I tried that once. Didn’t like it.

I was having lunch with a friend of mine several weeks ago and mentioned that I was attending a scotch whiskey convention. He turned up his nose and said ‘yeah, I’m not a fan of scotch’.

‘Fair enough’ I said, and thought no more of it.

Now, upfront I must admit to being a whisky moron. I like drinking it. I don’t know that much about it. Before the convention, I couldn’t have told you the difference between a Speyside scotch and an Islay. I knew that there were a bunch of different distilleries, but I hadn’t tried that many and to me one was much the same as another. Mainly because up to this point I have more often than not added coke to Johnny red and called that drinking scotch.

I was quite happy to accept my friends dislike of scotch at face value because other than me liking scotch and him not, I had no more knowledge of the stuff than he did. Reflecting on this after the convention, I wondered what else I pass judgment on without knowing nearly enough to. Probably almost everything.

I spent the entire convention well out of my depth. There was in excess of one hundred and twenty different whiskies on offer, and I think I managed to sample perhaps a third. One thing that struck me was just how different they were. Of course, certain regions had their similarities, but even within a single distillery the variety of one vintage to another, and even differences in barrels of the same vintage were noticeable.

I won’t go into the ins and outs of scotch appreciation (at least not too much). There are many sites out there that do an excellent job of this already (see the end of this entry for some links). At some point, I will endeavour to bring this post somewhere in the vicinity of software testing.

Firstly, consuming something is not necessarily the same thing as appreciating it. With scotch, there is far more to the picture than whether you have it neat, or add water or ice.

There’s the kind of glass you use – balloon? tulip? shot?, The amount of time you allow the scotch to breathe, how vigorously you agitate the liquid, whether or not (and how much) you warm the liquid with your hands, how far away you hold the glass when nosing the spirit, how long you hold the liquid in your mouth, how long before you allow air into your mouth after swallowing (and whether you allow the air in from the nose or the mouth) and so on.

Try that with any one of several thousand very decent malt whiskies from around the globe and you have years of sampling ahead of you. It makes the ‘yeah I’m not a whisky fan’ (or the ‘scotch and coke, thanks’) way of thinking seem somewhat provincial.

I had two days exposure to some of the best whiskies in the world, and some expert help when it comes to appreciating the stuff. There was the occasional whisky wanker who wanted to overwhelm the noobs with jargon, but by and large those there who were in the know were happy that there were so many fledglings like myself getting wanting to learn.

At the end of the day, one theme was repeated.

Don’t worry about what other people’s expectations are. It doesn’t matter what other people say, what matters is what you enjoy.

Age is not necessarily a measure of quantity, or is alcoholic content. If you enjoy a blended twelve year old scotch over a forty year old single malt, it doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t know good scotch from bad.

What matters is finding a scotch (or several) that you enjoy, and exploring their characteristics. If you try a variety and decide that scotch isn’t for you, that’s fine too, but at least you know enough about it to know why.

I said I was going to bring this post somewhere in the vicinity of software testing – actually, bugger it. I think there’s enough there for testers to take and relate to testing without me spelling it out explicitly.

For the record, I particularly enjoyed the Glenfarclas 30 year old.

How to taste single malt scotch

A beginners guide to single malt whiskey

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