There’s no correct way to learn about spirits. You could simply buy lots of different bottles and learn what you like, or not, the experimental and expensive way. You can partake in spirits seminars, which are held by many top bottle-shops and bars around the country.
Or you can choose the type of spirit you’d like to explore and combine it with your next holiday. I did a couple of laps of Scotland and when I started, was only looking for whisky blends.
But when in Scotland, it’s mandatory to sample the outstanding single malts on offer. A few experimental drams each evening led me to an ‘a-ha!’ revelation and suffice it to say, I have never had another blend since.
The spirit is strong
It was a moment of some significance, but not the first time that spirits got my attention. I grew up in Switzerland as the son of hoteliers, and my parents ran one of the top hotel, restaurant and bars in the country at the time.
In Swiss culture it is perfectly normal to allow your child to taste a little wine with each meal, or have a sip of your father’s beer in the afternoon. Although Switzerland is a country where spirits rate very highly, it would have been unusual to let your child try.
So at the age of seven, on a day when our hotel was closed, my parents left for a few hours and I snuck downstairs and decided to try a little bit from each bottle behind the main bar.
My parents found me a couple of hours later, passed out behind the bar. A hospital visit later, and I recovered. This was my introduction to spirits, yet it didn’t turn me off spirits … quite the contrary, as it turns out!
Try before you buy
If you are new to spirits (and of legal drinking age in your jurisdiction, I hasten to add) it’s great to experiment with different spirits on the menu at a bar for a relatively inexpensive way to determine what you enjoy, before diving into nuances. If you’re already into spirits you might want to learn more, partake in discussions and show off your knowledge.
One way to do this is by joining a spirits club. These van be classified into five groups:
Public spirits clubs
These are clubs that are open to anyone to join. What sets them apart from so many other spirits groups is that they actually curate, organise and host their own tastings and public events. Generally, there is no cap on numbers, and the club can grow as much as logistics allow.
Public spirits subscription clubs
Where these differ from the first category is that (a) their raison d’être is to provide a monthly spirits subscription service (such as a bottle of whisky or a selection of samples) and (b) they generally don’t hold tasting events.
Spirits clubs associated with bars or retail stores
Several bars and retail stores have formed their own internal “spirits clubs” for customers. They’re generally informal and run ad-hoc in-store (or in-bar) tastings from time to time, in the hope you’ll pony up for a bottle or two to take home.
Private, suburban spirits clubs
Private, suburban spirits clubs
Being private clubs, these are generally “by invitation” and tend to be formed by enthusiasts who simply gather as like-minded friends to enjoy a favourite tipple together. One such example of which I am a proud member is The Gillies Club Australia, which we proudly believe to be the oldest single malt whisky appreciation club in the world, having been born some 42 years ago in Wollongong. Good to see the Aussies ahead of the Scots on this one.
Social media spirits clubs
These are chiefly the Facebook spirits groups that have popped up in the last five years. The original one in Australia was Dram Full, a whisky club which has grown to take in other countries around the globe.
Through such immersive environments you can flesh out your understanding of spirits. How do the aromatics in a gin change the final bouquet, flavours and aromas, and why is juniper essential in a gin? How does distillation work and what makes it different, depending on the raw materials used? What happens when you age a spirit in wood? Why are some spirits infused with aromatics and others simply distilled? Does water really make any difference in a spirit?
Discover the factors that change how you perceive and enjoy your chosen spirit, and create your very own ‘a-ha!’ moment.