I remember the good’ole days, when just the idea of whisky would make me sick. I just could not drink that stuff. Horrible liquid. I have to confess that at those times, whisky to me meant J&B, Ballantines, Chivas Regal, Cutty Sark… ie crap that was easily available at home or at friend’s places.
Then, over the winter break in 1994 or 95, I went ot visit me dad in Namibia and my “step brother” from Tennessee was there. He talked so much about Jack Daniels and blah and blih and bluh, that I finally tried it and it was for sure different and better than the above-mentioned crap. So, I slowly got used to the idea of whiskEy (bourbon) being somewhat drinkable.
Come September 1996 and I move to Glasgow to finish my studies. Made the mistake once and never asked for Jack Daniels again in my whole life. I still remember the scene. Was in a big whisky bar/pub at the intersection between Sauchiehall street and Kelvin Way (now there’s a steakhouse called the Butchershop). I asked for a JandD and the bartender, with a very thick local accent, replied “not in me fecking lifetime”. He turned around and showed me his scotch selection. 20×2 metres of different bottles. My Glaswegian friend explained “the situation” and I survived. Still, the barman made a point in teaching me a “single malt” lesson and started pouring a few different things, to “show me”. Could hear them angels singing (no, I was not drunk).
After 4 years in that paradisiac town, I became familiar with a few standard/conventional distilleries and I was happy. Lagavulin, Oban, Talisker, Bunnahabhain, Aardbeg, Bowmore, Caol Ila, Jura, Craganmore, Glenmorangie, etc… I was happy with this and felt “good” about the fact that I now knew about the classical good Scotches available. As for many other people, Lagavulin was unbeatable and the others are very good as well. Won’t touch no Irish stuff and bourbons are shite.
That was until a few months ago, when I moved to the next level. Hate you Alan! Hate you Angus! As you can see from one of my previous posts, we had a wee tasting session at a local whisky store, where I had the chance of discovering the fantastic world of independently bottled whisky. Other planet. Other experience. Other dimension. After that, I see no point in purchasing any of the “standard” bottles. I would actually feel “dirty” and here are a few reasons why:
- Whisky in the bottle is EXACTLY the same stuff coming out of the cask/barrel. No filtering, no coloring, no nothing. What you distil is what you get.
- What you get this year might not be the same as last year or next year. Contrary to “commercially” sold bottles, here the bottlers don;t try to get the same taste over and over. It’s all an “inshallah” process.
- What you get is of the best possible quality: the whisky you get is still coming from the “normal” distillers. The independent bottler purchases barrels from them, so what you get in a Macallan is the same stuff you would get in a commercially available Macallan bottle.
- The whisky selection (from producer to shop) goes through 3 decision processes: Bottler choses 10 barrels from 40 available (blind tasting). Store owners blind taste these 10 and chose 2. Selected customers of one shop will blind taste these and a unanimous decision has to be taken about which barrel will be “bottled” ie: both, one or none (am I right Angus? is this how the process works?).
- Because of the previous point, you always get the best of the best.
- Cask strength is your friend. End of discussion.
Anyway, now I can really differentiate between different products and am learning how to “describe” the differences. Still, I would love to take some tasting lessons or do some reading about all various aromas, tastes, finishes, colors that you can get and how to describe them. Have also decided to get a new bottle every second month, if I manage (still 70-100 euros a pop). Right now my bar is very small. Have a “standard” Lagavulin 16yo (that was a present), a 10yo Longrow and a 15yo Bruichladdich. Next one will be chosen between a Cragganmore 15yo, Springbank 12yo or Allt-A-Bhainne 16yo.
In conclusion, I think that if I had to chose between a wine and a whisky, I would go for the Scotch
PS: btw, I even changed my mind regarding bourbon. The one we had was awesome.