This feature appeared in the July issue of Australian Bartender
Interviewed by Edward Washington
Dave Broom is one of the globe’s foremost authorities on the golden dram. If you haven’t checked out his voluminous educational platform theworldmasterclass.com then you’re living a life half full. We’re practically obsessed with malt over here at Bartender HQ and so it no surprise that we took the time out to ask Dave a few whisky related questions.
Dave, how did you first get involved in the whisky industry?
At the hard end. Working on the bottling line of Black & White in Glasgow. After a period with Oddbins wine merchants I became the features editor of a drinks trade weekly. First assignment was 3,000 words on whisky! That was 1988.
How did you get your first break as a whisky writer?
Not long after I went freelance. I’d been writing about wines and spirits but there seemed to be more opportunities with the latter – the cocktail boom was starting in London, fewer people were writing about spirits than wine, you could be more creative with the angles of the stories, education was needed – and a mag called Whisky Magazine launched.
Why is whisky such an emotive spirit – perhaps more so than any other?
For me it is the way in which it distils the landscape and the culture of its place of birth in the glass. You can taste Islay, Skye, Orkney or Speyside. How that happens is not clever marketing, it is part of some weird magic which we cannot ever fully understand.
Q+A What’s a good ‘breakfast whisky’ to start the day?
“I’d start gently. Auchentoshan or Linkwood.”
You just spent endless months travelling Scotland chasing whisky: what’s one place a whisky lover must visit?
I’m a west coast boy, so my automatic inclination is to say go west and then keep heading north, but I’d say visit a distillery – any distillery. Talk to the people there. They are the best teachers. Whisky isn’t just a technological creation; it’s part of the psyche. relax into Scotland and it’ll find you!
What has the biggest impact on a whisky’s final character: micro-climate, materials, the distillery’s production idiosyncrasies? Or something else?
For single malt it is mainly the last one, but it’s also the case that a distillery’s situation does appear to have an influence on the character of its spirit. There are big building blocks: do you peat or not, how do you mash, how long is your ferment, the size, shape of the stills, the speed of distillation, the wood profile but the fact is you can only, for example, make Laphroaig at Laphroaig. Weird magic!
Are there any whisky myths that you like to de-bunk when educating people?
You can add water (in fact more often than not you should), it can be mixed, it’s not just for old men, and it can be enjoyed with food.
What do you say to someone who says, “I don’t drink whisky”?
Give me 10 minutes and I’ll find one you like. I’ll ask them what they like to drink. That gives me an idea of the flavours they already enjoy. I may mix the whisky, dilute it to lower than normal strength, chill it. This is a spirit with a wider range of flavours than any other – there’s going to be one out there for you.
Australian single-malt: have you tried some? What did you think?
I’m very impressed not just in the quality but in the approach by your distillers who want to craft Australian whisky not replicate Scotch. It is genuinely exciting stuff.
What are two whiskies that have made you seriously sit up and take notice lately?
Talisker 57North (from the island of Skye) just did that magical thing of distilling the landscape perfectly. For non-Scotch, everything coming out of Japan’s newest distillery, Chichibu.
Finally, any tips for an aspiring drinks writer?
Always ask ‘why?’ and remember that the guys who make it know infinitely more than you ever will. Listen. Don’t get high on your own supply.