Ask The Foodie: Ron Taylor

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 November, 2012, 11:21am

Scottish wine and spirits educator Ron Taylor, who calls himself the "black sheep" of his family, dropped out of university to join the merchant navy. He spent 12 years at sea before taking a management position in the transport industry. He joined Cathay Pacific as head of fuel procurement. He retired in 2007, but rejoined the industry as vice-president Hong Kong and Asia-Pacific for Worldwide Flight Services. He began studying wines and spirits more than 30 years ago through the Wine & Spirit Education Trust, and for the past 12 years has also been an independent lecturer. His passion is single malt whisky.

Can you recall your first single malt?

The first whisky I tasted was Famous Grouse, and the first single malt was The Macallan. It was just called "Macallan" then - no age statement and nothing about sherry oak.

What do you like about single malts?

For me single malts are about complexity. There are lots of other very expensive, very well made, and very enjoyable drinks out there, but for intellectual complexity, Scottish single malts take a lot of beating.

Do you also drink blends?

There's nothing wrong with blends. I drink them a lot. The concept of a blend is taking 20, 30 or 40 whiskies together, and hitting all the corners of your palate. A blend is designed to have consistency and continuity. A single malt is about surprise, and I never tire of that surprise, but sometimes when you get home from work, you don't want an intellectual exercise. You just want a drink.

Why did you decide to start teaching?

I love the subject, and I love being able to do it. It is a great way of keeping up to date on a subject, because you will always get asked questions you don't know the answers to. Wines and spirits are such huge subjects, you could spend 10 lifetimes studying them.

Do you have any favourite malts?

I go through phases. Right now the 21-year-old Highland Park knocks my socks off. The 18 is fantastic. The 21 is a bit more subdued in the nose, but if you're patient with it, it has layers and layers and layers. It's a truly intellectual whisky. You can never go wrong with the 18. The Glenrothes [Select Reserve] is fantastic value for money. Favourites change over time. I used to love Laphroaig; now it is Lagavulin. I've got a bottle of 21-year-old Caol Ila that is fantastic.

Which other spirits interest you?

I like Ketel One vodka. I like Stolichnaya; that has a little bite to it. There are a lot of good gins out there. There are some fantastic rums, some from the old French islands.

A lot of old whiskies are being sold for sky-high prices. How important do you think age is?

I own a lot of whisky, but nothing older than 25 years old. I've been drinking whisky for a long time, and it doesn't need to be more than 25 years old. The Highland Park 21-year-old is fantastic. The 16-year-old Lagavulin is gobsmacking.

How much of the emphasis on age is marketing?

They are running out of old barrels. That's why there is such a price increase for these 30- and 40-year-old whiskies. As for vintages, is a 1978 whisky that much better than a 1977 or 1979? I would say no. It promotes a scarcity level. Single cask is the same concept. But that's exciting because each cask tastes different, and you'll never taste it again. The people selling single malts are some of the sharpest marketers in any industry.