Whisky Advocate

What whisky-related topics would you like to discuss?

March 9th, 2010

What do you want to chat about? Let me know what’s on your mind.

I try my best to come up with interesting discussion topics, but I’m sure you have some great ideas too. Let us know what they are. The ones I like I’ll use for future postings.

Thanks!

58 Responses to “What whisky-related topics would you like to discuss?”

  1. B.J. Reed says:

    Discussing new releases is always good. Industry changes & trends are interesting to me. Sharing what goes into some of the decisions currently being made (e.g. younger releases, tension between the production side and the marketing/promotion side of the industry), trends that we need to look for or need to be concerned/excited about – All of these are good.

    Finally, I think your asking readers for their opinions/thoughts about things you see and observe is always the most fun because the group responding to this blog are very knowledgeable and have strong views that help keep me thinking…

  2. Red_Arremer says:

    One thing I’d like to see discussed is the quality of various independent bottlings. Most decently stocked stores have a couple of signatory or G&M, or whatever-mini-label expressions sitting around and more likely than not you’ll never be able to find anyone who’s tasted or rated them. It would be fun have everyone list those indies that are at stores near them and that they’ve been wondering about– and I know that many of us are in this boat– and see if anyone else has ever tasted them.

    • B.J. Reed says:

      Red

      I think this is a good topic – I remember a few years ago the MA did a roundtable with independent bottlers that was in two parts and really excellent – Perhaps an invited blog where we have two or three join all of us in a discussion – That would be fun.

      • John Hansell says:

        The only problem here is that the Indie bottlers are very tight-lipped about how they source their whiskies (with the exception of the big Indies, like Gordon & MacPhail, who have plenty of stocks in their warehouse).

  3. Paul M says:

    How does what you eat, or didn’t eat, and the time of day affect how a whisk(e)y taste?

    • Matt Z says:

      John, I’m also interested in factors that might affect whisky tasting. I had a cold once, and tried one of my favorite scotches, and it tasted awful! Like my tastebuds weren’t working properly. Do you have a set of standards when you taste – like time of day, different foods you’ve consumed, etc?

    • Thomas W says:

      Yup, I also think this would make a great topic. As a vegetarian, I eat a lot of milk-based products, which can lead to a sour taste in my mouth that won’t go away. In order not to ruin a whisky tasting evening, I have to make sure to cut back on the milk…

    • BFishback says:

      This, including how you go about organizing a tasting session of whiskies for review. Also more specifically how you go about tasting each whisky.

  4. Neil Fusillo says:

    I’m with Red on this one. I’m constantly running across independents I’d never heard of before (over and above the usual big ones), and I’m never sure what I’m getting into. Many of them aren’t listed in ANY of the whisky guides, leaving me to experiment. That’s worked a few times, but it’s an expensive proposition for something that risks being substandard.

    • David Stewart says:

      It would also be interesting to see how some of these independent labels have different labesl/lines they release under, why they spring up, and why sometimes it is difficult to figure out who owns them. I am thinking of some of the independents released in the past in the US such as Malt Trust, Coopers Choice, Montgomerie’s and others.

  5. G Llaguno says:

    The social aspect of alcohol consumption.
    Being whisky a social lube for relations and the other aspect, the enjoyment and tasting of this beverage

  6. Marc says:

    Questions/topics of interest to me:
    1. Affects of caramel colouring on whisky
    2. The extensive use of outsourcing by distilleries
    3. The large discrepencies in tasting notes between industry gurus
    4. The distribution of whiskies; what whiskies go where in the world, who decides, how.
    5. How decisions are taken by distilleries to bottle new releases (do they do this due to a perceived gap/demand in the market, or do they discover something special in their warehouse and decide share with the world? Most likely both, but details please.)

    You do an excellent job of creating discussion here already John, just keep up what you’re doing, it clearly works!

    • Mark Davis says:

      regaurding 1. the SWA or the US should require informing carmel coloring on the label.

