July means 'Tales of the Cocktail' and that means going down to New Orleans for the greatest celebration of spirits - in every sense - in the world. Those of alcohol were ever present, as were those of the people attending, even the members of the spirit world seemed closer, especially on the night when Nick Cave and his Bad Seeds rolled into town dragging their killers and revenge ballads, their tales of blood and mud, and apocalypse; a scary voodoo brew which seemed to mirror the storm rumbling towards me across the bayou, darkening the skies, making children weep and men glance to to the skies seeking auguries, unsure of the portents it was bringing. They clutched dripping entrails in their hands, seeking sloppy meanings in their divinations, they turned on their screens and read their priests' words, still unsure if they came from men of goodness or snake-handling charlatans.
All that was clear was that there was a storm on the way, the river rising, the sky empurpled, the baleful moon glaring down, casting huge shadows of men on the decaying walls.
The reason for all of this? A class on whisky. A class on whisky which dared to ask whether there was a difference between age and maturity. "Age is about numbers," I had said. "Maturity is about character. Age therefore is not the sole determinant of quality." It wasn't that new a thought, I've said it many times before, but here it was articulated in a different way - by blind tasting. This was not done to fool people, or make fools of them, but to analyse liquids honestly, to discuss without prejudice. So we had an over-cooked first-fill sherry, an under-cooked old knackered cask, a very young mature example, one very old slow-matured with an age statement… and some no age.
The aim, simply to open the debate, to show that wood management and science is now so advanced that whiskies can achieve maturity at an earlier stage than in the past; that no age is not bad, but can free up whisky makers' creativity, allowing them to produce compelling drinks; that no age is an option within a world whose thirst for whisky puts strain on stock.
Will age statements cease? No, but there is a responsibility on the part of producers and writers to explaining the reasoning behind no age, and age maturity.
Unaware of the storm brewing, I then did a class with Ryan Cheti where we took an heretical take on Scotch: revamping old recipes for brose and flavoured whiskies; discussing the times when whisky was loved but malleable; a time when people saw it as a compelling ingredient which could be played with; a time when whisky was free of restrictive orthodoxies.
Then it started. The first raindrops, the picking up of the wind of condemnation, the howling of the dispossessed. The class which offended people wasn't the second one, but that looking at age versus maturity. I was accused, slandered, my integrity questioned; tarred, feathered and accused of apostasy, hauled out of the congregation to the altar where I was flecked with the spittle of rebuke from the enraged high priests of the net.
Where does this anger come from? Why do these men, who were not even there, fulminate at anything suggestive of change? They live in the belief that there was a Golden Age when all whisky was great and try to drag us all back to that Never-Never Land. Their refusal to accept evolution, or an alternative argument singles them out as anti-Darwinian.
I defend their right to say it all. That's the nature of free speech. But I disagree wholly with what they say. Whisky has always changed because change is inevitable. There is a world out there, and this is a business. Yes, we all need to be alert to any erosion in quality, but that doesn't mean taking a fundamentalist view.
I thought that the class was helping to educate, to demonstrate wider reasons for decisions, to talk about the primacy of flavour and quality, but the continuing blind resistance to this simple message makes me weary. The skies darken, the raging torrents of abuse grow ever stronger. I'm… tired. I'm heading into the bayou with my gris gris bag. I am Heretic. Deal with it.
I'll speak no more.