E-pistle 2009/23 – Truths & Observations about Scotch Whisky

By Lawrence Graham, Canada

A Few Truths, Observations & Questions about Scotch Whisky – You decide which is which…

1. Your palate is not a straight line. It will not be the same 24/7 or after a heavy garlic laden meal, for example. Protect your palate!

2. Whiskies made outside of Scotland are not supposed to taste like Scotch Whisky; they are supposed to taste like the whisky of their origin. Judging them as Scotch is ignorant.

3. Your whiskies are not carbon guilt free. It took fossil fuels during the entire process from growing the barley to delivery to your local store. Organic and natural on the label are only part of the story.

4. The person who distills the whisky is rarely the person who matures, blends or bottles it, even more so in the larger companies.

5. Never judge a whisky by the color although if it is a natural and honest color (no monkey business with spirit caramel) then color can give you some clues as to the cask type used for maturation.

6. Ardbeg is not the only distillery on Islay or in Scotland.

7. There’s a good chance that the whisky you love so much because it is so Scottish was made using Australian barley (or Swedish or English etcetera) and was matured in an ex-American cask.

8. In the United States the whisky industry can by law, only use a cask once for maturation. Some say this came about because the US timber lobby had more influence than the whiskey lobby. Whatever the reason it’s actually worked out rather well.

9. In the USA sometimes it’s whisky and sometimes it’s whiskey. Just deal with it.

10. You’re not a scotch whisky expert (neither am I). The experts are in the distilleries right now running the stills, managing thousands of casks, blending prior to bottling etcetera . You’re just a gifted and reasonably well funded purchaser.

11. Does 43% taste better than 40%? Yes Martha it does.

12. Why do whiskies taste straight for the cask in the warehouse that are quite cool, served without water and in a dirty glass invariably taste better than the finished bottled product when tasted later at home?

13. To be male and write about scotch whisky you must have lots of facial hair. (It doesn’t hurt if you’re from England either).

14. We’ll always miss Michael Jackson.

15. 90% of Scotch Whisky is matured in ex-American (bourbon) casks yet most scotch whisky lovers would never nose a bourbon to identify the flavours that later pop up in  scotch whisky.  Odd…

16. Those distillers that make the effort to meet their customers face to face while pouring them a dram often do very well in the sales department. Actually talking to your customers; what a concept!

17. A naked woman on a Scotch whisky label has been described as a bit of a cheap trick however cheap is not reflected in the price of the whisky. Kind of shameful actually. Sort of like telling everybody that sherry casks… oh never mind.

18. Batch variation; it exists and there fore it follows that sometimes, over time, that your favorite distillery will be great and sometimes, not so much.

19. Funky, quirky and cantankerous little distilleries can often produce some great whisky. Go on, try something different this weekend.

20. Your taste buds will, over time, loose their ability to taste. Therefore you’ll be looking for stronger and stronger flavours to compensate. Enjoy those delicate single malts now while you still are able to.

21. Crap whiskies can be amusing and they give you perspective; don’t box yourself into one corner of the whisky world. And crap can arrive at any age……..

22. Chill filtering; what the hell is that all about? Just stop it. It just robs the whisky of flavour; if you’re concerned about the whisky becoming cloudy then put a wee sticker on the bottle explaining that’s its natural and it won’t affect the flavour of the whisky.

23. Don’t judge a distillery by one single cask bottling especially if it’s a poor one. Every distillery is capable of producing some real crackers. It’s fun to go looking for them.

24. Super expensive single malts… not sure it’s such a great idea (even if the bottle is made from Islay sand ((chuckle & snort)); it just forces your formerly loyal customers into the arms of the competition when they can no longer afford to buy your product. Ironic how a global economic downturn can suddenly make a pigs breakfast of your carefully laid plans to take your distillery “up market” (Always be nice to people on the way up because you’re sure as hell going to meet them on the way down).

25. A dram shared with friends is invariably better than solo.