      • Red_Arremer says:

        I think that would have to be the US, Mark because the SWA represents the interests of the Major Scotch players and their interests are in how to sell more scotch to their different markets. Being able to sell the average drinker on consistency and richness of color and the afficianado on the word “uncolored,” they have it both ways. Why would they want to mess with that? The average drinker might be lamed out by knowing that there was coloring in the bottle, but it’s unlikely that he or she would be impressed if there wasn’t.

  7. The issue of independent bottlers certainly is one that I am very interested in as well. Specifically, I would like to get a better insight into how the bottlers get their casks, especially the small “armchair bottlers” without a big stock of their own. Do they commission them already before distillation or do they buy them in the middle of the maturation period? How free are they in the selection of casks? An so on. There seems to be a lot of secrecy going on around this topic.

  8. Vince says:

    John:

    Since I am a bourbon drinker I will suggest a topic which focuses on Bourbon. I would love for you to compare and contrast different bourbons based on their Mashbill, years in the barrel and char level of the barrel used. For instance, OGD 114 with an exceptionally high rye content versus a more moderate rye content bourbon. Bourbons using a 4 char level versus a 2 or 3 level. Ultimately, I would like to see your rating of specific bourbons with an analysis of why the bourbon in question achieved such a high (or low) rating and the impact that each of these components brought to the table

    • Mark says:

      VERY interesting!

    • Mark Davis says:

      I’ll join the Mark’s for bourbon talk club.

      side question: does OGD 114 have the same mashbill as OGD80?

    • Gary says:

      Me three. Love bourbon. Would love to hear more about it.

    • Ray says:

      Also being a Bourbon lover, I would like to better understand the differences that Vince refers to.

    • Chris Riesbeck says:

      This type of question is particularly prudent with a Bourbon producer like Four Roses which uses 2 distinct mash bills and 7 different yeast strains. First of which is OE (75% corn) and secondly OB (51% corn) which drastically impacts the flavor of their unique bottlings like the limited edition single barrels at cask strength and the marriage of small batch barrels. Any additional information on other bourbon producers doing similar things would be great.

    • John Hansell says:

      Good topic. This one is big enough to be more suited for a feature story in Malt Advocate.

      • Gary says:

        That would be great! Another article I would look forward to reading in MA. Thanks John.

      • Kevin says:

        This would be a fantastic article. I have often wondered about different mashbills for bourbons and ryes, but have never found the time to really dig into it.

    • John Guill says:

      What Vince said. These are topics of great interest.

  9. JC Skinner says:

    The Scotch industry has a lot of legal definitions and standards, as well as an industry association, that oversee the definition of Scotch.
    So does Bourbon, I believe.
    But Irish whiskey doesn’t. We had a little discussion about this among the Irish Whiskey Society, but I’d love to know what the wider whiskey-loving community think, and no better place to find them than among your readership, John.

    So, what do we mean when we say Irish whiskey?
    – It should be made in Ireland, obviously. But what does that mean? Distilled on the island? Bottled here? Conceived of here, distilled in Taiwan, bottled in China and sold in the US? Where’s the defining line?
    – Should it be made entirely from Irish barley? Irish malt? Or a majority proportion? If so, how much? Is entirely foreign barley ok?
    – What about using other grains in the mash? What about a mash with no barley at all?
    – What about using foreign water?
    – Must it be aged in Ireland? All of its life before bottling? Or just a minimum period of time?
    – What about the stills? Must they be in Ireland? Are there limits on what types of still to use? Or what types of distillation to do?
    – What about the wood? That’s historically been imported. But should there be limitations on what type of wood to use, or where it should come from? Or how it should previously have been used?
    – Are there traditional methods that must be adhered to? What sort of innovation is welcome and what would be beyond the pale?
    I’ve gone on a bit, but really I’m just looking for a debate about what people understand by the phrase ‘Irish whiskey’ and what they would like that to mean going forward.

    I’m really interested in what people have to say on this topic, because in a way that will define what Irish whiskey fans expect Irish whiskey to be.

  10. Matt Z says:

    I’d love to hear more about whiskies from other parts of the world – mainland Europe, Asia, Australia, US microdistillers, etc.

