when and where they were bought, and encouraged them to try them, in the crystal glasses that belonged to my mother. They had fun trying the different whiskeys, sharing some with friends and I had good fun imagining them doing this.
I love the memories this tea towel has created, taking me down memory lane and looking at how beautiful it is. I especially like the line at the bottom because it does sum up my approach to wiping up
”If drying up becomes a chore, Here’s a wealth of flavours to explore”