There’s been an awful lot of muck-chatter blowing down the draughty corridors of whisky twitter so far this year. The commentariat are yowling about it, hurling it, covered in it. They’re plastering the walls with muck tweetery, and much of it seems to be sticking. 2020, in the Whisky Twitter Zodiac, seems destined to be the Year of Muck. The Year of the Soil. The Year of Terroir.
Quite why it’s rumbled its way so front and centre into digital discourse this year is beyond me. Personally I thought we’d all kicked the grist out of it back in 2018, when we coagulated into our mithering factions, dug our truculent little trenches and fired off salvos like this article and this article and, for the sake of balance, this article by someone else. But no. Whenever I’ve sloshed my way back into the sludge of whisky twitter in 2020, #terroir has reared its head and demanded that the sludge be scientifically delineated and proven (or disproven) to be of fundamental importance to the flavour of whisky.
Waterford, I suppose, are the most recidivist culprits, thanks in no small part to our Mark, who is their chief social media attack dog. And I think I speak for all honest, right-thinking whisky drinkers when I express that I am shocked, shocked at the depth of hubris to which they have sunk. The temerity of them, squatting in their drab little corner of Ireland’s south coast, not even having the decency to be built in Scotland, like good distilleries ought – nay, are required – to be. And the arrogance of partnering with seventy-odd farmers to separately store and distil their barley without so much as a “by your leave” to any of the whisky bloggers I know. Who the hell gave Mark Reynier permission to investigate his squalid, pooterish little hunch that the environment in which a plant grows might affect its product’s resultant flavour? And getting scientists to prove it with data? Expertise? Facts? Did we not vote ourselves rid of all such things on June 23rd, 2016? What did we make our democratic marks for if not the right to be proven correct by merely voicing our unsubstantiated opinions vociferously enough on social media?
But that’s not the worst of it. The real, brass-balled, Macbethian hubris is the recent announcement – if you can countenance it – that, quite contrary to what you and I and those other important people on twitter have been so politely demanding for the last few years, Mark Reynier and his Waterford brood are not going to release their whisky in precisely the format that we want, that we have insisted upon. Yes, 2020 and late 2019 have seen the scandalous revelation that several years of work and countless millions of pounds have not been spent in the sole pursuit of satisfying my personal curiosity in the particular fashion with which I wished to have it satisfied.
Instead – get this – the preening bastards are planning to use their “research”, their “findings,” their “science” to make – if you can believe it – nice whisky. I know! The unforgivable wankers.
Well I, for one, am not having it. I thought we all made it clear that we wanted single farms. Did it not percolate through to Waterford’s powers-that-be that I, an unconnected consumer, wanted single field bottlings? How dare they just make really good whisky with a palette of flavours to draw on that is seventy times broader than the norm? Responsible farming? Biodynamic cultivation? Where, I ask you, is my bespoke comparative set? I thought the whole thing was meant to be just a big holistic science experiment. I had no idea they intended to stoop so low as to just make whisky in a more thoughtful way. And I never for a moment dreamed that they weren’t planning on doing it all entirely for the benefit of Adam H. Wells. I have, my friends, the righteous hump.
I wanted casks deconstructed and then built together again from each others’ staves in such a fashion that they would fuse into oak’s answer to hivemind and be impregnable fortresses against the vicissitudes of woody variance. I wanted Waterford bottled by the furrow. I wanted a dram for every barley sheaf and a glass for every kernel. But no. They’re just going to make “really nice whisky”. Using specifically selected casks of individually cultivated terroirs to blend something more profound than would otherwise be possible, like it was the most natural thing in the world. And we’re all going to have to lump it. That sound you can hear on the wind? – it’s the sound of them laughing at us down in Port Láirge.
Never mind the open offer they’ve made to let us trot over to their shabby little setup and taste whatever we want for ourselves until our terroir curiosity is satisfied. Nuts to that – I’ve looked at flight prices and they’re very nearly as much as a NAS Tamdhu. Besides, I’m not getting on a plane on their behalf. They’ve got my address, haven’t they? They know where to send samples. They’ve seen my extensive library of incisive tasting notes saying things like “lightly grilled apricots and wet dogs impaled on stalagtites.” They certainly can’t have missed all the times I’ve hashtagged ‘whisky’ on twitter – surely by now they are basking in the aura of my own self-polished authority? There should be no reason whatsoever for me to have to lever myself from the wingback. Not if they aren’t covering air travel, that’s for sure.
In any case, I’ve gone on their website, and it turns out they’re no different from anyone else. Talking about oak – oak, if you please – well that just pulls the trousers of their whole philosophy down, doesn’t it? Oak and terroir? Don’t think so, mate. Different fermentations and cut points to suit the barley from each farm? Sounds like cheating to me – I’ll none of it.
