Whisky People #2 – Keith Wood

by Oliver Klimek on September 5, 2010

Fact Sheet

Name: Keith Wood

Year of Birth: 1959

Place of Birth: Leeds, Yorkshire, England

Place of Residence: Erding, Bavaria, Germany

Profession: Business Analyst, currently unemployed

Whisky Involvement: Reviewer and commentator

Portrait

The Bavarian town of Erding near Munich that owes its international fame to a well-known brewery has become home for Yorkshire born Keith Wood. I got to know Keith via Twitter, where is just as active as me. And as I live not very far away we have met on several occasions for some great dramming.

Keith was born and grew up in Yorkshire, but then moved south to Hampshire where he found a job at the sales and marketing division of Geman electronics giant Siemens. In 1998 this job led him to Siemens headquarters in Munich where he was responsible for event management and other related tasks. He fell victim to a cost cutting plan in 2005 and lost his job.

After a peroid of unemployment, Keith decided to turn his twenty years of passion for whisky into a business. He teamed up with a local restaurant and offered gourmet whisky dinners as well as whisky tastings in and around Munich. Another venture was a whisky auction website (WhiskyHammer) which unfortunately never really caught on. From 2007 to 2009 Keith ran a bar in Munich where he offered a selection of almost 150 different single malt whiskies. In 2008 he married his wife Sabine after ten years of partnership

Currently Keith is looking for a gastronomy job where he can bring in his vast knowledge about whisky.

Keith’s website Whisky Emporium contains a wealth of information about whisky. At the time of writing this portrait the site is boasting well over 500 tasting notes from almost all Scottish distilleries as well as a number of international whiskies. In addition to that there are sections about collecting as well as about pairing whisky with chocolate.

And then there is Dram-atics, the blog-esque diary in which Keith ponders just about everything related to whisky in his unique humorous writing style. May 2010 saw an illustrous round of guest bloggers contributing “Desert Island Drams”.

Keith Wood is also a proud member of the Whisky Round Table, a team of twelve bloggers hosting monthly discussions about whisky topics in turns on their sites.

Interview

After having lived in Bavaria for many years, what of the lifestyle have you adopted and what is still typically British about you?

In many ways my move to Germany was different to most expats in that I didn’t come over here looking for ‘England in Germany’, in fact it wasn’t until I started running whisky tastings in 2005 that I discovered the ‘expat scene’ in Munich. Yes, the English and German cultures are very different, but they have to be accepted as being ‘different’ where neither is actually ‘wrong’. Of course inside I’m still very English, my thoughts are always English, as is my love for a good Sunday roast, although I hardly ever manage this. Ah yes, whilst on the subject; why is ‘pudding’ something cold and gooey in Germany when I understand it as another word for ‘dessert” or usually something hot and sticky served with custard?

Hmm, perhaps a one-word answer to your question could have been “food”.

You had a pub in Munich with a huge selection of whiskies. How was the demand for single malts? Didn’t most of the folks just order Jackie + Coke anyway?

I was indeed privileged to run a pub in Munich for just over two years and when I first took over there was a selection of five different whiskies if I remember correctly; Jack Daniels, Jim Beam, Jamesons, a house (no-name) Scotch and bourbon. Jack & Coke is something of a standard requirement, but these days people understand much more about whisk(e)y and are willing to experiment much more, especially when the selection is accompanied by someone who can explain what the customer may find in the whiskies. To this end I personally trained my staff in how to serve whisk(e)y and also put them through various tastings so that they could speak from personal experience too. The end result was a selection of almost 150 different single malts ranging from older 1970’s Ardbegs to the current Glenfiddich & Glenlivet ranges. As for acceptance, I quickly gained a reputation as one of the best two pubs in Munich for whisky and people came specifically for this.

Quite a few of your tasting notes feature associative thoughts rather than proper flavour descriptions. Are you confident your readers understand what you tasted?

The power of recollection being triggered by the senses of smell and taste is a well-documented phenomenon which I often experience and when this does happen, I like to include it in my tasting notes. Do people understand? I certainly like to believe so and various feedback comments I have had seem to point to the fact that they do.
Let’s take one particular example which personifies this; I refer to Glenfarclas 1987 Quarter Casks as my definitive Christmas Whisky. I could easily just say that it has sherry, leather, dark fruits (of Christmas cake or Christmas pudding – there’s that word again!), old oak and a certain mustiness, but when I first tried this whisky it immediately conjured an image of sitting in a private study (library) of an old English country house, perhaps after just eating Christmas lunch and now relaxing in a grand, deep-buttoned leather chair with a glass of sherry and surrounded by musty old books on aged oak shelves.

Can you give some advice on how to approach whisky and food pairing or is it all just trial and error?

Oliver, this is a very good question, especially as whisky & food pairing is becoming much more accepted and common. From experience I can say that to do this successfully you need two people working closely together, unless of course you happen to be both a master chef and whisky aficionado. When I ran my gourmet dinners I was very lucky to have not only a very good chef in a local restaurant, but also one willing to listen and experiment a little. We never offered any standard dishes from his ‘normal’ menu as these whisky & food combinations really do need to be customised. I would select a number of whiskies and prepare tasting notes for each one before sitting with the chef and discussing them. The format was always quite similar; an aperitif whisky followed by a four-course meal where each course was paired with a different whisky and then an after-dinner whisky served with coffee.

