A thoroughly Scottish night in

A thoroughly Scottish night in

Neil Ridley donned his tweeds, applied the moustache wax and packed the picnic blanket for a splendid night in...

Taste | 22 Jan 2010 | Issue 85 | By Neil Ridley

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For the uninitiated, The Whisky Picnic, isn't actually a picnic, well, not in the traditional sense. You'll find no stale cheese sandwiches, flat Lemonade or the inevitable invasion of Army Ants, which seem to blight those with only the scantest knowledge of the great British outdoors. Instead, it marks a reaction to the way younger drinkers are starting to perceive whisky and its accompanying lifestyle.

The annual event, brainchild of Nick Ravenhall and Duncan McRae, two 20-something Edinburgh based whisky aficionados is fast becoming something of a breakthrough with the bartending community in Scotland. Inspired by a
picture of several tweed-clad picnickers from 1902 the event is now in its second year, this time held at Niddry Street’s superbly atmospheric Caves. An appropriately attired crowd of 400 were in attendance, in search of some truly uniquely flavoured cocktails, bought to life by nine of Scotland’s most revered mixologists. Entry to the event was free, as were the range of cocktails on offer, with revellers encouraged to bring along a bottle of any whisky they could lay their hands on to be vatted in an empty hogshead kindly donated by Cooley’s…but more of that in a minute.

The organiser’s attitude to whisky and the business is at the very least, opinionated and heart-warmingly honest. “We were long frustrated with an elitism which seems to shroud all these great whiskies.” says Nick, continuing that “Scotland has some of the world’s very best bars, but no one seems to be that bothered in pushing the boundaries with using whisky in cocktails, the view of a lot of younger drinkers is that Scotch is all too intimidating and we wanted to set about demystifying it.”

Supported by several brands including Auchentoshan, Sheepdip, Yamazaki and Compass Box, the bartenders, among them Edinburgh’s award winning Sam Watson & Shervene Shahbazkhani each chose a whisky they felt would demonstrate a distinctive flavour profile when combined with some truly bizarre cocktail ingredients – from candy floss and sweet potato puree to Earl Grey tea and freshly cut grass (which gave a surprisingly wonderful freshness on the palate when combined with Springbank 10 Years Old) All of the resulting concoctions were then served up in traditional tin picnic mugs, giving the event another quirky hint of the outdoors. This was taken to a new level by Darren Rook, one of the evening’s nine bartenders and manager of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society in London, who used frozen river pebbles to chill his cocktail. “ I looked long and hard at the old photo which inspired the event and tried to imagine how you’d prepare something special in the middle of a remote Glen with only a few ingredients. Using stones in place of ice gives a real weight to the cups and hopefully a distinctly vintage, if not rustic feel to the drink!”

While the Whisky Picnic was predominantly about engendering a less traditional view of whisky to a new younger audience, there was also a more serious side, with the event also supporting the hugely successful men’s health charity, Movember. A whisky, bottled specifically for the charity by online retailers, Master Of Malt also made it’s way into the cask, as well as being liberally shared around between the guests.

There are plans to bottle miniatures of a Whisky Picnic blend, once the contents have had a chance to marry, which will no doubt feature in next years event. Three cheers to the great indoors!

The bartenders by the organisers

Sam Watson

Sam is, by his own admission, a very sexy man. “There’s nothing sexier than whisky” says Sam, who once claimed that “he could dismiss several schools of philosophy by shifting in his chair or toting his whisky glass”. Sam has spent the past eighteen months working the bar in Villager on George IV Bridge, Edinburgh. Sam Wears his heart on his (usually cropped or very tight) sleeve and his passion is evident when he works. Sam was taken on under the Maxxium Brands Apprenticeship program last year and we think is destined for many great things. We were delighted to have Sam as such an integral part of the whisky picnic crew. He’s the one that would make scrubbing the decks fun, but you’d never leave him on iceberg look out.

Jim Wrigly

Jim’s worked around the world but started his bartending in Newcastle, before settling for a time in Edinburgh where he forged his trade at Ricks. From there it was down to London to manage Albannach before heading up to the wonderful Lonsdale in Notting Hill. Jim now works for Mangrove UK, but is still passionate about Scotch whisky and makes regular appearances on Single Malt TV. Jim also starred in a TV commercial for Suntory Whisky that was aired internationally. A true gentleman, Jim has truly helped make it okay for bartenders to be passionate about whisky, and for that, we salute him!

