Learning how to drink whiskey with The Humble Tumbler

My Irish grandfather was a whiskey drinker* and Bushmills was his tipple of choice. When he died they put a white hanky over the Bushmills at his local pub in Tipperary. But despite whiskey being such a part of my heritage I’ve always thought it was a bit too grown up a drink for me. Realising that it’s probably about time I did grow up the perfect opportunity to rediscover whiskey came along in the form of an invitation from Clare Burder at The Humble Tumbler for a “taster” of her three week whiskey course.

Whiskeys and cheese ready for tasting
Whiskeys and cheese ready for tasting

I took my whiskey drinking Dad along because I’m a big fan of Clare’s from The Humble Tumbler wine course so I thought if anyone can demystify whiskey for me it’s Clare. Clare has teamed up with whiskey expert and bartender extraordinare Fred Siggins to run the course and he has the same pretension free attitude towards booze as Clare so it’s a good match. The courses are being held at The Attic which is a really atmospheric bar upstairs from The Black Pearl in Fitzroy.

Fred Siggins at work
Fred Siggins at work

 There’s a whiskey cocktail to start (I highly recommend the “Cameron’s Kick” which Fred makes with Scotch, Irish whiskey and lemon juice) Then Fred and Clare talk through a whiskey tasting. You get a decent “nip” or “wee dram” (more than I could drink) of each one plus some awesome cheese and popcorn to pair it with. The butteriness of popcorn actually goes really well with whiskey.

Cameron’s Kick cocktail – a new favourite

We started off with a single malt scotch (as you do). The great thing about the course is that it is completely independent so you get taste whiskey from some really interesting little producers. This was a 12 year old whiskey called Adelphi Fascadale from Highland Park. Fred describes it as “lovely straw, dried grain and honey nose”. I would describe it as very sharp, very strong and one to put serious hairs on your chest. From the United States Fred had hand selected a single barrel bourbon from Buffalo Trace. He describes it as having a “profile of oak and damp forest floor”. To me this tasted sweeter and more lively. It had almost the flavours found in many whiskey liquors.

Single malt and Buffalo Trace ready to taste
Single malt and Buffalo Trace ready to taste

We were all very pumped to try the Sullivan’s Cove whiskey after this distillery in Tasmania won best whiskey in the world last year. The Sullivan’s Cove Double Cask is “fantastically balanced” according to Fred between oak and grain characteristics. My verdict was that it was very impressive and the favourite of most who attended the evening.

But my favourite whiskey of the night was the 12 year old Hibiki whiskey from Suntory, the oldest whiskey producer in Japan. This was probably the most mellow of those tried with a sweetness to it and a tiny bit of smoke on the end.  Thanks to the Humble Tumbler I now feel much more confident in ordering a whiskey and am a total convert to whiskey cocktails! My granddad would be proud.

Sullivan's Cove
Sullivan’s Cove

Fred’s tips for drinking whiskey:

– The colour of whiskey doesn’t tell you much as a non-expert. It’s not necessarily indicative of how long the whiskey has been in the barrel.

– Don’t sniff your glass like you do with wine. Whiskey is strong so that’s the equivalent of staring straight at the sun without sunnies on. Keep your nose away from the glass and breathe in lightly through your nose.

– Take a bit in your mouth and push it around with your tongue to see how it feels.

– If you want to add water or ice go for it. In Scotland every pub has a jug of ware for diluting your dram and many American whiskeys are made to be taken with ice. It’s your call.

– The only food you are really supposed to pair with whiskey is more whiskey. That said eating food allows you to drink more whiskey so cheese with its high fat content is a good idea. Pair lighter cheese with the lighter whiskeys.

Gourmet Chick was invited to attend a taster of the Humble Tumbler’s whiskey course.

Clare Burder showing off the bottle of Hibiki whiskey at the Humble Tumbler
Clare Burder showing off the bottle of Hibiki whiskey at the Humble Tumbler

Details: The Humble Tumbler is running whiskey courses over three weeks from 6.30-8.30pm. Up coming courses start on 18 March and 8 July plus there are two masterclasses coming up Scotland v Japan and Single Malt Scotch Masterclass. Full details on the Humble Tumbler website.
Damage: $300 for the three week course.

*Note the Irish spell whiskey with an “e” so I have too in a nod to my granddad.

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