Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Macallan vs. Glenfarclas

Maturing exclusively on first-fill sherry casks, something both Macallan and Glenfarclas do. Or rather did. Macallan has abandoned this practice in starting its fine oak series. Glenfarclas, for now, remains adamant in the face of more expenses for the Spanish wood. In an article I read recently, Mr. John Grant of Glenfarclas claimed he would continue his maturation policy.
What should we make of this?
Macallan's move was, at best, clumsy, from a communications point of view. If you advocate first-fill sherry cask maturation to be the one and only true way of maturing whisky, for years, it is rather silly to suddenly switch to bourbon casks. But the Fine Oak is a testament to the know how of Macallan. Yet it also revealed how Macallan has been rather hypocritical, since all of a sudden they seem to be able to market 30 year old Macallan matured in bourbon casks. On the other hand it appears this hypocrisy has allowed them to make the switch. A luxury which perhaps Glenfarclas does not have. Mr. Grant's determination to continue exclusive sherry cask maturation may be in part inspired by the inability to make the switch.
It will be interesting to see what happens in the next few years. Will Macallan repent, and return to sherry casks because it is losing its fans, despite the quality of its new line. Or will Glenfarclas succumb under the economic pressure of the cheaper Bourbon casks. Or will both flourish? The last is not entirely unlikely, since whisky still is booming, its market still has a lot of potential growth.
Perhaps in a few years the peat hype will be replaced by the sherry hype, and then Glenfarclas will reap the rewards, although Macallan is probably investing in enough sherry casks to keep all options open, after all, that just seems to be the smart thing to do.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Whisky Missionary

As a whisky enthusiast I encounter lots of people who are puzzled at my interest in the golden drink. Attending tasting sessions for whiskies is often a novelty for them. Tasting sessions are most often associated with wine. Wine has several advantages over whisky, for one it is less alcoholic. Let's face it, the alcohol levels of whisky are a major threshold for many. This factor also makes whisky unfit for drinking in larger quantities. Not that I would advise anyone to ingest large quantities of wine, nevertheless you could drink more wine in one sitting than you could whisky, without getting drunk. I agree that for some people getting drunk is the point, but this is not the kind of 'whisky enthusiasm' I am referring to.
Wine also has a great culinary tradition, something whisky lacks. In recent years several authors have tried to introduce whisky into the kitchen, but success seems fairly remote. Whisky is not often used in the kitchen, and almost never considered as an accompanying drink with a meal. I think whisky will always remain at a disadvantage here.
So spreading the love for whisky is difficult. Most people have only tried a few blended whiskies, or perhaps a Glenfiddich, and decided they didn't like it much, or not enough to explore more. So having a few accessible malts in your bar is a good idea if you plan on winning a few souls.
Most of the time I'm happy just to get people to acknowledge there is more to whisky then what they knew, sometimes I manage to get them interested. And then I'm glad there's one more person to share this interest with. After all, what fun is it to enjoy whisky all alone.

P.S. : I am lucky enough that my wife also loves the stuff, so I rarely enjoy it alone, it just never hurts to share with more.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Quantity spoils quality?

Tonight I was poured an Ardmore. My boss, who did the actual pouring made it a rather large one. At least to my standards. I'd had a dram from this bottle on a previous occasion and must say that I had enjoyed it very much then. But tonight the Ardmore seemed off.
At first I blamed the mood. You know, as there is a whisky for every mood, I apparently wasn't in the mood for this one. Then I thought it was the glass. No fine nosing glasses at work, so the Friday night dram was consumed in a Cognac glass. Yet the week before that same glass hadn't been a problem, and I should just remind myself to bring a proper glass on Fridays anyway.
On my way home, it struck me : the quantity.
You see, yesterday night I poured myself a Caol Ila, in the comfort of my own home, at ease, so the mood couldn't have been a problem, and the glass was just fine. Yet in my enthusiasm I accidentally poured somewhat more than I am used to. And it too didn't feel right. Now this can mean two things : I am either currently only in the mood for the most typical of Irish whiskies or it was the quantity that spoiled it.
How quantity can do that, I have no idea. Perhaps it is the ratio air to whisky in the glass that unbalances the right conditions for the aromas , or the fact that the greater amount of whisky makes you take bigger sips, allowing for the alcohol to numb and subdue your palate.
Perhaps I should just take more care in the size of my drams, and perhaps experiment with it.