For those of you who don’t know what Terroir is let me brake it down. It is the set of all environmental factors that affect a crop’s phenotype or more simply does the soil in which a crop is grown make that crop taste different to the same crop grown elsewhere?
Now I understand a company which is using local barely for whisky and wants to say so, it speaks, if nothing else, of being more environmentally sound than shipping in barely from two hundred miles away, but does it make any difference in the end product?
I wasn’t going to wade into this topic but recent tastings have given me a clearer understanding of what people are talking about and why they deem that it matters.
If you’ve been paying attention you’ll know that I’ve been sampling spirits from the Bimber distillery in London, they make a lot of the fact they use certain barely and that it makes a difference and it was fascinating to taste the new make along side spirits matured for between six and fourteen months.
So does it matter where the barely comes from? Is there any difference?
Well the answer in my opinion is yes and no, it very much depends on the cask involvement. I have tasted a dozen new make spirits over the years and none of them had the quality of the Bimber, nowhere near it, if there was a market for new make Bimber would do very well out of it indeed.
So yes there is a difference, this barely tastes different to other new make spirits, okay there, is there hint of that spirit there after six months though, or fourteen?
After trying the Bimber range I would suggest that some of the nuances from the new make can still be detected after six months, but fourteen? Not so much.
A barrel is made from oak which imparts flavour into the spirit, the charring effect would too and of course the whole point of putting spirit into casks which held something else is take on that flavour too.
And that’s without talking about peat influence or finishing casks.
I just don’t buy it, I guess the only way to tell would be to take a range of barely from different areas then distill in the one place and then place in identical casks (which is impossible as all casks are slightly different by their very nature) and then left for a few years in the same place. I’m not that it’s worth the effort to be honest.
One other thing to remember is how well spirit takes new flavours on. Go and buy a bottle of new make from somewhere, add a single sweetie, or a sprig of thyme or a even a bay leaf and come back and tell me there isn’t a difference, if such a small thing can cause so much change surely a barrel rammed with all sorts of different flavours would cause havoc?
I’m all for using quality products in our favourite drink, I am for using locally produced products too, I want to see an end to the mega corp companies but I’m just not convinced that terroir has any impact at all on the end product we call whisky.
One final point here though. I think there could be a market for younger “Spirit Drinks”. I know when I see “oak aged vodka or gin” I raise an eyebrow and I see them get the piss taken out them, often unfairly, as they are seen as companies cashing in on faux whiskies but I think that both Kingbarns and Bimber are leading the way in producing a new line which I for one would enjoy alongside my whisky collection.