Get ready for some grumpiness, as Phil isn’t the only grumpy one on Malt.

If there’s another word that’s as overused as the word “craft,” it’s “masterclass.” True, this rant isn’t an original, as A Whisky Veteran already talked about it on Scotchwhisky dot com three years ago. Unfortunately, it seems like that article has been forgotten. The spirits industry has seen a lot of growth since then, so more and more will be (ab)using the term, whether with malice or unintentionally, via ignorance.

Yes, this rant was mostly triggered by attending a virtual tasting. It was called a “masterclass” by others, so it’s not the host’s fault. Some may think I am bashing on the presenter, but that is not my intention. That said, this individual hasn’t quite arrived at the status of master yet. With that person’s passion, he might get there, if he keeps on learning. Regrettably, this reinforces my point: the term masterclass has been so overused that the average drinker has begun to think that any tasting or seminar can be called by this term, even when the presenter isn’t a master of any spirit category.

I’m really at a loss as to why a lot of wannabes think they should use that term. Is it an ego thing? An issue of attendance? I’ve attended a few “masterclasses “ (more like wankerclasses) hosted by individuals who have merely eaten up scripted pandering by the brands. Terroir of certain Islay malts mostly aged in the Lowlands? Raw materials don’t matter? A lot of these don’t even know that a spirit’s character can be affected by the shape of the still. Better yet, they don’t even know why barley is malted. Not knowing crucial pieces of information like these can spread misinformation, which is never a good thing.

I’ve heard that learning about spirits production is like putting together a puzzle. The pieces to the puzzle are the bits of information for the process or factors. Not having all the pieces means you can’t see the whole picture, yet a lot of people, after gaining enough knowledge to form a partial image, think it’s enough. I, for one, will admit that I’m guilty of not knowing everything about spirits production… but I’ve never had the audacity to call tastings I’ve hosted a masterclass.

I guess one issue is the lack of set qualifications in the industry that would regulate who can use the term. No system is perfect, after all. I’ve heard from some Scotch industry people that even the prestigious Keepers of the Quaich members are only in there because they work for the big boys.

I feel like the term should be protected in a manner equal to labels such as “doctorate,” wherein only certain people with certain accomplishments and/or certifications can use the term. How else are we going to distinguish true masterclasses, presented by those actually qualified? Don’t and won’t these wankerclasses ruin the true meaning and reputation of the real masters? The classes make it confusing to those truly eager to learn. Pretending to be all-knowing just because you can name the different types of cask for maturing, and thus calling your tasting a “masterclass,” is akin to claiming you’re a chef when you only know how to prepare instant noodles.

What really annoys me is how so many people fall for the hyperbole. To be clear, I do get that using the word “seminar” or “tasting” isn’t as appealing as a masterclass. More people interested means more growth. In addition, our time is precious. Reputations take a lifetime to build and all but a moment to ruin, so I can see why the lot of us wouldn’t want to be caught dead attending something as bland-sounding as a “seminar” or a “tasting.”

So. How much of the fault should fall on those who are only enticed when presented with pretentious, flowery words, and how much of it falls on the ones abusing the word to sucker in as much as they can? I wonder if these schmucks have ever considered whether they’re the ones with questionable taste.

Anyways, some of these samples are from that online tasting. Some of these are from drams-to-go I ordered to support the bars. The theme to this lineup is all three are double matured in ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks.

Royal Brackla 12 year old – review

£45.99 from Master or Malt, £48.95 at The Whisky Exchange, Amazon will charge £53. My 45ml sample cost me $8 or $54 locally for a 700ml bottle.

Color: amber.

On the nose: A pleasant welcome of mild but thin scents of vanilla, honey, tannins and cinnamon. After that are undertones of cherried brandy, strawberries, cloves, toffee, chocolate and leather.

In the mouth: A bit unpleasant unlike on the nose. I immediately get something bitter. It’s like licking wet wood, black pepper and cloves. Next, I taste flashes of pleasant things like dark chocolate, toffee, sugar-coated strawberries, cherries and coffee. At the end are hints of thyme, sage and more cloves.

Conclusions

This was quite pleasant on the nose. The scents’ thinness and short duration are to be expected, given the ABV. If it had stayed the same in the mouth, I’d give it one or two points higher, but the quick u-turn reminds me of my pre-college days, when I drank blended Scotch diluted by too much ice. All the unpleasant herbal and woody notes came out, but thankfully, they don’t last long.

Is this worth around $54? NO. I’m deducting another point due to the price. Glenfiddich 12 and 15 are cheaper and better than this, but I’d be curious to try a 46% or cask strength version of this. I can see the potential.

