Value is a strange thing. I was chatting – or rather, getting into a drunken argument about it – with a friend recently. My position was, and remains, that you can connect value to the technical aspects of whisky production. That there are, objectively, some whiskies made worse than others, some that have flaws or efficiencies in production, that means they are less than perfect. Not everything can be magic and rainbows.
This is especially important, I believe, when you’re writing about whisky on a site like Malt, explaining stuff to people who are ready to drop 100-notes or more on a bottle. Sure I can spaff out a tasting note and say buy it or not – but what’s the point in that? All that means is that you’ll either agree with my tastes or otherwise, and you’ll be coming after me if you disagree with my tasting notes.
No, instead I think it’s important to somehow connect the money in your wallet with the way in which a whisky is made, to the best of our understanding in this not-at-all transparent world. To get under the skin of the brand, but most of all to see if what they are telling people matches up with what they are actually doing. Which is easier said than done.
My friend said this was crap. For him – I believe, for much drink had been consumed by this stage, so I’m possibly now making up the counter argument – value wasn’t something you can so easily ascribe to objective criteria. The value of a whisky was down to experience, perhaps. Memories. And to try and break into objective criteria was to start disassembling people’s emotional connections to whisky – or so I am guessing the argument to be. Value, technicalities, production don’t matter compared to how you enjoyed that dram, and who with, and that value, or merit, or utility, or goodness, is entirely personal.
And the truth is probably both of these things. They can both live side by side. Because we are not a Twitter conversation and life is full of subtleties.
If you enjoyed a Haig Club with friends one memorable summer’s evening, and I pointed out just why it was a poor whisky in my opinion, then you would be a bit miffed, as if I’d kicked your dog. It’d be a dick move, and you’d be right. But I’d also be right in pointing out that Diageo has pulled your trousers around your ankles in releasing young, crap grain whisky at such a high price, by telling things about how that whisky is made. Because there was a dissonance between what the brand was saying, and the realities of production.
We live in an age where value is a dirty word. It’s a solipsistic world, especially when it comes to our opinions of a drink. And when money comes into it, value becomes a positively filthy word.
So I maintain that the effort to investigate the technicalities, to explore a drink’s production in a curious way, is a very good way to start weighing up what we mean when we say a whisky is good. It starts to give context. For example there is virtually no provenance in whisky when all the core ingredients are coming from the same national sources, more or less; so it’s worth asking questions on that, on where the grain is sourced if known, and what role a distillery large or small has had in the process of that grain being distilled. In the effort to have short fermentation times (48 hours or so), a brand has chosen efficiencies over flavour; so it’s worth knowing that. If they’ve used terrible, old wood and claim that ‘refill’ (i.e. used again and again) is a marvellous selling point, then we ought to point out the efficiency in production compared to the price they want for that whisky. And by knowing these sorts of things, I can start to not care about how much money I’m spending: the filthiness of money and value is avoided. I’m talking about the value of what contributes to flavour, no matter how boring it might be. Those facts help someone with not much money in their pocket decide where value lies, irrespective of emotion – though, as I say, not to its exclusion. You have every right to enjoy a bad whisky. These things can live side by side.
And I’ll arm wrestle anyone who says otherwise.
This has very little to do with the whisky I’m about to review, except to say I think at the price you’d pay for a 21 year old, it’s pretty decent value at just over £100. Yet, other than the fact that it’s lived in first-fill European oak sherry casks, I don’t know enough about how it was produced to really tell you more.
Glengoyne 21 Year Old – Review
Colour: russet. Lovely and dark.
On the nose: glorious, intense dates, raisins and figs. Maple syrup. Burnt toffee notes. Muscovado sugar. Dark chocolate and coffee. Pencil shavings, slight touch of old cellars. Plum jam. Walnuts.
In the mouth: again, just follows the nose perfectly, and the dates and figs are delivered in a velvety spirit. Cinnamon, not as fully sweet as you might expect. Oaky, with orange marmalade. Chocolate again. Blackcurrants. Burnt toast. Lovely plummy note. Underneath the layers of dark fruits, there’s a slight huskiness; and it mixes with a slightly acidic or tannic quality, which just takes the shine off a very oily finish.
Marvellous. Glengoyne is a cracking little distillery, certainly up there in my Top 10 Scotch brands. Reliable stuff. Enough said.