Me and My Dram, Tom Kitchin: ‘You have to be in the right moment to enjoy whisky, that’s the magic of it’

Me and My Dram, Tom Kitchin: ‘You have to be in the right moment to enjoy whisky, that’s the magic of it’

Following a rocky start, celebrity chef Tom Kitchin has fostered an enduring love for whisky, finds Morag Bootland. He sits down with us for the latest issue of Cask & Still.

Do you enjoy whisky?

Absolutely. I enjoy whisky, but I don’t think it was something that came automatically. I think I learned to enjoy whisky. I don’t know any young person, who’s being absolutely truthful, who would say that they loved whisky from a young age.

Do you remember the first time you tried whisky?

I do – it was terrible. I think it was a New Year’s Day party, actually. I wasn’t old enough and I think it was one of my first experiences of alcohol. It must have been watered down with Coke or something like that. It took me many years to recover from that experience. It was the smell, you know it was one of those experiences from a really bad hangover that stay with you for a very long time.

What style of whisky do you prefer?

I like a Speyside whisky. Something rich and smooth. Not too peaty. Nice, smooth and maybe sherry cask would be my preference.

Do you have a favourite dram at the moment?

I was discussing this recently because my head chef, Lachlan, is a proper whisky connoisseur. The one that we tasted recently that we were both super impressed with was GlenDronach 18yo from Speyside, which was a sherry cask and really interesting. I’m not plugging it, but Sam Heughan actually has a whisky called Sassenach now and we’ve had a bit of fun with it because we have so many Americans coming to the restaurant. So, we started making different whisky cocktails with the Sassenach, which is a blend, but it was really interesting.

Chef Tom Kitchin at The Bonnie Badger. Credit: Marc Miller

How do you like to drink your whisky?

I don’t mind a whisky cocktail. It’s fun and it’s a nice way to start a meal. It’s a modern way to enjoy whisky, which is nice. We work with different whisky brands quite a lot and if they come into the restaurant quite often they will ask ‘can we match the whisky to the menu’ which is sometimes quite challenging. But to start the meal with something fresh and exciting like a whisky cocktail is nice.

Where is the most memorable place you’ve ever drunk whisky?

It was at Skibo Castle, where we did this big dinner and it was literally like a ‘who’s who’, everyone was there. And we had this wonderful after-dinner drink and we sat by the fire afterwards and it was just magic.

What would you say to anyone who says they don’t like whisky?

I think they do like whisky; they just don’t realise it yet. I think a sense of place and a sense of time is really important with whisky. You have to be in the right moment to enjoy whisky if you’ve never really experienced it. If you have a magical moment in Scotland, whether you’re walking up the Mound in Edinburgh or out climbing Munros and you’re coming back to a wee bothy. Do you know, something like that? That is the magic of whisky for me. I don’t drink whisky that much throughout the year, but when I do, it’s a moment like that. A really pleasurable moment. For me, being outdoors is really interesting. You know, coming back and you’ve got that sense of relaxation after a long walk or being battered by the rain. Fishing as well – that’s another one where I quite enjoy a dram afterwards.

Have you had a chance to try much whisky that’s produced outside of Scotland?

Not really, no. Even though we do have a few at the restaurant I just haven’t tried them. Maybe I just need to embrace it a bit more. You feel like you’re being a traitor in a way, don’t you?

Do you have a favourite whisky bar that you’ve drunk in?

Yeah, there are a couple. One is the whisky bar Scotch at the Balmoral hotel in Edinburgh. I think they’ve done an amazing job there and it’s that kind of iconic experience that especially tourists are looking for. And the Abbey in Newington in Edinburgh as well – they’ve got so many different varieties and it’s got that old man whisky bar feel to it. Both of them are great, when we’ve got people visiting from far and wide, these are the kind of places we would take them.

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