26th August 2020
I have absolutely no shame in introducing the section by saying that I’m not an expert on spirits, because I’m not an expert on beer either. I don’t believe that you need to be an expert to have a valid opinion – you just need to be engaged in the tasting process and willing to learn. And, as with beer and also wine, I have been a keen traveller and taster for many years, exploring hand crafted spirits from home-made Pisco in Bolivia to small-batch Rum in downtown Phnom Penh to the classic home of Bourbon that is the Buffalo Trace ranch outside Frankfort Kentucky to one of my favourite mixed-distillery taprooms, Rocktown in Little Rock, Arkansas. I love spirits neat and in cocktails, and have a special love for Prohibition-style mixed-liquor drinks and Champagne cocktails (of course!).
Having worked in a whisky bar as a student, I have a passion for Single Malts – always served neat, unless a drop of water is absolutely required that is. Back in London, I can often be found picking the brains of the lovely folks at Royal Mile Whiskies who are never anything less than solicitous in helping me to expand my Scotch collection wisely and choose the exact right beverage to match my mood. Having travelled extensively in the US, I was able to overcome the unfortunate association that most Brits have with the word Bourbon – attaching it to Jack Daniels and Jim Beam as per the advertising we’re regularly fed back home. While there is, of course, a place for both these beverages, they bear little resemblance to the drinking experience real Bourbons have to offer. My Bourbon-tasting adventures began in Denver, Colorado, when I took some convincing to take Bourbon as seriously as Scotch. Fortunately I found a patient and dedicated bartender who ensured that I was not disappointed. Since then I’ve enjoyed locally distilled offerings from all over the US, although no one makes them quite like they do in Texas.
My love for gin also began during my student years, and has evolved over many tastings and festivals, from the ubiquitous G&T to an appreciation of a spirit that, when at its most desirable, can be sipped like a whisky and offer an equal level of enjoyment. Growing up in the Vodka, Rum and Tequila all have their place on my spirits shelf, and I have a special place in my heart for the ultra-smoky Black Tequila I was first introduced to in Mexico – the perfect foil for a whisky drinker. Rum was a bit of an unknown quantity for me until I visited Cuba, when its ubiquitous presence gave it a life of its own, and for two weeks Mojitos and Cuba Libres made with Havana Club straight from the source became my constant companion. As a Sri Lankan I won’t say no to an Arrack, and am happy to fall into line with our historic cultural fixation with Johnnie Walker when required – after all, when in Rome… Anyway, I hope this provides some context to my musings on the spirit world.