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Whisky tasting with Dave Broom

Published: 23/08/2009

By Rose Murray Brown

Dave Broom

Dave Broom


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"You need to find your sweet spot," whisky expert Dave Broom tells me. He is trying to convince me, and 40 others grouped in a tent in Holyrood Park at Edinburgh's Clan Gathering, that he can find a whisky that will suit all our individual tastes.

In front of me is a rather odd-looking chart, which looks more like a game of snakes and ladders or battleships. Beside it are six whisky glasses. Our task is to chart these different takes on the "water of life" according to their flavour.

"I know that people find whisky confusing – and they often try blended Scotch and get put off whisky for life," Broom says. "They are really missing out. There are 92 working distilleries with 2,000 different malts between them – each with a different flavour – but you need help to find what you like."

How does a beginner find their way around? The whisky industry does not help itself with its regional classifications (Speyside, for example, stretches from Glasgow to Wick, with numerous whisky styles).

"We needed a simple guide to flavours," says Broom. "It started with a plea from Tesco to find a way to explain single malt flavours to beginners." He plotted the flavours on a map and within a month had devised the rather ingenious Whisky Flavour Map, in association with distilleries owner, Diageo.

But – crucially – it's not just about Diageo's whiskies. Broom has plotted every single malt in Scotland on a grid with four co-ordinates: delicate, light, smoky, rich. The horizontal axis plots the lightness or richness and the vertical axis plots the smokiness. "There isn't a 'best malt' position on the map either – it's an unbiased plotting device," he says.

Was every distillery happy with its "plot"? "Only one disagreed with the position of their malt on the map – so we reassessed it."

We got down to nosing. The lighter malts, made using unpeated barley and with no smoke flavours, were easy to plot. Glenkinchie 12-year-old – which Broom compared to a sauvignon blanc or riesling – had light floral grassy notes, so fitted neatly bottom left into the delicate/ light section. Clynelish 14-year-old was more textured, silkier, waxy and unctuous – like chardonnay or semillon – so we plotted that midway between light and rich.

Medium-weight whiskies such as Singleton of Dufftown 12-year-old with its nutty, almondly, dried-fruit flavours we edged further along the "rich" axis – with Mortlach 16-year-old heading off to the meatiest, richest end on the right-hand side of the graph.

To plot the two smoky whiskies we used the vertical axis of the map. Caol Ila 12-year-old smelt of hospital bandages and smoky bacon – but its lighter juniper notes put it at the lighter end of the smoky scale. Lagavulin 12-year-old, at the extreme of richness and smokiness, we plotted top right.

The good news is that Broom's map is downloadable on www.malts.com – free. Bartenders are now using it to zone in quickly to the style of whisky that suits particular occasions – and Broom has plans to use it in conjunction with food matching; so he will soon be plotting the oyster-friendliest or chocolate mousse-friendliest malts on one single map.

So what about other whiskies? "Japanese single malt can sit happily on the current Scotch whisky single malt map – but Irish whiskey would need a separate one," says Broom. I reckon you could also have a map for bourbon, rum, tequila or even gin.

Taste test: Single malts

Light & Delicate

Glenkinchie 12-year-old

(£28.50)

Light fresh buttery notes, gentle and dull. 12/20

Light & Smoky

CAOL ILA 12-year-old

(£29.95)

Smoked bacon and cereal notes, juniper berry flavours, hits my sweet spot. 16.5/10

Rich & Meaty

Mortlach 16-year-old

(£39.95)

Smells of nail varnish, sulphur and Bovril; meaty fudgey flavours. 14/20

Rich & Smoky LAGAVULIN 16-year-old

(£40.95)

Tobacco, seaweed, lapsang souchong notes, fudgey honeyed flavours, rich dense. 15/20

• All available from www.royalmilewhiskies.com


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