Updated: Jul 8
Das Wasteland caught up with the multi-talented Catharine Woodward, an acclaimed soprano with several big opera productions under her belt including leading roles in La Boheme, Falstaff and Tobias & The Angel. “The uncontestable star of the show. She has a powerful dramatic soprano voice with a rich, full sound ” according to Ilana Walder-Biesanz of Bachtrack. Since arriving in Berlin Catherine has turned her attention to the high end spirit market at Gleimstraße’s Simply Great Whisky shop.
“I arrived with my husband in Berlin only last Summer. We were due to head back to the UK
after a 2.5 year stint in Flensburg on the Danish border, but couldn’t face it. We needed to find somewhere to live near other musicians, so Berlin was an obvious choice. Corona means opera has been off the table for a while, so I was so lucky to take my less-than-perfect Deutsch to Simply Great Whisky to indulge my love of good booze. As long as I’ve been drinking I’ve been sat at the bar, paying attention. I like to know where things come from, what different drinks people like, what drinks go together. I studied opera in Glasgow, which also meant studying single malts at the Pot Still, one of the best pubs in the world, and easily one of the best whisky bars. Frank finds my musician’s temperament a little frustrating as I was a bit too leisurely, but we respect each other’s palettes. He knows every drink we sell, and I love pretty much everything he chooses. I am learning very fast. We can get quite competitive on matching the right whisky to the right customer.
We specialise in Scottish whiskies, but have Irish, American and Japanese too, as well as some quite serious rums and gins. What you won’t find everywhere are our selections from “Unabhängige Abfüller” - single cask bottlings from independent bottlers like The Whisky Chamber and The Speakeasy, often quite different from standard malts and frequently cask strength.
Working here is quite a dangerous habit, but I like it, and the customers mean I’m getting to know more Berliners.”
Info on the boozes:
The Transcontinental Rum Line: (Barbados and Australia)
Aged rum isn’t such a big deal in the climates it’s produced, it turns out, but it appeals to Europeans as it’s more like the brandies and whiskies we’re used to. Once upon a time it used to be that some of that ageing happened accidentally on the long and slow journeys rums would make by ship. Now a few companies do it on purpose, and also experiment with different barrels. This makes for a huge range of flavours and complexity which have a dangerous habit of sucking one in...
Big Peat/Timorous Beastie/Scallywag
Single malts are great, but never turn your nose up at a good blend. We don’t have many, but those we do are bloody lovely. These ones from Douglas Laing are blended from one region at a time to try and create something representative of the place. The Big Peat (from Islay) is my favourite - a massive hit of smoke.
Fettercairn from The Whisky Chamber
The Whisky Chamber is my favourite of all the small companies we have. The choices are always so varied but so tasty. This one is delicate and summery - aged in Italian red wine casks that give it a quality a little like eating the raisin and toffee Revels.
Craigellachie & Bruichladdich
Of course, we have lovely regular bottles from distilleries too. Bruichladdich is one of my favourite distilleries, they’re always trying new things with provenance (local grain etc), and their peated offerings (Octomore and Port Charlotte) are basically my favourite whiskies. The Craigellachie is a classic Speyside. Smooth, rich and sherried.
Berlin Urban Gin
Really punchy, with urban botanicals from a small local distillery. We also have gins from Scotland, England, The Netherlands, Ibiza and other German gins.
Chairman’s Reserve Forgotten Casks
So the story is, after a fire at the distillery there was general chaos, and several barrels got mislaid. When they were discovered years later, they found the extra ageing time made it taste great, so now they do it on purpose. A rich and sweet extra-aged rum from St Lucia.
The Speakeasy Benriach
Really shows the art of the person selecting the barrels - everything I have tried from the
Speakeasy is bonkers, and very different from The Whisky Chamber or the other independent companies we stock. Huge hits of candy/popcorn sweetness, but very clean on the finish. Very limited numbers - this one for example is one of only 150 bottles ever.
The Edison Edition Strathmill
This one would make a great gift for a whisky collector. Very limited editions, amazing whiskies inside. This one is 22 years old and super classy. No novelties on the inside!
Irish whiskey is getting it’s thing on. This one isn’t just a clever name - the company that sourced it are actually from the Black Country.
Another big peaty Islay number, but balanced with a little spice and sweetness.
SGW Simply Great Whisky GmbH