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Is "terroir" important for whisky taste and flavou

All your whisky related questions answered here.

Is "terroir" important for whisky taste an flavour?

Poll ended at Sat May 20, 2006 8:45 am

Yes
6
29%
No
13
62%
Stupid question and totally rubbish
2
10%
 
Total votes : 21

Is "terroir" important for whisky taste and flavou

Postby kallaskander » Thu Apr 20, 2006 8:45 am

Hi there,

under http://news.scotsman.com/scotland.cfm?id=594762006

Dr. Wisehart claims that the origin of a whisky is irelevant to the flavours it it has. Dr. Wisehart takes it a bit further than differences among Scottish or Irish distilleries and take a global view.
At the end Highland Park speaks of the unique influence the Orkney water and peat has, not mentioning that Highland Park is using peat from the mainland as well.

What about "terroir" influences in whisky then? Yes or no?

Greetings
kallaskander
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Postby Aidan » Thu Apr 20, 2006 9:03 am

If it did play a part, conditions could just as easily be better in other parts of the world. They could have better peat and better water in Russia, for example.
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Postby Paul A Jellis » Thu Apr 20, 2006 4:13 pm

I'd love to vote YES, but as Caol Ila is one of my favourite whiskies and it spends only two weeks of its 12 or 18 year life on Islay, then for me the answer is NO.

Cheers

Paul
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Postby Mr Fjeld » Thu Apr 20, 2006 4:16 pm

No. And if we're talking about a "cultural" terroir concept I'd say "no" again as there really is only one area where it's meaningfull to use the concept and that is Islay.

Christian
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Postby Deactivated Member » Thu Apr 20, 2006 4:36 pm

Mr Fjeld wrote:No. And if we're talking about a "cultural" terroir concept I'd say "no" again as there really is only one area where it's meaningfull to use the concept and that is Islay.


Christian - I'd probably disagree even with this as neither Bunnahabhain nor Bruichladdich is "typically Islay" in style, whereas Ardmore is specifically made to bring an Islay flavour to Teachers. Having said that, Bunnahabhain might equally well say that theirs is the true Islay, and it is the others that buck the trend!

I think terroir can be useful to describe a style, but it is neither necessary nor sufficient to guarantee the style.
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Postby Mr Fjeld » Thu Apr 20, 2006 5:05 pm

Your're right Nick. I should have said "the cultural terroir of Kildalton" :P
I guess I'm just against this "terroir-thing" altogether. I don't think it's a fitting concept to whisky.

Christian
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Postby rthomson » Thu Apr 20, 2006 5:25 pm

I don't put much stock in terroir and for those who use it to describe a whisky I don't think the term is clearly defined. I can understand a whisky described as being an "Islay" and, in general, expect a dram with peat, salt, iodine, etc. However, what is terroir in this case? The barley for most Islays is grown elsewhere and many casks are aged off of Islay. Describing it as an "Islay" is denoting a general style rather than a terroir.

I imagine that the soil in which the barley is grown, whether that soil is on Islay or east of Edinburgh, will have an effect on its growth. This could be a potential source of terroir. However, is its effect on the final product enough to be detected? Terroir can make for an enjoyable argument and I highly recommend watching "Mondovino" to hear some debate from the wine world. (And then we can discuss parallels between the globalization of wine and whisky :twisted: )

Ron
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Postby Mr Fjeld » Thu Apr 20, 2006 5:33 pm

Good points Ron. I think the concept "cultural terroir" as opposed to only "terroir" benefits from a focus on how it's made rather than the soil's imprint on the whisky - which as you say cannot be taken into account. Hence "Islay-style" is more appropriate if one means peaty, salty and seaweedy.

Christian
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Postby Iain » Thu Apr 20, 2006 6:13 pm

In the Metro, Dr W is quoted as saying

"My research has proved there are no longer any consistently discernable styles of malt whiskies, and the regional classification is now largely redundant."

He wants to reclassify according to 12 flavour categories system.


