Ian Wisniewski writes about spirits, particularly whisky. He finds the production process endlessly fascinating and visits distilleries as often as possible, as he sees this as the best place to learn more. He’s also very interested in the influence of glassware and dilution in the resulting flavour profile, and in the way that we perceive aromas and flavours, through the amazing cooperation between the palate, olfactory and the brain. Apart from that, he finds it really enjoyable to experience the flavours and character of a whisky without any analysis or thought, and just to feel it.
Can you remember your first dram?
Yes, vividly. My first dram as a spirits writer was The Balvenie Single Barrel 15 year old, in the company of the then Master Blender David Stewart which added enormous significance to the experience, as I asked him how the different flavours were created. His replies ignited my passion for whisky and the production process. Scotch whisky drunk before this was entirely pragmatic and consumed with a mixer for the effect, not the flavour.
What attracted you to the industry?
I was always very interested in food and drink, but assumed this would remain a personal interest and that my love of the Arts would provide a career opportunity. I applied for various jobs in journalism and was offered a job by a drinks magazine, which I accepted as I really liked the editor and the location of the office, just off Jermyn Street. Within a few months I found the drinks industry fascinating as there are so many aspects; production, innovation, packaging design, advertising, PR, on-trade and off-trade, and they all need each other.
Can you share some memorable moments of your career or with whisky?
Some memorable moments are personal and emotional. For instance, walking from Bowmore distillery with a dram enjoyed on the edge of Loch Indaal, on a quiet, moonlit night. Becoming a Keeper of the Quaich and then a Master of the Quaich was amazing, being among so many whisky people in a beautiful setting, and enjoying an amazing banquet. Visiting Aberlour and being snowed in at the Craigellachie Hotel which extended the visit.
What advice would you give to someone who is new to whisky?
It depends whether you want to go for full Geek and Nerd status, or remain a normal person who enjoys whisky without being addicted to detail. For the latter it’s easy; keep enjoying whisky, there’s no need to be an authority to enjoy the flavours, they are rewarding in themselves. To attain ‘Geekhood’, attend as many events and distilleries as possible and particularly tutored tastings. If you don’t like some whiskies it’s ok to say that, you will find plenty you do like! Also, read as much as you can. There are many sources of information, but keep an open and challenging mind so that you reach your own verdicts.
How much should someone spend on a bottle of whisky?
As much as you can afford.
If you could only drink one whisky for the rest of your life which one would it be?
Bruichladdich Valinch 1986. I tasted this at a launch event hosted by Jim McEwan, who is an amazing speaker as he conveys knowledge and emotion.
Who do you consider to be a whisky icon?
It is very difficult to name one person, because there are so many incredibly talented people in the industry and so many different aspects of the industry: production, innovation, blending, coopering, packaging design, distillery design and installation, ambassadorial work, cocktail creation and whisky communicators.
The late Dr Jim Swann was truly inspirational and very generous with his knowledge, I worked with him on a few projects and discussed articles with him, and it was a truly enriching and enlightening experience. Richard Forsyth is an icon of distillery design and construction, and also very generous with his knowledge which has elevated many of my articles and books. I have also been incredibly lucky to benefit from the immense experience and insights of Dr Jim Beveridge, Dr Bill Lumsden, Brian Kinsman, Alexandre Sakon, Dr Rachel Barrie, Emma Walker and Martine Nouet.
What is your favourite whisky bar in the UK and globally?
Can I turn this into an opportunity to state my favourite bar in which I have enjoyed whisky? It is the bar at the Hotel Kamp in Helsinki. My favourite bar that specialises in whisky is in the Craigellachie Hotel, partly because of the selection available and partly because of the amazing times I’ve enjoyed there with other whisky lovers. Also, after a great dramming session, it really helps that it’s just a short journey up the stairs to get to my room…!
Desert Island dram?
Glenmorangie 21-year-old Sauternes Finish as it combines elegance with complexity and the range of flavours includes Tarte Tatin, one of my favourite desserts. I love whiskies that deliver but also retain an element of enigma and mystery, which compels me to have another sip.
What do you enjoy drinking when you aren’t having a whisky?
Cocktails! One reason I love cocktails is the theatricality of seeing them prepared; it’s like bar counter choreography, and the sense of occasion this creates. I also love the twilight atmosphere and the design of cocktail bars. My favourite cocktails include the Margarita, with as much salt and lemon as possible, Bloody Mary which I like with a lot of lemon juice, horseradish, and celery salt (but not with Sherry). My love of citrus also explains why I’ll happily sip a Sidecar.
Polish vodka, especially Zubrowka, has such a complex flavour, and because this is the country my family originates from, there is also an emotional element. The same applies to a delicious Polish speciality, sok z czarnej porzeczki (blackcurrant juice).