  11. Chef! says:

    I always went with the definition in my head that Irish was distilled in Ireland with barley (and other grains in some cases) not necessarily from Ireland but malted there, 20-60% unmalted barley to the mashbill (a tradition based on old malt tax reasons), Irish water, triple column or pot distilled (most coming from Midleton), often unpeated, aged on predominately first fill american and european?

    If I am way off or if there’s a lot more to it than that, then I agree with JC that a topic covering the exact specifications and laws governing the world beyond the basics could be a good piece for educational purpose.

    Although I’m sure distillers and blenders of the world imagine tons of ways to experiment (buffalo trace doesn’t seem to need help in the creativity dept), maybe a reasonable list of ideas of what you would like to see in the future. For example, although I have not tried Roller Coaster yet, perhaps it wouldn’t be as “green” if they went with a Solera? It would have been a perfect setting for this type of experiment considering the range of malts being blended. Then again, maybe that comes back to tradition and laws governing the processes?

  12. Mark says:

    I’ll add my voice to the interest in independent bottling issues. I’ve had some great experiences with independent drams, both when they have “spot-on” distillery profiles and when they are interestingly otherwise. I’ve also had a HP single cask in which the dominant flavor characteristic was “rubber,” and I thought, “Bet they smiled when some dude picked this one.” It would be great to learn more, and to see whether we could help each other lower the risks of purchase.

    Also, topics regarding artisan distilling (in the States and elsewhere) seem promising. It seems that the direction of artisan, experimental whiskey could go many ways, some wacky and some potentially brilliant (with years before being able to discriminate between the cases). What does anyone know now that reasonably guides artisan distillers decision making and experimentation? What is evident in the history of distilling that should inform contemporary efforts, but which have been “lost” in the dominance of bourbon and scotch? What, in addition to rye, might be worthy of further serious consideration? (My guess is, humans have distilled a tremendous range of wacky stuff over time; hopefully, some lived to tell the tale.)

  13. Roadrunner says:

    I would like to hear a discussion on why scotch whisky mellows with age. According to the 1989 publication “The Science and Technology of Whiskies” on page 248 they state “Ethanol and water molecules undergo characteristic interaction through hydrogen bonding during maturation of spirits …..related to the development of a mellow taste in aged spirits.” They further state that “The increase in the interaction between ethanol and water molecules and the progress in the formation of stable clusters of ethanol and water during storage …can be found by various physico-chemical measurements.” They go on to present data using differential scanning calorimetry (DSC) and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) to argue for these complexes. Has there been any recent research along these lines and what is the industry explanation for why aged whisky becomes so mellow? Also if it takes aging to make a spirit mellow then why are some unaged spirits such as some vodkas also mellow? I got a newer book on whisky technology published in 2003 and thought it would have some answers but it did not treat the science. Has anyone tried to see if a mixture of pure ethanol and water at the right proportion (60-70% ethanol) aged in a glass container (no interaction with the container) becomes mellow with age? I would guess not, since we hear that once a whisky is bottled it doesn’t “age”. However, if what they say in “The Science and Technology of Whisky” is true then to get a “mellow” (not flavorful) whisky we should be able to bottle it straight from the still and leave it for 10-12 years.

  14. Louis says:

    I’d like to see some discussion about ageing. To the general poplation, older equals better. But then we find out that at some point ‘too old’ happens.And we learn that Lowlands scotches are best at maybe 8 years, and the Islays and other peated malts hit their peak at 10-12 years. But we also have had some spectaclar Ardbegs approaching 30 years. Borbons mature faster because it is much hotter in Kentucky than Scotland. At least in the upper floors of the warehouses on hilltops. And sometimes, they pipe steam in the winter to move things along even faster. But then there are those barrels in the lower floor(s) where it doesn’t get so hot.

    So then, we now havesome bourbon being aged like scotch. I would imagine that distlleries in Scotland with lots of young malt would like to get it to taste older faster. I’d love to see some discusion on this topic, and hopefully get some more information out into the open.

    Slanite.

    Lois

  15. Seth Nadel says:

    How about the effect that uber-limited releases have on the market. For example, Buffalo Trace Experimentals are almost impossible to get and the are selling on eBay for $300/bottle. Should the distillery of the consumer take responsibility for this? Does the distillery think this helps or hurts them? Why does the consumer buy it?