That should please the SWA :D
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Postby rthomson » Thu Apr 20, 2006 8:36 pm

In his 12 flavor categories he includes "smoky" but not "peaty". I would have to do a side by side tasting of a dram described as "smoky" and the other "peaty" before I could, possibly, begin to understand the difference. However, I know that for many the two adjectives are not fully synonymous. Just another thing for Dr. W to get people arguing over.
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Postby Jan » Thu Apr 20, 2006 8:42 pm

I agree with the above consensus, that terroir as in meaning the local soil, climate etc is not terribly fitting for whisky, particularly as barley is sourced from various countries, maturation takes place sometimes far from the distillery, malt is bought from centralized maltings etc.

On the other hand I think that use of local materials can have an influence, iodine notes in some islays and heather notes in Highland Park comes to mind...

I think Dr. Wiseharts thoughts about region classification being obsolete is interesting, but am perhaps not totally ready to buy into them. As long as one remembers that there are plenty of exceptions, I think the regions can be helpful, especially to novices.

But the 12-group classification is certainly interesting, but has problems of its own, at least when applied to distilleries and not the individual bottlings.

Cheers
Jan
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Postby Aidan » Thu Apr 20, 2006 10:11 pm

I think the temperature that a whisky matures at will have an effect, but there are lots of places with the same or similar climate.
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Postby Paul A Jellis » Thu Apr 20, 2006 10:25 pm

I voted no, but I think that was for localised 'terroir', globally I think it is very important. Nobody can make whisky like the Scots, many have tried and most have failed. For me the best whisky comes from Scotland, so in that sense 'terroir' is important. The handful of miles between distilleries makes little or no difference.

Cheers

Paul
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Postby Aidan » Fri Apr 21, 2006 7:19 am

Lots of countries make whisky like the Scots. Nobody actually makes whiskey like the Irish, or the Americans. They both have unique stiles in their range. The Americans hvae whiskey made from wheat and whiskey made from malted rye, while the Irish have pure pot still.

Most whisky producing countries produce some whisky like the Scots, and do it just as well, in my opinion. The great thing about Scotland is the variety of malt whisky. no other country can come near to matching that. The very fact that they have such a variety means they they will probably have a whsky that is the best and on that is the worst in the world. Probably but not necessarily.
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Postby kallaskander » Fri Apr 21, 2006 9:56 am

Hi there,

when I visited Oban distillery a few years ago the guide told us, they could make the Oban with Islay peat and it would have no consequences. Hm. :shock:
If you browse the internet you find things like "the cask itself, the palce where it is stored, the position in the warehouse, the concrete floor or dunnage, the average temperature over the years - in short everything that happenes to a maturing cask does take influence". And not only in Scotland, the small batch bourbons, the single cask bourbons, the rotating of barrels in the warehouse all that speaks for the fact that the bourbon makers very seriously believe in environmetal influeces on their whiskey. Jack Daniels Green Label is matured under the open sky to make it different from warehouse Jack D.
In any whisky book you can read that two barrels filled the same minute and lying side by side over the years will mature in a very different way. If you drink single barrel bottlings you will readily believe or even "know" that.
And then there are the whiskies like Caol Ila and many others which do not mature at their place of origin.
And you have independent bottlers which leave the casks at the distillery because they seem to believe that it has something to do with the character of the ensuing whisky.
And there are afficinados who claim that older whiskies or whiskies of former time were different to actual bottlings because the whiskies of today were not matured in the micro climate of their specific distillery.

What then is fact what is fiction?

Greetings
kallaskander
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Postby hpulley » Fri Apr 21, 2006 10:18 am

There are too many variables for a real test. The closest thing to a real test that we as consumers can do is to buy bottles from sister casks that were matured in the same place. Two casks from the same spirit run but in two casks shows both obvious similarities (they aren't so different that you'd say they were from different distilleries) and yet enough differences to show that the casks alone impart a fair amount of personality to the maturing malt. If people bought casks at the same filling time and matured them in different locations it might say something but again, how do you ensure the casks will be the same? Not just the same kind of wood but exact construction sameness, down to things which would affect how the whisky interacts with its environment. I'm surprised how much the ABV can be different in sister casks which shows a lot can change in different casks, even from the same run and in the same warehouse but that may be due to position in the building... or it could be the casks themselves.

Some of the big companies, especially the ones who warehouse mostly on the mainland, claim to have done experiments where they warehouses some casks locally and some in central locations and found no differences of consequence. Some others have claimed the opposite but to my knowledge neither side of the argument is carrying samples around to whisky shows and even if they were, if would be difficult to say that it was not the cask itself which imparted the difference. Too many variables as I said.

