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Settling the nerves ahead of online whisky tastings in Inverness bar

By Matt MacPherson

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Whisky tastings have gone online since lockdown.
Whisky tastings have gone online since lockdown.

Laptop, charger, USB microphone and webcam don’t normally feature on my whisky-tasting checklist, but as social distancing continues, so do online tastings.

I’m used to the bar filling up with guests warming up with a welcome drink, the buzz in the air and the fantastic smell of samples itching to be tasted. So how does hosting a virtual tasting compare?

I’ve been hosting the Whisky and Doughnut tastings with my business partner from Perk, Nicole McLennan, fortnightly and it’s been nerve-wracking, educational and boozy all at the same time.

Our tastings in The Malt Room are limited to 20 people so the first thing that struck me was the audience size. There is no-one in the bar but at times more than 100 people are viewing the stream live and they have been viewed thousands of times afterwards, too.

If you say something stupid (I often do) during a tasting in the bar, it’s often quickly forgotten about, but there’s no escaping your blunders online!

What I’ve learned is that a perfectly scripted tasting is not perfect. Our guests have enjoyed the parts where it goes a bit wrong or we end up telling stories that you could never foresee at the start of the night. Whisky and Doughnuts is all about having fun and switching off from the worries we are all dealing with.

The trickiest elements to get used to are watching yourself live and the silence. I think most people have experienced a video call during lockdown – well, you know the awkward moment when you're waiting for people to join the call and you're just looking at yourself on the screen at a really weird angle? Well, that’s what it’s like the whole time!

To try and ease the nerves I would often make bad jokes at a tasting and the laughter, sympathetic or not, does put you at ease. Now try making that same joke in a room by yourself. Let me tell you, it does not have the same effect.

Not having the audible response does make you feel like you need to keep talking, but thankfully I have Nicole beside me and we help each other out when one of us (normally me) is rambling on. I think everyone should know the exact temperatures during distillation but apparently not…

Everyone is adapting and, like most things in life, the more you practice these sort of things the more comfortable you become doing them. Virtual tastings are here for the foreseeable and if it gives people the social benefit of going to a bar, whilst being in the safety of their own home, then I’m all for it.

One thing I do miss, though, is the clink of glasses; that simple sound resonates with me. On the flip side, there are fewer glasses to wash up!

Our next tasting is a Father’s Day special which we will host at 8pm on Saturday, June 20. Tickets are available on The Malt Room website and we hope to see you there… well maybe not see you – but you will see us!


  • Matt MacPherson is the owner and founder of The Malt Room in Inverness.

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