By Rob Allanson

That time of year

As the nights draw in, it is time to fire up the record player
It is hard to believe that is it is that time of year again, when the show that I feel really marks the gateway to autumn (or the Fall depending on where you are) takes place. This is of course the Kentucky Bourbon Festival.

Now I know you probably expected me to say any of the Whisky Live events around the world, which also start to pick up in pace now, but you see our centre piece show, Whisky Live London, happens at the start of the year. This show I consider the lead into the Spring and Summer calendar of events; ushering the likes of the Speyside festival and the Feis Ila.

If you are a whisky fan making the pilgrimage to one of the annual shows, it really is a must. They really are unmissable if you want to explore the various styles and expressions of whisky in its many guises. Also, if you are not able to visit a distillery near you, the shows are a brilliant place to pick the brains of the people who make your favourite drop, and learn more.

If you are a drinker or a collector, whisky shows are a great way to start exploring and expanding your palate. There is so much on offer I thoroughly recommend planning in advance. Often I will decide to focus down on a style, let’s say rye, and head off to uncover and sample as many ryes as possible.

Perhaps you are a fan of young whisky; well here is your chance to dive in at the older end of things. My advice is pick an area, preferably not in your comfort zone, and explore. It’s a great way to discover what you like (and don’t) and, more importantly, understand why. Doing this at festivals like Whisky Live and the KBF is much cheaper than buying in bottles, making the ticket price well worth it.

Although, as the evenings start to draw in (I know, too early, and it sneaks up on me every year), you might want to escape the crowds and stay in the comfort of your own home. Might I suggest that you give a wonderful idea from Japan a go in the next six months? I was once told that vinyl was too expensive for the average person in Japan (especially prized imports), that people would club together and buy a disc between them. Then they would head over to a designated house, crack open a bottle of whisky and enjoy not just the music, but also the company and whisky too.

The three pillars of things I think are really important in life: good company, good music and, of course, good whisky and taking your time with it. No more is this true than with my favourite style of music: Jazz. I have played bass now for some 30 years and grew up learning Jazz, from the classic standards through to some more weird and atonal stuff. But there is nothing like taking an hour to yourself, a decent measure of your favourite whisky and a bit of the colossal John Coltrane on the turntable.There is something about the swirls of flavour in the glass that complement the sheets of notes Coltrane often produces, especially in his recordings from A Love Supreme onwards.

You can draw more analogies between the two. The drums and bass, the rhythm section, anchor down the timing and chord changes, showing, if not predicting, where the melody should go. They lay the path for the tune just as the oak and vanilla notes form the backbone of most whiskies. The horn section supplies the sweetness and the virtuoso signature style, tweaked and played with until it’s just right, kind of similar to distillation – one of the essential building blocks of flavour. Then there is something just utterly comforting about a weighty glass in hand and some serious jazz.

Although, I have to say, as a musician, other forms of music are indeed available. Where would the monsters of rock and the towering giants of blues be without a little whisky inspiration? Most of music is soaked with whisky of one variety or another. I suspect that, if they could have, Beethoven and Mozart would have had a nip in a glass balanced on the lid of their pianos. Sometimes, when I get a little lost in Shostakovich’s music I have to wonder what he might have been drinking – I mean that in a good way. Genius that chap, if you like that sort of thing.
What else can I say? Summer might hold on a little longer before the leaves turn and start to fall; time to light the bbq, fire up the turntable, pour something delicious and enjoy.