I do find it interesting how different whiskies are from different locations. I'm very glad of this difference as it is part of what makes the whisky experience so intriguing. Still, it would be interesting if someone bought up the stills and hired the stillman, mashman, et al from a defunct distillery in scotland and moved it to New Zealand -- what would imported malt from scotland do, how different would it be with local water? Glen Breton uses imported scottish malt and yet it is not something I'd mistake for scotch; just because of the water and other local factors or is it mainly because the mashing and stilling is different? It would unfortunately take a lot of money to do a good experiment and then I'm still not sure you could do a properly controlled test.

Harry
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Postby kallaskander » Fri Apr 21, 2006 10:27 am

Hi there,

yes Harry happily there is no telling what a cask might do to a whisky. There are some educated guessing parameters but the rest is magic. Let´s pray or hope or wish it stayes that way.

Glenmorangie did a experiment with their American partner Maker´s Mark (was that the one?). A cask of bourbon went to Scotland and a cask of Glenmorangie went to Kentucky. Maybe the test is still going on, most probably in Scotland because the ´Morangie must have felt like in a turbo maturer in hot Kentucky.
Anyway the results are not out yet or did I miss this publication?

Greetings
kallaskander
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Postby kallaskander » Fri Apr 21, 2006 10:45 am

Hi there,

See what I mean?

9.12.3.2.6 Warehousing/Aging -
Aging practices differ from distiller to distiller, and even for the same distiller. Variations in the
aging process are integral to producing the characteristic taste of a particular brand of distilled spirit. The
aging process, which typically ranges from 4 to 8 years or more, consists of storing the new whisky
distillate in oak barrels to encourage chemical reactions and extractions between the whisky and the wood.
The constituents of the barrel produce the whisky's characteristic color and distinctive flavor and aroma.
White oak is used because it is one of the few woods that holds liquids while allowing breathing (gas
exchange) through the wood. Federal law requires all Bourbon whisky to be aged in charred new white
oak barrels.
The oak barrels and the barrel environment are key to producing distilled spirits of desired quality.
The new whisky distillate undergoes many types of physical and chemical changes during the aging process
that removes the harshness of the new distillate. As whisky ages, it extracts and reacts with constituents in
the wood of the barrel, producing certain trace substances, called congeners, which give whisky its
distinctive color, taste, and aroma.
Barrel environment is extremely critical in whisky aging and varies considerably by distillery,
warehouse, and even location in the warehouse. Ambient atmospheric conditions, such as seasonal and
diurnal variations in temperature and humidity, have a great affect on the aging process, causing changes
in the equilibrium rate of extraction, rate of transfer by diffusion, and rate of reaction. As a result,
distillers may expose the barrels to atmospheric conditions during certain months, promoting maturation
through the selective opening of windows and doors and by other means.
Distillers often utilize various warehouse designs, including single- or multistory buildings
constructed of metal, wood, brick, or masonry. Warehouses generally rely upon natural ambient
temperature and humidity changes to drive the aging process. In a few warehouses, temperature is
adjusted during the winter. However, whisky warehouses do not have the capability to control humidity,
which varies with natural climate conditions.

http://www.epa.gov/ttn/chief/ap42/ch09/ ... 9s12-3.pdf

That is an American document.

Greetings
kallaskander
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Re: Is "terroir" important for whisky taste and fl

Postby ScotchBlog » Fri Apr 21, 2006 2:12 pm

kallaskander wrote:Dr. Wisehart claims that the origin of a whisky is irelevant to the flavours it it has. Dr. Wisehart takes it a bit further than differences among Scottish or Irish distilleries and take a global view.


Hello All

Just so everyone knows, David didn't say what the Scotsman article says he said. I called him after I read this, because it didn't sound like something he would say.

David told me he's never talked to the author of the story.

I have his response in a story for Monday. May also have a response from Gerry Tosh, to see if he said what is attributed to him.
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Postby ScotchBlog » Fri Apr 21, 2006 2:19 pm

To clarify,
David DOES NOT believe that regional classifications are an indicator of taste. He DOES believe that terroir has an impact - as does cask type and a number of other factors.

