Moving Forward By Looking Back

Why it’s good to revisit the past

I saw a good Facebook meme this week which was one of those encouraging slogans that said “Don’t look behind as you aren’t going that way” or something similar. Appropriate for those who struggle with something in life, but not so appropriate for us on a whisky journey.


Best look back. A truck might be coming. And you’re in the middle of the road

Recently I was asked to do a whisky tasting in a local hotel at short notice. Unfortunately this didn’t give me a lot of time to prepare and as I wasn’t supplying the whisky, I was limited to what I could serve. As the tasting was for guests who potentially had limited experience of whisky, I wanted to cram in as much knowledge without being a boring geek. I do enough of that at my day job. 😉

I was wanting to serve from at least four of the five whisky regions in Scotland, but Islay was causing me a problem. I wanted to push a peaty malt, but didn’t want to try to force a peat monster like Laphroig, Ardbeg or Caol Ila down the throats of a non-whisky drinker. That’s the equivalent of getting an engineer fresh out of his training to build the Forth Rail Bridge. In the end, I decided to keep it Speyside with an exception of Old Pulteney, as that is the one I know that has a strong brine note in order to show how the location of maturation can affect the whisky.


Best know your limits

I ended up using two BenRiach 10’s (one was the Curiositas) to show the difference of peat on a spirit, Old Pulteney 12, and Monkey Shoulder. As it was part of a groom’s stag night, I naughtily took along two of my own bottles to ensure that I could complete my taste demonstration with the effect of Sherry Cask and Port Cask. These were the Benrinnes 15 y.o Flora And Fauna and the Speyside Beinn Dubh NAS whisky.


BenRiach 10

I picked Monkey Shoulder due to it containing three famous malts, and being Speyside. It would also be one I thought would be good for non-whisky drinkers. Having never had a problem in the past, this was my mistake on this occasion.

And it’s to the past we turn to in this article. Of what was consumed that night, I had reviewed on Scotty’s Drams a total of four whiskies out of the six. The BenRiach 10 was a thumbs up on my review, Benrinnes is one of my preferred malts, yet I didn’t really get much out of the Old Pulteney and Beinn Dubh. In fact in both reviews, I effectively said “pleasant enough but I personally wouldn’t buy another”. But yet, here I am using them for a tasting and them both being appreciated by those who tasted them and myself!

What gives??

We need to realise that our sense of smell and taste are built up of memories; if you haven’t smelt an aroma before, you won’t know what it is. Quite often you will have smelt an aroma it before, but maybe not on its own, therefore making it harder to recognise. My game with the lads using my whisky aroma kit at the start of the night proved these points to a degree.

My two over riding memories of the two drams that I didn’t rate would be salty caramel for the OP and Christmas cake and chocolate for the Beinn Dubh. It was these memories that made me pick them for the tasting to illustrate the effects of the place the cask was stored (OP-by-the-sea!) and cask type (Beinn Dubh – Port)


Beinn Dubh. Just Whisky in the jar. No coke.

It was a success. From what I gather, these two I initially almost dismissed were very well received by the guests. Even I had to admit I enjoyed the OP and BD this time. And here lies in the point of this article……

Always go back to a dram more than once or twice before fully making up your mind.

Why? Our senses can be affected by the air we breathe, the food and drink we have had that day, the state of our health and our physical make up. We can also be affected by reading what other people have said about a whisky. It is always better to taste a whisky a few times before making up your mind.

I was surprised the Beinn Dubh got such a good reception, as I am sure that there is a fair bit of caramel colouring in it, but nearly everybody said they liked it. Well, at least those who didn’t say they liked it said nothing about not liking it. It does get written off as a gimmick whisky, but I am not so sure now. Indeed, a quick trawl through reviews on the whisky retail sites say quite a few like it. Those who don’t and are vocal about it appear to be whisky snobs. But it is worth remembering that we all have different senses and opinions. Not everybody can like everything in the same way.

So, as we move forward in our journey, it is always worth looking back. Our tastes may have changed as we grow older and more experienced. Perhaps we can now pick out aromas and tastes we couldn’t in the past. As we build our mental database of whisky sensations (or write them down!) we start elevating ourselves to be more discerning and pick out the gold in the trash pile.

Jura Journey is still rubbish though.

Slainte Mhath

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


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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.


Photo credits

Benriach 10 – thewhiskyexchange.com

Forth Rail Bridge Andrew Bell via Wiki Creative Commons under CC BY-SA 3.0 (image cropped)

Beinn Dubh Nip – authors own.