After all, it’s not as if winemakers would dare to use oak. The thought! It’s not like vignerons would ever treat each grape variety, vineyard, row differently, according to its individual requirements. It’s not as if they’re grubbing around with any so-called “Grand Vin” blending nonsense. No. Krug, Haut-Brion, Penfolds, Opus One, all those great guys, they’ve got to where they have by listening to the people who count. The bloggers. The influencers. The users of hashtags on twitter. The quarter-baked opinionistas standing with nearly a half-decade of quasi-formed, cast-iron tuppenceworths at our digital backs. We stand together, shoulder to virtual shoulder. We want answers – our answers – and we want them now. The hell with Burgundians taking eight centuries to understand and delineate their terroirs – how’s that helping my freebie stream? How’s that boosting my SEO? My blog engagement numbers? My retweet count? They’ve had four years now, those half-arsed Irish, not counting the decade-and-a-bit Reynier got to fanny about at Bruichladdich (a proper distillery, incidentally, with the decency to be in Scotland). If they don’t know by now – if they haven’t convinced me, me personally, by now – then they’ll never know and it will never count. And I shall have won the argument, QED.
So I shan’t be giving Waterford my custom. On that you may depend. They can take their terroir and their mash filters and their long fermentations and their bespoke cut points and their wood policies and their so-called “collaborative academic research” and shove the whole steaming lot up their barley furrow. In fact, I’ll go further. Yes, I hereby call my proper-minded brethren to join me in climbing the barricades of social media and forming the Twitter Warriors Against Terroir Society. Though that might be a mouthful – perhaps best if we just stick to an acronym. In the meantime I shall be throwing my money at the people who matter. The people who care. The people who send me samples and retweet my sycophantic platitudes and tell me what a wonderful, eloquent fellow I am for spaffing my lexical load over their gratis handouts.
(In any case, if I was to concede that Waterford might even have the shadow of a point, can you imagine how insufferable that smug bastard Newton and his horrid colleagues on that awful Malt would be?)
On which triumphant note it gives me great pleasure to review The Lakes Distillery’s The One Port Cask Finished. I am thrilled to tell you that terroir had not the shadow of a part to play in the making of this whisky. That the fermentation times, the yeast strains, the historical maturation (as opposed to just the final year of it), the liquid provenance, yea the identity of the grains themselves are a happy mystery to all of us. As is right and proper in the sight of the Lord. Oh, but – mustn’t forget – it’s a marriage of malt and grain whiskies from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, so Holy Innovation, Batman! And just look at the fancy nearly-new packaging! Gold foil and all sorts! And Port Cask finish?! ZOMG! Tongue-out-drooling emoji, fist-pump emoji, all the hashtags, hip-hip-tweet-tasting.
Lakes Distillery: The ONE Port Cask Finish – review
Gold – nudging towards rose gold The colour of brilliance.
On the nose:
Sweet and musty. Hay barns, dust covers and barley sugar. There’s an overtness of oak too, in wood chippings form, behind which is a dainty smear of summer berries; raspberries, strawberries. Sweeter glacé cherries. Not bad, though not complex. Mmmmmmmmmm. All the great aromas. The fruit … the oak … the freebieliciousness. You can just smell that this has been in a great-looking bottle.
In the mouth:
A slightly cloying sweetness on the palate masks a bitterness of youth and over-dominant wood as well as a somewhat thin texture. But, to be fair, I’m being picky. Those barley sugars are still there, and still nice, and the red fruits are more fulsome than on the nose. An attractive twist of slithery smoke sashays through the whole lot. It’s ok, if a little young, occasionally crude and rough-edged. Some nice moments, just not much depth or excitement. Not much soul. Woah. You can tell from just tasting it that it tastes really, really, delicious. I mean, all whisky is amazing, obviously, but this one is extra triple amazing. You really get the sense that the only way this could be improved would be if it was rarer and more expensive. 😋 👊 😋 💪
[Less mordacious Adam grabs the reins: look, this is a perfectly average whisky, in every sense. It is fine. It will do. There are, as I say, nice moments. But you can’t compare it to something that has taken someone far longer; far more painstaking effort to make.
And that’s where the “everything is awesome” crowd hack me off a little, because to say that all whisky is basically equal and it’s all a matter of taste, and there’s no “better” or “worse” is a slap in the face to distillers and whiskymakers who have gone an extra mile, who haven’t cut costs to increase efficiency, who are making whisky to the sole end of crafting (yes, crafting) a liquid that is the best it can possibly be, rather than something they can quickly get on the shelves and flog.
So whilst we collectively and individually have many gaping deficiencies here on Malt, I find it tiresome and hypocritical when we are labelled (accurately or otherwise) vicious, moaning haters by people who trumpet their own positivity, expertise and general virtue whilst effectively saying that KFC should be rated in the same terms and valued as highly as an independent restaurant with a properly talented chef who cares what she is making. Not that I’m saying I’ve anything against KFC, you understand …]
Aaaand … back in the room. The Lakes Distillery sent me a free sample of this, so with all my heart I entreat you to reach into your wallets and spend £47.95 via Master of Malt on buying many, many bottles, plus all the other Lakes whiskies, just like I didn’t have to.
And then join me in raising a glass to spitting in the eye of the curious, the intrigued, the investigative, the givers of damns, the wanters of transparency, the wonderers whether things could be better than they already are. A toast to accepting what we’re told without demur and lambasting those who dare to question it. Here’s to online fawnery, to the status quo, to style over substance. To turning a blind eye and then burning it out with a red-hot poker. Here’s to the muck that clings to the walls.
5/10 Seventeen herds of jewel-encrusted unicorns/10
There is a commission link within this article, which we continue to highlight for the benefit of our Twitter friends.