I confess I treat eating as an inconvenience to get over as soon as possible. I don’t like thinking about drinking. I find thinking distracts from the doing, which is far more engaging to me. So indulge me while I slip into character and wax poetic about why whisky, often viewed as exclusive and elusive, is expansive and encompassing and deserves some of your attention.
First of all, whisky should not be exclusive. The self-effacing early Japanese reluctance to export domestically produced “Scotch-style” whisky is an example of the needless self-consciousness and intimidation, which the current embrace of Japanese whiskies as premium brands exemplifies. After fending off the Phylloxera threat, whisky’s role in society changed, but its essence has always been the same.
Those nostalgic flavours residing in the aroma that escape in the finish exist as such only through our expectations. Further, humans don’t share the exact same configuration of “smell receptors” thus might not be able to detect the same smells that others can and vice versa. Behind the perceived pomp behind “tasting culture”, consumption and the personal satisfaction that cascade from it are intimate and inimitable.
So free yourself from your inadequacies and embrace your innocence instead. Share in the exhilaration of teasing apart a single-malt whisky. Minimal and simple in creation, it still triggers a complex cascade of flavours, sensations, emotions and experiences left by the raving wake of hydrolysis, yeast and their enzyme-groupies. This alchemical transmutation of water and earthen grain or barley, into liquid gold is humbling in its abstraction and universality, further imbued with the memories of the cask it sleeps in.
One crucial difference to note is that the whisky bottle, unlike wine’s is that it doesn’t age. A whisky cask is a probabilistic time-bending, advanced physix-reactor that seals memories to the present for your future consumption. Each bottle is a game of chance, every drop a roll of the dice.
Teacher’s 25 Year Old is a rare blend of the finest Scotch whiskies, only available in exquisitely crafted ceramic decanter carriers to highlight its exclusivity. This particular whisky contains an unusually high percentage of malt whisky, each chosen for their sublime character. To create the blend, only whiskies aged for at least 25 years in premium oak casks are blended to craft the finished spirit. The result is a supremely characterful, rich and smooth blend with subtle hints of unique peat smoke. I try it, and it’s great stuff. My tongue is frolicking in a warm, medicated bath of numb euphoria. Wow, whisky-magic! Just berieve, don’t cerebrate. That was the big moment when I’d tried Teacher’s for the first time, and it was pretty damn memorable.
An established staple in many homes across Europe and North America, Teacher’s is an emerging force in the Asian market and is currently leading the pack in India, as the number one imported Scotch whisky. Blessed with a long and memorable history, Teacher’s has stayed true to its founder’s belief in quality craftsmanship and his constant quest for perfection, allowing the brand to consistently create extraordinary whiskies to add to their portfolio.
Bagpipes Keep it Surreal
It’s coming up to 8pm, and people are floating around making idle chatter. I’m scavenging for more snacks while punctuating the pointless endeavour with glasses of Laphroaig’s Triple Wood which I soon learn to savour in a quiet corner at the other end of the reception area. Then suddenly, without warning, bagpipers emerge to draw the crowd to the ballroom where the dinner was held.
At this point, the dynamic duo Master Blender Robert Hicks and Master of Ceremonies, Ch’ng Poh Tian came on to the stage to educate the crowd on the complexities of whisky and how to savour liquid gold properly.
Mr. Ch’ng was responsible for the pairings and confessed to having more of a wine background. As the night wore on, I was deeply appreciative of the Mr. Ch’ng’s receptive attitude towards Mr Hicks’ lectures which typically preceded his own explanations for the food. Such as when he thanked Mr Hicks for the tip on diluting the whisky, which I tried and allowed me to savour the full smokiness of the gentle, earthly, peat smoke that arose from the whisky.
Mr Hicks, in contrast to Mr Ch’ng’s stately, suave persona, was a far more animated and physically engaging speaker. Recalling the dinner, even as I write this now, I can still feel the rancorous and infectious enthusiasm he had for the craft of whisky, which made the event and his evidently encyclopaedic knowledge deeply engaging and informative.
