Opinions are like belly buttons; we all have them.
This article is brought to you whilst I am currently in Inverness. The missus is out shopping for a party frock for her Christmas staff night out, and I’ve been told to go and amuse myself. While we were walking down the High Street, my better half indicated it would be better for me to do my own thing, sort of indicating in the direction of the Whisky Shop. Big mistake on a few counts.
Why? Sending me to a whisky shop means I am probably buy more bottles and also the Whisky Shop in Inverness is horrifically over priced. I remember the day I was looking for a 20CL Clynelish 14 and they were charging £29. This was available anywhere else at the time for £16. One of the hazards of shopping in a tourist town. Even now, the WS online price is £22 and a quick online search shows The Whisky Exchange selling the same item for £12.95.
Don’t get me wrong, customer service at the Whisky Shop is excellent, and they have passionate and knowledgeable staff. But I shop on price, and it seems that in Inverness prices aren’t set locally.
The other reason it was a mistake is that I am going to wonder into a whisky shop and bore some poor sales assistant with my whisky waffle, and today it was the turn of Jack at Wood Winters whisky and wine shop in Church Street to be the ‘victim’. This is my favourite local whisky shop (they are a wee bit closer than the Speyside ones!) and although it has a smaller selection than my other favourite shops, it still has a good selection of high quality wines & spirits. I know hee-haw about wine because I think there should be only four types – white, red, pink and distilled (😉).
To be honest, I was just in for a peruse, but once into full whisky waffle mode, we ( or should that be more ‘I’) ended up speaking about the Allt’a Bhainne distillery, and how I’d bought a single cask bottle from Strathisla the previous day, but was saddened to see a decent review site totally slate their recent single malt release with a 2/10 score. Although it wasn’t a whisky to set the world on fire, it was a decent pour, and at least one of the people who read my review (see here) bought it and enjoyed it.
Yes, it was a bargain whisky, not too expensive, plus a whisky that is rarely, if ever, gets seen as an official bottle, rather it is normally released as an independent bottling. Unfortunately, because the reviewer had plenty of experience of these releases, he concentrated on the negative issues about the whisky. Of course there was plenty of marketing about it, and yes, it wasn’t a spectacular whisky, but it wasn’t unpleasant, and indeed I got a nice surprise. It was good to see the review has comments that picked up on the fact that 2/10 wasn’t fair. I bought mine at £22, and to be honest I’ve had bottles double that price be doubly disappointing. A quick look at other retail websites seem to suggest the vast majority of people who are reviewing their purchase seem to favour this dram.
Indeed, peated Speyside isn’t that unusual. Benriach does a decent one with the 10 year old Curiositas, which does have a natural presentation, whereas the 40% AAB doesn’t.
It now comes to the obvious point that taste is a very subjective matter. Yes, the more refined palate may pick up more nuances that others might not, especially if you are lucky enough to be able to sample a large range of quality spirits, though it’s worth bearing in mind that not everybody has the same experience.
I did want to title this article as Opinions are like bum holes, but that’s even a bit too crass for me, as the blog is slowly picking up more views (keep sharing folks!) but it is true; we all have our opinions. Not all of these opinions are universal to everybody else. As much as I dig at Famous Grouse, it isn’t a bad blend. It may not be a quality one, but we don’t always need to be drinking premium spirits, especially if our wallets don’t allow it. My criticism of Jura Journey comes from a standpoint that it is not a young distillery, has some very very experienced people behind it, and has produced some lovely produce – Journey is just such a massive disappointment and obviously young whisky and marketing. They should have known better. But, if you like it, kudos to you, and I hope you will challenge me on it.
I will not name the reviewer or site I saw the poor Allt’a Bhainne review on, but one has to ask is their opinion valid, and should it influence us? All opinions are valid, as one man’s meat is is another man’s murder, but we should take one opinion on its own with a pinch of salt. The truth is you have to try for yourself. If you are looking to elevate yourself to find quality spirits, I would suggest that you won’t find them in a bottle of whisky costing £22, but what you may find is good value, which the reviewer seemed to miss.
Should another opinion influence you? No. As a person who is writing about the whiskies he tries, I am not really trying to totally influence you, but rather guide you and hopefully give you a bit of an amusing spiel at the same time. But to listen to one opinion in isolation does not tell the whole story.
What is partially annoys me is the Allt’a Bhainne seems to have a bit of a bad rap, but I think it is slightly unfair. It’s as though the brutal 1975 architecture of a distillery designed to be operated by one man inspires brutal comments. Some of these experts I think have their heads in a place that is pretty physically impossible to achieve, as they have been focused on different level of whisky. They can have their opinion, but sometimes they are written in a way that would be looking down on anybody that disagrees. While I will probably be wrong, it certainly doesn’t feel like that.
Similarly, I feel tasting notes are also only an opinion. Not everybody has olfactory nerves that detect aromas in the same way which can influence the flavours you also experience. Distillery tasting notes will always be guided by the type of cask used for maturation and what the master distiller can detect and was aiming for. Add in marketing spin and voila! For anybody else it is open season. Let your nose and palate guide you. And your wallet. Use tasting notes as a guide only, for the world is your oyster and don’t let anybody rain on your whisky parade.
In conclusion, look at reviews and tasting notes, but make sure at some point you get into the action and try for yourself as you may get a surprise. Just remember, the right dram is the one you are enjoying.
Do you agree or disagree? I’d be interested in your thoughts.
– thanks to Jack for his great service and for selling me a Kilkerran 12 and GlenAllachie 12. And I hope I didn’t bore you.
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Distillery Photo – Ingo Wölbern (Wikipedia / public domain)
Other photos – authors own.