Whisky has been part of Rosemary Moon’s life ever since her student days, but her latest ventures into the world of malts and grains is taking her passion to a whole new level.
The food writer from Tangmere is well known for her cookery and advocacy for local produce and she sees her new project – the Moonshine blog and founding of a women’s whisky club – as a natural progression.
“I’ve always loved whisky because everything I do is about flavour and I think a huge amount of flavour can be got from a very small amount of whisky,” she said.
From her own enjoyment Rosemary started to form the idea of a whisky club for women.
“I was kicking this idea around when I went to Scotland in the autumn because the perception of the world of whisky is that it is very male dominated,” she said.
“In fact, there are an incredible number of women working in whisky and a lot of people feel women have a more finely-tuned palette and can distinguish nuances between different things more clearly.
“And there are indeed quite a few master blenders in the industry who are women.
“But when you’re socially engaged in talking about whisky there is almost a perception that it is wrong to drink whisky if you are a woman.
“But why is that? It’s a bit like saying you go and choose fabulous lingerie for your own pleasure. It is something that if it makes you feel good then that’s great.
“Men tend to have an approach towards whisky that is ‘have I tried it before’, you know they’re bagging all the different ones, or ‘how rare is it and how expensive is it?’.
“For women I think it is a more holistic exploration – how does it make you feel what does it remind you of?”
When she was in Glasgow, Rosemary visited the Pot Still, a family-run pub with ‘young, dynamic’ Geraldine who started what is believed to be the country’s first whisky club for women.
“I thought you know what, that will go pretty well here in Chichester,” she said.
When Rosemary visits me for our tasting, she brings in a pack from Girvan Grain.
“When you have a single malt it is made from barley but whisky can also be made from corn, rye or wheat and that is what we call a grain whisky,” she said.
“If you like, grain whiskies have been viewed as the margarine in the sandwich instead of the butter, something that is not quite as good.
“I think this is changing, they are mainly used in blended whiskies and that can be quite a boutique blend.”
First of, we try a new-make spirit, just as it is off the still, having spent no time at all in the barrel.
It is clear, with no colour or character, and could be almost any spirit when tasted.
Next up is the 25-year, and Rosemary explains how the wood used is key to the colour given to it.
The flavour is instantly smoother, with vanilla and butterscotch notes and just a tiny amount of water opens up the sweeter flavours.
“It is a bit like life, you start off brash and you think you know everything, and then you get your heart broken a little bit and some knocks and bumps along the way and actually you become a much more interesting person – and that is almost what is happening here,” says Rosemary.
Our final Girvan Grain is a 30-year which has a much deeper starting point.
Rosemary’s top tip for smelling whisky is to pass it under the nose gently rather than sticking your nose straight into the glass.
“It is a bit like going to a party where you don’t know anybody, you don’t want to get stuck with the first boy you come across so you need to sort of look around a bit,” she said.
Next we move from the single grains to a blend – Compass Box’s Hedonism.
“As a cook I’m really interested in ingredients,” said Rosemary.
“It is when you start to put things together that they become really exciting and that is one reason why I think blends have a real place in the drinks cupboard of whisky enthusiasts.”
With the women’s whisky club, Rosemary is hoping to match all the different flavours we taste in the whisky with a ‘little nibble’ of food.
“There are so many different flavours in whisky and you can start to pick up those flavours with the food,” she said.
“The whole concept of having food with whisky is very interesting.”
For an advocate of local produce a venture into Scottish whisky may seem unusual.
However, Rosemary has already discovered a local link – one of the main whisky producing locations in Scotland belonged to the family of the Duke of Richmond and Gordon until it was sold in 1939.
“That makes Scotch whisky local food as far as I’m concerned,” she laughed.
Her hope is that women will begin to enjoy whisky far beyond the Burns Night toast.
“My concept is that you would have a wardrobe of whisky because we all have a wardrobe of clothes and there are different clothes to wear according to what you’re doing and how you feel and I believe there’s a different whisky for how you feel,” she said.
“Hopefully, through the whisky club based here in Chichester, we will be able to explore all of that together.”
The inaugural meeting of Chichester Whisky Women with be on February 10, at 6.30pm at The Greenhouse, 82 Fishbourne Road West, Chichester, 07854 051013.
There will be a charge of £15 to cover a one-course supper and a tasting of three specially selected whiskies.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org for further details of the event.
Rosemary is also holding a whisky tasting for Burns Night on Sunday at the Blacksmith Arms, in Donnington.
Details of the event are available at the-blacksmiths.co.uk or by calling 01243 785578. For more about the Moonshine podcasts visit: www.rosemarymoon.com.