Have you ever been called out?
Maybe you have commented on something, and people have voiced their strong disagreement. How did you take it? Cancel culture seems to be the thing recently and I am sure we all know about a well-known face in the whisky industry who faced a significant backlash for his out-of-date views.
Social ostracism is a powerful force, maybe more than ever in the modern internet age. It can be a good step forward, nipping bad perspectives in the bud! However, I do see the opposite side where it can be taken too far. There may be a day when people will feel too scared to voice their own opinions! If that time comes, whisky scores will always be 10/10 and reviews will have a little too much E150.
This reminds me of an occasion from a few years ago, at a Glenmorangie and Ardbeg tasting. One of the topics touched on was about how Glenmorangie was unusual, as their distillery has a hard water source; in other words, it is rich in minerals. I do believe it was presented as one of their USPs to have the brand stand out from the rest. However, one of the “punters” called out that this was not true as many other Scottish distilleries use a mineral rich water source. Generally, Speyside distilleries use surface water (soft water) which can produce heavier spirits but Islay, Highlands, and (to a lesser extent) Lowlands distilleries use hard water, which tends to produce lighter and sweeter spirits.
Something I am sure a lot of people can relate to is when you experience a tasting note and nobody else can sense it. Since the experience of whisky is subjective, this can happen surprisingly often… or, at least, it seems to happen to me.
On the flip side, you can persuade the person you are dramming with to think along your lines and they will start tasting and smelling the same aromas. That is not necessarily a bad thing (as long as you don’t mug them off with silly tasting notes!) because someone new to whisky might not be able to put what they are experiencing into words. It can take time and hanging out with like-minded folk to develop those abilities.
However, have you ever tried a whisky in a group setting where every single person experienced the same note, but someone then tried to convince you that it was not there. No? Well, neither had I until I went to a Berry Bros. & Rudd tasting. In this instance there were two hosts: one from BB&R, alongside a photographer named Lindsay Robertson. This was for their (perhaps ironically named) “Perspective Series,” in which the idea was to bring together two crafts in the form of whisky making and photography.
Honestly, on the night, I did not think much of the young gentleman from BB&R. He seemed mostly uninterested in actually engaging with the room, delivered a very short, practiced spiel for each whisky, and left much of the hosting to the photographer. It was a whisky tasting, after all, and most of the attendees wanted to know more than the bog-standard patter about the drams in hand.
Saying that, though, Lindsay showed us some very stunning views he had captured of the wilds of Scotland. In particular, for the whisky I am reviewing today, he produced a splendid shot of Buachaille Etive Mor. I am a keen hill walker and an amateur photographer, so this was very interesting to me.
Getting back to the whisky and the nosing/tasting note in question: it was one of those obvious ones, as the dominant note was smoke. Apparently (so we were told) this whisky contained no peated distillate. That is fine, but there were definitely smoky notes present. There could have been the possibility of some human error involved; it may have been put in the wrong cask. Maybe the water that was used went through a peat bog and some characteristics ended up in the finished product. Examples of this can be found in Jura and Tobermory, where peat phenols can be found in the water after passing through a peated area.
However, the rep was adamant there was no smoke even though every single person in that room sensed it. Somewhat narrow-minded and perhaps lacking perspective, I thought. Comments to the contrary were not welcomed. When tastings end, I generally like to have a chat but – goodness – he was out of there in a flash. Could this have affected my enjoyment of this Scotch?
The cask makeup, apparently, for this blend was one cask of 1961 blended grain and one of 1975 Glenrothes. The result was problematically below strength to be called a whisky, so just enough 1968 Glenrothes was added to bring it above the magic 40% ABV. Eagle-eyed readers may notice that the promotional copy, for example at Master of Malt, denotes this as a peated expression. It does seem that it’s not only the group at the tasting who disagree with what we were told on the night…
This is a 40 year old blended Scotch, bottled at 40.1% ABV. Master of Malt offered it for £378, though current prices are closer to £450.
Berry Bros. & Rudd “The Perspective Series” 40 Year Old – Review
On the nose: It is sweet with thick fondant sugar and vanilla. A light smoky peat is present that has coal and ash mixed in. Imagine old tarred hemp ropes hanging on posts by the sea. Freshly caught oily fish just beginning its smoking process. As the whisky oxidises, the sweetness becomes more fruity, akin to stewed apples that break out in small hints through the gentle smoke. A slightly salty note makes its presence known, reminding me of wakame used to flavour Japanese broths.
In the mouth: The sweetness and smokiness from the nose translates through in the form of freshly barbequed pineapples. Surprisingly fruity with tropical fruits such as juicy mangoes and lychees. The ashy coal is present leaving the mouth with only a slight bitter and tannic feel. Small hints of weak brewed coffee waft by. White pepper and chilli spice makes an appearance leaving a trailing slow burn. The mouthfeel is chewy and oily with the smoked fish playing on the tongue. There are hints of vanilla. The finish is medium to long, with a sporadic spicy chilli heat. The sweetness and smokiness remain, then begin to dry over time with a tannic bitterness.
The rep from BB&R did taint my whisky experience slightly, but I guess everyone has off days and I will not let it influence my overall score. Being called out can make some folk a little defensive I suppose. After all, it is not the fault of the dram, and I found this blended Scotch quite tasty. I imagine myself chilling on a white sand beach with some pineapples on sticks staked beside a campfire, browning slowly, and some freshly caught fish spit roasting above it. It is smoky but not overpowering… just enough for you to know it is there.
I found this whisky quite refined, which I attribute to the age. It has had time to mellow out and has an elegant smoke alongside the sweetness bursting with drip-down-your-chin fruits. Refreshing and satisfying. I really enjoyed this one but it is a pricey whisky; if you can find it expect to pay upwards of £450 for a bottle, phew!
Lead image courtesy of Master of Malt. Photograph courtesy of Lindsay Robertson.
I found it…… Interesting that the 1968 Glenrothes was added to the blend to bring up the ABV to the minimally required 40% rather than for taste reasoning. I wonder how the blend would have tasted at the lowered ABV without the 1968 added.
Hi KC, thanks for the comment! I guess only the creators at BB&R know the reasons for selecting it. I suppose they don’t have tons of 40+ yo casks lying around that can be dipped into as required! However, I think it would have been tasty as I doubt a lot was added. One thing to note is, they could have heavily publicised this but didn’t; kudos to them and in turn gives the whisky geek something exciting to discover about a dram!
Very interesting Dora. No wonder whisky tastings are notoriously quiet until the third of fourth dram and people are less inhibited about getting it wrong. I find this more for experienced whisky drinking crowds than first timers to be honest. Scared to be called out as wrong and their reputation diminished.
Thanks for a thought provoking article.
Hi Graham, thanks for the comment! Tastings I ‘used to :(‘ attend in person were at a local spirits shop and seemed always with the same folk with a few new faces peppered in every so often. The shop actually briefs reps because the usual suspects like to ask a lot of questions and I doubt this particular tasting was any different. Read the crowd is my motto! Oh yes, I have witnessed bruised egos, its not pretty!
It’s incidents like these that make me not want to attend brand tastings. Most of the presenters just have a practiced script. Nothing or very little to learn. But at the same time, I think it’s also necessary to attend these as it informs me of what brands are spewing to the consumers.
Hi John, thanks for the comment! I have been very lucky in the fact that this is the only time it has happened to me and that’s why it has stuck out like a sore thumb. I love attending tastings though, seeing the usual faces and meeting new ones alike. An engaging rep makes it an even better experience!