Back in April of 2014, Dr Dram and I took our first man trip together; touring Australia’s burgeoning whisky region – Tasmania. We often speak fondly of that trip. The great distilleries we visited, the interesting people we met, the amazing whisky we tasted, the shitty hotel we stayed in… it was great! Read more Game of Drams is Going to Scotland!
About a month ago a friend of mine from work (let’s call him Steve) learned that I run a whisky blog. He seemed more interested than surprised. He isn’t really a big fan of whisky, certainly not a Whisky Fiend, but he was interested in learning. He is a whisky beginner in the truest sense.
When I mentioned Whiskies of the World, Steve was immediately interested in tagging along. At first I thought that having a whisky beginner by my side for the whole event might take my focus away from the whisky. Turns out I was wrong. I even learned something in the process.
I previously made some suggestions for amateur and seasoned whisky drinkers attending the Whiskies of the World events so I thought it might be fun to see what type of characteristics he enjoys in whisky.
We were two of the first people to get through the doors. I decided it would be best to just dive in and start tasting without overloading on information, stereotypes or details.
Let me just put this out there before I begin; I have a preconception about what kind of whisky inexperienced drinkers enjoy. I’m not referring to price tag or age statements (most people believe that older and more expensive is better, but we obviously know that’s not always the case). I’m referring to flavour profiles.
From my observations, whisky beginners generally:
- Do not enjoy peated whisky
- Prefer softer, balanced flavours rather than complex and confusing whiskies
- Don’t enjoy sherry bombs
- Confuse the phases balance and bland
- Are inconsistent with flavours they enjoy
I was curious to see if this would be the case for Steve.
First stop was Diageo (large selection, big brands, easy to find, reasonable prices in stores. Perfect for a whisky beginner)
Oban Little Bay
I started off by showing him my method for tasting, but it’s not by any means the “correct” way to do it, since such a thing doesn’t exist… If you’re drinking whisky, you’re already doing it right.
I asked him about the nose. He picked up spice, citrus and lack of smoke.
I asked him about the mouthfeel. He said it was ok (I don’t think he was sure how to answer).
I asked him what he tasted. He said malt, vanilla, sweet, spice.
I asked if it was salty. He said a little.
I expected he would enjoy it. I was right. Success!
Oban 14 Year Old
I prefer the 14 Year Old to the Little Bay, but I expected that he would be the opposite as the 14 is richer and fuller (i.e. more complex, less bland).
We went through the same general process. He said it was smokier, saltier and fruitier. He also believed that Little Bay was “smoother” (code word for bland).
I expected he would not enjoy the 14 Year Old as much, and he told me he preferred the Little Bay.
Dalwhinnie 15 Year Old
I believe Dalwhinnie is a generally accessible whisky. It has a simple flavours that are highly enjoyable.
We went through the same general process. He picked up the malt, nuts and vanilla. He said it was without smoke.
He enjoyed it. He preferred it to the Oban 14 Year Old but not as much as the Little Bay.
Cardhu 12 Year Old
I expected he would enjoy the fruitiness and the texture of this whisky.
He didn’t seem to think too much of it. He commented that he thought it was bland.
Talisker 10 Year Old
I expected he would not enjoy the salt, smoke, peat and brine elements of this whisky. I was correct.
He didn’t want to really even finish it. He admitted that it’s probably not a bad whisky, it just caught him off guard.
During the process I asked him to provide me feedback and to be as descriptive as possible. He kept defaulting to terms like “smooth” and “harsh”. I tried to force him to focus on words like “sweet”, “salty” and “spicey”. Once he got the hang of it I asked that he give me more descriptive details like “caramel”, “vanilla”, “apples”.
We continued this game for an hour or so. Below is a list of his favourite and least favourite whiskies (in no particular order).
- Oban Little Bay
- Dalwhinnie 15 Year Old
- Glencadam 15 Year Old (though he enjoyed their whole range)
- Bruichladdich Classic Laddie
- Glenmorangie Lasanta
- Whistle Pig Old World
- Alexander Murray & Co 40 Year Old Speyside
- Talisker 10 Year Old
- Highland Park Dark Origins (he only smelled his one from my glass)
- Octomore 7.1 (he only smelled this one from my glass)
- Alexander Murray & Co Polly’s Cask (he didn’t know what to say about this one – I don’t blame him. It’s pretty complex and intimidating for whisky beginners)
There were many other whiskies we tasted but he was either indifferent, unsure or confused about them. These events can be overwhelming so I completely understand.
In general, it seems that he prefers non-peated, lighter and sweeter whiskies. He didn’t seem to be too interested in classic bourbons and ryes, but he did enjoy the Whistle Pig Old World, so it feels like the fruit and honey components might be more important to him than the vanilla/oak/spice qualities.
If you referred to David Wishart’s book Whisky Classified, you would say that he enjoys Group G and Group H whiskies, which is funny because they’re pretty similar to each other. The book even shows that at lower clusterings (i.e. a lower number of whisky groups) G and H are the same group.
I will now be sending every whisky beginner towards groups G and H.
I recently wrote about Whiskies of the World San Pedro Square Market 2016. If you haven’t read that article yet, it can be found right here.
This article focuses on the larger sister event; Whiskies of the World San Francisco 2016. Read more Whiskies of the World – San Francisco 2016
A few weeks ago I was fortunate enough to attend not one but two great whisky events in the San Francisco Bay Area; Whiskies of the World San Francisco (WOWSF) and Whiskies of the World San Pedro Square Market (WOWSPSM).
There was so much going on during both events that I had to write two articles. Today I’m focusing on San Pedro Square Market.
Where has the last year gone? It feels like it was only a few months ago that my wife and I moved to the US from Australia. I didn’t even realize that it had been a year until I was reminded that Whiskies of the World San Francisco (WOWSF) and San Jose (WOWSJ) were right around the corner.