Saturday, January 17, 2015

Authenticity in Scotch Whisky

I read this article in the New York Times during the holiday break at the end of 2014 and it really resonated with me. My first love in Scotch whisky was Bruichladdich and I could never express exactly why it pleased me so much. They really did attract attention on the shelf at the liquor store and the product was good. But there must have been more to it than that.

The more I learned about who they were and about why they made whisky convinced me that it was their authenticity of product and purpose. As a former Marketing professional, I really appreciate a strong brand and they have always been tough to ignore, and perhaps tough to love due to their unusually diverse product portfolio.

The more I discovered that I liked their products, I came to like that Bruichladdich was* owned by people who were passionate about the place (Islay), about the distillery itself and its history, about the people who live in the area, and about having a positive impact on local economy and the planet - and of course, about putting their own stamp on single-malt Scotch whisky.

I find that I really like whisky when it's about more than just what's in the bottle (though as my most recent blog post will indicate, I don't like everything I drink...). I find that I generally like whisky better when it has a solid back-story.

For instance, I also really like the products of William Grant and Sons (you may have had their products: The Balvenie, The Glenfiddich, Tullamore Dew - the latter being an Irish whiskey product), to this day a family owned operation. In this age of massive drinks conglomerates, I find it's amazing that a "small" family-owned company is able to produce the largest-selling single-malt whisky - at least as of 2012 - (The Glenfiddich) and is able to compete with much larger, much more diversified companies.

I don't only drink the products of independently or family -owned whiskies - I'm just saying that I really like it when the little guy can get some traction in a highly competitive market and can use their personality to stand out from the crowd. If the whisky tastes good to me**, I'll keep trying more expressions from them.

* Note: Bruichladdich was acquired by Rémy Cointreau in July of 2012 and they seem to be honoring their statement that they intended to keep it focused on locally sourced and hand-crafted products. I've been enjoying their three different stable product lines and believe that their quality has been maintained, at least as far as I can tell.

** I hope you'll take my statements about whisky brands as a hint that a whisky might be worth investigating. I encourage people to try as many different whisky expressions as they can, so they can learn what they like. There are probably about 2000 different single malts on the market as I write this, and there are a lot of good choices across all styles priced under $100...many under $50. As you can see, there are many reasons to like a product, beyond the obvious (Do you like it?).

The Islay image is from Wikipedia and the attribution is as follows: "Islay topographic map-en" by Ayack - Own work ;Topography : NASA Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM3 v.2) data (public domain) edited with 3DEM and dlgv32 Pro and vectorized with Inkscape ; UTM projection ; WGS84 datum ; shaded relief (composite image of N-W, W and N lightning positions) ;Bathymetry : USGov public domain data provided by Demis (see the approval e-mail and the Demis forum) ;Reference used for the additional data : Magic ;Locator map : Sting's composition of Image:British_Isles_Northern_Ireland.svgImage:British_Isles_Scotland.svg and Image:British_Isles_Wales.svg (modified) created by Cnbrb under PD ;Note: The shaded relief is a raster image embedded in the SVG file.. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, January 12, 2015

A Tale of Two Whiskies in One Bottle

Last Sunday my wife was in Trader Joe's and she's in the habit of checking the whisky selection and has a sense of what I like. (Yes, I am very lucky!) She found a bottle of 17-year-old "Isle of Mull" whisky that intrigued me. I told her to get it ($60 is a pretty good price for a whisky that old).

I knew there was only one distillery on Mull: Tobermory. They make 2 different single-malts: Ledaig (pronounced "lah-CHIG") and the eponymous Tobermory. This particular bottle being sold by TJ's was distilled in 1996 and at 17 years old it must have been bottled in 2013 or 2014.

Ledaig is peated, and Tobermory is, which one is in my bottle?  Tonight I opened the whisky and it's definitely not Ledaig.

I've never had Tobermory before, and I have to say I don't like it. I'm not proficient at whisky writing (i.e., reviews of whisky, describing the flavors and smells), and so I try to simply decide whether I like something enough to want to have it again. For me, there is no need to score things on a 100-point scale, or even a 5-point scale.

One of my favorite quotes is attributed to Einstein and I think it applies here: "...everything should be as simple as it can be, but not simpler." I only need 2 points on my scale:
  1. I liked it
  2. I didn't like it
I really try to give myself enough of a chance to make a decision. The reason I don't like to have a deep scale is that I find it virtually impossible to compare two different whiskies to each other - they are all so different. How am I supposed to compare an Islay to a Lowland Scotch? Heck, it's even hard to compare two whiskies from Bruichladdich!!

With my system, I do not have to imagine comparing whiskies to each other - only to the scale. If I say I don't like it, I'd politely refuse it even if it were offered to me for free. I don't say "don't like" lightly. I actually have to spend more time contemplating my 2-point scale than you'd think. I think this scale gives me more freedom to enjoy whisky, and more incentive to really ponder what I like, as opposed to what the whisky brings to the glass.