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Five minutes with whisky expert Simon McGoram

HerCanberra Team

Whether you know your whisky from your whiskey or you’ve never sampled the stuff, there’s never been a better time to try this beloved beverage. 

With the billion-dollar global whisky business picking up speed and countries like Japan and Australia coming to the forefront with solid gold offerings, good whisky isn’t hard to find.

But if you’re a complete newbie, it’s easy to find the whole concept intimidating. What is Islay? What makes something ‘peaty’?

We needed an expert to give us the nitty-gritty, so we caught up with whisky expert and whisky ambassador for DIAGEO Simon McGoram, who is in town for the Natural Nine X Johnnie Walker Whisky Degustation tomorrow evening.

Why are some whiskies spelt ‘whisky’ and some ‘whiskey’? 

Traditionally, the Irish spell whiskey with an ‘e’ whilst the Scots spell it without. You’ll find that whiskies around the world depending on where their distilling heritage comes from will spell it either way. For example, most American Whiskey (Bourbon whiskey & rye whiskey) are spelt with an ‘e’ perhaps due to the larger number of Irish immigrants involved in early American distillation. Nearly all Canadian, Australian, Japanese and Taiwanese whiskies are spelt without the ‘e’  with their malt whiskies being made more ‘Scotch’ like in style and process.  

Coincidentally when you order a whisky in Australia you will most likely be served a Scotch be it a single malt like Lagavulin or a blend like Johnnie Walker. In the states if you ask for a whiskey you’ll most likely be served Bourbon. 

What is whisky made from? 

Whisky can be made from any cereal grain in theory, plus water and yeast. Bourbon whiskey is predominately made from corn, Rye whiskey from, well, rye and malt whisky from malted barley. Blended Scotch Whisky – like Johnnie Walker is made from malt whiskies and grain whisky (which is often made from a blend of maize, wheat, malted and unmalted barley or rye).

How long does it need to be aged for at a minimum? 

That depends a little on the country in which its produced as different products/countries have different regulations. In Scotch whisky, the minimum is three years in an oak cask not exceeding 700L in size. All maturation must occur within Scotland for it to be called Scotch whisky. If the bottle has an age statement i.e. Johnnie Walker Aged 18 Years then that is the age of the youngest liquid in the bottle.

How long can it be aged for? What are some of the oldest whiskies in the world? 

As whisky ages in a barrel it loses alcohol content over time and if it drops below 40% alcohol by volume then it can no longer be called Scotch whisky. Volume from the cask is lost during maturation too so to see whisky aged 40 years or more is rare (and very expensive). The oldest I’ve had the pleasure of sampling in a 52-year-old Port Dundas Single Grain Scotch Whisky distilled in 1964. The oldest whisky I have personally seen put in a bottle was a 75-year-old Mortlach from an independent bottler.

What should you pair whisky with? 

Whisky pairs with a surprisingly large number of foods but in particular it’s really great with fatty and rich foods like cured meats, cheeses, smoked fish, chocolate and ice cream. One of my favourite pairings has to be Talisk10-Year-OldOld Single Malt Scotch Whisky and freshly shucked oysters – the whisky has a maritime/sea fresh character that pairs perfectly with seafood.

What should you avoid? 

Avoid dishes that are overly spicy (they’ll clash or overpower the whisky) or dishes that are very light (the whisky will dominate in this case).

Are there any little tricks to remember when buying whisky as a present or pairing it with food?

Try to keep notes on whisky that you buy and sample – experimenting by sampling different whiskies and pairings is all part of the fun.

Everyone’s palate is different too so there’s no hard and fast rule. Experiment and make note of what works for you or the person you’re buying for.

Want to learn more?

Head to the Natural Nine X Johnnie Walker Whisky Degustation to hear from the man himself. Happening Wednesday 23 May from 7 pm at Natural Nine, inside Casino Canberra, 21 Binara Street, Canberra City.

Menu: Click here. Cost: $135 per person. Bookings and more information: Click here

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