It was cold, wet and gloomy. “Perfect weather for whisky,” thought Elliot Faber as he walked down Marylebone Road in central London on his way to a private tasting of some of the world’s best Scotch.
Faber is the beverage director for Sunday’s Grocery, Yardbird and Ronin, as well as the founder of Sake Central and a rising star on this year's Generation T list of young talents. He was in London as a prelude to a whisky voyage through Scotland—a rare opportunity for Faber, whose knowledge of Scotch was, by his own admission, more academic than anything.
“The first whisky I had was probably Crown Royal, with my dad,” says the Canadian-born sommelier and sake expert. Though he worked in Scotland for three summers, it was wine and sake that first captured Faber’s heart. When he moved to Hong Kong in 2011, he built up an impressive drinks programme for Yardbird, the plucky izakaya that, after five years, recently moved from Bridges Street to Wing Lok Street in Sheung Wan. That took him on frequent visits to Japan, where he developed a fascination for Japanese whisky.
“My knowledge of whisky came in a kind of backwards way,” he says. Whisky was brought to Japan by Masataka Taketsuru, a chemist who travelled to Scotland to learn the centuries-old art of distilling. Though Japanese whisky is based on the same production techniques as Scotch, it tends to have a more mellow flavour because of Japan’s notoriously soft water and warmer climate. Having visited some of Japan’s most acclaimed distilleries, Faber was curious to explore their roots. “I’m kind of a nerd about process and how whisky is made,” he says. “I wanted to know more.”
But first there was the tasting on Marylebone Road. There was a Lagavulin 12, new releases from Port Ellen and Brora—two “lost” distilleries that have recently been revived after decades of being shuttered—and the star of the night, a Port Dundas grain whisky distilled in 1964 and aged for 52 years. Faber jotted down tasting notes on his phone. “Structure and restraint,” he wrote of the Port Ellen. The Lagavulin was “too youthful.”
Nothing compared with the Port Dundas. “It wasn’t just the age statement that was impressive,” he says. “It had a certain finesse and elegance.”