When asked if it was an interest in whisky or auctions that came first for her, Isabel Graham-Yooll is quite clear: “It’s always been whisky; even before it was whisky,
it was whisky.” Her more than 20-year career in the drinks world began with a part-time job at Oddbins, where she was able to sample every wine and spirit on the shelves, before she became a spirits buyer for Milroy’s of Soho. Later, working for Bordeaux Index, Isabel gained an insight into the importance of spirits to their clients, and how seriously the company took this; she was still working there when a spirits specialist was recruited and the department was launched properly. She began dealing increasingly with old and rare bottles, and, four years ago, was asked to join the Whisky.Auction team, where she is now the auction director.
Triple Distilled Irish Whiskey
I’ve got just the common old garden [Jameson], and the reason is that, going to the worst, most poorly stocked pub you can ever find, most often there will be a Jameson on the shelf. And that’s probably your best bet, because it’s
just a good whiskey. Jameson is popular for a reason. Talk to Charlie MacLean and ask him what his favourite whisky is: Johnnie Walker Black Label. It’s a myth that people will always choose single malt, and the reason is that you’ve got consistency. They’re reliable, consistent and on many a backbar, they’ll be by far the best options that are out there.
When I was at Milroy’s of Soho, I bottled a cask of [Patrick Van] Zuidam’s sherried whisky. I had a handful of bottles left, and also I had a bottle of Ardbeg 10. Sometimes it was one third of one, two thirds of the other, sometimes half and half, sometimes I reversed it, and that was, I’ve got to say, the best whisky. It’s the sort of whisky that could never be marketed or produced, because it’s two different countries and two different styles. The Scotch Whisky Association would probably disapprove. Not only that, the economics of doing it would make no sense. There have been times when I’ve put together dregs and you’ve got whiskies that would never in a million years be marketed because they make no financial marketing sense, but you end up with something quite stunning. So, those two whiskies together!
Private Bottling, 19 Years Old
The father of someone we were selling a whisky for said, ‘By the way, my dad’s got a cask of whisky, he’s bottled it up and doesn’t know what to do with it, is there anything you can do? Do you think it can sell for £50?’ We tasted it and it turned out to be magnificent. Quite delicate. It’s got this beautiful character to it. It’s not a blockbuster in terms of flavour; it’s an elegant and beautiful Ben Nevis. Ben Nevis is popular because people are beginning to discover it, and here was this 19-year-old Ben Nevis that didn’t exist previously in public, and it’s delicious.
I could have picked any number of rye whiskies, but I chose the one that’s in front of me at the moment, which is Adnams. I just tasted it recently and I thought it was very good. What is a
rye whisky for? It’s for making a Manhattan. So, does it make a good Manhattan? It makes a good Manhattan. If I lined it up with 10 other rye whiskies, would it be my favourite? Who knows? I haven’t done that. But was it making a brilliant Manhattan? Absolutely, it was. So, that’s why I’ve chosen that one.
1980s – 1990s blend
The thing to remember [about White Horse from the 80s and 90s] is the ‘Whisky Loch’, the huge overproduction of whisky and decreased demand of the early and mid-1980s. How do you deal with it? You over-spec your whisky. So you have really high-quality, mature whisky being sold for the same price [as younger whiskies]. There are some magnificent blends, and these are not the hugely sought-after, difficult-to-come-by ones from the 40s, 50s and 60s, these are the ones that just taste great. I’ve picked out White Horse because that’s the one that I’m interested in today.
A final luxury…
I was thinking about all my bottle-opening equipment, but I reckon I could improvise with a pair of twigs. So, I thought a coffee pot – probably my siphon coffee pot.