Do you enjoy a drink, Gordon?
My job interview with a top London public relations consultancy was almost at an end. How should I reply? Tell the truth. They’ll find out soon enough anyway. ‘That’s good,’ came the response, ‘because one of the clients you’ll be working on is Glenmorangie whisky.’
A few weeks later I was at the distillery in the beautiful woodland surroundings of Tain, on the Dornoch Forth in north-east Scotland. Long-time distillery manager Ian MacGregor, who would go on to spend 40-odd years with the company, was bending over a cask in the warehouse, tasting ladle in hand. ‘You’ll tak a wee drop water?’ But it was more a statement of the obvious than a question.
“Actually, Mr MacGregor, I always take my whisky neat.”
The sharp turn of the head, the raised eyebrows and suddenly pinched lips told me I’d said the wrong thing. ‘Here,’ he said as he passed me the glass after adding the water which came from the same Tarlogie Springs as go into the distilling process. This was a man who certainly knew his stuff, a man who was once so overjoyed to see a bottle of Glenmorangie on sale while on holiday in the Caribbean, he willingly forked out the £70 asking price. We sat down and raised our glasses. ‘Now look,’ he advised. ‘See what the water has done. It’s released the esters, the essential oils and it’s going to give you more flavour.’
Sure enough, I could see the swirling oils, two elements swimming together in the glass. To emphasise his point, he poured me another small glass and this one he asked me to drink neat. Rinsing both samples right around my mouth to give all the taste buds a treat, I had to agree that the ‘watered down’ version more truthfully bore the true taste of Glenmorangie with its dual hints of citrus and caramel.
So, a valuable lesson learned from a truly delightful veteran of the whisky industry, and I continue to benefit from Ian’s sage advice. But that didn’t stop me applauding a barman a little while back who refused to add a certain well-known brand of cola to a rather excellent 18-year-old Speyside!