In my younger years, I really wanted to go to the Irn Bru Carnival, an indoor event held in Glasgow over the festive period where there are lots of fairground rides, food stalls and the likes. Think of intoxicating smells of sweet popcorn in the air and the exhilarating bright lights of rides and stalls everywhere you turn. I had been there only once before, but I remember absolutely loving it. The year in question, some of my friends at school were going with their families and I wanted to go as well, but my siblings didn’t want to take me. Being the youngest, I was sadly viewed as a pest. That feeling of FOMO (fear of missing out) was heart-breaking for my young fragile heart. I knew I wouldn’t be able to relate my tales of this magical wonderland and join in with my classmates. Instead, I stayed at home in my jim jams and drank hot chocolate.

Over my (albeit relatively short) time in the whiskyverse, one thing I have noticed is a lot of FOMO when whisky is involved. When I first started my exploration, there were lots of whisky clubs to choose from, and I could see the benefits. For me, it took a long time to find one; there were a multitude of reasons, but my main one was that I simply didn’t want to drink too much. Believe it or not, I do not do well in crowds, and that was another reason why I turned down quite a few invitations at the beginning. I prefer to sit quietly, scribbling down notes, which can make me seem quite the anti-social individual!

Even before I entertained the thought of joining a club, I had heard of the possible issues involved. There is the potential of social pressures, either real or imagined. What if you missed out on a tasting and your friends were there? Maybe that gentle teasing about what you weren’t able to try and the banter that was had by all could make you feel a bit down. Or, what if you self-applied pressure to attend every single one just in case you miss that special unicorn? FOMO can really show its ugly head!

I have now been in a club for almost a year, and it has been great fun. There is a nice even mix of genders and members across a wide age range. We do around five tastings a year and an outing to a distillery, plus meet-ups for anyone who can make it to a pub to catch up. There is absolutely no pressure, and it is super chilled and relaxed.

Finding the right group was key. I know of people who have joined groups, and they attend every single tasting, as well as other events out with the club—these can add up to 30+ tastings a year! Some folks even join multiple whisky clubs, adding up to a number of potential day trips and nights out that might be enough to make your poor liver weep!

This is what I definitely wanted to avoid when I chose my club. It may be easier to downplay or simply ignore the real dangers of drinking too much alcohol, but sometimes it should be discussed. Like Adam did with his line in the sand, I want to give my own views on the “unthinkable” side of over-indulgence.

Good health is the most precious thing that a person can be gifted with; to lose it for a hobby seems so silly, but it can happen. That hobby can be taken to excess, sliding towards dependence or even addiction, and it is a downward spiral. I have decided to write about this subject openly and personally because in my lifetime, and in my immediate presence, I have witnessed the devastation of alcoholism.

Both my father and my uncle passed away from liver failure. They were the ‘a few brandies a day’ kind of people. When you notice the signs and the realisation hits that they won’t—or can’t—be helped, you can only watch. My brother, as a doctor, noticed straight away when my father bore the worrying signs of liver disease; among them, the yellowing of the skin and eyes. Without getting too much into it, once admitted into the hospital, he didn’t last very long. That outward sign can often be an indication that it is too late.

I worked with my uncle for a couple of years, and in that time it quickly became obvious that he drank on the job. It was worrying, but even though his immediate family and I told him to drink less, he was still putting away a minimum of half a bottle of brandy a day. He became aggressive and irrational. It was quite a stressful workplace, which ultimately contributed to my decision to leave. Before I left, however, I suggested to the family some things to help stop him from drinking so much and gave as much advice as I could. I had already experienced this before, and I hoped for a different outcome this time. A few months later, I received a call to let me know that he had succumbed to his addiction.

I’m sorry to hit you with so much heavy material when you may have been looking for some light-hearted commentary and a whisky review. This is quite a serious subject, but I think one that should be talked about from time to time. Sometimes, being in denial is the easiest route to take. On a related note, I think the ‘all in’ attitude should be re-evaluated. Take a wee step back to enjoy, and don’t drink for the sake of drinking.

I think a similar outlook can be applied to bottle purchases and the rush to avoid ‘release envy.’ I know whisky friends who covet bottles and will buy for the sake of buying. In my previous pieces, I have written of how I tend not to purchase unless I have tried and enjoyed something. Whisky is not cheap, and when you do buy a bottle, there is a chance you will finish it yourself. Some members of other clubs I know like to buy bottles and share between those who have chipped in; that is by far a better way, in my personal opinion. At least you’re not consuming one whole bottle yourself: a definite step in the right direction.

There is, however, a flip side I have seen to this admirable open and sharing approach between club members. Let’s say you go along to an organised tasting with maybe six whiskies laid out, but in the spirit of sharing with fellows and friends, many attendees also bring a bottle of their own to share once the official line-up of the night has been seen away. That could be up to another 20 bottles; do the maths, guys—it’s a lot!

I am by no means telling people what to do, but kindly suggesting to be aware of one’s intake. Maybe even learn to spit? I have been trying to do that myself, and though it is hard at first, you get used to it. Or bring a wee sample bottle and take some home to enjoy at a later date. Let’s keep FOMO at bay!

Again, I apologise for the more serious nature of this piece, but I am sure that after the overindulgence of the festive period, early in the year is the perfect time to nurture our health. It is still the first part of 2020, after all, and the first stepping stone of a new decade. Maybe swap a whisky for a wee mug of hot chocolate! Chin chin!

Images kindly provided by Irn Bru, NHS Grampian and CBS News.

