Before I became a rum geek, I was a whisk(e)y geek. Or so I thought. Because the local community has known me as a whisk(e)y geek first, I would get asked what made me move away from whisky and shift towards other spirits like rum and mezcal. By moving away, I mean I’ve only bought three new bottles of whisky this year so far. I even bought just around 5 bottles last year. There’s the popular reasons such as not being able to get the desired bottles. Even when you can get new releases and limited editions, it’s most likely through the secondary market. Then there’s the increasing prices despite the lowering quality of most brands.
The above are acceptable as those are the signs of a growing market. What’s really struck my nerve is the arrogance surrounding whisk(e)y. There’s the industry itself, which is dominated by corporate giants. Once I got a better look at other categories such as rum, I noticed that the whisky industry has become too complacent. It’s as if they think whisk(e)y, particularly Bourbon and Scotch, are untouchable. Almost everyone is doing the same thing. There's the excess use of various ex-wine casks. Then there's the, at least, the yearly yet disappointing limited edition release. (I didn’t include Japanese whisky because they recently updated their own rules. We have yet to see what the changes will be like.)
Can we have some variety please? Where’s the application of innovation that doesn’t include the use of another ex-wine cask? Why not do a limited release that comes from a different yeast or a longer fermentation? Whisk(e)y comes from grain. So why is there too much emphasis on wood? This trend gives me the feeling that most of the big boys think the consumers aren’t smart enough to realize that they’re being taken for fools. News flash, it's time to show us more respect. Customers not happy with this trend are slowly paying more attention to other categories.
Blair Athol Distillery. (Image Source: Traveling Savage)
In relation to this, I think the whisk(e)y trend has become stale because education and style has become stagnant. Part of me thinks that some brands think as long as they follow the "natural color, non-chillfiltered and 46% abv" trend, they're in the clear. It’s making folks just wait for new distilleries to open because it's the easy and cool thing to do. Then some will complain that the initial releases are young yet expensive. So why not explore lesser known distilleries that influencers aren’t raving about? I mean, if you can afford and are open to buying a NAS 46% abv single malt finished in an ex-sherry cask from a relatively new distillery for about £60, that they’re saying is good but you haven’t tried, then what’s your excuse for not trying a 46% abv single cask from a lesser known distillery whose stocks mainly go into blends? Other spirits, such as rum, mezcal and brandy, just offer more perspectives. Some of the aspects they highlight can be applied when thinking about whisk(e)y.
Another reason is the arrogance among a lot of whisky drinkers. These lot feel like they’re experts just because they drink popular brands such as Yamazaki and Macallan. I guess drinking established brands makes them feel like they’ve reached the top. (Only the top of the iceberg though). The most recent encounter I can recall is coming across someone who said he knows better how flavor works in booze because he’s a chef. For context, this person only drinks the popular brands. He came up to me asking how some Scotch single malts end up being mostly used in blends while the others become mainstream. So I explained how fermentation and stills can affect the profile of a whisky.
It’s interacting with people like these that can drain the passion out of the hobby. Because while there are a lot of curious drinkers who are pleasant to talk to, there’s a minority of snobs who just ruin things for everyone. I mean, they’re part of the reason why certain brands just keep getting more expensive and hard to get. Some consumers just want to look and feel good by paying for as much as they can because they listen to society rather than their senses.
Funnily, some of these snobs are also ones to complain about the rising prices and increasing difficulty of getting certain brands. Issues they caused. They’ll ask for recommendations that they’ll ignore; Probably because they deem those recommended brands as not worthy of their attention. Even if they do try, they’ll only like styles of whisk(e)y that’s similar to their brand of choice. Then once another brand becomes way more mainstream, they’ll jump on that train without knowing what makes the brand good.
Unlike in rum, where there’s a stark difference with the geeks. Once they find out that they’re still way too many misconceptions around rum, most of them end up being open to finding out what they are. Which shows that the geeks are genuinely interested. They'll initially want to try something from Foursquare because it’s regularly raved about. But when they get a recommendation to try something like a Jamaican rum such as Hampden, they’ll think it’s different but will ask why.
Of course, there will always be those snobby rum fans who only stick to brands who pretend they’re premium. There’s quite a lot of them to make it an issue. But the rum geeks don’t really mind them as there’s enough good and affordable rum to go around for now.
Speaking of lesser known single malts, here’s a review of a discontinued kind of Cadenheads Blair Athol 14 year old Small Batch.
Cadenheads Blair Athol 14 Year Old, 46% ABV, Small Batch – Review
On the nose: I get medium and slightly lasting aromas of tart raspberries, berry jam, red currants and cherries. They’re accompanied by lighter aromas of chocolate, milk and mocha. At the end are bits of caramel, candied ginger and cereals.
In the mouth: I immediately get this one-dimensional tartness. They’re a sharp and short mixed taste of raspberries, berry jam, cherries and red currants. Behind them are just as light but longer tasting tastes of chocolate-coated berries, jam biscuits, candied ginger, caramelized orange peel and biscuits.
Though there’s no mention of it on the label, these are surely a blend of sherry cask-matured Blair Athols. I really can’t say anything bad about this whisky. There’s a good amount of sherry cask flavor but it’s blended well enough that it’s not overwhelming. Which leads me to saying this is good but not great. If I could improve this whisky, it would be to add an oily texture to it.
Lead image courtesy of John Go.
John is a cocktail and spirits enthusiast born and raised in Manila. His interest started with single malts in 2012, before he moved into rum and mezcal in search of malterntaitves – and a passion for travel then helped build his drinks collection.