By Dominic Roskrow

Let's dive in at the deep end

Only one thing: they drank my entire bottle of Laphroaig
A colleague of mine recently decided to hold a whisky tasting for some non-whisky drinking friends. He presented them with four whiskies covering a range of tastes, and when he came back to work on the Monday I asked him how it went.“Great,” he said. “They all said they didn’t like whisky at first and yet they really enjoyed themselves. Only one thing: they drank my entire bottle of Laphroaig.”A day later Dave Robertson was telling me about the results of the tastings he had conducted for the three types of whisky in his Easy Drinking Whisky range.A surprising number of women, he said, had chosen the smoky peaty one as their favourite – even women who said they rarely or never drank whisky. And this week a new female friend of mine announced that while she’s a whisky novice she’s found a dram she really likes – Lagavulin 25 year old, no less.In fact I seem to be speaking to a lot of women at the moment who are hitting on the sort of taste profiles that at least some people seem to have assumed were beyond them.Should we be at all surprised that more ‘extreme’ flavours appeal to new or even non-whisky drinkers?I think not. Indeed, isn’t it just as probable that people who say that they don’t like whisky were put off by some average standard blend they drank one night when they couldn’t face another beer and were feeling a bit daring?Certainly that was the case with me. For years I avoided the stuff. It took my mum and a bottle of Ardbeg to rekindle my interest.And this must be true for many of us. After all, how did you discover good whisky? Did you sip a few standard blends in a pub one night before the barman suggested you move on to a nice light Lowland malt? And as the evening progressed did he lead you up to Speyside then on to a Macallan and perhaps in to the Highlands? And just before closing did he lean across the bar conspiratorially and say ‘Sir, I think you’re ready to try Islay’?Of course not.And this idea that potential converts should start with blander standard whiskies and work their way to Skye, Orkney or Islay is baloney, as is the idea that premium malt whisky appeals to the older, mainly male palate because it is only as we approach middle age that the taste becomes acceptable to us.At the risk of sounding snobby, there are really only two types of drinker: those with taste and those without. Those without either consciously choose to drink sweet fruity rubbish or as yet know no better. They don’t have a whisky-drinking relative and are yet to bump into you or someone like you to take them on a journey of discovery.They don’t drink whisky because they don’t think it is relevant to them, and not because they can’t. They see it as an old-fashioned and stuffy drink, very male, a bit too establishment, and not very exciting.But these same people – women as well as men – are open to persuasion. They are well-travelled, they have tasted a wide range of challenging food types, including the hottest Indian, Thai, Jamaican and Cajun foods. They can do spicy. And smoky. And oily.The next generation of whisky drinkers will not be the sons of whisky-drinking fathers. They’ll be their free-thinking daughters and adventurous sons who not only believe in saving the planet but want to see it all first-hand for themselves. They’re a generation of individuals who are repulsed by conformity.They’re people we like to think we are – or at least, were. Whisky needs to reach out to them – and it won’t do it through own brand Glencliché standard blends.No, they need a challenge and we should help provide it. More Laphroaig over here, barman – we’re all ready for Islay.