But to use his example, Scapa and HP are very different - and they are less than 5 miles apart. The Highlands designation, the Islands designation (blecch) even an Orkney designation means nothing aside from geography.

He DOES NOT say that Scotch can be made anywhere (obviously, it can not) he says that regional classifications are mostly meaningless. Something I agree with and have always posited.
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Postby Scotchio » Fri Apr 21, 2006 3:34 pm

It seems to me the nearest you get to the idea of terroir in whisky is the loosely generalized regional similarities of style which seem likely to have developed initially as a means of satisfying the preferences of locals and blenders in a region. It seems to have more to do with variations in industrial processing than natural phenomena. This doesn't seem to have stopped Michael Jackson or the advertising industry trying to imply that some form of terroir does play a role and the romantic in me still wants to believe this
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Postby ScotchBlog » Fri Apr 21, 2006 3:38 pm

It's like French wine. Burgundy can only be made in a single region of France, but Burgundy is just Pinot Noir - and once that Pinot Noir grape escaped the French borders, people around the world were making Pinot Noir wine - much of which is better than Burgundy.
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Postby Mr Fjeld » Fri Apr 21, 2006 4:25 pm

ScotchBlog wrote:It's like French wine. Burgundy can only be made in a single region of France, but Burgundy is just Pinot Noir - and once that Pinot Noir grape escaped the French borders, people around the world were making Pinot Noir wine - much of which is better than Burgundy.

I beg to differ Scotchblog! It is a fact that terroir has an impact on the grape. You cannot make a burgundy anywhere else than in Bourgogne - and not only because of laws regulating what is or isn't considered as such. Temperature, the soil - how poor it is, the amount of sun and dampness through day and night as a great effect on the wine - and it's relevance is highlighted in the property prices for agricultural land in Burgundy. The angle of the land relative to the exposed sunlight, the humidity and wind during night etc means a lot. In winemaking microclimate means a lot for the finished product. Add to that the winemaking skills of the farmer or the cooperatives. With wine we're talking about terroir per se, with whisky it can at best be a cultural concept. The american winemakers always emphasis the "perfect" californian climate - yet they are unable to make a wine true to the elegant texture of a good quality bourdeaux or burgundy. Soil, temperature and other factors of the microclimate (terroir) is the factor - especially the poor gravel filled soil. So you may use Pinot Noir other places but you cannot make a better "burgundy style" anywhere else. Another good example is also from the same region; Chardonnay is used to make Chablis and it's characteristics of tasting mineral and sealike from the fossils deposited in limestone from the jurasic period and the low temperature makes a wonderful wine so far away fromt the tropical fruitsmelling, overtly buttery and quit frankly poor quality wines constituted by the same grape in hotter climates as Australia etc.


Whisky is a different matter - although I'm willing to agree with the person whom suggested that storehouse temperature could have an impact. Seeing how much the angels share differs from bourbon and scotch is fascinating.

Christian
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Postby kallaskander » Fri Apr 21, 2006 4:32 pm

Hi there,

always insist on a pre-print copy if you tell anything to a journalist or reporter. They tend to twist your words in their own mouth.
Glad to hear that Dr. Wisehart is referred to in a misleading way and that you will help us clearify what he menat to say, Kevin.

We have a thread about marketing here in the forum and for obvious reasons marketing departements are always ready to fall back on terms and concepts of things you could surmise under "terroir". They are there to create an illusion you know.

Dalmore stresses the good barley of the Black Isle, all distilleries emphasize the role of their unique water supply, peat or the air in the case of Balblair etc.
Does that not suggest, that our concepts about whisky are interwoven with things terroir? Highlands - Lowlands, Speyside - Islay?

Greetings
kallaskander
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Postby ScotchBlog » Fri Apr 21, 2006 4:38 pm

Hi Christian!
Fair comments, but none-the-less, non-French Pinot is far more popular than French Pinot. And most consumers couldn't pick a Burgunday from a California Pinot.

Just like most consumers could not taste the difference between a Japanese single malt and a comparable Scotch (heretical statement?, Maybe.)

