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The War of the Noses

War of the Noses (with whisky stain)

The Macallan/Decanter
War of the Noses

Morning of Competition

Shortly after joining the Bristol Wine Circle I was asked to participate in a Malt Whisky tasting competition in London.  I claimed I had absolutely no experience with whisky but Andrew stood firm in his belief that I would be beneficial to the team.  Besides, there was the morning train ride from Bristol to London during which I could study.  John was an avid whisky drinker and possessed an unparalled collection of miniatures.  He would bring them for training purposes.

Eight of us headed out that one winter morning.  Our team was composed of Andrew Scott (president of the Wine Circle), John (the Treasurer), Iain Dalrymple Ward, Robin Lincoln, Eva Schwarzer, myself, and two others whose names I have forgotten.   We took over a bunch of seats with a table and watched as John unzipped his duffel bag then set out dozens of miniature bottles.  Thus began my crash course in the Highlands, Lowlands, Campbeltown, different distillery styles, ages, geography, and history.  I was lost!  And I was amazed.  It was perfectly acceptable for eight university students to be sniffing whisky on a train first thing in the morning.


The competition was sponsored by The Macallan and Decanter magazine.  It was hosted by Imperial College and located at their South Kensington campus near the Royal Albert Hall.  There were three teams: Cambridge University (I am 90% sure it was not Oxford), Imperial College, and the University of Bristol.  These competitions had been dominated by Cambridge because there was one taster, who, as I was told grew up drinking whisky.  We mingled about a bit.  Besides us tasters there were the corporate sponsors and the “Macallan girls”.  We settled down in chairs to watch a video that provided an overview of Malt Whisky and the Macallan.

The Author

The teams would be judged on individual tasting scores and team answers for written questions and a map test.  There were five whiskys for the invidual tasting.  For each whisky we were to identify the area and the brand name for a maximum of five points.  The whiskys were Glendiddich, Bowmore, 18-year-old St Magdalene, Springbank, and 10-year-old Macallan.  In my “nosing notes” I partially circled St  Magdalene.  While I would love to suggest it was the one whisky I identified incorrectly, I strongly suspect it was the only one I identified correctly.

Iain Laughing

There were 19 questions such as, “Name the five main stages in the process by which Malt Whisky is made? (Bonus point awarded for correct order.)”  For the map test we were to locate the following distilleries: The Macallan, Highland Park, Pulteney, Talisker, Bladnoch, Glenkinchie, and Glen Scotia.  There was a question for the tie-breaker, “What is the best time to drink The Macallan?”

Iain and Andrew Nosing Whisky

After we turned in our sheets we could grab a glass from a banquet table that supported an ample supply.  The “Macallan girls”, kind of like cheerleaders in skirt-suits, walked around pouring unlimited glasses of whisky while the sheets were scored.  As expected, the one taster from Cambridge dominated the individual portion.  We suspected his father poured his first dram when he was a toddler, he was that good.  But the final results were based on the sum of both individual and team scores.  So in the end we barely missed first place, maybe by one point, thus we were awarded second.  I seem to recall that I was the offender because I misspelt Bladnoch or Glenkinchie on the map.  First place received a case of Macallan and we received a single bottle.  On our way out we nabbed a barely touched bottle of Macallans and conveniently forgot to return some glasses.


Most of our group headed to a nearby wine bar.  We had a few glasses of wine while we laughed about the day.  I imagine we ate something but I cannot recall eating that day.  We caught our evening train back to Bristol.  I was beat, probably burnt out by all of the strong alcohol, Eva and I had a relaxing ride home.  Iain, Andrew, John, and Rob tucked into the open bottle of whisky.  They finished the bottle and barely made it out of the train before it departed again.  As we were walking down the middle of the street from Bristol Temple Meads, Rob swore loudly because he left his expensive, wooden umbrella on the train.  He regained perspective and we all walked to our homes, glowing, merry, talking loudly.


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