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Alfred Barnard + Bowmore

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Alfred Barnard + Bowmore

Postby Xavier » Tue Feb 13, 2001 12:20 pm

Hi all,

I'm reading the selective reprint of Alfred Barnard's 1887 guide "The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom" and apart from the interesting detailed description of the distillery buildings and machinery, it is a little disappointing. Why for heaven's sake doesn't he describe the taste of the whisky ??? That would have been extremely interesting. For instance, he writes that at a distillery (I forgot which one) he tastes a 10 YO malt. Not a wordt about the taste ! Has anybody an explanation for this ?

And something completely different : in his description of Bowmore distillery he writes that one of the two low-wines stills has a double head and two worms, which was quite unique. The picture in the book illustrates this strange still. Does anybody know why a distillery could have chosen for this double head ? In which way could it have influenced the taste ? I alread contacted Bowmore distillery, but the woman had to consult someone else. So far no response...

Slainte
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Postby lexkraai » Tue Feb 13, 2001 12:54 pm

Hi Xavier

It would have been great if indeed Barnard had written down extensive tasting notes! But keep in mind that tasting notes on a level that we're so used to today have not been 'in vogue' for that long! Certainly in Barnard's days, people did not even think about whether the fruity note was strawberry or raspberry ... It simply wasn't an issue in Victorian times.

There MIGHT just be a way to get a glimpse of variation in taste in Barnard's days .... I'm working on it!

Slainte, Lex
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Postby georgebarkman » Wed Feb 14, 2001 1:30 pm

I think Lex is right about the tasting notes that we have today but not then. Also, I think Barnard was interested in showing just how important the whisky industry was to the tax base fof the UK at that time and that taste of the product was not really a factor in what he was trying to show. Even so, I think the book is interesting in that there are good descriptions of the country, the people that he had contact with, and the various inns that he stayed in. I like the book a lot and I am glad that it has recently been reprinted in total. That "selective reprint" book just does not do the job.
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Postby old rarity » Mon Jun 06, 2005 5:23 pm

At the same time it should be pointed out Barnard does comment on taste occasionally. I don't have the text before me but numerous times he will say a whisky is "creamy", for example, or use another word that gives an idea of what it tasted like. He often comments on the age of the whisky he is tasting and whether it is a self whisky or used for blending. So taken together one can sometimes get an idea of what the whiskies were like.

Usually he doesn't do any of this, but there are exceptions and the same is true of his writings on Irish distilleries. True, it is not in the highly detailed way we are familiar with today. I guess at that time people took for granted that whisky tasted like ... whisky and weren't inclined to offer detailed taste notes or if there was any such comment it was restricted to the barroom and trade circles.
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Postby Admiral » Thu Jun 09, 2005 4:54 am

Remember also that at the time of writing, the world was drinking blends. Drinking a single malt (let alone actually purchasing one) was relatively unheard of, and so there was little point in describing the taste.

Cheers,
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Postby Deactivated Member » Thu Jun 09, 2005 5:37 am

It seems as though every time someone here mentions a whisky book that isn't Jackson's Guide or Murray's Bible, the complaint is that there aren't any/enough tasting notes. Can we please judge the book for what it intends to be, rather than for what it is not? Or shall I start whining that Murray doesn't tell us enough about the location, history, ownership, workforce, visiting hours, mousing cats of the various distilleries?
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Postby Xavier » Thu Jun 09, 2005 10:34 am

Funny that my 5-year old message becomes part of a new discussion. BTW, still haven't found an answer on the most important part of my question, the double heads and worms on the stills.

About the fact that tastes are not described in this book, doesn't mean I think the book is crap, on the contrary, there are a lot of interesting technical stuff, for instance the drawings at the end of the book. I know, MrT, it was not the purpose of the book to describe the tastes of the single malts, but it was a tremendous occasion to do it and as far as I know, it has never been done in these ages. It would have helped Macallan with its replicas... instead of replicating fakes :lol:

Groeten,
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Postby old rarity » Thu Jun 09, 2005 10:54 am