And I disagree that California is incapable of producing something as good as France. I think that question was answered back in 1976:

    In 1976, a Paris-based British wine merchant, Steven Spurrier, organized a blind tasting of California and French wines in honor of the bicentennial of the American Revolution. With labels hidden from view, French wine experts in attendance at Spurrier's event pronounced the California wines generally superior to those from France. Some judges professed to be unable even to discern which wines were French and which American. Media reports of this tasting sent shockwaves throughout the wine world. Thirty years after the event, this seems very old news, but at the time it marked an absolute revolution in taste and in expectations. California's wine industry took off, commanding ever-higher prices and attracting even more talent. French wineries were forced to innovate and find better ways to market their formerly unrivalled bottlings. Taber expands on the events leading up to this celebrated event with a readable, concise history of wine making in America, recounting the long journey from sweet, sacramental concord grape wines to today's range of sophisticated offerings. Mark Knoblauch
    Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Postby Deactivated Member » Fri Apr 21, 2006 4:42 pm

kallaskander wrote:Does that not suggest, that our concepts about whisky are interwoven with things terroir? Highlands - Lowlands, Speyside - Islay?


I confess that "Lowland" generally does not fill me with hope.
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Postby Mr Fjeld » Fri Apr 21, 2006 4:53 pm

ScotchBlog wrote:Hi Christian!
Fair comments, but none-the-less, non-French Pinot is far more popular than French Pinot. And most consumers couldn't pick a Burgunday from a California Pinot.

Great post Scotchblog!
Yes, but most people haven't actually had a true burgundy because of the price, availability etc. Too costly for the average market in the states and also important is the taste preferences; the US market prefers the richer style (sweetness and flavours) of a wine made in a hotter climate rather than the more subtle burgundy style (like in a chardonnay) . (Maybe this echoes the peat/sherry fetishism of the whiskyworld? )
When other parts of the world really took off from the eighties and on it also had to do with two important factors: availability and low prices. Supermarket shelves filled with cheap australian, grape/berry-juicy flavoured south american cabernet sauvignons etc was introduced at a low price to first time buyers. Of course this had an impact as the flavours are thrown in your face style instead of having to look for it. And then it's great value for the bargainhunters too who also happens to be put off by the wine snobbery.

And I disagree that California is incapable of producing something as good as France. I think that question was answered back in 1976:


:wink: I never said it was better in an objective way - only subjectively.
But seriously, the style differs but what you prefer is a personal thing.
I haven't had an american wine I like - yet. I would love to try the canadian icewines though.

Christian
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Postby rthomson » Fri Apr 21, 2006 5:20 pm

I've only tried a few Burgundies but I will say that there has been quite a difference between vineyards that grow the same grapes in close proximity. I've particularly noticed differences between white Burgundies, which I believe are 100% chardonnay grapes. It's the same varietal so what causes the differences? Production methods likely account for some, but I think arguments supporting "terroir" have merit in this case. A difference of a few hectares can mean sizable differences between amount of sun, soil drainage, etc. Several winemakers there have said that it took several centuries to find the best soil, grape, harvest-time, seasonal rains/sun equation. They extend their argument to say that regions like Napa have not been growing their grapes long enough to find their own equation, and thus their own "terroir".

Bordeaux is another question altogether. Bordeaux wines are blends and the percentages of varietals vary greatly between wines. I think it would be harder to identify terroir in these. They can be much more "elegant" than Californian wines but that could be due to the fact that they age their wines longer and do not promote the presence of "big fruit and oak" which so many American wines want. One notable exception is Mouton-Rothschild. It seems to have changed its production to more closely resemble the Robert Parker/Michel Rolland type of wines.

In the end, though, there are many Napa wines (and let's not forget my favorites, WASHINGTON WINES!) I greatly enjoy and I simply consider them different from those of Bordeaux and Burgundy.

A good wine is a good wine, but still can't hold a candle to a sublime whisky.

Ron
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Postby Iain » Sat Apr 22, 2006 9:42 am

Kevin wrote "Just so everyone knows, David didn't say what the Scotsman article says he said."

Don't know how the Scotsman came by the quotes, but I do know that journos on the paper have been writing increasingly bizarre and misleading whisky stories over the past year. eg, it was the Scotsman's City editor who informed readers that Pernod wanted to buy Glen Grant Distillery (which was then being offered for sale - by Pernod!). What a diddy :lol:

Sadly, other newspapers across the world have picked up the story and are reprinting it as fact - which must be frustrating for Dr W, if indeed his views have been misrepresented.
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Postby ScotchBlog » Sat Apr 22, 2006 1:17 pm

Back to the question,
I think terroir can be important, but region is certainly not.