Shervene Shahbazkhani

Shervene shot to fame when she opened The Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh. She’d been famous already doing other things and even appeared on the front of the guardian. That mad hair gets her perks in all sorts of places! Her rise to the top of the global bartending tree was nothing short of meteoric and she went on a Cocktail Competition winning spree that took her to all four corners of the world in one single year. Highlights include winning the 42 Below Cocktail world cup for Team Scotland last year in New Zealand (one person short)! Also, being personally commended by Marco Pierre White in the UK finals of Diageo’s world class competition and making the finals and placing in IPB’s bartender of the year competition are all things that we think are worth shouting about. Shev looks after a whole gaggle of bartenders at the voodoo rooms and is well and truly into all things whisky. She’s spreading the love with dedication to her craft and passion to the cause, so for that we must thank her.

Ryan Chetiwardana

Ryan has been quietly honing his skills behind bars all over the UK while perpetually studying. However, in the last 12 months he’s risen to become the very cream of the crop in terms of UK (and even global) bar-tending. Winning Diageo’s World Class UK program last year was what he calls the pinnacle of his career to date, but the list of achievements that Ryan’s quietly picked up over the years is staggering. Runner up in Theme’s Bartender of the Year, winning a creative round at the Global World Class Finals... the list goes on, and on.
Ryan was part of the original whisky picnic crew and has more ideas about innovation in whisky in a week than entire marketing / research and development / innovation departments have over their entire careers. A truly passionate, creative and dedicated bartender we are proud to have Ryan so closely associated with the Whisky Picnic. His dediaction to understanding all forms of spirits is outstanding - he’s made pilgrimages to Mexico and Japan in the past two months alone!

Metinee Kongsrivilai

Another whisky picnic original superstar!Metinee has always helped us when we were having moments of doubt by being so passionate and excited about what it is we’re trying to achieve that she’s probably the one to thank for the fact that the whole thing is still going! Metinee started out in the game (like so many of us) while at University in Edinburgh, and quickly developed a taste for the booze (just kidding). She maintained her course however and navigated her way to a degree in Floral Management before going full time at Dragonfly Cocktail Bar in the Westport. Edinburgh’s Westport just wasn’t big enough for Metinee though and it wasn’t long before she was heading over to help Stuart run the Bon Vivant on the other side of town. Metinee is one of the most consistent bartenders we’ve ever been worked with or been served by. She’s great with people, and is a dream to work alongside.

Stuart McCluskey

Stuart is the oldest of all the whisky picnic crew this year, and now with his own, multi award winning bar –The Bon Vivant –he’s definitely the one with the most responsibilities! However, we’re delighted that Stuart’s found the time (and the passion) to be part of this years picnic. Stuart has held a variety of different roles over the years in various corners of the globe but there are many people in the trade today that would happily say it was because he took them under their wing when they were starting out. A great man to learn from Stuart is truly a great host, and we very much enjoy his new bar.

Darren Rook

Darren’s real name is actually “the whisky guy,” and we are so jealous of that its unreal. Darren eats, breathes and really lives whisky to the core. The great news is that he’s actually got a really interesting life, plenty to say on a variety of topics, and is not in the least part pretentious. This therefore makes him an ideal candidate to be part of the whisky picnic crew. Darren broke the mould last year with a truly molecular creation. A whisky cocktail that came on a plate with a spoon. It was divine. He’s continued this trait in whisky terms by launching a whole number of projects ranging from his soon to be relaunched website, to all the work he’s doing to support a charity very close to our hearts Movember. He’s doing so much work off his own back to get whisky people supporting the cause he deserves, well, a whisky! He’s also doing loads of work to change the face of whisky -who would have thought you’d see the day that the Scotch Malt Whisky Society would appoint a 26 year old their manager of their London Branch, or start using twitter?
Darren’s also a bit of a difficult one to keep tabs on having spent time in Canada, Edinburgh and now settling in London all in the past couple of years.

Joanna Kent

Joanna is so good that she works in two bars. Not just any two bars either, they actually happen to be up there with our favorite bars in the world. Joey (as we call her) was the brawn behind an event we tried to organise to promote the whisky picnic - it was a cross between a whisky dinner and a marathon, but was held at the Saint just a few weeks ago. The Saint does good food, but this was a one off menu created by their executive Chef Lyndsey Wood that really rocked. Eight courses of cutting edge cuisine delivered in flamboyant style by the team that Joanna heads up down there. We can’t thank her enough for all the work she put in. On her days off Joey rocks it out behind Bramble’s Bar on Queen Street. Joanna’s got an incredible palate and is the first to shout out flavours when we’re stuck for ideas about what it is we’re tasting.

Tamer Habashy

Tamer is one of the most prolific cocktailians in Edinburgh - and his freshly original approach to drinks creation is what inspired the whisky picnic to recruit his skills for the event. Tamer tends the Bar in Monteiths, a subterranean bar and restaurant housed in an old kilt shop just below Edinburgh’s Royal Mile. Having only tended the bar for two years, Tamer has surpassed all expectations by becoming one of the most knowledgeable and passionate people working in Edinburgh just now.
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