The Top Five Things That Malt Drinkers Do Wrong

From the most recent malt-newbie to the more seasoned long-term malt enthusiast, we all fall for the same traps and mistakes – repeatedly.   Here’s my Top Five things that malt drinkers do wrong…

1. We’re always yearning for the next malt up the ladder

You’re sipping on a sensational Glenfarclas 30yo; a rare treat in itself…..when suddenly you wonder what the 40yo must be like?  Or you’re comfortably enjoying the Laphroaig Feis Ile 2013 bottling, when it suddenly occurs to you that the 2014 bottling might be even better.

Too often, we have a great dram in our hands, but our brains get ahead of ourselves and yearn for the next expression or age statement up the ladder.  We need to learn to be content with the “now” and appreciate that, for most of the distilleries with an extended core-range of products, even the flagship or entry level expression can be a wonderous and top-notch whisky.  Glenmorangie “The Original”, Glenfarclas 15yo, Ardbeg 10yo, Talisker 10yo, are all great examples of such drams.  Yes, there are other expressions in the range, and they might be older or have had some exotic cask finish regime, but it doesn’t necessarily make them better than the gem you’ve already got in your hand.

2. Falling for colour

We’re suckers for colour, ain’t we?   Despite everything we know about the influence of ex-sherry casks versus ex-bourbon casks, not to mention the presence of E150 caramel, we still fall for the trap of thinking the darker whisky will be better.

I’ve deliberately tested this many times at tasting events and whisky fairs when I’m exhibiting, where I’ve poured out two different drams into separate glasses.  One is dark, one is pale, and I offer them to the punter.  Invariably, they reach for the darker whisky first.

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Auchentoshan – Triple the fun

In a whisky landscape where single malts and new expressions are becoming more and more ubiquitous, every brand or distillery is jockeying for position and heralding its “point of difference”.  Some hang their hat on geography (“We’re Scotland’s most northerly distillery”); some rely on taste (“The most richly flavoured Islay malt”); some rely on size (“Scotland’s smallest distillery”); and others lean on their corporate make-up (“Still family owned since 1860”).

Only one Scottish distillery, however, can declare that its production methods and spirit are different to every other Scotch single malt.  And that distillery is Auchentoshan.  For it is here and only here that the mystical and complex art of triple distillation is practiced on each and every drop of spirit produced.

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Glenrothes – style & grace in a bottle

Glenrothes. The name itself sounds majestic. Located in the town of Rothes, not far from the Spey, many wonderful secrets are tucked away in this great distillery hidden back from the main road.

 

The single malt scene was very limited in Australia when things just started to pick up in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. But Glenrothes, in its distinctive, round, dumpy bottle, was one of the more exotic and “interesting” bottlings that would grab your attention on the shelves of the local liquor store.

 

One of the reasons Glenrothes stood out from the pack was because its bottlings were vintage-dated. In a sea of bottles with 12yo, 15yo, and 18yo age statements stamped on the labels, Glenrothes was all the more attractive with its labels declaring years like 1973, 1985, and 1989, etc.

 

These days, the vintage bottlings are still the norm, although some non-descript NAS expressions (such as the Select Reserve, Elders Reserve, and even the new Alba Reserve, which is a certified Kosher whisky!) are now available on the market.   Glenrothes is a highly sought-after malt for the blenders; its rich and silky spirit adding both a lovely base note and a top dressing simultaneously. Years ago, the corporate word was that one in every 100 casks would be selected for going towards the OB Glenrothes single malt bottlings; today the figure is around 3% as the brand continues to grow in its own right. That might still sound like a low percentage, but as recently as the late 1980’s, 100% of all Glenrothes spirit went off to the blenders, and the owners focussed on other distilleries in the portfolio to showcase as single malt bottlings.

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When fixation on PPM gets OTT

If you’re a fan of peaty whiskies and you do a bit of reading or googling on the subject, it’s not too long before you encounter the letters “ppm”.   And never have three letters caused so much excitement, passion, enthusiasm…and confusion.   Parts Per Million.

 

A lot of whisky appreciation these days revolves around comparison and relatively.   Examples?  We measure or define how sherried a whisky might be by comparing it to a well-known benchmark: “The Macallan Sienna isn’t as heavily sherried as Aberlour a’Bunadh.” Or “If you like the smokiness of Talisker 10, you’ll probably enjoy Bowmore Legend.”

 

Where ppm sticks its nose in and causes problems is that people use it as a yardstick for comparing smokiness and peatiness in whisky. And that in itself causes dramas, as there are plenty of people out there who still don’t appreciate that smokiness and peatiness are two different things. Yes, you can have one without the other.  More on that in a moment.

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Standing up for the big boys

In recent times, it’s become fashionable to moan about and berate the big boys of the whisky game.   Let’s not beat about the bush – I refer specifically to malt snobs, blogs, and the cognoscenti getting stuck into the likes of Diageo and whinging about either their bottlings, the quality of the latest release or the price tag attached, or perhaps even lamenting that a particular expression isn’t made available in their local market. (And before I’m accused of throwing stones in my glass house, I readily accept that labels such as malt snob, blogger, and cognoscenti may be applied in my direction.)

Well, as fashionable as it is to bag and complain about Diageo, I’m going to do the opposite. I’m going to stand up for them. Not that they need the likes of little old me to get vocal about anything on their behalf, but I figure some balance and perspective is due.

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