Can our senses mislead us?
The morning I decided to write this article I was under the influence. Not just tiddly, mildly intoxicated or minging. I was outright paralytic, smashed out of my skull and totally incapable of thought. Not bad going for it not even being 9am. Before you think badly of me, and wonder how could I think of an article when not in full control of my bodily functions, I would like to point out that I was not under the influence of alcohol, at least not directly. However something got me so distracted that I couldn’t think of anything else and it was all based on one of my senses. Sight.
We should know our 5 senses – sight, smell, sound taste and touch, but how many of them do we use when choosing a whisky? We cannot tell whether or not a whisky is any good without at least smelling or tasting it, so why had I let one of my other senses nearly override my common sense?
I’ll hasten to add it was not my fault. I’m in the true sense of a shirker blaming somebody else; perhaps I should be a politician. I received a mail shot last week from Hard To Find Whiskies which detailed the offerings they had from James Eadie, an independent whisky bottler. This email must have been targeted at me directly for not only must they know the one James Eadie bottle I have had been opened that week, they also must have guessed my primary weakness when assessing bottles to buy.
The specific bottle in question is from the Teaninich distillery in Alness, a stones throw away from Dalmore on the Cromarty Firth. It was 12 year old, so had an acceptable amount of age, but what grasped me was the colour. It was almost as dark as the infamous Beinn Dubh black whisky. Only being a James Eadie whisky, we know it will be natural colour, cask strength and non-chill filtered. Despite being tempted I decided to resist as the amount of bottles in the ‘awaiting tasting’ is getting ridiculous.
However, it was the colour that intrigued me. Diageo owned Teaninich is one of those distilleries that there are few official releases, the main one being the 10 year old Flora and Fauna bottling, of which I have a couple for collecting and one in store for eventual ‘tasting’. Teaninich is unique amongst Scottish distilleries, as it does not use a mash tun, but rather has a mash filter which enables it to get an ultra-clear wort, and helps provide grassy, malty spirit that is desirable for blending. I suspect the casks used are bourbon, given the light colour and flavour profile of Teaninich. So, seeing such a dark Teaninich played on my mind. I wanted to taste that sweet nectar, having been finished in a 1st fill Oloroso Sherry cask which is another of my weaknesses.
My last James Eadie bottle was Madeira finished, which while not giving it a such a dark appearance, gave it a sort of pinkish hue in the glass and I have to say that I was entranced by it. Fortunately it turned out to be a decent whisky and there is probably no doubt that this whisky will be good as well, but we actually have no clue. So what is it that drives us to buy whisky based on colour?
I guess that we associate a darker colour with a particular kind of cask, with darker colours being predominately from wine or fortified wine styles of maturation or finishing. I have to admit that I am guilty of this as I do like the deep fruity tones of something like a GlenDronach 18 Allardice or something from the Glenfarclas distillery, or dare I say it, Macallan? Even thinking of Macallan with the Edition series where attention was paid to the colour, I must say it took all my effort not to break into my Edition 5, as the colour had alerted by brain to something tasty may lie beyond the cork. But this is where we have to be careful as not all colours are true. Many whiskies use E150a in various amounts to achieve consistency and depending on how honest the bottler wants to be, our mind can be tricked by what our eyes are seeing.
To this end, recently Glencairn Crystal Studio released a set of coloured Glencairn whisky glasses, so the person doing the tasting cannot be influenced by colour. And it’s a good idea, as one of the things we may mistakenly do is assume that a darker colour has either been in a cask longer or in a cask of a certain type, which could mislead our brain into misconceptions. To this end, taste, mouthfeel and aroma should be our only guides to the quality of a whisky.
So, what about this Teaninich? Everywhere I look it has sold out, so it looks as though I will have to give up. I am looking on the secondary market where I feel I have more of a chance, but let’s just see. There will be other whiskies, perhaps very similar to this, and bottle chasing can often lead to overpaying. I guess I have to find that other misplaced sense. Common Sense.
Yours in Spirits
Scotty’s Drams encourages responsible drinking. To find out the facts about drink, and where to find help if you need it visit Drinkaware.co.uk by clicking on the link.
Teaninich 10 – Whisky Hammer
James Eadie Teaninich 12 – Hard To Find Whisky
Glencairn Blind Tasting Set – Glencairn Crystal Studios