By Rob Allanson

Walking and whisky

The joys of taking your dram outdoors
There’s always questions to be asked about whisky, and that’s the joy of working and enjoying this whisky sphere, you never stop asking, being asked or even learning.

However, there is one question I never know how to answer, and it’s probably one of the most commonly asked: What’s your favourite whisky?

Now of course I appreciate it’s a good question, but I’m never sure what the answer is. Like anyone I have go-to whiskies, bottles that I would naturally gravitate to in a bar or when shopping, but with doing the tasting each edition, it is possible to fall in love with a different whisky almost every day.

Last edition was no exception. While the Editor’s Choice by definition is the whisky I thought was the best in the tasting batch, there were plenty of stunners in there. This edition is the same.

One thing I wanted to clear up with my tasting notes is that I often make reference to hipflasks and walking in the countryside. If you haven’t tasted whisky outside, and even better after walking for a few miles, my suggestion is that you do it this weekend.

There is something about having a dram outdoors that transforms just about any whisky, making it seem like the best drop you have had years.

It was the blending legend, Rachel Barrie who first introduced me to this little secret. We were at her lab sampling a few cask strength whiskies that had come in from the warehouses when she suddenly announced it was time to go outside. In the rain. Pay attention to the whisky she said, ensuring I sampled it in the lab conditions; then out into the downpour. Guess what – the sample shifted, notably.

Unfortunately this was quite a while ago so I cannot remember how it changed, but recently I took myself off on a long walk to reach the end of a local feature called the Devil’s Ditch. The Ditch, or Dyke is a linear earthen barrier, thought to be of Anglo-Saxon origin, in eastern Cambridgeshire.

If you haven't tasted whisky outside... do it this weekend


The structure is some seven miles long and in some places the bank measures 30ft high. Archaeologists believe it was designed to control movement along ancient Roman roads. When it was created, it completely blocked a narrow land corridor between the southern edge of a region of water-logged marsh (known as The Fens) in the north-west and dense woodlands in the south, so making circumvention difficult and forming an effective defensive barrier.

These days it’s a great walking path. So off I went on one of the hottest days of the year, and secreted in my backpack a very small hipflask. A handy little present from someone very special.

Inside the flask was an Islay single malt from an independent bottler. I had tasted it the night before for the magazine and thought it was pretty decent. At the end of the seven mile stretch and just before turning back for home, I celebrate my little achievement with a dram from the flask. What I had tasted earlier suddenly became a huge lemon and lime chocolate bomb with a dusting of liquid smoke.

Amazing stuff, made even better in the blazing sun surrounded by gorse, wild flowers and the wind coming in over barley fields.

Back to questions, where I started. I got asked recently one of the more interesting questions: What would you like to see released?

I think for me it’s a very easy answer: A Johnnie Walker. After all the blend is the backbone of the company and the reason why the Special Releases exist.

Diageo has shown off the blender’s art in the last couple of years with blended malts, but I think time has come to give Walker its due.

I am not sure how much it is shouted about but each year the company does a small run of what is called the Director’s Blends. Never on general sale, but this is master blender Jim Beveridge’s chance to show off; often blending to a theme.

While I would not want to see the rarity and value taken away from these special one-offs, I think something similar for the Special Releases in the Walker guise would send a strong message. Ignore blends at your peril.

Of course, who am I to influence such things… but you can dream.