Great British Bake Off judge, restaurateur, caterer, cookery writer, journalist and television presenter Prue Leith shares her love of whisky.
What made you become a whisky drinker?
When I was a child all Scottish whisky was exported from Leith. I was very proud of the fact that it said Leith on every Scotch whisky bottle. I managed to fool my friends in South Africa, telling them I had something to do with all the Scotch whisky in the world.
My father used to drink VAT 69, which was a blend. He used to like peaty whiskies like Laphroaig and Isle of Skye whiskies, which I didn’t like.
The first whisky I got into was a Speyside and that’s still the whisky I tend to like. I like it to be milder, not peaty. I think Macallan is the best in the world. It’s very clean, it’s not at all peaty and it’s as smooth as silk with this brilliant burn. I adore it. I do like most malt whiskies, although I have been known to do the unforgivable and put a slug of water in it.
You like to add a mixer then?
After dinner I drink it neat. Late at night you’re not really desperate for a drink, because you’ve probably had wine and everything else. You drink it because it’s mellow and gentle – you’re doing it for the flavour and the feel. I’ll sip it in tiny little sips and take a long time over it. But if I feel like I need a drink, then I’ll water it down. No ice, room temperature.
When do you drink whisky?
I never drink on my own – it must be some puritan Scots background in me – but John and I often have a whisky together, and I’ll bring it out for good friends after dinner. I hide it from my children though. My son likes a whisky too. He enjoys what I enjoy so I tend to hide the whisky when he’s around – there’s nothing like young people emptying your booze cupboard!
The best time for a dram?
My favourite time for drinking a blend, not a malt, would be 6pm after an exhausting day. Normally I’ll have a glass of wine at 7, but if I’ve really had a hard day, John and I will look at each other and say, ‘whisky?’ The other time is after dinner with friends.
What whisky do you drink with friends?
Well, I have a famous bottle of whisky – I once caught the first and biggest fish of the year on a Norwegian river called the Aa, and they gave me a bottle of whisky with a picture of a fisherman on the front. Underneath it said, ‘First fish on the river, 25lbs’ or something. I was immensely proud of this bottle, but of course we drank it, so now I top it up with Famous Grouse. I’m unashamedly egotistical about my fishing, so when friends come I pour the whisky out of that. It’s beginning to look a bit tattered now. One day I’ll forget I’ve emptied it and some helpful cleaner or someone will throw it away and I’ll be very sad.
Do you have a favourite watering hole?
Where I live in Stow on the Wold there’s a lovely old-fashioned pub called The Queen’s Head. It sells craft beers and is always full of locals standing round drinking whisky; I really like it there. Recently, John and I went to the Cafe Royal in Edinburgh – I just had a water because I knew I had to keep going all day, but that’s the sort of place I’d love to sit and savour a whisky. It’s so eautiful and it’s got a lovely atmosphere. I drink whisky at night for the flavour and feel – I’ll sip it in tiny sips and take a long time over it.
(Originally published in Cask & Still Magazine, issue three)