Continuing our tête-à-tête series with the beverage industry’s finest, we’re excited to share this one with Diageo Reserve Brand Ambassador Nick Ord in particular. Why? Because he speaks of the subject in such depth and with so much passion that it makes it hard for us not to share the enthusiasm. Read on as Nick shares how he truly feels abut the spirit we all love so much.
What is your favourite Whisky/Whiskey and why?
If I was choosing the Whisky I feel has the most incredible taste and makes my spine tingle I would go for Lagavullin 16 Year Old, an opinion I have kept for 10 years or more (since my palate and wallet came of an age to appreciate it), it is just so dramatic a flavour, that you never forget. But sometimes by the beach, in a restaurant or perhaps when mixing a Rob Roy, you don’t always want the biggest and boldest, so for a Desert Island Whisky I would opt for something more versatile. My go-to Whisky for many a year in this regard has been Johnnie Walker Black Label, available wherever you find yourself around the world, affordably priced and with just the right balance of fruit, wood and smoky notes to serve as a neat nightcap, a soda spritz, highball or cocktail base.
If you were to make your own Whisky, what are the qualities of 5 whisky brands that you admire and would be inspired by?
I would never presume to do the work of Gods! Whisky makers are both lifelong scientists and artists with a skill I can only gaze at in wonder. That said, I feel inspiration of any kind should be taken from your heroes and sources of passion, so why limit your vision to other Whiskies? To create a new Whisky that will take the world by storm, you should have a singular vision to do something unique and inventive. A great recent example of this would be Haig Club, which is incomparable to any other product available and has elevated Grain Whisky to the top shelf whilst ruffling a few feathers along the way with its bold approach.
What is your take on age statements and the current ambiguity and industry changes?
Technically the age statement by itself does not impact a Whisky’s flavour so shouldn’t be used as a judge of merit. There are so many other factors to consider than time spent in the barrel, such as how many times has the barrel been used, what else has it contained in the past, what size or shape it is, what kind of Oak is it made from…there are some incredible 10 Year Olds out there that I would drink ahead of their older variants, such as Talisker. However for at least 40 years brands have designed some of their best expressions around this indicator that any consumer can instantly recognise and identify with and there is huge strength in that message. Older certainly does not mean better, but if you are buying a dram for your grandfather on his birthday, will he be more impressed with a 10 Year Old or a 30 year Old? The ambiguity comes from one of customer perception and of course the unavoidable fact that stocks are being depleted at a rapid rate with huge markets like India and China falling in love with Scotch! The more the price goes up and scarcity increases, the more demand is fueled, I attribute the current explosion in US Rye Whisky to be a reaction to such market pressures and there are some amazing things happening in that sector like Bulleit Rye. I keep my message very simple on the matter, do you enjoy the Whisky? If so then it is the right age for you. Enjoy.
How seriously do you take reviews and tasting notes in books and media – do your opinions ever vary wildly based on what you read?
This obviously depends on who is writing the review, there are some great Whisky writers out there who’s opinion I trust implicitly. I would be wary of some of the less reputable sources and websites though. I would not say that a review has ever changed my opinion but they have been the cause of some stimulating debates! I will add Whiskies to my ‘wish-list’ based on recommendations from people I respect. As to tasting notes, if they are over-written I find they can intimidate some consumers who don’t necessarily agree with the conclusions and you risk losing their trust if you preach too forcefully, but a few solid descriptors to create a tasting roadmap and set the tone of the experience is all for the better. There are hundreds of thousands of different flavour compounds and even the most trained and experienced sommelier cannot know them all, so who is to say you are wrong in saying you detect a certain flavour? You are simply using your own olfactory memories and experiences to interpret the flavour. I come back to a similar place as with age statements, do you like the flavour? If the answer is yes then good, if you can say why then even better.
Would you seek to convert someone who staunchly believes they do not enjoy Whisky and if so, how?
The joy of the Whisky category is its depth and diversity, saying you do not like Whisky is a little like saying you do not like food! If you do not like what you have tried so far then you simply have not found the one for you, or perhaps the right way to drink it. Often people who are staunchly averse to a spirit have had a bad experience in the past, perhaps having sneaked a sip of their Mum’s Gin and Tonic in their youth or over-indulged at college (Tequila often hits that particular roadblock but can be a glorious category when done right). Cocktails can come into their own here, a light and herbaceous Whisky like Dalwhinnie 15 Year Old works surprisingly well in a Mojito and most people I have convinced to try have enjoyed a well-made Whisky Sour. Ultimately though it is not our job to convert, we are there to host and make people happy, whether they drink vodka, rum, Single Malt or virgin Pina Coladas!
What advice would you give to people wishing to get into professional spirit tasting, writing and connoisseur-ship as a hobby or career?
At least as important as your knowledge and palate are your writing and presentation styles, which should be an easy and enjoyable read as well as factual and offer a balance between education and entertainment. Make sure your grammar and spelling are sharp, you can be the most well-learned and opinionated facturbator on the planet but you will soon lose your audiences trust if you cannot express yourself properly. These days images and social media play a key role as well so sharpen your camera skills and make sure you reach the right audience.
What is the most memorable highlight of your career in the beverage industry thus far?
Coming to India has been the most rewarding move I have made after almost ten years travelling, I have been proud to be a part of the revolution in bartending here that mirrors a curve I was a few years behind when it happened in the UK in the 90’s (I came to the scene in the early 2000’s). The industry is blossoming here and the top bartenders’ techniques and knowledge is exponentially improving year-on-year alongside the growth in the independent bar scene which is beginning to challenge the established order of hotels and big players. I met my wife along the way (at a Whisky Cocktail evening no less…) and have found a rich seam of culture, history and real-life depth which is tangible, you can almost feel the air itself abuzz with life here, with every city and state having its own unique flavour.
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Follow Nick on Twitter: @nickord