  1. Mark P says:

    I’m currently 13 days into my annual 33 days alcohol free, which i try to schedule during a window with no birthday parties/ anniversaries etc.
    I do kid myself this gives me bit of leeway the rest of the year to indulge but, really, I’d be far in excess of the average recommended intake over a full 12 months. It still feels good to eke out some extended period of healthy living annually

    1. Dora says:

      Hi Mark, thanks for the comment! Although I haven’t been completely teetotal, I have been taking it very easy so far in 2020. I hope you can stick with it for the next 20 days – good luck!

  2. Craig says:

    An irn bru horizontal followed by this?
    What kind of emotional roller are you sending us on?
    Is tomorrow a tablet tasting with some casual references to Scottish heroin statistics?

    Good article by the way.

      1. Dora says:

        Hi R. Murphy thanks for the comment, and Fernando for answering for me! Another way of thinking about it is that a generous whisky tasting with cask strength drams could be half your recommended weekly intake in one sitting!

    1. Dora says:

      Hi David, thanks for the comment! These calculators are useful, although they mostly assume that all spirits are maximum 40% ABV.

      1. portwood says:

        A simple way to look at it – though it requires some math – is that one unit equals 10 ml of “pure alcohol”. Therefore, the above example of 25 ml x 0.4 = 10 ml = 1 unit. If you have a higher ABV, say 50%, and drink a larger pour, say 30 ml, you’d be consuming 1.5 units (30×0.50/10=1.5) . Using this formula can be used to approximate “units” for any type of alcoholic beverage.

  3. Jude says:

    Excellent piece Dora. Clubs not so much of a thing here in Oz, which is a shame. There’s often one or two people who spoil it for a group though, at any gathering… you know, the loud, smartarsey types, so I’m happy to just invite a few selected friends over occasionally to share whiskies. Your comments re over- indulgence are very important, and an excellent follow-up to Adam’s piece; thanks for sharing your sad story.

    1. Dora says:

      Hi Jude, thanks for the comment! That is a shame, perhaps you should start your own 😀 I’ve been fortunate to join a really nice local club last year which is free of overly loud characters! In fact, it started off as just a small group of friends who got together for regular whisky evenings.

    1. Dora says:

      Hi PB, thanks for the comment! It is a positive that from time to time, pieces like this or Adam’s from last year have a place at MALT…

  4. Matthew J Ryan says:

    Thanks for sharing this Dora. I’m sure a lot of people can relate and appreciate this kind of perspective. Thank you.

  5. John says:

    Thank you for this brave reminder Dora. As the common sayings go… health is wealth and quality over quantity. I believe these 2 mixed make a great combo.

    I’d rather drink 3 drams of quality brand Y a week over drinking a bottle of crap brand X a week if budget is the main issue.

    1. Dora says:

      Hi John, thanks for the comment! Quality over quantity for sure! If the stats are to be believed, people are becoming more health conscious so yay!

  6. Hi, Dora. Bit of a heavy, scaremongery piece mixing up the perils of a drinking-based hobby with the potential delights of joining a whisky club. Being a massive (mainly scotch)whisky fan/anorak, I spend a lot of spare time casually reading about whisky. I fall down an assortment of rabbit holes – one of which landed me at MALT – and most of them inform and encourage me, almost in an auto-suggested/karmic fashion, as to my next dram/bottle. Experiencing the enthusiasm, knowledge and humility of the genuine whisky people I meet at whisky clubs and festivals far outweighs my concerns for “drinking too much”, whatever that means in today’s nanny state. I try a few dry days, but it’s difficult with this kind of hobby. Tell an avid cycling fan to stay off his bike for a few days and he’d struggle (apart from my neighbour – he hit a pot-hole 3 days ago, re-arranged his facial features and ended up in hospital). Don’t be frightened of whisky per se- we have nothing to fear but fear itself (and cheap bourbon) – it’s the addictive personality that is the issue, and whoever has got that will naturally over-indulge in whatever arena. Now, where’s that Springbank…..

    1. Dora says:

      Hi Michael, thanks for the comment! Scare mongering definitely wasn’t my intention and it’s true that I’m more sensitive to the potential of over-indulgence in alcohol than others may be. I certainly don’t live in fear of whisky (but always remember to respect it and its effects) and what you say about addictive personalities is true. Individual genetics can also play a role. I guess what I was trying to convey is that, in the rush of fun and friendship that exists within whisky clubs, it is possible to lose track of your consumption. Instead you are caught up in the next tasting, new release, bottle share, whisky bar night out etc…

      As for your cycling-enthusiast neighbour, please wish him a speedy recovery from me!

    2. Andrew says:

      Michael I think Dora makes great points and should give us all pause. A hobby like whisky has a fine line for some where enjoyment can tread to problematic territory. Equating whisky clubs to an otherwise healthy activity (aside from falling on ones face) such as cycling may not be the best comparison.

      I too enjoy my dry days, but the fact that this is something both you and I actively engage with and think about means we know it is better to take a break a few days a week.

      1. Michael says:

        Can’t say I enjoy dry days but I do try to avoid accidental drinking. Only a couple of weeks ago I watched a whole aqvavitae vpub without a dram!! (Okay, it was the next day, and a bit early, but still…. ). Cheers, Doc.

        1. Andrew says:

          What’s funny is I find myself doing the same thing with his Vpubs. Occasionally it is good to sit there and not have a drink. But of course, it is better with a dram.

      2. Dora says:

        Hi Andrew, thanks for the comment! I agree with what you say about the fine line – your thoughts there are very much similar to Adam’s on this topic. I too enjoy my dry days, for me it makes the tastings and events that I attend more of an occasion. Also, nice to see people engaging in healthy debate in the comments section 😀

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *