Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Top 5 questions about scotch?

There they are, poor souls... 

Puzzled faces standing and staring at the huge wall of whisky. 

I watch as he or she hesitantly picks out a bottle only to put it back on the shelf then nervously dancing from foot to foot, steps a few inches to one side and looks even more exasperated by the multitude of what lies before them! That’s when I walk over and ask “You like whisky?” Sheepishly they answer: “Yeah but I don’t really know much about it”. Ahhhhhhhh, the whisky novice. Or as many of us refer to them: THE NEWBIE. I personally love them the most sometimes because they are keen but truly free of any snobbery. 

Let's never forget: We've all been there.

Being new to whisky might be overwhelming but if the rest of us 'bozos' remembered that, we could certainly make it a much more pleasant learning experience. So why do some make it such a negative place filled with rules of must's, don't's and shall not's!?? 

I certainly wouldn't feel overly welcomed if was told everything I am doing is wrong and really, it's time we drop the "SHAN'T BE ALLOWED TO ENJOY IT WITH WATER" stupidity once and for all. 

Yes, I've left Facebaffoon pages as a result of the antiquated and ridiculous way some people treat new imbibers. Whisky, my friends has no place for the old fuddy duddy club anymore, seriously... 



So simple advice for the newbies: All you need to start are the basics. Ready?

Number one question I get asked by new whisky drinkers: What is the difference between scotch and whisky? 

Just like Champagne is a sparkling wine only made in the Champagne region of France, Scotch is whisky but it can only be made in Scotland. In general all whiskies start the same way: A mashed cereal which is fermented, distilled and aged for at least 3 years in oak barrels then bottled at a minimum of 40% alcohol by volume (what is often called ABV). What may vary are the rules and regulations of the country where the whisky is made. However, I assure you there is no such thing as an American or Japanese Scotch, nor will there EVER be...


Second most asked: What is single malt? 

Let’s stick to Scotland where the regulating body called the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) stipulates that a single malt MUST be made in Scotland, exclusively from malted barley, pot still distilled at 1 single distillery and aged a minimum of 3 years in oak barrels. 

Now every once and a while a newbie will ask: What is a double malt? There is no such thing?! I've looked high and low and talked to many people in the industry and it seems as though somebody once may have been quoted to say that a double malt is where you take two single malts from two different distilleries and blend them... Other than that... No clue where this came from. All you need to know is that it doesn't exist.

Question 3: I hear people talking about Scotch regions, what does that mean? The SWA recognizes 5: Lowland (light/unpeated), Speyside (light/fruity), Highland (medium but maritime/lightly peated), Campbeltown (salty/industrial) and Islay (heavy, medicinal/highly peated). Whereas many whisky imbibers actually recognize 6. "We" add Islands - Arran, Jura, Skye, Lewis, Mull and Orkney. Those whiskies are often defined as lightly peated and also maritime'ish in nature: Salty, seaweed, iodine, etc..

However keep in mind that distinct styles are blurring so some whisky people tilt toward using flavour profiles. In other words, if you like the following flavours, chances are you might like "this" type of whisky...

LIGHT: Honey, citrus, apples or pear type fruits and cereal notes. The lighter whiskies can be represented by some whiskies like AnCnoc, Bladnoch, Deanston or maybe a Glenkinchie. 



DELICATE: Aromas such as subtle nuts, floral, vanilla or light wood influences might be found in Dalwhinnie, Glenfiddich, Glenrothes or some Juras. 

SPEAKING OF BOLD?! Hello George...
RICH: Now we are moving into bold and warm flavours like chocolate, leather, spices or dark fruits. In this category you might find whiskies like GlenDronach, Glenfarclas, Glenmorangie or Tomatin. Personally, these are often some of my most decadent drams.


SMOKY: Reveals flavours that are linked to hot spices like ginger or cinnamon. Maybe medicinal or salty and of course organic or smoky notes. This covers a wide range of whiskies because hints of smoke can be found in the likes of a Glen Garioch whereas softer peat are found in Highland Park or Talisker. Springbank whisky which is a happy medium to smouldering beach fire found in Ardbeg, Laphroaig or Lagavulin. I REALLY love these on a cold winter night.

Keep in mind every bottling AND every person is different and because aromas/flavours are so subjective you may find all, some or none of these. The key is no matter what system you use, think of it as a guideline and work at your own pace.


#4: What does the age on the bottle mean? Again, let's stick to Scotch and the SWA policy: By law it's the age of the youngest scotch used to make the single malt but the probability is there is older whisky in the bottle. In other countries the regulations are also specific but can be much more complicated depending on the definition of the spirit in the bottle.

Question 5 - Why do some people think older scotch is better? Lots of debate about that these days. I've said for years the answer is: "IT DEPENDS"

You can have the best newmake spirit in the world but if you let it sit in an aggressive cask for too long it is going to taste like a rum soaked wooden splinter. And, even if you started with a really crappy spirit and put it in a fantastic cask - it's still going to taste like... crap. 

My argument is that it's about quality and not necessarily age. I've had many "old" 8 year olds distilled and bottled in the 60's that were fabulous and I've had a few 35+ that were utter... SHITE. 

Technology, better cask management and trends are leading to “no age statement” whiskies, often referred to as NAS. Some distilleries (not all) are doing this well. In my opinion: Tomatin Legacy, Glenlivet Founder's Reserve or Talisker Storm are some great examples of scotch matured and bottled without an age statement that are fitting of the price tag associated with it.

So feeling a bit better now newbie? Next time you go back to the wall of whiskies don’t be nervous and get ready to jump down that rabbit hole? 

It’s your trip and only yours to enjoy no matter what anyone, including me says. Because seriously... there is NO right or wrong way to be on this whisky journey.

Cheers!

Lassie 

6 comments:

  1. Top post and echo those comments you make, it's an amazing scenario to be in working in a shop....

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    1. Being a newbie is daunting enough, I would love to see more people teaching patiently without biases...

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  2. Nice Post Johanne, I like the SMWS 12 flavour profiles (listed here - http://www.smws.co.uk/shop ) as i think they work really well defining it, lets be honest how many people pick up a Bunna expecting smoke or a Benromach expecting soft and fruity?

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    1. Very helpful, thank you for posting Tom!!!

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  3. I remember all too clearly how it all felt so overwhelming. It can be a scary place for a newbie! Good to have this post in my back pocket for those I meet along my whisky travels...

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    1. Agreed! And I'm sure you have a few of your own wee dram to write down ;) Slainté

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