The evening was a learning curve in many respects – for starters, how to pronounce Bunnahabhain!
Then there was the issue of un-chillfiltered versus chillfiltered scotch which up, until Wednesday last week when our event took place, were words nowhere to be found in this whisky ignoramus’s vocabulary. And asking me to tell a Speyside from a Campbeltown would previously have elicited an equally panicked look.
Unlike me, however, most of the 16 Weekend Post subscribers and their partners who won tickets to the tasting at Squires Restaurant at The Boardwalk were far more clued up.
Some, like Helen and Charles White, have been to more than 50 distilleries in Scotland and therefore relished the chance to pick a true whisky master’s brains.
And a master they certainly found in our host, Pierre Meintjes – a Master of the Quaich, to be precise.
This title only goes to an elite order of whisky experts from around the world, whose members must be closely involved in the industry for a minimum of five years before they may be nominated as “keepers” of the Quaich. And they have to be keepers for a further 10 years before they will be considered for induction as “masters” of the society.
The quaich? A distinctive drinking vessel originally made of wood (later metal) and sporting two handles on opposite sides of its rim. Membership is by invitation only and the society’s HQ is Blair Castle in Pitlochry, where the current duke is a South African.
“Keepers” and “masters” have their very own tartan and Pierre, who has been in the whisky industry for 42 years and is affectionately known in South Africa as “Mr Whisky”, proudly donned his for our tasting. His South African surname belied his astonishing authority on the subject of all things scotch.
Bunnahabhain, it turns out, is pronounced Bunna-ha-venn; the Gaelic “bh” a phonetic “v”. And Speyside and Campbeltown are two of Scotland’s six whisky-producing regions. Another is Islay (pronounced Eye-la), an island off the west coast of Scotland where Bunnahabhain is one of seven distilleries.
Islay malts are said to have a smoky character derived from the barley having been treated with peat. Islay scotch can also have a “TCP-like” flavour, Pierre said. Bunnahabhain’s is not as heavily peated as some of the others and this distillery has now also embraced the practice of non-chill filtration. Chill filtration is a process in which the whisky is chilled to nearly 0°C and passed through a fine filter before bottling. The idea is to take out some of the oily compounds produced during distillation so the whisky does not become cloudy in the bottle when it is chilled or when you add ice to your glass. However, some distillers have abandoned this “cosmetic” process as they believe chill filtration has the unfortunate downside of removing some of the unique and intrinsic flavours of the whisky.
Then came the true high point of the evening – a tasting of Bunnahabhain’s 12, 18 and 25-year-old un-chillfiltered whisky followed by some classy canapes from Squires and a much anticipated lucky draw for a R900 bottle of 18-year- old. This was won by Helen White who was so delighted she practically did a Highland dance on the spot.
The influence of sherry cask maturation was deliciously evident in the 12 and 18-year-old while the 25-year-old was creamy, caramel-like perfection.
Scroll down for social pictures from the tasting.