Score: 3/10

Balvenie Double Wood 12 year old – review

Aged in ex-bourbon casks then 9 months in ex-sherry Spanish oak casks. Available for £39.90 from Master of Malt, £39.95 at The Whisky Exchange, or Amazon £38.99. My 60ml sample cost me $7, or $68 locally for a 700ml bottle.

Color: honey.

On the nose: A bit rough initially. I smell something like a stretched-out scent of cloves, honey, orange jam and cinnamon, then some soft and long scents of mocha, dates, cherry syrup, toffee and dried apricots. A bit of thyme, orange peel and persimmon next, which somehow collapses into cinnamon syrup, brown sugar and vanilla.

In the mouth: Oranges and honey, plus a quick bite of cloves, toffee and butterscotch. This transitions into light but lasting tastes of chocolate, more toffee, coconut sugar syrup, and yet more butterscotch and vanilla. There are flashes of orange peel oil, cloves, thyme, orange bitters and cinnamon at the end.

Conclusions

Very pleasant in all aspects; I only wish they would bottle this at a higher ABV or released it in limited editions of cask strength. I normally complain about the price of Balvenies, but there is a more expensive 12 year after this, so I’m not going to complain much.

Score: 6/10

Dalmore 12 year old – review

Aged 9 years in ex-bourbon casks then 3 years in ex-sherry casks. Available for £46.33 from Master of Malt, £46.45 at The Whisky Exchange, or just £44.99 via Amazon. The 60ml sample cost me $8.5. $80 locally for a 700ml bottle).

Color: mahogany.

On the nose: I get some mild scents of cherries, strawberry chocolate and a flash of chocolate banana. After that are tart peaches, dried apricots, Fuji apples, banana syrup and vanilla. I get undertones of rye whisky, adzuki beans and tannins. At the end are lingering but light scents of orange peel and Luxardo maraschino cherries.

In the mouth: The initial texture is thin but rough. Unlike on the nose, the taste is bitter at first. Like tannic and cloves. Then a hint of rye, adzuki beans, toffee and butterscotch come out, as well as some herbs like thyme and sage. There are sherry flavors. Some cherry juice, strawberry marshmallow chocolate, dry cinnamon syrup, honey and vanilla.

Conclusions

I love the nose on this, but I’m sad that the whisky flips on its head when I get to the mouth. All those fruity and floral scents don’t really get expressed in the mouth. I didn’t find any of the notes I tasted unpleasant, but it was slightly annoying that the nose became such a tease. Like most of humanity, I am not a fan of false hope.

I’d have given this a six, as I like that I didn’t get a hint of sulfur in it, but $80 for a bottle is ridiculous. It’s even more expensive than a bottle of new Macallan 12. OB Dalmore prices have always been my biggest gripe on the brand, to the point I sometimes call them Dullmore.

Score: 5/10

There are commission links above if you want to explore the whiskies further and help support Malt. Images kindly provided by The Whisky Exchange.

CategoriesSingle Malt
  1. Avatar
    Glenn says:

    Interesting read, John.
    Strangely, I’d be more likely to go to a ‘tasting’. Masterclass conjures visions of me doing some work to learn or be lectured. ‘Tasting’ on the other hand, sounds more fun with no pressure to find notes or listen to ‘wankery’.
    Ps. Looks like I’ll pass on the Brackla 😉

    1. John
      John says:

      Hi Glenn,

      Thanks for the comment. I agree that tastings seem more enticing. But it seems like this only applies to people who have more sense than money. Whisky tends to attract the pretentious ones.

      The Brackla 12 is ok. Just expensive for what you’re getting. It’s an easy but boring drink.

  2. Avatar
    Smiffy says:

    I’ve picked up a single cask bottling of Royal Brackla recently so it’ll be good to compare this with what I get. On the issue of using the term masterclass I totally get it but I’ve also seen the grumpies rail against people trying to formalise this sort of thing too (a certain whisky sommelier school in Texas has taken some heat from this hallowed site). And I mean would you trust an initative funded by Diageo or Pernod Ricard either?

    1. John
      John says:

      Hi Smiffy, that single cask an OB or IB? Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve seen a lot of IB Brackla. But then, I don’t pay too much attention to whisky anymore.

      The learned folks wouldn’t trust an initiative funded by Diageo or Pernod. But they’re quite useful to learn the basic stuff at least.

      1. Avatar
        Smiffy says:

        John,

        It’s an IB from the whiskybroker.co.uk, a 14yo that was casked in a bourbon barrel and bottled at cask strength. I quite like what they offer and their prices are pretty competitive, I think they deliver to your part of the world too.

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