  16. Alex says:

    Roadrunner: Taken out of context, I’m not sure what your textbook is referring to, but the hydrogen-bonding of ethanol and water should be temperature and concentration dependent. It would not change over time. It’s a constant affected by the energy and physics of the molecules involved.

    It’s the wood and the charred wood that cause mellowing over time, and the increased contact with the wood and extraction of compounds from the wood. Mellowing won’t progress indefinitely, since too much contact with wood will extract other less desirable flavors. Oxidation and hydrolyzation inside the barrel likely also contribute to mellowing with age.

    Vodka is different since it is distilled to a much higher proof (i.e. purified much more), and then frequently also filtered. Whisky does not start so pure, which is also why it is much more flavorful than vodka.

    • Roadrunner says:

      Alex: Here is the context of what I was trying to say about ethanol water cluster formation in aged ethanol water mixtures, again from the book I mentioned.

      “Changes in structural properties in spirits during maturation

      The increase in the interaction between ethanol and water molecules and the progress in the formation of stable clusters of ethanol and water during storage of spirits in oak casks can be found by various physico-chemical measurements such as laser raman spectroscopy (Nakamura, 1952b), light scattering measurements (Nakamura, 1952a), proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (Akahoshi and Ohkuma, 1984), dielectric measurements (Akahoshi, 1963) and differential scanning calorimetry (DSC) (Koga and Yoshizumi, 1977, 1979; Akahoshi and Ohkuma, 1985).
      From dielectric measurements of whisky aged 10 years and unaged aqueous ethanol solutions at various frequencies, the dielectric constants of the matured spirits were lower than those of unmatured aqueous ethanol, and differences between the samples were larger with increasing frequency. This indicated that the molecules of water and ethanol in matured spirits could not easily be oriented due to cluster formation during maturation (Akahoshi, 1963).
      In aged spirits the nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectrum of hydroxy protons was significantly broader than that of new spirits. There was a half band width increase in proportion to the length of storage. These results indicated a decrease in the exchange rate of hydroxy protons, formation of stable molecular clusters in which the migration of ethanol molecules was restricted, and a decrease in monomeric ethanol (Akahoshi and Ohkuma, 1984).
      The DSC thermograms of the melting process of rapidly frozen matured whisky and water-ethanol mixture are shown in Fig. 8.6. The upward peaks were due to exothermic reactions and the downward peaks were due to endothermic reactions. Peaks 1 and 4 were attributed to the melting of free water and ethanol molecules, while peak 3 was due to the eutectic of alcohol and water molecules. Comparing the DSC thermogram of matured whisky with that of the water-ethanol mixture, the areas of peaks 1 and 4 of matured whisky were smaller than those of the unmatured one, and the area of peak 3 was larger. These results indicated the increasing interaction between alcohol and water molecules with maturation (Koga and Yoshizumi, 1977).
      A non-volatile extract of oak wood was observed to promote the interaction between alcohol and water molecules in spirits. The DSC thermogram in Fig. 8.7 shows that the interactions between alcohol and water observed in matured whisky were destroyed by distillation, but appeared again on the addition of the dillation residue to the distillate (Nishimura et al., 1983).
      Thermograms of the melting of rapidly frozen samples prepared by adding non-volatile components isolated from matured whisky in various amounts to unmatured whisky, as shown in Fig. 8.8, indicated clearly that interaction between ethanol and water increased with an increased concentration of the nonvolatile components (Koga, 1981). Among the non-volatile components of matured whisky, inorganic salts and a fraction of molecular weight above 1000 containing wood components such as lignin and tannins, were found to contribute to the formation of stable clusters of water and ethanol molecules.” (note: you will have to imagine the figure referred to)

      The implication is that over long periods of time the clusters are formed and they apparently make the ethanol more mellow (take out the alcohol bite). I was wondering if any more research has been done on this subject. I so far have not found anything on the web. If any of the above is true then I still have the questions I posed in my original posting.

