Understanding the subtle tones and appreciating whiskey is an art. Global whiskey master Ewan Gunn definitely thinks so. And so, we got him to give us a demonstration on how to turn drinking whiskey into an art form. Over the last five years, the Scot has travelled across 77 countries tasting every whiskey the world has to offer.
So how did it all start? “My father had always been interested in scotch whiskey, single malts and blends. He was the one who introduced me to the world of whiskey. Down the line, when I discovered that a huge percentage of the scotch whiskey we make is exported, I thought ‘Here’s an opportunity for me to find a job that involves travelling and trying new whiskeys around the world’,” says Ewan.
And ever since then there has been no looking back for him.
On developing a taste for whiskey
Whiskey is an acquired taste, so Ewan suggests being patient. “Patience is the name of the game. Try different whiskies, go to a few whiskey tasting sessions. The beautiful thing about whiskey is that you get a diverse range of tastes, textures and flavours. If you come across a whiskey which is a little intense and smoky, I wouldn’t say you should give up at that point, but actually try a different one. Some of them are light and delicate, some are sweet and some are rich, fruity and spicy. So try different varieties, depending on what taste profile you enjoy and the kind of food you enjoy with it.”
On choosing the right whiskey
“Some single malts are quite smooth, gentle and sweet, and then we have some like Talisker which are smoky, full bodied flavours. It’s great to try different single malts and look at these flavour points. This will also help you appreciate the quality of a great blended scotch. Brands like Johnnie Walker Black Label and Red Label are actually combining all these single malts and single grain whiskeys from all over Scotland.”
Bring on the Indian whiskey then
“I haven’t tried very many Indian whiskeys, but I do think that it’s really interesting that they are making Indian whiskey now. More and more people over the world are make their own whiskey and getting high praise for it. I actually take it as a massive compliment because people have looked at the global success of scotch and thought ‘we want some of that as well!’ But I’m definitely going to sample a few while I’m here.”
Trends to watch out for
“One trend that I am seeing now is people moving away from that kind of snobbery about only drinking scotch neat or maybe with ice or a splash of water. Particularly in warmer climates, we are actually seeing people drinking scotch either as a long drink or cocktail. And that’s wonderful! I don’t know where that snobbery came from, but it drives me crazy! Because some of the best drinks I have ever had have been very simple scotch drinks. So things like Johnnie Walker Red Label with some ginger ale, ice, dash of angostura bitters and a squeeze of lime — sipping it on a long sunny day is beautiful! And then if you want to get more creative, things like making an Old Fashioned, depending on which scotch you use, you can have a completely different experience. We’re seeing that in bars all over the world, more and more scotch whiskies are making it to cocktail menus.”
The social media effect
“In terms of taste, texture or ingredients, I don’t think people have changed the way drinks are made. I think it’s just the look that has changed. You don’t go to a bar just to drink. You go for the experience. So, if a part of that experience is how it is served and how it is presented, it’s a really wonderful thing. And it helps the bars as well, because then people take pictures that go all over social media. So their customers advertising their brand for them, for free. It’s a win-win,” says Ewan.