Karen Krizanovich: Amateur Dram-atics
‘It’s whisky without an e,” he says. “Single malt. Never served with ice but with a drop of cool water, preferably from the Highlands.’ This is not some orthorexic neurotic alcoholic who has to have things just so. This is a normal person who happens to really like single malt whisky and who drinks enough of it to know. He drinks it most nights – even more on Burns Night.
In his passion I cannot join him, although I try. Years ago, I made the error of booking a sleeper from Euston to Perth for the glorious 12th (well, I was the guest of the shoot’s owner, so we all steamed up from London after the 12th to save about £5). Going up wasn’t so bad. The overnight train was a peaceful change from when my fellow grouse hunter tried to take his matched set of side-by-side Purdeys on to the plane in his hand luggage – police move very quickly when shotguns are found in a carry-on. Coming back on the sleeper, I drank many tiny miniatures of cheap blended whisky. The only thing I can recall of that journey is trying to find my cabin, stepping on someone’s head instead of the ladder for the top bunk and accidentally brushing my teeth with a biro. So, early encounters with whisky did not make us friends.
But I still try even if I don’t quite understand it. Champagne, I get. For whisky, I figured you just dump grains into a big copper vat and then make a movie about it. (I’m the kind of person who keeps an entire set of Waterford Mixology champagne coups in perpetuity in the freezer just in case you stop by. In fact, please do.) But no, whisky’s location – the indigenous water that hosts its volatile gases – has its own personality. There is one distillery in Glasgow that gets its water washed down from the Necropolis, you know. There’s a big difference in the taste of the water between, say, Islay and Spey. Softness equals strength.
My fellow hunters showed me that all water isn’t equal. Up on the moor, when they were proffering their hip flasks, I said I didn’t drink whisky because I didn’t like the harsh taste, uttering the quip: ‘It’s like burlap and vomit.’ Something got poured into a tin cup and into that, a splash of water from a rock. My jaw dropped. I’d never seen anyone actually drink from a mountain stream. In America, if you drank from a rock you’d probably die. In the Highlands, however, these men who probably avoided Brita filters at home sought out the tiny streams that fed the big greeny browny lakes. First, they passed the cup amongst themselves and then to me. Perched on a sharp boulder near my broken gun, I thought they were trying to poison me with their ancient oddball liquor and rotten water. All eyes on me, I took a sip. Inside my mouth, there was a soft explosion of the earth, the water and the sky. My mind was so blown that for years afterwards, I thought whisky was only good if I was in the Highlands wondering where all the grouse had gone.
But of course that’s nonsense. There are at least five single malts in my bar in London and I’m determined to enjoy them via different tasting receptacles. My favourites so far are Waterford’s Lismore Whisky glasses, although I can’t decide which of the four shapes work best. Today, it’s Lismore 5.5oz footed tasting tumbler because it’s professional – and it holds less so it’s unlikely I’ll be using the pig emoji in any texts. But yesterday it was the Lismore 7oz straight-sided tumbler – which is manly but also womanly. Ava Gardner once said she wished to die ‘…with a cigarette in one hand and a glass of whiskey in the other’. Good whisky can never be in style because style has nothing to do with it. Like the water from that rocky place, good whisky transcends. It’s a world you share with yourself, whether from a tin cup or Waterford.
Karen Krizanovich began her career as a Sex Agony Aunt for Sky Magazine and writes for The Sunday Times, GQ and others. When not being admired, she is much sought after.