Good points. I have always wondered why there aren't more descriptions (in the sensory terms used today) in the 1800's literature. Probably these did exist but are hard to find. Once I found a statement from the 1890's from a newspaper that a whiskey in America smelled like "violets" (a bourbon it was, and we know what was meant). I found a World War One-era statement that moonshine smelled like "wildflowers" (I think some still does, in Ireland too from what I have read). I am sure if enough research was done, e.g. in distillery or other trade archives, it would be possible to find equivalent statements for whisky in the U.K. Still, the books I have seen (e.g. Samuel M'Harry's early 1800's distillation text in America - see http://www.raudins.com for details on the reprint), like Barnard, give only hints. E.g. M'Harry was certainly aware of what an "aged taste" was, to the point where he gives various short cuts including addition of caramel and burned wheat for emulating this. Often he refers to an "empyreutic" taste, so did Byrn in his 1870's distillation manual (the same website offers that book too). This fault could derive from many sources one of which was the burning of the mash in the kettle (in the States then and now the mash was not strained before the boil), a problem which much preoccupied these writers. I think every age looks at things in its own way, but still there are hints in the literature that resonate in modern terms. Oh another example is that statement from the early 1800's that a whisky from the Highlands was "mild as milk" and had long been stored in "unstoppered bottles". The latter statement has intrigued many but I now believe it meant exactly what was said - young rough spirit was left for months possibly, in open bottles and some of the more objectionable volatiles lifted off (this can happen in whisky left in a glass for a few hours). Probably this tasted like a very young Islay of today.

Gary
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Postby Mr Fjeld » Thu Jun 09, 2005 12:01 pm

I don't think we should interpret old ways of expressing tastes as anything but relatively standardised ways of describing anything with a taste. Remember, back in the victorian times writing traveling reports/books was a fashionable thing to do and even Scotland was considered exotic - or perhaps barbaric. You also had writers touring the wine districts of France and although tastes and especially the properties were described it was indeed more of a traveling report. Now, don't you consider these expressions to be describing on a metonymic level with all it's cultural connotations rather than actual descriptions? : Mild as milk, sweet as honey, light as a feather, clear as water etc. ?
I don't think we should confuse the above descriptions as an old type of "tasting wheel" !

Skål!
Christian
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Postby Deactivated Member » Thu Jun 09, 2005 2:57 pm

I didn't mean to criticize you particularly, xavier; the thread just reminded me of something I'd wanted to say for a while. It's more directed at the disappointment some folks express at modern books, not such as Barnard. (I must say, though, that there hardly seems any profit in questioning the motives of an author who wrote his book over 120 years ago! It's not like he's going to put out a revised edition.)
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Postby old rarity » Thu Jun 09, 2005 3:09 pm

Yes, Barnard's book was a travelogue and therefore designed to be of general interest and it also focused on industrial matters of great pride to an expanding empire (hence the statistics given for each visit). But I think too the whole concept of describing tastes was - for whisky and many other things - different then, people just viewed these things differently. Perhaps they thought of whisky as many today think of apples: there are many varieties, yes, each tastes different, yes, but what is the point of describing the different types? There may be books written today describing those tastes (actually the late Alan Davidson, the famed English food historian, wrote one) but they are specialist publications, I doubt there are amateur apple groups like there are whisky groups who write into web sites like this one and follow lionised writers such as Jackson, Murray, etc. If one adds to this that whisky was a rare thing then, expensive and a luxury, by definition it was all good.

I agree too the taste notes such as they are of Barnard are rudimentary and not in any sense a taste wheel but that very concept is a modern one, a production of food science which hardly existed then. But again you can glean hints from these books. The Byrn distiller text I mentioned advises that a distillation of raisins should be added to malt spirit to lend it "vinosity". Young malt spirit, if well rectified, was probably a little bland (possibly like a young grain whisky) so adding a fruity raisin spirit would make it taste a little raisiny/grapey, like a Cypriot or Spanish brandy tastes. In M'Harry (circa 1810) he states that French brandy is "dry and nutty" whereas brandy made in warmer climates such as that of Spain has more "oils" (by which he meant, careful reading shows, sugars and I think, esters). Good French cognac today tastes precisely dry and nutty and Spanish brandy tastes somewhat sweet and vinous - I don't think much has changed in almost 200 years...

Careful reading can lead to certain conclusions and they are deductions, yes, but can be informed.

I'll try to find more examples in Barnard and post them. But I think creamy is quite understandable, Glenlivet can be like that, Balvenie too. Maybe a better example is the old Singleton, I think it is still made but under another name. I think creamy meant sweet and not very peated.

Gary
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Postby Mr Fjeld » Thu Jun 09, 2005 3:28 pm

What an interesting post Gary! You must have read an awful lot of historical interest in wine and spirit? And you are right about the cognac and brandy too. Most people think of Cognac simply as something "brown and sweet" while the good quality stuff like the cognacs made by Leopold Gourmel etc is very different. Hm, wondering about that raisin distillate though - why not use amoroso if they wanted a winey character?

Skål!
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Postby old rarity » Thu Jun 09, 2005 4:05 pm

Hey, thanks.

Raisin spirit was just one of many possible additives. Contemporary literature refers to fruit extracts (made e.g., from prunes and raisins) which were fruits macerated in neutral spirit with flavourings (e.g. carob). These were added to new or immature spirit to lend it more flavour and cover up (if necessary) off-tastes. Southern Comfort is (in my opinion) a survival of precisely this type of flavouring. The flavoured vodkas and genevers date from this time, so do (I am sure) many of the korns and snapses of Northern Europe. Some American whiskey was flavoured, e.g, Rock and Rye (rye whiskey sweetened with rock - crystal - sugar and citrus fruits), the blended whiskies, etc. Not all that much (really) is new!

