Roma Whisky Festival & Whisky Academy
Pino Perrone and his vision about whisky education
Whiskydo exclusive interview with Pino Perrone, Whisky Consultant at Roma Whisky Festival, Italy’s leading whisky event. Its 8th edition has just taken place at the Salone delle Fontane venue in Rome Eur neighbourhood.
How did you get into whisky?
First of all, my love story with whisky it’s all about Single Malt: whiskies produced solely by malted barley and from a single distillery. Back in 1992, I was reading a book by Manuel Vàzquez Montalbàn, also known as Manolo, where a Single Malt whisky was mentioned. Up to that time, I just knew the blended whiskies my father received as Christmas gifts. I wasn’t interested at all… But the detailed description I read in that book really impressed me and soon I was out looking for that bottle. I couldn’t find it but I bought a Lagavulin 16 instead and since then I was totally into it: I started to attend tastings, find the malts that I was interested in, read whisky books and magazines and even set up masterclasses. I was caught by the same kind of fascination described in Ken Loach’s Angels’ Share. Well, I think that Manolo will be remembered as a landmark for his way of elevating food writing to another level, based on quality and hedonism. That’s an opinion I share with the writer Santiago Gamboa. I see Manolo as a literature counterpart of our Carlo Petrini (founder of Slow Food Italy).
I like Single Malt whisky because I think it represents excellence in the field of fine spirits: its complexity and evocative richness make it an unforgettable experience.
How did the idea of a Whisky Academy come out?
The Whisky Academy is the fulfilment of our educational activity. We soon realized that a lot of people who are making their first steps into the intriguing world of fine malts need education. At first, we set up a master course for bartenders and industry people who needed to enhance their knowledge of whisky. After a while, we felt the need to introduce two other courses: a two sessions beginner’s ABC guide to whisky and a five sessions Advanced course focusing on whisky tasting. It was a huge success and people were happy to go through both levels!
The ABC of Whisky at Roma Whisky Festival: how is this 30 minutes mini-course different from your Whisky Academy offer?
The ABC concept at the Whisky Academy is to give newcomers the basics of whisky: some malts are tasted and our educators try to give everybody an overview of what whisky tasting is supposed to be. This is our Whisky Academy course that takes place at the Whisky & Co shop in Via Margutta, Rome. At the festival, things are different, time is short, so everything needs to be shorter… that doesn’t mean quality is neglected. Our goal is to give all our attendees the right tools and information to experience the festival at its best.
Your guide to whisky tasting.
Here’s my ten steps handbook to whisky tasting
- First, you need to know what you’re drinking. Take time to learn something about the distillery and the story behind that particular expression. Some may argue that this could affect our sensory experience and that’s true, but I think it’s a risk worth taking. That will only add to the overall experience.
- Don’t rush, take time for yourself, relax and enjoy.
- Don’t taste the malt while having a meal. Do it before that and, if after, try to avoid spicy or savoury food.
- Thoroughly clean the neck of the bottle and carefully open the bottle. If you got a cork stopper, put the bottle upside down before opening, thus letting the cork be touched by the liquid; then you can slowly and safely extract it, avoiding the risk of breaking it into the bottle.
- Pour the liquid into the glass and take time to nose your whisky. Let the malt unlock its aromas, especially if particularly old. Continue nosing even after the first sip, from time to time, to assess any change in its profile.
- Free your mind from any annoying thought while tasting; be calm and serene. I usually take a few deep breaths before tasting. I want to experience the moment fully. That could be my only chance to try that particular product, so I want to be sure not to miss anything. Try to live that moment as something special, something personal and unique.
- When you take a sip, try to move the liquid around your mouth, in order to make all your taste buds involved. Thus you’ll also let your mouth get used to this new guest. Don’t ever drink your whisky all at once! You’ll soon discover that the same malt will express different nuances every time you taste it if it’s a quality product. Also, remember to use your breath to let the aromas disclose while you taste.
- If possible, try the same malt both indoor and outdoor. It’s surprising how whisky changes when tasted in the open air!
- Keep the empty glass without cleaning it: the day after you may detect some aromas you didn’t catch while tasting.
- Take note of the feelings, thoughts and aromas perceived while tasting, even if I know that when you meet that special malt, you won’t forget a thing about it!
Whisky and Italy: what’s the current situation?
Whisky had its heyday in Italy back in the 60s and the 70s; quality was sought after and we were cutting-edge innovators in promoting almost forgotten distilleries and letting the world discover them. Some of the biggest whisky collections were built in Italy. Then we went through a slow decline and other countries took over, treasuring our intuitions. Right now we’re living in a moment of renewed interest, young Italians are approaching the world of fine malts and we’re really happy for that. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done though… Other countries represent often bigger markets for the producers and it’s easier for them to get the best products. It’s harder for us to get our hands on the finest malts…
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Take a look at Roma Whisky Festival official website