I started drinking Scotch in my teens - usually Bells or Teachers. I loved it, but always ended up with a headache the next day. By the time I'd reached my mid-20's, I'd all but stopped drinking the stuff. I loved it - but it didn't love me, unfortunately.
Whizz forward to the late 90's now. My friend Geoff (G0LAM in Amateur Radio speak), used to go off to whisky tasting sessions in London twice a year. He was able to take a couple of guests and knowing that I'd had a penchant for whisky, used to invite me. I'd have loved to go, but didn't, on the grounds that I'd not be well the next day.
Well, one day he phoned me to say that his brother, Kevin (G4BUW in Amateur Radio speak), had bought a ticket to accompany Geoff that night, but was now unable to go, so the ticket was going spare, for free! I wern't born of a Yorkshire mother for now't tha knows, so couldn't pass up the opportunity to see what these sessions were all about. I was rather apprehensive when, as we left South Kensington underground station, we almost immediately turned into a pub to have a pint of beer first, "...to line your stomach...". After that was knocked back, we made our way the three hundred yards or so to the the tasting venue - in the Senior Common room of the School of Mines on the I.C. campus!
The Holland Club Dram Takers meet for whisky tasting sessions twice a year - on the first Tuesday of May and October, at Imperial College, London, right next door to the Science Museum. They formed over twenty years ago, from a number of members of the non-academic staff at the College who used to (and still do!) drink together in the social club - the Holland Club (hence the name) - and who appreciate Scotch Whisky.
The sessions follow a well-tried and tested pattern. At 6:45 pm the doors open and the Members and their Guests sign in and take a welcoming dram and a set of the tasting notes for the evening, from Lew, the 'Doorman'. This dram has a certain unusual 'quality' about it. We've had whiskies from Japan, India, New Zealand, Wales and even Ireland! Your group find a table to sit around. It will have a plate of cheese cubes and crackers, which have been prepared by Nick R, the 'Cheeseman'. Over the time I've been attending, the cheeses have been typically bought from Harrods, no less. A carafe of Scottish Spring Water is also available on each table.
At 7:00 pm, Roy, the 'Founderman', welcomes everyone and we all toast "The Dram Takers". Then the real fun begins. The first of five cask-strength single malt whiskies, purchased from the Scottish Malt Whisky Society by Ian, the 'Orderman', is introduced by Nick D, the 'Moneyman', and made available. Roland, the 'Pourman', uses a measure so that there is no favouritism shown, but I'm sure people try to engage him in conversation in the hope that he'll accidentally overfill the measure and spill a little extra into their glass!!
Discussions then abound about the merits and de-merits of the whisky under scrutiny. We usually have a laugh or two at the very descriptive (but slightly zany) notes that accompany the dram. Most of us try the sample neat, then add just a drop or two of water to what's left. It's astonishing what difference the smallest amount of water can make to the 'nose' and palate.
The glass that you were given when you entered becomes your glass for the whole evening, so the Spring water is typically used to swill out the 'old' whisky, ready for the next one.
Twenty minutes later, the second whisky is opened and introduced. Twenty minutes after that, the third. Meanwhile, Elios, the 'Chanceman' is likely to have collared you to buy some raffle tickets - there being three bottles of (commercial) single malts as prizes. After the fourth and fifth whiskies have been sampled, you can go back and have another of whichever whisky is your favourite. Some people even go back for a second favourite after that!
All in all, a splendid evening is enjoyed by around forty people - unsurprisingly, the same faces are seen at most tastings.
Well, after that first night, I thought the next day was going to be murder, but I woke up without the slightest trace of a headache. I was amazed - and put it all down to the fact that the Whiskies were all single malts. I decided that it must have been the blended whiskies that I drank in my youth that caused the headaches and so now I only drink single malts. That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it!
So how did Geoff get to be involved with the College's technicians in the first place? Well he used to 'work' as a volunteer in the demonstration Amateur Radio Station, GB2SM, in the Science Museum. One of our radio club members, Geoff Voller, G3JUL, was the curator of GB2SM since its inception. Volunteers were always being sought to go and operate the prestigious Station that was known world-wide, and Geoff ('LAM) used to go in on his days off. After the Station had gone off the air for the day, the two Geoffs would pop next door into the Holland Club for a pint or two. During one of these sessions, they were discussing the merits of Scotch whisky and were joined by one of the staff members, Bernard, who invited Geoff ('LAM) along to one of the tastings. After a couple more of the sessions, he was duly invited to become a Member of the Dram Takers in his own right, so that's how he was then able to invite his own friends along.
In 2005, Geoff and Margaret took a year-long sabbatical to their other home (in Northern Ireland), with a view to moving out there permanently. As the number of Members of The Dram Takers has to be very limited, Geoff felt he ought to relinquish his Membership of the Dram Takers so that others could enjoy the experience in his place. It was agreed with The Crew that I would take the Membership over, so now I get the opportunity to invite him along - if I feel like it!
Long may The Dram Takers flourish - and many thanks to The Crew for all the hard work they put in organising each meeting.
Finally, I must thank Geoff for persuading me to go along that first time. If it wasn't for him, I still wouldn't be drinking Scotch.
P.S. A typical tasting - October 2008 - 43rd Meeting of The Holland Club Dram Takers.
Welcoming dram - Connemara (Irish single malt whiskey)
59.37 Highland Southern (Teaninich), 97.6°, 55.8%, Nov 1983, 24 years, 'For lazy lotus eaters'
11.30 Findhorn (Tomatin), 103.0°, 58.9%, May 1990, 17 years, 'Pleasant and charming'
35.22 Lossie (Glen Moray), 103.4°, 59.1%, Mar 1998, 10 years, 'Apple pie and sherbet lemons'
54.26 Spey (Aberlour), 105.8°, 60.5%, Jun 1996, 11 years, 'Dark treacle and liquorice' - this was my favourite!
84.10 Spey (Glendullan), 101.5°, 58.0%, Sep 1997, 10 years, 'Sweetly tannic'