Here is Barnard on Laphroig:

"...a thick and pungent spirit of a peculiar 'peat reek' flavour".

We know what he means. :)

Barnard on Monasterevan Distillery, Co. Kildare, Ireland:

"We tasted some of the "make", six years old, and considered it a fat, creamy whisky".

This could have come out of Murray's 2005 Whisky Bible except Jim wouldn't put make in quotes. :)

Barnard on John's Lane, Ireland:

"delicious, finer than anything we had hitherto tasted, perfect in flavour, pronounced in the ancient aroma of Irish whisky".

True, somewhat vague, but I think this could have meant the whiskey smelled and tasted like ... Redbreast or Jameson 1780.

Gary
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Postby hpulley » Thu Jun 09, 2005 6:47 pm

Xavier wrote:Funny that my 5-year old message becomes part of a new discussion.


Xavier, just 40 messages since 2000! You really must post more often ;)

Harry
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Postby Deactivated Member » Thu Jun 09, 2005 7:51 pm

hpulley wrote:
Xavier wrote:Funny that my 5-year old message becomes part of a new discussion.


Xavier, just 40 messages since 2000! You really must post more often ;)

Harry


Yeah, you slacker...I've done 40 in the last twenty minutes. 8)
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Postby Admiral » Fri Jun 10, 2005 4:55 am

Yeah, you slacker...I've done 40 in the last twenty minutes.


Yes.....and three of them even had something to do with whisky! :wink: :D

Cheers,
Admiral
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Postby Deactivated Member » Fri Jun 10, 2005 6:21 am

That many? I'm so proud! :lol:
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Postby Xavier » Fri Jun 10, 2005 8:05 am

:D Yes I know... but I'm afraid the english language is a first barrier to write my reflections down, reading and understanding however is no problem.
When I read some of the posts on this (great) forum - and I visit this site at least once a day - I often have my own opinion on the subjects, but it takes too much time (at work) to "translate" my ideas in good English (I'm flemmish btw). So you could call me a benign parasite :lol: .

Xavier

PS : and don't ask me how many times I had to re-read this message to be sure there weren't too many mistakes...
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Postby Deactivated Member » Sat Jun 11, 2005 5:04 pm

Xavier


You're too modest. Your written English is better than many of my countryman.
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Postby Mr Fjeld » Sat Jun 11, 2005 6:07 pm

eelbrook wrote:Xavier



You're too modest. Your written English is better than many of my countryman.



You don't say! :P

Skål!
Christian
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Postby Deactivated Member » Sat Jun 11, 2005 6:40 pm

Mr Picky sez point proven.
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Postby Deactivated Member » Sun Jun 12, 2005 4:55 pm

Cheap shot ! That was nothing more than a typo.
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Postby Deactivated Member » Sun Jun 12, 2005 5:11 pm

:wink:
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Postby Mr Fjeld » Sun Jun 12, 2005 6:10 pm

:D

Skål!
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Postby JimHall » Thu Jun 30, 2005 7:51 am

Going back to the Question
I'm not really sure what you mean by a double head . I haven't seen the picture in Question.
Is it a bit like the bulbous still at Old Pulteney?

Secondly
If the woman that you spoke to was Christine Logoan (which I suspect it may have been) I am surprised that she didn't answer the Question or get back to you with an answer because as far as that kind of thing goes she is exceptional.
Any chance of scanning the picture that you refer to and attaching it to the forum (I'm sure that there would be no copywrite issues).


Nice to see an old Post raise it's head again.

Jim
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Postby Jeroen Kloppenburg » Thu Jun 30, 2005 1:39 pm

The picture can be seen here: http://www.peatfreak.com/alfredBarnard. ... ry=bowmore

For those who dont know, I got the entire Scottish section of the book scanned in and online on my site.

From the section's home page (http://www.peatfreak.com/alfredBarnard.php) there are also links to other sites who have the Irish section, and the English section online.

Hope this is usefull to those not having the book =)
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Postby Xavier » Thu Jun 30, 2005 2:23 pm

Thanks Jeroen for the link to the picture and sharing Alfreds stories on the net. The still with the double head is of course the middle one, and I still don't see what it is meant for. Of course it doesn't exist any more, and I haven't seen such a thing in any other distillery I visited. Alfred doesn't refer to it either, stragely enough.

No Jim, the woman was not Christine, who I have met in Bowmore some moths before reading Alfred's Book and is indeed a very kind person.

XAvier
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