A New Direction

I have recently made some quite dramatic changes in my whisky drinking. So what? I believe that everyone’s palate changes so what I drink requires periodic review.

I have also taken a role as – ‘whisky expert’ at a hotel introducing a whisky theme.

I immediately has to challenge the notion that I’m any sort of whisky expert. I have tasted many many whiskies (over 1500) for several decades. I do know couple of real experts, a distillery owner/master blender and a friend who supervised the introduction of the Diageo distillers editions – he really nows about casks. which constantly reminds me of how much I really don’t know. This new role included reviewing the hotel’s whisky menu , to host tastings and run a whisky club.

Their menu was a combination of ‘entry level’ economy malts, many standard 10-12 year olds there some unusual and interesting more luxury drams. Even in a selection of 38 there were omissions in my assessment. It is surprising when assembling a public list how difficult it is to anticipate differing tastes. In general it was a very good list with expressions for every palate.

The omissions I identified included – whisky to meet American Scotch preferences – Monkey Shoulder and GlenDronach. There were Islays but they were mainly NAS whiskies. The range was wide but no single distillery had more than 1 expression. Local whiskies were limited as were cask strength whiskies.
I always try the local distillery whisky in a new whisky bar. The entry whisky range was not wide enough and excluded good quality brands – I would recommend Auchentoshan for example as a smooth, tasty entry whisky over the well known supermarket NAS specials. If I introduce someone to whisky I want it memorable, rich and tasty not bland and thin. A small hotel with limited footfall has to be wary of stocking too much as stock moves relatively slowly. My options to add to the list immediately would have added 20 whiskies. Not necessarily a good idea! My geek list is almost certainly not commercial. Curating a whisky list at first seems simple but try it for your self!

I think it is this that encouraged me to review my own whisky choices. Write your own list of 30 bottles. It is an interesting exercise in elimination. Now trim it down to 24.

My strategy to date has been quite budget driven. I have enjoyed the £25 price bracket whiskies and know most of them well. They are good quality value whiskies but were starting to disappoint me Black Label, Talisker 10, Laphroaig 10, Aberlour 12, Highland Park 12, Glengoyne 10,& 12, Old Pultney 12, Auchentoshan, Tamnavulin and so on. The prices on these are currently increasing so frankly I thought it best to taste the more expensive 10-12 year olds. I did of course keep a few of the classics amongst these – Laphroaig, Highland Park, Old Pultney and Black Label.

Just one price level up lies IMHO a much tastier bracket. It is to this I initially moved. Tobermoray 12, Ledaig 10, Cragganmore 12, Glenkinchie 12, Bunnahabhain 12, Port Charlotte 10, GlenAllachie 12, Arran 10, Craigellachie 12. The large contingent of Distell Brands reflects their non chill filtered, natural colour approach. My preference for worm tub condensers is also reflected in my choices, I notice.

My second group was the 14-18 year olds, led by the Ledaig 18. Lagavulin 16, Glencadam 15, Clynelish 14, Bowmore 15. You get the plan.

Two things that I had to do. I really had to challenge some whiskies that I had enjoyed for years – did they really make the grade now. Secondly, to make comparisons I had to do comparative tasting. My expert friends have told me that only by comparing samples can you genuinely spot differences. This is a positive step as it clarifies nose and taste elements at the same time. Never finish your glass at a tasting!

My objective is to reduce my whisky shelf to 24 excellent bottles. Once consumed they will be replaced. I will also have 6 bottles under constant review to replace any of the core 24 that start to fade in quality.

I also by the by, changed how I keep my whisky tasting notes. I now use notes on my iPhone. Very simply I start by importing a photograph of a glass of the whisky in front of the bottle and box. The notes are, whisky name, ABV, appearance, nose, palate and conclusion. Nothing more sophisticated than that. The search function on Notes works really well so I can keep millions of tasting notes – I taste about 500 whiskies each year and am currently about 60 behind! When needed I can easily import theses notes into to blog posts on my Mac or onto social media. I have never felt the prospect of being so organised before!

These are shots of the image used plus a page of my notes and yes, I did omit the ABV – it is 46.3% a fine bottling point.

I am enjoying my whisky more this way but struggling to get the bottle count below 40 bottles for now! Excluding the 20 bottles of Bourbon and Rye which I will supply to my tasting group to deplete.

I will be drinking less but better quality I think. The budget might be about the same. Maybe a little bit higher as I will have more 18 year old expressions. Interestingly as Ledaig 18 is my number one at the moment. Talisker 18 has been quickly relegated to replace. It would be so much better non chill filtered at natural colour. An Cnoc or GlenDronach will get an airing (The GD has just become chill filtered so might struggle to keep its place). Dalmore 18 previously failed as did Deanston 18. Highland Park 18 will be included intake, in the form of A.D. Rattray’s Cask Orkney a more classical expression at a much better price I have found. GlenAllachie 18 will definitely make the list.

I also purchased and love the Kilchomon 2021 PX cask expression which I bought to enjoy not to flip. It is really great, definitely a top whisky for this year.

I feel much more at ease with my quality approach. If still dubious about the expert tag! I will concentrate on encouraging guests to find their own palate, while enjoying my own.