Enhancing or mixing? The changing face of whisky and marketing.

This isn’t a rant or a dig, I will be swearing and I’d like some feedback, I might also prattle on a bit.

Actually this ended up being a bit of a rant and a dig.

Okay, so we all know what a cocktail is, right? For me a cocktail is mixing at least two drinks to make another one, sometimes this is to hide the harsh spirit, I know no one who drinks Vodka neat because it’s a) Awful and b) not what it’s for, it’s for mixing, it’s for getting drunk and not really wanting to know what you’re drinking, this is a cocktail (I know I’m generalising and I know people do this with other spirits). This also works with rum or whisky but in a slightly different way, the rum, spiced or dark mixed with ginger ale or coke, same with whisky, will create a drink where you know you’re drinking whisky and it might well be strong to taste but it’s still heavily diluted and more often than not chilled right down with ice.

Another type of cocktail is when you mask something strong such as Scotch or Bourbon with some sweetness, think of an old fashioned or Manhattan cocktail, still pretty strong, but the element you’re most wanting to experience has been masked somewhat, get me?

And then there is using a mixer to enhance the flavour, think of gin, I wouldn’t drink a warm glass of gin, would you? I mean just gin on its own with nothing else like I would with some rums or whiskies. I would however sip a gin with some ice, perhaps a nice wedge of lime and a big splash of tonic water, tonic tastes of pretty much nothing and importantly adding these things brings out the flavours in gin, I think, it’s a drink you mix to enhance it’s a drink you mix with other flavours to fully appreciate the spirit that you’re drinking rather than masking the flavour to get pissed up.

Most of us mix our whisky in some way, I’m sure there are those of you who only drink cask strength whisky neat and good for you but most of us mix at least some of our quality whiskies, might be with ice, might be with a drop of water might be with a whole load of water but what about adding a touch of salt, lime, orange peel or even a pepper corn, not to mix the whisky, not to make a cocktail but to enhance the flavour or bring out more flavour like you would by sometimes adding water?

I bring this up because I’ve recently been sent two samples from Glenfiddich, the new releases are single malts, they are around fifty quid a bottle, which is at the top end of the scale for the vast majority of whisky buyers, in fact it’s probably more than most people are willing to spend on a bottle of whisky, these then are surely sacred drams, drams to drink either neat or perhaps with a drop or two of water and yes you can do that, it’s your whisky you can do whatever the fuck you want with it, but these two samples come with an orange and a wee dish of salt with the express instructions that you can bring out more flavour, you can change the way the drink feels by adding something other than just water.

Does it work? Well that’s all about personal opinion isn’t it? I will be putting out reviews over the next couple of weeks but yesterday I did experiment and certainly with one of them I got some new things happening which is always good is it not? It won’t be for everyone I know but it is something I have experimented with a little bit before.

I have added a peppercorn to whisky and I’ve added a drop of balsamic vinegar to try and bring out more flavours to change the whisky in the same way as I would water, it has sort of worked but I was using low end of the market blends.

These whiskies though are being designed with the idea that adding to the product will bring out new flavours and you are encouraged to do this, we are seeing more of the use of either quality blends or single malts to create cocktails Douglas Laing springs to mind with their Remarkable Regional Malts range so as the whisky industry evolves is there anything wrong with this? I don’t think so although I’m sure others will be outraged, such is life in the whisky bubble.

Surely though this is a new dawn for whisky? I’m 100% okay with whiskies being engineered with the idea that adding a drop of bitters or a flick of salt and pepper (I’m trademarking a flick of salt and pepper) to bring out extra floral notes, or whatever, in a dram and I say this because it’s not the wood that makes the whisky, it’s not the adding of water and it’s not the adding of salt or a couple of batteries, what makes the whisky is the individual drinking it, (I happen to love one whisky in particular a friend and whisky writer detests for instance) follow a Tweet Tasting one night and see how a dozen different drinkers of the exact same drink can taste totally different things, whisky can change depending where you are, a joyous experience with a bottle whilst on holiday in Turkey which became almost a different drink when back in colder climes so bottles being produced with the aim of challenging the drinker to experiment is a good thing it might, and I see this as the point in some respects, bring in new people to drinking whisky, is that such a bad thing? I don’t think so.

If this article rings true with you, which I hope it will, doesn’t this also mean that that new course on whisky costing nearly a grand and held over a couple of days is a load of old overpriced shit? I’m still learning now, as most of us are, I’m accepting of the fact that I will never know it all, I’m accepting of the fact that new whiskies will challenge me and make me think harder than others and I’m accepting of the fact that in the twenty odd years that I’ve been drinking whisky tasting hundreds of drams in the process I know enough to offer my opinion but never enough to say what is fact, that one whisky tastes of one list of things and nothing else because that would be arrogant beyond words so a two day course? Fuck off.

So yeah, I did get a wee rant in here and well done me for that.

The industry is evolving and I’m torn whether or not it’s a good thing that we see about a million new expressions every year and I wonder if we really need loads of new distilleries popping up all over the time, time will tell on that one I guess, but as the industry grows more arms and legs to encourage people into the fold and as I sit here with my glass of whisky and accompanying slices of kumquat and melon I think I will remain both cautious and optimistic that we are taking steps in the right direction to produce good quality whisky with appropriate and honest marketing.

I’ll end this rambling nonsense with my view that all whisky has is its honesty, if it ever came out that companies were selling a product with the wrong age statement or whatever it would be fucked and all our collections worthless, monetarily speaking anyway, so if were are to see whisky evolve in this way these companies better make damn sure they get the marketing spot on don’t tell us a rare type of kiwi fruit brings out a peat note in a dram when you also happen to own that type of kiwi fruit farm too because you’ll be exposed and fail and rightly so, choice and range are good things by the way but being spun a load of old shit to buy a load of old shit isn’t, be warned.

The Captain.