The secret is not to try and get the exact same flavour between the whisky and the food, but to find a combination which works well together. One great example here was when I had an old 23y Benrinnes from G&M (the Connoisseur’s Choice old white map label) which was an excellent whisky with a slight hint of raspberry right at the end of the finish. This was paired with fresh strawberries dipped in dark chocolate amid a fruit sauce with whole green peppercorns. Brilliant!

You have tasted many whiskies that were bottled in past decades. How has the style of whisky changed over time?

Oh dear now you’re putting me on the spot, especially as I have often spoken about such changes! Whisky has changed and by this I mean actual expressions have changed greatly within the last 30-40 years even when bottled under the same label. Just put a 1970’s or 1980’s Talisker 10y alongside the current Talisker 10y and tell me they aren’t different. The earlier Talisker had much more smoke and pepper and was far more intense than today’s offering. I also recently found that two earlier MiltonDuff’s, one from the early 1980’s the other late 1980’s, but both OB 12y were very different not only from today’s Miltonduffs, but also from each other. It’s pretty well impossible to generalise here as all whiskies are different, so I’m sorry I can’t offer any ‘catch-all’ answer to your question, but at least I’m thankful you asked ‘How’ and not ‘Why’.

Common Questions

1. Please share a memorable whisky moment with us. This might be a fantastic dram, someone you met or any other situation that left a deep impression in your memory.

Goodness, how can I possibly select just one? Maybe I can combine this with my answer to Q3 where you asked about associated thoughts in tasting notes:

Most of my years of education were spent at a ‘High School’ which was quite forward-thinking. As I arrived there at age 11 I was met with the concept that the school owned an old farmhouse cottage out in the middle of The Yorkshire Dales and used it as a small outdoor centre for pupils. Just after I arrived they managed to find the funds to buy a residential country pub in the same village and turned this into a larger outdoor centre housing up to 30 pupils at the same time. I spent as much time there as was possible during the next 8 years of my education, whether long weekends, 5-day breaks or latterly as a guide or teacher’s help taking younger children on hikes in the area and teaching them about the area and skills like map reading. Anyway, on one of these walks we were heading out to a hill called Ingleborough and it was a pretty cool, damp morning. We were just under an hour into the walk across some bleak and hilly countryside when we came over the brow of a hill to find a rather remote row of country cottages in the valley. Their chimneys were smoking and by the smell of the smoke they were burning some peat. Anyway, encouraged by this sense of warmth we continued on with what turned out to be a successful excursion.

Many years later, I guess about 30, I was holding a whisky tasting here in Munich and one of the drams was a Caol Ila bottled by Jack Wieber in the ‘Prenzlow’ series. Just one nosing immediately transported me back 30 years to that long-forgotten day in the Yorkshire Dales and those peat-smoking chimneys. That was a great whisky moment which in itself I will never forget! It’s also worth noting that this is now the standard by which I judge any Caol Ila.

2. What percentage of your life do you dedicate to whisky (sleep ignored)? Do you think it should be more or less, or is it just about right?

Well, unlike Serge I can’t say I have ever dreamt of whisky, unless you count ‘daydreaming’? Can I count ‘dreaming’ of getting a job within the whisky world?

October 2009 saw my website Whisky Emporium turn into a platform for my tasting notes and whisky musings and since that time I have expanded from about a 100 tasting notes written on different bits of paper and the odd forum, to just over 500 tasting notes formatted on Whisky Emporium. During this time I have been extremely busy, often requiring around 7 hours each day either updating the website, writing articles or tasting new whisky expressions. Now much of that work is done, I tend to spend 2-3 hours each day either researching various whisky subjects or tasting expressions and updating the website with my findings.

3. Your three tips for whisky novices

Enjoy your whisky, that’s what it’s for!
Listen to others as well as yourself.
Open your mind!

4. Your three tips for experienced whisky lovers

Enjoy your whisky, that’s what it’s for!
Listen to others as well as yourself.
Open your mind!

5. What was the last dram you had and how did you like it?

I’m tempted to run to my cupboard and pour a dram of Glen Mhor 1969 just so I can say ‘fanbloodytastic’ but I shall refrain as it’s Sunday early afternoon and I have to drive soon.

Last night I had the very modest Loch Lomond single malt NAS as a second visit or second opinion after writing my initial tasting note a couple of days ago. I enjoyed it a little more than on that first occasion and will update my note accordingly, but it’s still a little farmy and not exactly memorable. Now, where’s that ’69 Glen Mhor?

Read Keith’s guest post on collecting whisky here.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

gal September 5, 2010 at 8:40 pm

lovely!

we all love u Keith. i do hope you will find a job in the whisky/gastronomy path which suits your skills.
you are indeed a great resource and whisky lover. pleasure doing whisky business with an English gentelman as yourself.

Gal on behalf of the Israeli whisky scene ;)

Slainte!

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