There are no rules, (or if there are I was too busy boozing to catch them) and there are absolutely no distasteful and bizarre British initiation ceremonies involving animals.
A simple interest in whisky will suffice.
I’m not a big fan of ‘clubs’ it has to be said, organised fun doesn’t interest me, and I find the condition that by being a member of a club you are expected to attend regularly somewhat stifling. I don’t know what I’ll be doing tomorrow at half past seven, let alone next week or next month. So any clubs I have joined have been pretty disappointed by my attendance record and not that keen on renewing my membership. I’m not the antisocial miserable git that this makes me sound as I’ve joined and enjoyed all manner of clubs around the world, but I’ve never really found myself that enamoured by any of them enough to maintain anything more than a modicum of commitment.
The closest I have come to any form of initiation ceremony was when I once had to kneel on the beach in front of a Liberian prostitute to neck a bottle of beer whilst she pretended that it was a penis. Not my proudest moment I’ll admit, and after completing the challenge to be accepted into the Hashhouse Harriers (a running club) I realised that, that sort of thing was actually a regular occurrence, and so I never went back.
The Yangon Whisky Club (YWC) is a different kettle of fish, and is more of a regular and informal gathering than anything that involves membership cards, multiple copies of passport photos or beer wielding prostitutes.
One of my mates, James Erskine is the founder and the whisky guru of YWC. He originally hails from Scotland (the home of great whisky) and is as partial to a dram of the uiscebeatha as he is to wearing his kilt as often as possible. He established the club “In order to get the opportunity to drink great whiskies with lovely people”, which is as good a reason as any to go to all this trouble.
And that’s what we do.
And it’s not as pompous as it sounds, James dusts his tartan off once a month and leads us through a tasting of specially selected whiskies, holding the hands of those taking their first tentative steps into that golden world and sometimes holding their hands as they take tentative steps out of the room having consumed a drop too much. And then a few of us usually go out for a gallon of beer afterwards to soak up all that whisky.
Sophisticated it is not.
James however is the epitome of professionalism and the perfect toastmaster and tour guide for our taste buds, and I like to think we are (on the whole) a receptive audience. He passionately and knowledgeably guides us through the tasting process without blinding us with too much science or boring us with excess pontification (well only occasionally).
He puts in a lot of effort, in between meetings as ‘Great whisky’ is currently quite hard to come by in Yangon and spends a lot of time nosing around the dark corners and dusty shelves of liquor stores throughout the city sourcing the stuff.
The members are an eclectic bunch ranging from those who know a lot about whisky, those who like to think they know a lot about whisky and those (myself included) who would struggle to tell the difference between a fine whisky and a glass of khaung-yee (a rough and ready fermented corn liquor from Myanmar) but like trying nonetheless.
The first meeting back in May was a blind tasting (meaning the whiskies were not named prior to being drunk) and was a basic introduction to the different styles from distilleries from all over Scotland. James also threw in a drop of a local brew called Crown Royal Signature to challenge our senses and most (if not all of us) spotted the imposter; which does add some credence to Raymond Chandlers famous quote – ‘There is no bad whisky. There are only some whiskies that aren’t as good as others’.
Some like to drink their whisky with ice, though others say that this flattens the finish. Some prefer to take it neat whilst others insist that a drop of water softens the palate and improves the nose (whatever all that means), I just drink it as it comes. There is usually a bit of a discussion going on about each sample and I try to get involved as best I can using descriptions of smell and taste such as ‘old leather football boots’, ‘wooden loft ladders’, ‘a slice of leftover Christmas cake found at the back of the cupboard in April’, and ‘freshly ridden horse’. One of our group once proudly announced after a good long sniff ‘Do you know what, this really smells like whisky’ and we of course all mumbled in agreement, he was absolutely right, it did. But after a couple of glasses even relative newcomers to the “smells like game” get the hang of it, or at least they learn to wing it like most of us.
If you interested in joining up, (assuming you are in Myanmar that is) the Myanmar Times article published on the 25th September 2015 carries a (heavily edited) version of this blog which includes all the details.