It might seem odd for someone to be writing about beer on a whisky blog but stick with me on this one…
I’ve always been a whisky man. There’s never really been any other type of alcoholic drink that I’ve enjoyed more thoroughly. Like many whisky fans, I’ve had to have THAT conversation with people countless times. You know the one
Me: “Fancy a dram?”
Them: “I don’t like whisky!”
Me: “What?! Why not? Go on. I’ll get you one. A good one. Just to try it.”
Them: “No. It’s horrible.”
Me: “Just be open minded. You’re missing out.”
Them: “No. I’ll just have a beer.”
Me: “Fair enough. Your loss.”
For me, there’s always the thought at the back of my mind that I might be the one that gets this person over the line and make that first step into the wonderful whisky world. Short of pouring/wasting some down their neck however, there’s little that you really can do. Plus, I never want to become a whisky bore.
Until a couple of years ago though, I had experienced that same conversation with people but in reverse, because (shock, horror) I never really liked drinking beer. Sure, I had dabbled, but when it came to long drinks, I had always been a cider drinker.
[‘What? Now he’s talking about cider?’ Again, bear with me…]
One evening though, I was on holiday and absolutely gasping for a long, cold drink. Unfortunately though, they had no cider. In fact, cider didn’t feature in this country at all. Given that I was on holiday, the thought of a soft drink didn’t really cross my mind. Whisky certainly wouldn’t have been the right call. The barman took one look at me however and poured me a tall glass of their house lager, which he proclaimed to be brewed just down the road. His smile beamed brightly and, without wanting to be impolite (and therefore being incredibly British about it), I slaked my thirst and… I didn’t die. I didn’t dislike it. I didn’t entirely enjoy it. It served a purpose and that purpose was good. I ordered another, just to make sure.
Suddenly, the blinkers were off. I found myself on the other side of THAT conversation but instead, finally saying “Ok. Let’s do this!”
When I came back from the holiday, I met with a friend of mine – who was frankly delighted at my enlightenment – and we devised a map. By looking at the distillery map of Scotland, we plotted a beer drinking experience that would take on the features of some of my favourite whiskies to open up my tastebuds to the brewing beauties that I had avoided for years – looking particularly to those regularly available in UK shops.
[Incidentally, a couple of years before, he had tried to get me into beer by plying me with Innis & Gunn’s whisky beers but that experiment failed horribly…]
As with any whisky tasting, we started light. For our lowland dram equivalent, we went for a lager or pilsner. Something that’s an easy starter, with good fruity, zesty spark. Here Auchentoshan met Budvar.
Across to the west, we figured that the rich history, big flavours and cult-like nature of Campbeltown warranted a pairing with the much sought after Trappist beers and farmhouse Saison beers of Belgium. On this journey Springbank was twinned with Chimay.
Moving northwards to Speyside and the home of the whisky trail, any dram enthusiast is totally spoilt for choice. Here we decided to pair the myriad of available IPAs and pale ales with the region to reflect the mass popularity and wide ranging varieties available. For Speyside, we equated Glenfiddich with Sierra Nevada.
Further north still, we looked at the offerings of the highlands, and bearing in mind the broad, warming tastes and chilly temperatures experienced by the inhabitants we figured that they matched a classic pint of bitter or winter ale. Old Pulteney made way for Old Speckled Hen.
Surrounding the Scottish mainland, the islands’ offerings have always intrigued me. Whichever style they deliver, it always excels. With the interesting range of drams available from the isles that often require to be enjoyed and savoured over a period of time, we thought that they would be best suited to the fruity flavoured Hefeweizen or sour treat of Gose beers. Here we matched Talisker to Franziskaner.
Finally, we crossed the journey’s hypothetical seas to Islay and took the smoky and earthy notes that we enjoy so much to sampling some smoked beers, stouts and porters. Here Ardbeg’s rich and robust flavours met Guinness – and particularly their West Indies Porter.
And there we have it. A rough and ready pairing of whiskies to beers. Whilst the particular pairings might not be to your liking, the overview of each style certainly helped my tastebuds adapt and appreciate the different brews and experiences available. A couple of years on and I’m still exploring the delights of different beers from around the world and would consider myself a little more versed for the exploration and mapping. Truth be told, I’d still take a dram over a pint any day, but there’s a time and place for everything and this little spirited journey certainly helped me along the way. Of course, the other benefit here is that this theoretical trip could occur vice versa and could assist a beer-loving whisky-noob find his way along the path to dram discovery.
Just as a final point aside, I would add that the best whisky beer that I’ve had to date is the mighty Fyne Ales’ Fynebank smoked beer that is casked in ex-Springbank barrels. For me, the two worlds successfully collide on this one.