By Dave Broom

African aspirations

Dave finds whisky and hip hop go well together in the Rainbow Nation
It has been a year of confounded expectations, (this, it must be said at the outset, is A Good Thing). Case in point.Benriach, which came out of nowhere with a series of remarkable whiskies. The result was a complete reappraisal of a distillery I’d overlooked (or, on the strength of the old Seagram bottlings, looked down upon). Billy, you were right.Another case in point. Whisky Live Joburg. It reminded me of a car show, thanks to the fact that I’d been to one the day before. My first as it happens and probably, no, make that undoubtedly, my last. What was I meant to be looking at? The colour, the line, the dashboard? Was I meant to be excited that I could stand in a queue and then sit in a parked car for 60 seconds? What was that meant to tell me? That said, the relentless nature of an event such as this sends you into some strange fugue state and I did almost buy a Mercedes. There again, me going to a car show is like a teetotaler going to Whisky Live, but I digress. The point is that the two events in Joburg were aimed at the same demographic, the young, affluent, black male. No wonder they had visual similarities. They both talked of status, achievement, confidence, though the advantage of Live is that you can experience the product, not just look at the label.What hit you first about Joburg Live was the look. OK, there were the usual workshops, a sensory zone where you could try whisky with different artisanal foods, there were stands with malts galore, but the buzz, the energy was created by the blends. The J&B area was pimped to the max, looking like a fetish lounge, all black pvc wing-back chairs and red carpets.Jack Daniel’s had their Harley again... and Jimmy Bedford, though sadly the two were never combined. Promotions girls gave every stand added pneumatic dressing. Bemused (but it has to be said happy) distillers and brand ambassadors wandered around, their eyes all saying the same thing: “this doesn’t happen in Europe!” as models gave them their business cards.Only Bell’s struck a discordant note among this hedonistic rush thanks to its bizarre decision to recreate Arthur Bell’s study, complete with actor made up to look like ... Arthur Bell.Quite how this was to attract the new, young drinker I know not. Right enough, after a few drams ‘Arthur’ began signing bottles. Expect them to appear on ebay any day now.It changed your expectation of what a whisky show should be to what it could be. The blends, glitzy (apart from Arthur) stylish, in your face brought a pizzazz and it has to be said cash... and with them came the new drinker who could then discover malts for the first time. It was the old whisky business model at work... and working. It was democratic. The malt nuts (the petrol-heads of the show) could ask about ppms and get the right answer, the rest could enjoy the taste of whisky.It shouldn’t have been that unexpected. The previous Sunday night I had (reluctantly it must be said) to do an 11pm radio show. What was the point? Who would be listening at that hour? Who, more importantly, would want to hear about whisky on a hip-hop show? Turns out most of the large audience... and the presenter and his posse (as I believe the term is). We drank whisky because it is the thing to drink. We talked of Caol Ila over a soundtrack of Tupac and Pro-Kid and it isn’t out of place, like Arthur’s study, it is perfectly natural.All these people at Live, on various radio shows, were asking the same thing, what to drink, how to drink it. They wanted to make an impression. They liked the taste, they now needed the confidence (not something that’s far under the surface in Joburg) to appreciate why they liked it. Confidence can be given to any whisky newbie by teaching them that this whisky is smoky... or fruity... or whatever. Three words, that’s all, but three words backed up with knowledge which they can tap into should they wish.It should be done without ego. This is not about descending from the mountain with the tablets of truth. As soon as you apply ego to whisky you enforce your own prejudices on it and all reason escapes. Be honest. Be open. Be prepared to be surprised, chastened, criticised. Be prepared to have your expectations confounded.