I heard from Gerry, he doesn't want to be quoted for the story in regard to this topic. so I pulled the message that had his initial comment from this thread.
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Postby corbuso » Sat Apr 22, 2006 4:24 pm

Paul A Jellis wrote:I'd love to vote YES, but as Caol Ila is one of my favourite whiskies and it spends only two weeks of its 12 or 18 year life on Islay, then for me the answer is NO.

Cheers

Paul

To my knowledge, the Caol Ila single malt is matured on Islay, but not the whisky for blending. I am not sure, but the spirit is sent by tanker to the mainland for cask filling and then sent back to Islay for the maturation.
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Postby Deactivated Member » Sat Apr 22, 2006 6:20 pm

My understanding is that virtually all Caol Ila is matured off island. Jefford says that the "percentage of branded malt [i.e. OB SM] entirely aged on Islay" is "almost none". They only have one small warehouse, and it probably has more Lagavulin in it than Caol Ila.

As Ron suggested, terroir is as much a matter of method as of place; the two go hand-in-hand. The French codify their terroirisme (if I may use that term). I haven't visited French wine country, but I have been to Normandy, and particularly Calvados. There is a subregion there called le Pays d'Auge, and that is an appellation distinct from other calvados; specifically, calvados carrying that name must be double-distilled (using former cognac stills, instead of eau-de-vie stills). Similarly, I noted that there are two cheese producers in the town of Pont-L'Evêque; they make essentially the same cheese. They must, if they want to call it Pont-L'Evêque.

There is no rule in whisky-making that Islay distilleries, for example, must all make their whisky in the same way, to a certain specification, with specific local materials. It is therefore pointless to consider terroir in distilling whisky. It's simply not relevant. Of course there are local environmental factors--temperature, humidity, etc--but that's not the same thing.
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Postby Deactivated Member » Sat Apr 22, 2006 6:24 pm

I agree with those who feel that terroir has a impact on wine - but in qualification I suggest, to those whose palates are attuned to the subtleties of fine wine flavours.
Most folk, as also mentioned, probably wouldn't recognise the differences bewteen grape varieties let alone regions (and I include myself in this although my knowledge of wine is better than some!)
However, the same charge could also be levied at the majority of whisky drinkers (present company excepted). In a blind taste, not many would identify the distillery, though they may possibly get the region.
The terrior in wine making has an influence because the composition of the ground is absorbed into a soft fruit which is then fermented. When distilled the influence is killed off by concentrating the ethers.
Barley is also less able to absorb flavours from the ground to the same extent as grapes as it is a grain not a fruit.
Therefore, whisky is unlikely to be influenced by the terroir, water, peat, sea spray or any other magical substance.
The flavour comes from the distillers skill in managing the speed of distillation, the shape of the still, but most of all the casks.
I would be willing to bet that if, for example, Talisker distillery were to move to Speyside- lock stock and proverbial barrel- that the distiller would still create Talisker even though they use the speyside water, barley etc etc.
I stand, as ever, to be corrected.
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Postby hpulley » Sat Apr 22, 2006 6:54 pm

Talisker doesn't use barley from Skye anyways so moving it to the mainland wouldn't change that aspect one bit. Using the same washbacks, stills, condensers and so on would keep it the same. That would be the ideal experiment but hasn't it been done in the past? Some closed distilleries' apparatus has been relocated but I doubt there are surviving before and after samples and again, the casks come into question.

Harry
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Postby Deactivated Member » Sun Apr 23, 2006 11:27 am

hpulley wrote:Talisker doesn't use barley from Skye anyways so moving it to the mainland wouldn't change that aspect one bit.
Harry


There we are then - that seems to confirm my view that the terrior is irrelevant to whisky. Thanks for that info. Harry. I suspect there are few distilleries that exclusively use local barley. I recollect that Macallan influenced local farmers to grow a strain called "bere" (an old, lower yield barley, whence "beer" originally eminated) but that would only constitute s small portion of what they need.

It would be interesting to try a before an after experiment. Hell of an exercise to prove a point though :lol:
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