You wouldn’t buy a suit without trying it for size, so why buy a whisky without tasting it first? That’s the thinking behind Master of Malt’s online Drinks by the Dram service, which offers around 2,600 whiskies by the 30ml dram. Prices start at around £3 for a run-of-the-mill Scotch blend and rise all the way to £350 for a taster of Karuizawa 1980 Golden Samurai, a sought-after single malt from Japan that goes for £4,445 a bottle.
It’s a neat way of testing the water without leaving your house, but it also makes the whole business of sampling, comparing and contrasting different whiskies a lot more fun. You can mix and match samples, or buy a ready-made flight of five whiskies on a particular theme such as smoke, cask type or country. And if you’re not a whisky fan, they do tasting sets of other spirits, all sealed up in the kind of dinky, wax-topped bottles that make grown men cry.
Another whisky specialist catering for the 21st century’s increasingly promiscuous whisky lover is The Whisky Exchange – its Perfect Measure tasting kits (from £40) contain five drams on a set theme, plus a long-stemmed whisky-tasting glass for nosing like a pro. The 30-year-old whisky set (£150), which includes 30-year-olds from Talisker and Glenfarclas, would make a very fine gift, but it would be an entertaining way to round off a dinner party too.
The traditional wine tasting – which can, admittedly, be a rather funereal affair – has also got a lot more fun lately thanks to the Enomatic machine, which works like a wine-dispensing jukebox. At The Sampler wine merchant the walls are lined with 10 of these climate-controlled cases, offering a regularly updated selection of 80 wines by the 25ml, 50ml and 75ml sample (equivalent to a sip, swig and very small glass), with prices relative to the cost of a full bottle.
Each case is usually themed around a grape variety, so you can, for example, compare different Rieslings from around the world, but there’s always a case dedicated to unusual and iconic wines too (the South Kensington branch tends to have more of the really whizz‑bang stuff). Staff are on hand to advise, but once you’ve charged up your Sampler “credit” card and furnished yourself with a wine glass, you’re really just left to roam free.
The downside of this delightful system is you invariably get a bit squiffy and spend more than you intended – by the time we left, my brother and I had doubled the budget for that night’s bottle of wine – but one thing’s certain, with the extensive range of wines on offer, you’re sure to find a tipple that suits you to a tee.