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Issue 40 - Mixingit

Whisky Magazine Issue 40
June 2004

 

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Mixingit

Wehaveinvitedfourofthebestdrinkswriterstotakeitinturntowriteforus.Firstup,award-winningjournalistAndrewJeffordarguesthatwhiskyisamatteroftastes

It'snevercomfortabletobeaheretic.Agreed,I'mnotgoingtobeburnedatthestake,disembowelledorthrownintoLaphroaig'slautertunformyapostasy,butevenself-exclusionisalonelybusiness.Toeasetheburden,I'mgoingtotellall.ForthebestSocraticreasons:ifwedon'taskquestionsaboutwhatwearedoing,thenwewillfailtounderstandwhatwearedoing.

What(myquestionruns)isthepointoftastingnotes?Morespecifically,whatisthepointofthemodernwhiskytastingnote?ThemostexhaustivebookeverwrittenonScotchwhisky,AlfredBarnard's1887guidetoTheWhiskyDistilleriesoftheUnitedKingdom,moreorlessdoeswithoutthemaltogether.Occasionallyamaltis‘richandhighlyflavoured'(Balmenach),‘cleanandmellow'(Inchgower)or‘thickandpungent'(Laphroaig),butmanyaremerely‘pure',includingthosesoldatthattimeassinglemalts(whichBarnardcalled‘selfwhiskies').Tastingwasthereader'sbusiness,Barnardimplied;theauthorwastheretoprovidehistory,detailandcolour.

Detailedtastingnotesbegantoappearinwhiskybooksasrecentlyasthemid-1980swithWallaceMilroy'sMaltWhiskyAlmanacandMichaelJackson'sWorldGuidetoWhisky.Thenotesinthoseguidesnowseemcursory,eventerse.Atorrentofbaroquedetail,eachdramweigheddownwithdozensofspecificdescriptorsofsometimesalarmingdisparity,hasbecomethenorm.

Ihalf-suspectthesebillowingdescriptionswerelaunchedsemi-humorouslybytheScotchMaltWhiskySocietytastingpanelsinaspiritofmischievoussalesmanship.Themodelwasdoubtlesswinetastingnotes,whichalsobecamefamouslybaroqueduringthesametwodecades(andwhichremainso).

Thepointhasoftenbeenmadethatthesedescriptionsten...

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