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Noggins of blended whisky rubbed rarefied shoulders with exclusive malts at an invitation-only celebration of a whisky expert’s 50 years in the business.
For a year ‘The Nose’, aka Richard Paterson, Whyte and Mackay’s master blender, whose arteries possibly flow with whisky, has been on a worldwide tour marking the golden anniversary of his Campbeltown start in 1966.
Paterson is famous for hurling good malts on the floor during action-packed presentations that owe more to stand-up comedy, and last Friday his whirlwind whisky history lesson saw him lead an Ardshiel tasting.
Proprietors Flora Grant and Marion McKinnon had selected an audience which combined Campbeltown whisky industry insiders from Springbank and Glen Scotia, connoisseurs, and people who quite openly said they did not like the drink.
Paterson’s talk almost dovetailed with the 10th anniversary since Grant and McKinnon took over at the Ardshiel and transformed it into one of Scotland’s leading whisky bars, at the same time helping to boost profits at many distilleries.
Paterson said: ‘On September 5, 1966, as I pushed through the door at A Gillies and Co’s Glasgow headquarters – at that time the owner of Glen Scotia – it was like entering somewhere out of a Dickens novel.
‘The same week the first episode of Star Trek was broadcast on the 8th and Captain Kirk was going “Where no man had gone before … on a five-year mission” – and I was heading to Campbeltown.’
On Friday, in the space of two hours and with the help of six samples, including a 40-year-old Fettercairn – retailing at £3,000 a bottle – Paterson may have even converted a few.
The tasting followed a whistlestop lecture combined with a slideshow on the drink’s history and Paterson’s own life.
Gems included a black and white picture of former Springbank master distiller Frank McHardy filling a cask, and a plastic model of a Phylloxera aphid.
Paterson told the audience that particular pest destroyed French vineyards in the mid-19th century, helping whisky to knock brandy off its pedestal as a gentleman’s drink of choice in London.
Whisky was in his blood in more ways than one. Paterson explained his grandfather opened a specialist blenders and bottlers in 1933 and, as a pre-teen, under his father’s guidance, he learned to nose whisky.
Paterson added: ‘It all started with my grandfather, but the Paterson history goes back much further and includes one of the founders of the Bank of England, William Paterson.’
Paterson compared nosing to a perfumier’s skill when looking for the top notes in a perfume and mentioned the blending for Chanel Number Five.
He demonstrated nosing and tasting, suggesting a large sip is taken and swirled around the mouth for 40 seconds before swallowing, leading each individual sampling after a mighty: ‘Slàinte mhah’.
The first sample was a limited edition, triple-matured, 21-year-old blended whisky which, thanks to Paterson’s skills, has helped White and Mackay garner gold awards from the International Wine and Spirits competition.
After sampling four more magnificent malts, the final drink was another blend – Shackleton, named after the explorer. This had a certain tough character, but for anyone who had not swallowed all of the other five measures it was in a different class.