      • Alex says:

        Unless I’m missing something, nowhere does that excerpt state that the changes described are due purely to the passage of time. Instead, it talks about “aging” and I would expect the changes to be due to the new compounds extracted from the wood. Water and ethanol mixed and aged in glass would not likely show the same changes they described.

        • Roadrunner says:

          Alex: I think we are in agreement. If you go back to my original comment I stated “Has anyone tried to see if a mixture of pure ethanol and water at the right proportion (60-70% ethanol) aged in a glass container (no interaction with the container) becomes mellow with age? I would guess not, since we hear that once a whisky is bottled it doesn’t “age”. However, if what they say in “The Science and Technology of Whisky” is true then to get a “mellow” (not flavorful) whisky we should be able to bottle it straight from the still and leave it for 10-12 years.”

          This still leaves the question “what takes the bite (burn) out of ethanol?” Is the bite just covered up by the congeners or is it just the dilution with water that removes the bite? I have never tried pure ethanol but I imagine it has quite a bite. Would the bite of pure ethanol go away if I just added water to take it to, say, 40%? I was trying to understand how barrel aging made a whisky “mellow”, not just flavorful. When I read the article I mentioned I thought they had an explanation, but now I agree with you that it is not “cluster” formation from ethanol-water solution aging. To validate the theory they would have to do the tests on two pure ethanol-water solutions, one new and one aged 10-12 years. I guess I am still wondering. If the congeners in whisky take away the ethanol bite, what takes away the bite in premium vodka? Or does a 50-50 mixture of pure ethanol and pure water not have a bite?

  17. Chef! says:

    For me, I would like to understand the correlation between wood and the highly viscous nature of some whiskies. I tend to favor whisky that I can practically chew and want to understand the chemistry of why some are more viscous than others despite being all aged on wood?

  18. I love all discussions about independents and smaller distilleries. I also think discussions of bottles (size, shape, etc.) and their effect on whisky would be cool.

  19. Chris Riesbeck says:

    I’d love to see independent bottler profiles. Some of the iconic groups doing it like, Duncan Taylor & Whiskey Galore would be fascinating to know more about. Often we get caught up on individual distilleries but some of these little gems are great to learn more about. I’d love to know more about the entire process and how a bottle from an independent comes to be.

  20. Ralph Biscuits says:

    Many great suggestions so far. I’d like to find out a bit about each others likes and dislikes so here are my suggestions. At the very least these might give us some ideas for future purchases.

    1. What whisky got you started? I don’t mean the first whisky that you tasted. I mean the whisky, that after drinking it you said something like “Okay, now I get it.” For some of us it may be the same as the first one you we tasted.

    2. What whisky would you give to someone to introduce them to it? Something that you think would show them what it’s about without frightening them off by being too adventurous.

    3. What’s your current everyday whisky?

    4. Take the price out of the equation and what would your everyday whisky be?

    5. Is there a whisky that you just don’t get why everyone likes it so much? Something that everyone else thinks is wonderful but doesn’t work for you?

    • sam k says:

      Ralph, I’ve got an answer for your first question. The cool thing is that John tasted a previously unopened vintage bottle of it last week with me and some others, and I’m not going to reveal it until he asks for an official call on the subject. Awesome idea, and I’ve got responses for some of your other ideas, as well.

      Great stuff here!

    • Red_Arremer says:

      I like #4. I recently asked someone that like this: “If you could have one bottle, which magically refilled itself every time you killed it, what would it be?”

      I think he said some old Macallan.

  21. What whisk(e)y had you never had, but after reading about it hear, had to run out and get it and were very happy / unhappy.

    • Red_Arremer says:

      I vote for unhappy, Jason. Maybe also add happy with it when others didn’t like it or poorly reviewed it– Stories of whisky alienation are always damn interesting. You know the stuff: does the person think they see something in a whisky that others don’t, did they eventually come around to or depart from the popular opinion, etc…

  22. John Hansell says:

    Wow! Lots of great ideas so far. To be honest, some are more suited for feature stories in Malt Advocate (and we have actually done features on some of the ideas). But some are also good for blog postings. I appreciate your feedback so far. I feel a lot of passion reading between the lines.

