Patrolling the whisky web, one turd at the time.
It is over two and a half years ago that I wrote an article called “Professional Writers, Learn Your Whisky Basics!” that highlighted some of the errors and inaccuracies that too often riddle articles about whisky written by people with only superficial knowledge of it. Sadly, nothing appears to have changed. So I decided to make it a regular feature in this blog to report about the whisky bullshit I stepped into. It will not be a requirement for the bullshit to have been written by a professional though.
Superficially, this may look like a fun compilation for whisky geeks. But actually I do not intend to ridicule or even offend the writers, but rather help them to notice their errors.
Let’s begin with a set of two articles in Time Out Penang. The author appears to be not a native English speaker, so some phrases seem a bit odd, but that’s not the point here. The introduction states that the author “breaks it down to layman’s terms for better understanding“. So we can safely assume this to be written by an expert. Can we in fact?
What this basically means is the whisky is made from the liquid of distilled and aged malt from only one cask. There’s no blending, no mixing to better a whisky’s flavour. This certainly leaves no room for error. For if the whisky in that one cask is not up to standard, it’s all a wasted effort. Therefore, the whisky producer of a single cask whisky has to ensure that the crop and whisky making process of that one cask is perfect. The result of this is exclusivity along with a blunt smoothness to its texture, a short finish and somewhat spicier whiskies such as Ben Nevis, Glenburgie and the more feminine Glendullan.”
OK, we get that single cask whisky is a hit or miss thing. But the explanation what makes single cask whisky special is truly stunning: “a blunt smoothness to its texture” and “a short finish”. To me these qualities do not sound paticularly intriguing. And I honestly wonder how the author arrived at this conclusion other than maybe so far she has only ever tried three single cask whiskies at all, of the distilleries mentioned. We will come back to gender issues in whisky later on.
It’s the most popular and trendy one to date in this region. There are at least 100 whisky brands to choose from and they can range from 10 to 30 years old with caramel, floral and peaty or all three in terms of flavour.”
Actually they can range from 3 to 70 years old, considering the current age record holders. The flavour groups are very arbitrary, and I am surprised to learn that single malt can not be fruity too.
A blended whisky basically means it’s a mix of multiple kinds of barrel-aged malt and grain whiskies from different distilleries. Gone are the days when the rough-edged, repellent-scented blended whisky is common. Nowadays, the blended whiskies such as the highend Johnnie Walker range of floral and oily Blue Label, jammy Platinum, buttery and sweet XR21 or the refined smokey Gold Reserve, one most suitable with a cigar, are terrific contenders against single malt or cask whiskies.”
Sorry, but while the high-end whiskies mentioned here certainly are good, the days of “rough-edged, repellent-scented blended whisky” are far from over. They still make up the bulk of whisky sales.
“If you go with age, younger whiskies are more masculine and gets more gentle or feminine as the age increases.”
Ah, this is what you mean. So all Ben Nevis and Glenburgie is rough and all Glendullan is gentle?
For the whisky to bloom further, don’t forget to add a splash of tepid water or a couple of ice cubes
Hmm, I don’t quite get why the water needs to be tepid when ice cubes do the same trick. But in fact they don’t.
The second article is devoted entirely to single malt.
“Unlike blended whisky that comes from blending several whiskies from different distilleries, the single malt variety is exclusively from one distillery and only using malted grain of barley and in America, it’s commonly rye.”
The America part leaves me puzzled. Yes there is Old Potrero from malted rye. But this is far from common.
“This means, the pressure to get the flavour right is higher since they can’t mix and match to come up with something good.”
I am not sure if this is an approriate description of the art of whisky blending.
“A vital ingredient
That would be water! Since malting requires the grains to be soaked in water for days, the distillery’s water source is of utmost importance. It influences not only the whisky’s flavour but also its smoothness. Therefore, places with natural, crystal-clear, unpolluted spring water become the best producers of this highly-favoured, amber hued drink.”
Where water matters most is actually mashing and fermentation. Minerals do not make it through distillation, the “smoothness” has many other contributing factors. I find it fairly logical that a distillery using polluted water would not be very popular.
“Best places on earth for singles
To date, the best producers for single malts are Scotland, Ireland and Japan. It’s been said that their natural spring water are unprecedented in terms of quality.”
Who said it, then? Well, that is very subjective. But trust me, there is much, much more needed than good water to make good single malt whisky.
“On the palate
Single malts are generally more refined in flavour and texture as compared to the blended kind. It’s praised for its smooth as silk texture, gentler aromas and ‘polite’, unobtrusive flavours.”
Again, who praised it? Some excellent single malts have very … erhem obstrusive flavours. And did’t you just say blends are terrific contenders and have no rough edges anymore?
“Rule of thumb here is, the longer it’s aged, the easier to drink it becomes.”
No, it’s actually the other way around. Or not at all, if you believe those whisky producers who claim that age is largely irrelevant. We ought to agree, though, that “ease of drinking” should not be the ultimate goal in single malt whisky.
“… the effortless-to-drink Glenrothes …”
“… the surprising Connemara with its masculine scent but feminine flavours …”
No you’ve got me all confused with your genders. Is Connemara a transgender whisky?
“Age does matter”
Don’t get me started…
“The youngest of the variety is normally the 12-year old and it’s a good introduction to a single malt whisky’s personality, texture and flavour. Once you’ve identified a brand you like at this age, move up to the 18-year old that’s usually 20 per cent less in terms of pungent alcoholic flavour, a little higher in terms of peatiness and 20 per cent higher in terms of smoothness and caramel sweetness.”
Where is your source for the percent figures? Where did you read that 18 year old whisky is peatier than 12 year old? Your higher “smoothness” may actually be the same as your lower “pungent alcoholic flavour”. And no, all this is not “usually” so.
“As you go to older ones, there’s practically no rough edges and it’s very simply silk, crème brulee, oak and fruity (yes, it’s most surprising).”
So all old whisky essentially tastes of smooth, fruity, oaky creme brulee?
“A measure of your chosen single malt whisky will bloom with a splash of cool still water.”
Wasn’t it supposed to be tepid?
“There are no hard and fast rules but dilute it a little because drinking it neat will highlight its 40 per cent alcohol content – which can be lethal.”
Diluting to 32% makes whisky 20 percent less lethal. True fact.