Last week the famous sherry producer Gonzales Byass presented their new Nomad Whisky in Taipeh. It is a blended Scotch whisky – created by Richard Paterson – that underwent a finish in Gonzales Byass PX sherry butts in Spain. According to an article in Drinks International, Gonzales Byass International Spirits Manager Peter Allison “speculated that Nomad could be the start of a new whisky category. “
But the story of the Nomad rings a bell. It was the very same Richard Paterson who also created the Sheep Dip Amoroso Oloroso in 2012. This blended malt was finished in Amoroso casks in Jerez, not at Gonzales Byass but at Bodegas Romate. I asked Peter Allison on Twitter if he was aware of the Sheep Dip, and he was kind enough to respond:
“We are calling it an Outland Whisky as the category. The work that Sheep Dip did in 12 was a great touchstone for us. We aren’t saying that Nomad is a completely unthought of concept, but developing a category around it is. Sorry for any confusion.”
While this statement indeed acknowledges the Sheep Dip Amoroso Oloroso as a “touchstone” that led Gonzales Byass to have their own version made by Richard Paterson, I don’t find the explanation about “developing a category” very satisfying, in fact it really is confusing.
I have read comments along the lines of “Who cares as long as the whisky is good”, also by people working for other whisky producers. But I beg to disagree. Already a few days after the launch there are many articles with headlines like “Gonzales Byass unveil new whisky category”. Everything you can read about Nomad creates the impression that Gonzales Byass were the first ever to age whisky in a different country than the one where it has been distilled. Be it intentional or not, this gives them a credit they have not deserved but which is likely to increase their exposure in the market.
The general concept of moving whisky to a different place for at least part of the maturation time is even older than the Sheep Dip Amoroso Oloroso. The late Michel Couvreuer had been maturing Scotch in France for many years. Another example are the two Amrut expressions Two Continents and Herald which enjoyed the final time of their maturation in Europe after ageing in India. I am sure there have been more experiments in this direction.
This isn’t to say that Gonzales Byass’s idea is to be condemned. The whisky is probably quite tasty. And experiments in whisky making are always welcome even if the results sometimes make you wonder. But it is definitively not them who deserve to be lauded as innovators of whisky for opening up a whole new category. The “Outland” category as they call it has been defined by the pioneers that came before the Nomad. So far Gonzales Byass have only added this whisky to it. In another article Paul Allison is quoted saying that any further expressions could take “10 to 15 years” and would depend on the success of the Nomad. To me this does not look very much like “developing a category”, even though now they might wish to say “we made it possible”, if other whisky producers did something similar.