Mr. Hicks had much to say about the Teacher’s Highland Single Malt, “[It] is produced at Ardmore Malt distillery in the Eastern Highlands of Scotland and was designed and built in 1898 by Adam Teacher, one of William Senior’s sons. Adam wanted a very unique single malt whisky to be distilled for use in Teacher’s and to achieve that he selected peat from New Pitsligo for kilning his malt. Till today, we continue to smoke our malted barley using New Pitsligo peat to ensure the quality – a quality we are proud of and dedicate to you.”
The contrast between the two characters played up this imagined dichotomy of East-West, Wine-Whisky, Old-New, White-Black, and quite profoundly summarized the elemental forces that truly shape the world: when’s the next course, where you’re seated, where’s the toilet, who’s at the table and most importantly what’s on your plate and in your glass. The rest, as I like to say, is pedantry.
The aperitif was an agreeable but somewhat forgettable Champagne, Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Reserve. The first course, Grilled Portobello Mushroom, was juicy and succulent, but I wished there was something transitional to bring my champagne with me a little further in the journey so I would feel more ready for the whisky. Instead I was caught in a strange ménage-a-trois with my champagne and the Teacher’s Origin.
The Raw Tasmanian Oysters paired with, Teacher’s Single Malt, was incredibly fresh and exploded in my mouth to fill it with liquid goodness.
Mr Hicks and Mr Ch’ng both remark on the distinctive flavour of of Islay whiskies repeatedly. The subsequent course worked really well in helping me to understand what this “peated”-ness could mean in the absence of cigars.
The Filet of steamed sea perch with Ginger Puree was without a doubt, the highlight of the night, along with the Laphroaig 18 year-old. The blunt, round blanket of the steamed perch is simple but escapes being one-dimensional thanks to its sidekick ginger puree which has a sharp, rapid, almost uncontrollable character and consistency that reflects the dynamic fluidity of its flavour – which satisfied my craving for something more comprehensive, tactile and spicy.
Let’s now move on to the most talked about item of the night, the Sweet & Sour Pork. Think of the typical Chinese Singaporean home-made or zichar kind – with the exact same presentation but tasted much better. Meat was satisfactorily crunchy but not too much so as to alienate the incredibly manja pineapple who tagged along.
Next up was the Grilled Sirloin with Idaho Mashed Potato and Red Wine Sauce. The meat was sufficiently tasty with its locked up juices, however the overall ingenuity of this dish was lacking because seemed to me like standard beef and mash. A tip of the hat though, for the sparing use of salt which left my taste buds, slightly fatigued at this point, able to appreciate the lustration of the precious Laphroaig 25 year-old.
Dessert was a Classic Iced Parfait – tasty comfort-food, and was literally sin in a cup. It was not overly sweet, and had a tinge of almond-nuttiness that complemented the vanilla taste of it subtley.
Being one of the first few times I’ve had the pleasure of sampling premium whisky, I’m sold. Although I am not entirely sold on the idea of whisky-food pairing as I still have trouble believing that drinking such a premium whisky is enhanced by the addition of food. First of all, if using mixers on a posh product is tantamount to blasphemy as Mr. Robert Hicks elucidated in his speech, how is the addition of sophisticatedly flavoured food going to enhance the taste, isn’t whisky supposed to be liquid bread anyway. That said, we left with our stomachs content and taste buds tingling for the next tasting session.
Symphony of Senses – Hosted by Laphroaig and Teacher’s Global Brand Ambassador Robert Hicks & Master of Ceremonies Ch’ng Poh Tiong, organized by Beam Beam Global Asia Pte Ltd.
Editor’s note: Did you know that when you buy a bottle of Laphroaig, you’re actually buying a lease on a square foot of Islay which runs along the Kibride steam? When you buy a bottle you become a “Friend of Laphroaig.” Today the heart of our community is on the web. There are now over 250,000 Friends from over 150 countries.