At the start of this month, Andrew Lennie of The Printing Press Bar & Kitchen in Edinburgh was crowned the winner of the first ever Talisker Race to Skye competition.
Up against five bartenders from across the UK, the group battled it out in four rounds: a highball challenge, a whisky knowledge quiz, a blind tasting of the Talisker range, and a hip flask challenge, where competitors had to create a Talisker drink that could be enjoyed from said receptacle.
Lennie's prize will see him working as a Talisker brand ambassador for the coming year, and as many of you will no doubt be seeing him during that time, we thought it was time to get to know him better...
Why did you decide to enter the Race to Skye comp?
'I couldn’t turn down the opportunity of having the chance to work with some of the most well-respected whisky experts in the industry. I also thought the original brief tasking us to play on the brand’s campaign "Made by the Sea" was perfect for me. My Grandad Tom was a naval cadet during the Second World War and his stories have stayed with me growing up. I see him as a spirit "made by the sea" and my love for him and his stories, combined with my interest for whisky inspired me to present a drink that was special to me but also that celebrated the unique characteristics of Talisker.'
Tell us about the experience
'The whole experience has been incredible and has really reinvigorated my passion for mixing drinks and being creative behind the bar. The standard of competition was so high in the Edinburgh heat that by the time the finals came around, I was just happy to be a part of the trip. It'll be a journey I'll never forget.'
For the hip flask round of the competition you wrote a story inspired by your Uncle Joe, who liked to go walking – why did you do that? And was it hard to do?
'I enjoy visiting my hometown of Newburgh, Fife whenever I get a chance. I was lucky to be surrounded by lots of family when I was growing up there. It's not until you get a bit older that you realise the importance of the older generations of your family and how fascinating their stories are. When I'm walking back home the memories and history of the town are so obviously present. My Uncle Joe passed away before I got a chance to really get to know him, but the photos of him hill walking and exploring the borders of Newburgh are a great reminder of the man he was. I thought I would use this challenge as a chance to celebrate Uncle Joe's love of the outdoors and it gave me a chance to create a drink with a narrative of the things he may have thought, seen, smelt and tasted on his adventures.'
How important is whisky to you?
'Whisky is really important to me. I was the general manager at Whiski Rooms in Edinburgh a couple of years ago and it was the first time I really had a chance to delve deeper into the category. I particularly love the history and the folklore of the spirit, and of course the taste too. I think working at Whiski Rooms was the moment I realised that working in the drinks industry was a career for me and not just a job. Growing up, my Uncle Ali was a big whisky fan and I remember asking him how anyone could ever start to like the taste of whisky. He always told me to sip it slowly and treat it as a friend. Sadly, Ali passed away before my real involvement with whisky began and I'd love to have the opportunity to share a dram or two with him now. So cheers to Ali!'
What is your preferred way to enjoy whisky?
'I drink my whisky neat and usually with a half pint of something on the side. I always recommend guests at our bar to try it on its own at least for a couple of sips to get a feel for its true flavour. If a whisky isn't to a customer’s taste, that's when the real challenge of bartending begins. It’s our job to experiment with different ingredients and flavours that are complementary to the liquid’s profile to bring out its characteristics and create some really great serves, which is always really exciting.'
From your experience, in what ways are customers preferring to drink whisky now? Is it still neat? Or are they enjoying it mixed more?
'At the bar, I always suggest customers try whisky neat before they decide whether they’d like to add something else. I'm also a huge advocate of offering single malts as the base for classic cocktails like an Old Fashioned, Whisky Sours or Rob Roys.'
What about whisky highballs, which were another round in the competition – are they catching on?
'Definitely. There are so many interesting flavour profiles in soda now to accompany your dram. We have recently put a Glenkinchie 12 and rose lemonade on our cocktail menu and it’s been hugely successful. Sometimes the simplest serves prove the most popular.'
What do you hope to achieve in the next year, working with Talisker?
'I just want to keep working hard and learning as much as I possibly can about Talisker and Scotch whisky. I’m also excited to start sharing what I’ve learnt with customers, both those who are already whisky drinkers as well as those who may be new to the category. It's such a huge opportunity for me to work with some of the industry’s most influential whisky experts and I cannot wait to get involved.'
Anything else you'd like to add?
'Just a huge thank you to everyone who looked after us during the entire Talisker Race to Skye experience. It’s been truly unforgettable. Sláinte!'