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Excess All Areas….

When too much is not enough

Just a short article this week, and probably won’t be a very popular one amongst alcohol enthusiasts, but it is one that needs to be said. After all, a pendulum has to swing both ways.

It was after I had purchased the bottle of Haig Club in order to do the taste review of a single grain whisky (and a cheap one at that), I noticed the price in the supermarket was £22 for 1 litre but £25 for 70CL. This is a bargain, and shouldn’t be argued with, but as a personal licence holder, I know pricing like this is actually against the recommended guidelines in Scotland which are set down for ‘on sales’ in licenced premises. However it is allowed in off-licence sales as long as it is above the minimum price per unit. It is seem as bad craic in the regulatory world to actively encourage a person to drink or buy more than they normally would, and could fall in the bracket of irresponsible promotion.

George regretted his second Famous Grouse

It got me thinking about our attitudes to alcohol. While I have no qualms about anybody who reads the dribble I write on my blog having a problem with alcohol – we are all grown ups after all, for some they have no control. It is when one or two isn’t enough, and you rely on alcohol to relax.

I’m not wanting to preach what you should and shouldn’t do with regards to drinking – that is up to you to decide, but over consumption of alcohol has well documented negative effects on a person’s health. It doesn’t stop there, as excessive over consumption also affects those around you like your family and friends. This is why I try to emphasise quality alcohol over the quantity of alcohol consumed. After all, so we not want to experience the finer things in life?

So, how much is too much?

The amount of alcohol that is safe to consume according to the UK government has changed over the years. The Royal College of Physicians recommended these limits as a guide.

Low Health Risk – Women up to 14 units, men up to 21 units

Increased Health Risk – Women 14 – 35 units, men 21 – 49 units

High Health Risk – Women over 35, men over 49

The problem was with these guidelines was that people tended to save them for the weekend and drink them in one or two consecutive days. As a student I seem to remember doing something similar, but this is known binge drinking and is now recognised as quite harmful to health.

Current recommendations are for women 2-3 units a day and men 3-4 units a day, with 2 or three alcohol free days a day. The current NHS guidelines are 14 units per week for both men and women (Aug 2019).

But what is a unit? How do we calculate the amounts we are drinking?

To calculate the units of alcohol there is very simple calculation.

% abv x ml / 1000.

Therefore a 40% whisky nip of 25ml can be calculated

40 x 25 = 1000

1000 / 1000 = 1 unit.

This will highlight why we need to be careful with cask strength whiskies. A 63% whisky would have a unit value of almost 1.6 units. Bear in mind these are measured amounts that are standard in the UK. It could also be 35ml, which makes our 63% pour have a value of 2.2 units. Plus, how many people actually measure their pours at home?? I do, having a 25ml and 50ml jigger. I’m not being tight, I’ll happily pour more, but it gives me and my guests an idea of how much they are drinking and can pace accordingly.

Pours in other countries can be a standard 40ml, so remember this while abroad.

There are further dangers of mixing your drinks. How many of us may have a glass or two of wine with a meal? One small 125ml glass of 12% wine is 1.5 units. How many of us have the big glass(es)? Add a couple of aperitif whiskies after and your 14 unit weekly budget is reached and beached with hardly any effort.

Driving isn’t the perfect mixer for your drink

There is also the issue of drink driving. Don’t even assume that there is a safe limit or time for you to start driving after a drink. Just leave the car at home, or be a responsible adult and have a drink free day. The average healthy adult can metabolise 1 unit of alcohol an hour, from the point you stop drinking but this can vary from person to person. If you have your 14 units of alcohol in one day, don’t think of driving the next day. And if you plan enjoying yourself in Scotland, then the drink drive limit is nearly half that of the rest of the UK. Take a public transport, get the wife to drive you to work or just pull a sickie.

It’s easy for me to preach. I work in a job I have to go without booze for weeks at a time, but who doesn’t enjoy a drink after work? Truth is that living with a toddler and in a rural area where I rely on being able to drive, I need to be careful, or life gets difficult.

I’m going to leave it to you to decide what is right for you, but put the gut rot down and let’s continue to concentrate on quality over quantity.

Don’t become a muppet with drink

If you feel you want to know more about this subject, please visit the independent Drinkaware website. It is full of helpful information. Click here to visit the site. This link will appear at the bottom of all my blog posts from now on.

Keep informed. Keep safe. Keep Enjoying – responsibly.

Now I’ve done my bit of public responsibility, we can now look towards the next taste review. And don’t worry. I’ll still alert you to the drinks bargains I see.


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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.