DRAM Mixxit Bar Apprentice of the Year 2016: Day Five

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Katharine Gemmell will be following our DRAM Mixxit Bar Apprentices of the Year 2016 each week as a quasi-contestant to experience the competition and let us know what they have been up to.

The last week of our Mixxit Bar Apprentice of the Year has dawned, and with it comes a hint of sadness. Having spent three weeks with the guys now, I feel like catching the bus from Glasgow to Stirling and meeting everyone in Maxxium’s mixing room has become part of my weekly routine.

Nerves have kicked in about the ensuing test and cocktail comp, but before we reach that, we have another prime day of training (which could be in the test) to go through first.

Today’s focus is our beautiful Scottish heritage and the gift from our ancestors that just keeps giving: whisky. The word comes from the Scottish Gaelic ‘usquebae’ meaning the water of life. I remember that vodka comes from the Russian ‘little water’ and I begin to think those ancient folk were looking for an excuse to drink their bevvy all the time by comparing it to water!

Learning all about the Scotch whisky regions and the rich history that the drink has in Scotland has made me realise how much I take this for granted. To me, it was just my Granddad’s favourite drink that I had never quite understood the fuss over. But now, from this course, I’ve realised how famous around the world our produce is and just how esteemed it is – it all seems to have suddenly clicked. As we taste a range of whiskies from different regions you can really tell that there is a plethora of different tastes, mouthfeels and flavours – they are all really unique. As usual, the Mixxit team go into in-depth detail that makes me feel like a master brewer (even though I’m a novice at best!).

Since starting this course, I feel like I’ve been looking at bars completely differently. I look at products and recite the facts in my head; I critique the bartenders (one girl committed a cardinal sin by putting her fingers all over the cup, I was appalled) and I look at a cocktail menu with a more knowing eye. Alcoholic drinks could be said to be at the core of socialising and society and knowing more about an activity, which I frequently take part in, is really refreshing. I feel that before the Mixxit Bar Apprentice I was blind – and now I can see.

Although, despite the many tastings that we have done – I still can’t seem to match my ideas to the tasting notes as we sample the whiskies. But Mike placates me when he says that what you smell is as individual as your personality and you can’t let anyone tell you what you should smell. He also tells us that the best way to drink whisky is… whatever way you please! So, if you are like me and can’t really think of it without a dash of coke – then the masters are saying this is perfectly OK.

Surprisingly, my favourite of the whiskies that we try is Laphroaig. Not normally one for newbies, the smokey peatiness is extremely pungent, but it gives me lovely memories of bonfires. Looking around at everyone trying their whiskies is quite a laugh. It’s funny to see a bunch of young, cool people looking like connoisseurs of fine drinks. Their noses twitch and hands make the liquid swirl like 19th-century gentlemen. This is clearly the new generation of learned and cultured drinkers – minus the bow-ties and plus a lot of body art.