  23. Gary says:

    I don’t know if this has been covered but I am fascinated at how you review whisk(e)y’s and would love to hear more about how you come up with your ratings, do you compare them against other bottlings of the same whisk(e)y or other whisk(e)y’s in the same general category.
    Did you develop this ability over a period of trial and error, or were you always able to do this. And are the descriptive characteristics you name general for the industry or specific to you?

  24. Mike says:

    Might be interesting to have a posting about what the beginner should have in the starter collection. Many of the posters talk about some fairly obscure and rare liquors. How about some postings that address the first 100 whiskeys that any whiskey lover should have.

    • Kevin says:

      Great idea – I’m starting a home bar consulting company (more for fun than anything) and am putting together 10 bottle, 20 bottle, 50 bottle lists (of course this includes all types of alcohol) as well as whiskey lists. I would like to see what others have to say.

    • Jim Nemeth says:

      I think that this is a great idea. I’d like to hear input on which whiskies would best represent the distilling regions in Scotland that the beginner/novice would most benefit from having in his/her collection. Pick one from each region. Maybe pick a price range to spend for the whole beginning collection, say $300-$400? Try to get the most bang for the buck. Being a novice in the world of Scotch Whisky, I think I’d get a lot from it. I’m sure we’d get some great responses judging from the knowledgeable folks who regularly post here.

  25. kallaskander says:

    Hi there,

    I just found this on Serge`s whiskyfun

    “Dalmore 1981/2009 ‘Matusalem Sherry Finesse’ (44%, OB, Matusalem sherry finish, 474 bottles) Four stars The ‘colleague’ of the Amoroso Sherry Finesse that I tried last year and really liked (WF 88). At 450 Euros, it’s not cheap to say the least. Also funny to see all the distillers’ efforts to find other names for ‘finished’ (ACE-ed, finessed, refined… curious about the next one, how about ‘luxurianced’?)”

    Luxuriated gave me two ideas for your original question John.

    First what about the range from ACE which Jim McEwan says can be as short as some days to second maturation of a whisky for years in another kind of wood.

    Does it make sense and do we really taste differences?

    And, as an afterthought, does the usage of a Chateau Petrus or other fancy expensive sounding wine cask justify to sell the finished whisky for, err premium prices?

    Second for luxurianced I would put premiumatized.

    Is a whisky premium because somebody says so? Is it premium because it is old? Rare? Uncommon?

    And to make a connection to another running thread here: Is something like the Mangers Choice premium and if so why?

    If not why not? They asks premium prices.

    • RodionS says:

      Along the same lines, given the discussion about whether or not to review the Manager’s Choice whiskies and a response I received to my post on the “what would be your magically refilled whisky be,” I’m really interested in what drives prices of whisky and more importantly what your readers are willing to pay for good scotch and why? Common factors that go into that decision are: age, rarity, closed distillery, premium-ness, your rating, etc..

  26. […] John Hansell wants to know what whisky topics you would like to discuss… […]

  27. mongo says:

    i’m interested in the independent bottlers question too. the arrays of malts from all the various sources is a little dizzying–it’s like trying to keep up with jazz.

    something else i’d like to see, though it’s more a resource than a topic (and forgive me if it already exists), is a listing of the kinds of woods/barrels in which most original bottlings are done. the distillery websites are usually mum on this front, but i assume it’s available information. my new bottle of talisker 25 (40th birthday treat) says it was bottled in refill casks–but what kind? does the laphroaig 10 go in the same kind of barrels as the 15 or the 18 or the 25 or the 30? if not on what basis do the distilleries (or independents) decide which kind of barrels to pick for particular expressions/ages?

    also: bruichladdich. why am i so shallow that i cannot get past the absolut vodka style marketing/positioning to actually try their whiskies?

  28. lawschooldrunk says:

    I’d like to discuss the contracts brand ambassadors sign and what their speech restrictions are.

  29. Rick Garfine says:

    One topic I would like to discuss is flasks. I am looking to purchase a new flask and thought, who better to ask than my fellow readers of WDJK

  30. Viking says:

    I would like your comments on spiral infusers, and using them for aging.

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