Why you still need to challenge your whisky favourites to avoid taste blindness.
For those of you who read this weeks taste review of Monkey Shoulder this article will make more sense, but it isn’t really that necessary to have done so. This is going to be a short piece on how we should always look back on what we have drunk in the past and consistently re-evaluate our experiences.
For a couple of years, Monkey Shoulder was the blend I used to recommend and when travelling was what I often drunk when other options were limited. I never really thought to question it much as I enjoyed drinking it and others did to. Then my travel patterns changed and I wasn’t travelling the same routes, so my opportunity to drink Monkey Shoulder was limited which gave me a break from it for a little while.
It was the tail end of last year when I was asked to do a whisky tasting that I used Monkey Shoulder as a blended whisky. A fair enough assumption as it is a good enough value blended malt and given there were at least three decent malts in recipe, I wasn’t expecting much problems. Only I was wrong. A couple of people said they didn’t like it, pointed out its flaws and said they wouldn’t drink it again. I felt a little bit embarrassed as this was totally opposite to what I had been expecting, though we know that everybody has different taste buds and what is steak for one guy might be mince for the next. One thing was for certain – a review of the whisky and my thoughts about it had to be done.
Fortunately this tied in with the chance to also taste the Smokey Monkey and thus provide a decent comparison between the two. The results are in my article in which I found the smokey version definitely not to my taste and was also able to see the flaws in the original version. My excitement in it was slightly jaded almost to the point I could say that I felt let down by the beverage that I placed so much faith in. So what has happened?
Let’s make the bottler the scapegoat as that would absolve me of saying or doing anything wrong. Batches can vary in taste and recipes can be slightly tweaked depending on availability of casks for vatting. That’s the easy, lazy and possibly incorrect way of thinking which although possibly true, the case may not be the root of the problem. For that we have to look into ourselves and think about how we have changed as whisky drinkers, not just in our palates but also our expectations.
A drop in the ocean
The first thing we have to acknowledge is that one brand of whisky in the spirits world is like a drop in the ocean – so easily lost when compared to other brands. Many of us don’t have the chance to taste many different whiskies either through opportunity or lack of financial means. For people in this situation it means that they will tend to stick to the same brands for whatever reason. It goes without saying whatever your circumstances as a whisky lover that you will try to go for the best you can afford or obtain. However we may become blind to its faults. There is no shame in this as it is human nature to defend things we like or are special to us. For instance, my dog. Lovely, gentle Labrador but can be a bit of a poo eater, constantly casting hair, hungry and is definitely a shagger. I tend to ignore these flaws as I love my dog and his flaws are often written off as character.
Thinking back to the whisky world there may eventually be a special offer which gives the opportunity to try something else to which takes your fancy and it becomes your new favourite, though your former favourite still holds a place in your estimations. You may still recommend your whisky you used to love as It could be that it is good value, but you may be oblivious to the things that make it out not as good as you think. Eventually you get brought back down to earth with a bump and it hurts when it’s pointed out.
With so many bottles out there, many of us are trying different things, but are we really forming a relationship with that whisky so that we know all of its highs and lows, or are we completing a bottle and moving onto the next new thing? Within this blog, it is something that I struggle with, as I am constantly tasting different whisky and don’t often get the chance to really get to know some of the drams. In the past year I’ve reviewed 74 whiskies (that includes the backlog yet to publish) but there is no way on earth that somebody could drink 74 full bottles in that time.
The one thing that also works against us as whisky enthusiasts is those who are always trying the next new thing. There is nothing wrong with this as whisky will require to be innovative to move on, but part of me also feels that this creates a new problem. How can we say that a new whisky is entirely different from one that we have tasted in the past? With millions of permutations there has to be some similarities between bottlings surely? Even in my limited reviews I can tell you I’ve tasted two drams that had I known no better I would have said was Ardbeg because of the main characteristics of the spirit.
Don’t feel disappointed with this – I never said that I was an expert, I don’t pretend to be and I certainly don’t intend to be. This is about a journey to try different whiskies and there will be some I like and some I find that are not to my taste. I wrote about them to get your opinions too and to share my thoughts, not to get plaudits.
There is a defence for all of us. Currently there are about 130 distilleries in Scotland alone. If each distillery had 5 core expressions and released a new one every year, how long do you think it would take you to taste them all and do you think you’d be able to compare them to each other? Not to mention all the whisky that has been made in the past nor single cask releases…. see where I’m going with this? And I haven’t touched on Irish, Japanese, American or Indian whisky yet…..
If you want the proof, watch an online blind tasting and see how many people are able to identify random whiskies. You’d probably not be surprised at the failure rate. I feel it is only those with a super educated palate and a great memory would be capable of such a feat. These people do exist, but seem to be few and far between.
Back To The Monkey Shoulder.
Going back to my original point, with so many whiskies available, it probably isn’t easy to compare each one with every other, and after a while the taste scoring means little. I bet that I could return to Monkey Shoulder again in a couple of months and enjoy it again. Perhaps the bottle I used for the tasting had been open too long and was oxidised? Our palates evolve and what is good at one time may not be so good in the future or become even better.
There is another danger of constantly tasting new things that are popular and that is the law of diminishing returns. Once you taste something great, you will not be so impressed with the more mediocre drams. The availability of such great drams mean you may be in the trap that previously enjoyable whisky isn’t so good, and what is great is in limited supply. That’s a thought for another article though.
In conclusion, will I stop drinking Monkey Shoulder or recommending it? No. I still think the original Monkey Shoulder is an easy to drink, good value blended malt. I will perhaps change why I recommend it though. And of course, I’m going to challenge you to every now and again challenge the whiskies you like to see how they stack up against the new whiskies being released. Being loyal to a brand is great, but can blind you to its drawbacks.
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