By Dave Broom

More to be done

Dave Broom considers the last 100 issues and how times have changed, but still some things have not
It all seems a lifetime away and yet, somehow, only yesterday that the coach pulled up outside Strathisla distillery and disgorged a disparate collection of drink journalists (as I believe we called ourselves in those days) to try a new whisky from Chivas Brothers.

It was called ‘The Century of Malts’, not because it was 100 years old, but due to the fact that it was comprised of 100 different single malts, vatted together by Colin Scott.

We duly tasted, murmured our approval, and mused why such a lavish trip had been laid on for the sake of one bottle. Then we were ushered into a second chamber.

There, spread out on a series of tables, was a sample of every whisky which had gone into the vatting (and, yes, you could use that term in those days). It was the first time that I’d seen the DNA of a whisky laid out like this, an opportunity – rare even these days – for a blender to say ‘here is my work, see what you think’ and also a sense of two other questions politely being asked, ‘can you spot the joins, could you do this?’ It was a challenge, it was hugely ambitious, it was crazy.

The whisky writers started to nose, the wine writers, used to tasting centuries of wines at one sitting, began to sniff and spit only to admit defeat a dozen or so drams in.

“After all these years of drinking whisky I’ve never been given permission to add water before”

The exercise worked. As we raised befuddled but happy heads we appreciated that we couldn’t see the joins and no we couldn’t do it. Also, we had been exposed to a new way of looking at whisky. We’d seen plenty of well-known names, but they were outnumbered by working distilleries whose existence was veiled from the public gaze. There were closed distilleries, there were whiskies from Lomond stills, there were some of Chivas’ heavy peating experiments at Glen Keith and Caperdonich.

All these personalities corralled into one coherent whole.

One hundred whiskies in a bottle was a magnificently crazy notion. A magazine just about whisky equally so.

When this title started, let’s not forget, whisky was still in the doldrums in its main markets and Spain was the hot new country. No-one talked of China or Brazil or Russia.

It was a time before blogs, before whisky shows. There were, however, stirrings which suggested that single malt could be whisky’s saviour, that some people wanted to know more, needed to be educated, informed and entertained. Like a blender, the Editor had to try and find a balance between them all.

How much has changed. Now there are whisky shows every weekend and in every country, whisky clubs are mushrooming, whisky sales are booming, new distilleries are being built. Whisky lovers communicate across time zones and cultures with the click of a mouse, everyone has an opinion as long as they have a keyboard. From this perspective, 100 issues ago seems like 100 years ago.

The fact that the century has been reached could be the moment to sit back and bask in the self-reflected glory of a job well done.

The magazine is in different languages, there is the phenomenon of Whisky Live, the rise of new markets, and the growth of that hard to define but very real concept which has (hopefully) underpinned the magazine since Issue 1, the celebration of ‘whisky lifestyle’.

But a slap in the face is always better than a slap on the back. Every week, there is something which reminds me that while we may have moved forward, we are still at the same point as we were 100 issues ago.

Case in point. I was at a dinner the other week with top chaps from the advertising industry. We poured out drams and then suggested that they’d like to add water. There was a sense of mild consternation at this notion. “Are you allowed to do that?” asked one. “Of course!” we replied. So they did and they relaxed and smiled and had another.. and another. “You know,” said one to me, “after all these years of drinking whisky I’ve never been given permission to add water before.”

Permission. Here were highly respected, highly intelligent men who had been drinking whisky, but not enjoying it because no-one had told them that simple message that water is your friend, not the enemy.

It was a salutary lesson of how much work still needs to be done. How many more people are out there seeking permission? One hundred issues down the line and we have barely started. As they say, you’re only as good as your next edition. 100 issues? Just a number. Let’s move on and do it better in 101.