Do you Know What You're Actually Drinking?

Highland Park's Gerry Tosh shares the 'rather quaint'  intricacies of Scotch whisky with Cape Town

If you're Scottish it's a given that you drink whisky, chew haggis and wear a kilt (or at the very least a Scotch baby gro) from an early age and Global Brand Ambassador for Highland Park Gerry Tosh is certainly no exception. From the moment Whisky Magazine's 'Scottish Whisky Ambassador of the Year' was born his mother was smearing his gums with Glen Livet to combat teething problems and his father worked in the beer trade. Gerry has flown to Cape Town to share his passion at the Whisky Live Festival and when I meet the delightfully animated Scotsman it quickly becomes apparent that he is wild about whisky. I can't say that I'm surprised.

Gerry grew up playing rugby and guzzling beer until he met his wife and embarked on a 'spirit-ual' journey through rums and tequilas in a bid to impress her, before he chanced upon whisky. Gerry and his wife now have two children aged eight and 21 and he says that the hardest part of his job is balancing work and home life as he spends six months of the year abroad.

"I'd like to think that the reason why she married me was because of my unbelievable good looks and charm but she'd probably say it was whisky"

The first whisky he fell in love with was easy drinking Dalwhinnie which comes from the highest mountains in northern Scotland and his pallet changed as he grew up. His quest to learn everything there is to know about whisky lead him to tasting it, reading books and, before he knew it, he was totally enthralled by what happened in the olden days.

"I knew who started it, how whisky is made, and about what happened in periods including the 1800's when grain whisky, which is less intense than malt whisky, was introduced," he quips, "I thought to myself, 'Oh, this is rather quaint!'."

Gerry's been working in the industry for 12 years having visited most Scottish distilleries and a selection of international breweries and vineyards. When he began working for Highland Park he spent several weeks in the distillery where he got to smell and touch firsthand what experts including Michael Jackson and David Broome had written about.

Highland Park is regarded as the best in the world because it uses processes that haven't changed in over 200 years including traditional malting and sharing casks. With a slight temperature change between summer (12 degrees) and winter (2 degrees) the location of Highland Park means that whisky can be matured very slowly.

"It might take a long time to become good," explains Gerry, "but it stays that way and matures for a very long time."

At a time when he was doing tastings for Highland Park the company approached him and offered him the job of Global Brand Ambassador. Most people are introduced to whisky via easy drinking blended varieties and Gerry's job is to sit them down and ask the question: 'Do you know what you're actually drinking?'. He travels the world teaching about the processes and complexities involved in whisky.

"Every week I learn something new and I keep finding another way of looking at whisky that fuels my growing fascination"

"Whisky has always been a drink that has been enjoyed socially in Scotland. In the olden days you would discuss the politics of the day over a glass and that hasn't changed. Although people drink at home most whisky is consumed with a group of friends at the bar or the golf course. It helps to create an atmosphere and can be a talking point in itself.

"Most people think of a whisky drinker as somebody who is 45-years-plus, has a lot of money, is well-educated, likes reading books by the fireplace and smokes cigars but if you go to Taiwan you'll encounter a huge young female population of whisky drinkers."

"Don't ask for ice in Scotland lest you'll be thrown out of the bar. Scotland is so cold all you have to do is leave your glass on the bar for three minutes for the same effect"

"The best way to drink whisky is down to personal preference. Adding water breaks the surface tension across the top of the glass and brings out the aromas whilst adding ice solidifies the oils and fats so that aroma doesn't escape.

"Making whisky is a very simple process that has been going on for hundreds of years: add water to the barley so that it germinates, stop it from growing by drying it, use peat to create flavour, use coal to bring the moisture down, mill it so that it's lumpy, add more water to take the sugar out of the barley, add yeast to make a rudimentary beer and distil it to separate the alcohol from the water. The spirit is then stored in an oak cask for a minimum of three years before it is classed as whisky."

Pairing Highland Park 25-year-old with Hagen Daz is the cheapest way to get to the Scottish Orkney Isles

"Like wine, whisky pairs with a number of different foods. The Highland Park 12-year-old pairs with sushi, whilst the 18-year-old pairs with dark meat. For the best whisky experience of your life pair a bottle of Highland Park 25-year-old with Hagen Daz vanilla ice-cream," explains Gerry, "The vanilla flavours complement each other and the ice-cream masks the tingling sensation of the high-strength whisky."

Gerry's personal favourite is the Highland Park 21-year-old which, coincidentally, he likes to drink by the fireplace after the kids have gone to bed. The 21-year-old is spicy and dry which suits his pallet.

"There are a number of special editions produced at Highland Park that become highly collectable including the Saint Magnus series. In the olden days the Orkney Isles were owned by two Norwegians, Magnus and Hawkin. When Hawkin challenged Magnus for ownership of Orkney and even went as far as to arrange for him to be killed Magnus was ordained a saint. In May 2011 we will release the last of the Saint Magnus series Hawkin which, of course, is named after the evil one."

By Lisa Nevitt

We've spoken to a whole bunch of inspiring people who are passionate about what they do. Be sure to visit our Interviews Section.

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