We are in the middle of a whisky boom (or should I say whisky renaissance), a perfect time for any bar, hotel and restaurant to brush up on their knowledge. Having made a quick detour on my travels through Asia to Kuala Lumpur for work, I found myself with a day to spare and got in touch with Yvo, the food and beverage manager at The Renaissance KL to see if he would be interested in a training session for his staff. Within a couple of days, we had everything organised.
Marriot Renaissance is one of the world’s biggest and best renowned 5 star hotel chains, and their reputation is not let down by their KL residence. The building is classic and grand with an incredible view of The Petronas Towers, which fans of 90’s Connery flick Entrapment (such as myself) will thoroughly appreciate. The hotel is vast, and is itself spread across two towers. In the West Tower, there is a comfortable Lobby Lounge Bar next to a large staircase that curls up to the main bar, which was where the training was to take place. There are plans for a new speakeasy-style bar to be developed on site, but until then the current bar still maintains a comfortable, traditional place to enjoy a drink.
The whisky stock behind the bar was much as you would expect from an Asian hotel, with a focus shared between single malts and premium blends; Jonnie Walker and Chivas Regal taking centre stage, of course, although they also stock Famous Grouse, which is rarely seen in these parts. We arranged the lineup for the tasting – 5 drams to include Johnnie Walker Black, The Glenlivet 12, Glenmorangie 10, Auchentoshan 12 and finally MacAllan 12. These whiskies, while not necessarily representing the most diverse flavour range that Scotch has to offer, do all hold an interesting piece of trivia that is essential knowledge for any bartender, which I will share with you now:
• Johnnie Walker is the world’s biggest selling blend, and as blended whisky makes up 90% of the Scotch export market, you can assume that we have JW to thank for a very large proportion of Scotland’s whisky success. The cuboid bottles are synonymous with the brand, and this isn’t purely an aesthetic choice, the bottles were shaped this way in order to be packed more easily and efficiently for export.
• The Glenlivet was first the first licensed distillery in Scotland, receiving legal status after the Excise Act of 1823. George Smith, who was the proprietor at the time, changed the distillery name from just Glenlivet to ͞The Glenlivet͟ to differentiate it from bootlegged whiskies using Glenlivet’s name in the Speyside area.
• Glenmorangie use the tallest stills in Scotland. It is believed that these tall stills allow only the lightest molecules to rich the top of the copper pots when heated during distillation (the heavier elements being rejected through "reflux"), meaning the resulting spirit is light bodied and easy drinking. Conversely, Lagavulin have the shortest stills in Scotland, and produce a far oiler, more viscous spirit. Why not try the two side by side as a comparison?
• Auchentoshan is Scotland’s triple distilled whisky. As a rule, Scotch malt whisky is generally distilled twice, first in a wash still and then In a spirit still. Irish Whiskey on the other hand is usually triple distilled (we Scots like to joke that this is because the Irish can’t get it right the second time). This means that the resulting spirit should contain on the one hand more purity as it is collected at a much higher ABV than that collected after a second distillation, but it also means that it must be watered down far more to reach the ideal ABV for barrelling (about 65%). The resulting product, therefore, carries less of the character of the malted barley, the wash and the wort than most malt whiskies.
• The MacAllan Distillery, despite being found in the heart of Speyside, considers itself a Highland single malt. Whether this is to do with heritage, or simply a marketing ploy it is unclear. What is interesting about the 12 year old is that it is exclusively aged in ex Olorosso sherry casks. This means that it doesn’t aim for an easy drinking bourbon / sherry balance as the previous malts in this tasting flight, but displays rich, sherried characteristics of dried fruit, nuts, Christmas spice and, for those of us who have a “sulphur nose” (as Ronnie Cox told me I did), a touch of rubber.
Having discussed all these points with the attendees, we wrapped up the session and I left with a beautiful gift of a branded cocktail shaker and jigger along with a copy of their beautiful cocktail recipe book that Renaissance have co-curated with Pernod Ricard. Many thanks to Yvo and the team!