I have philosophic objections to finishes gone wild. I would like to see each distillery focus on perfecting their own house style, rather than marketing flavored whiskies. I am very fond of The Balvenie line of malts, but when I buy The Balvenie, I want it to taste like The Balvenie.
The vatting question is quite interesting. Clearly an Islay finished malt is not a vatted malt, but the question is why not just vat Balvenie with some Islay for the same effect, and perhaps less cost? Why would such a vatted malt be looked down up by many who would praise the finished product?
Lawrence wrote:I think you'll find the scotch whisky industry does not consider two (or more) whiskies to be vatted unless the proportions are much higher. A few drops does not make a vatted malt.
Thanks for replying but it isnt a product from one distillery anymore, isnt it ??
Highlander, the industry does consider it to be a product of a single distillery, I don't make the rule!
If done properly, such as Bowmore's finishes, then I fully support the distillery's use of wood finished casks. Bowmore clearly indicates that their Darkest, Dusk and Dawn are first aged for 12 years in "traditional whisky oak" (read: bourbon casks) and then finished for 2 years in the Sherry, Bordeaux or Ruby Port casks.
Conversely, many whisky makers, as has been recently brought to public light by Bruichladdich, are using increased pressure and/or temperature to "finish" the whisky in a nondescript amount of time. This method is as disturbing as the addition of caramel coloring and useless chill filtration, IMO. There can be no doubt that the more "commercial", large-scale producers utilize these methods to make it more cost effective. One has to wonder if Macallan, Glenmorangie and, now, Balvenie can really put out as much whisky as they do with "wood finishes", while maintaining quality standards and utilizing good aging techniques. Frankly, I don't think so.
I think that wood finishes have been both detrimental and good for Scotch in the view of Americans (I am one, BTW). The softer, sweeter styles appeal to the American palate, which has bolstered the consumption of Scotch in our primarily mixed drink, rum and bourbon consuming country. It is not unusual to walk into a bar and find Balvenie, Glenmorangie or Macallan on the shelf, while finding good, "nonflavored" single malts is significantly more difficult. The detriment comes in the form of mishaping perception of Scotch. Working in the liquor business in the US, I have found, most often, that my customers have become accustomed to these tastes and when I recommend something more traditional in taste, they often find it displeasurable. It is similar to vodka's heavy marketing toward "mixability". Unfortunately, very few people, at least in the US, find vodka as a spirit that can be enjoyed on its own and, most often, utilize it in mixed drinks. I truly hope that Scotch's path is different. This push toward heavily-marketed, sweeter styles of Scotch, has eliminated customer desire to enjoy Scotch's diversity and more traditional flavors.
While I initially viewed this as a good stepping stone for introduction to Single Malt for the inexperienced consumer, I now must take the view that it prevents the consumer from ever truly knowing Scotch's true persona. Additionally, "wood finishes" are often used to cover up for poorly distilled spirit, or mass distilled spirit, which again leaves the consumer in the dark.
I think that wood finishes have the potential to be superb, as long as the truth is known with regard to age and method. However, due to a great deal of peer pressure from the SWA, I fear this will not be the case very soon. Once demand for honesty is pressed from the Scotch consuming public, we may truly discern the true abilities of a distillery and its Master Distiller as well as the benefits of wood finishing.
I like different variations in most things in life and as a consequence
I find a Balvenie in an Islay cask almost a contradiction too good to ignore.
I applaude the the fact that the distillers, having laid down these casks 10 - 15 years ago, are prepared to risk such valuable an investment in fancy finishes. Fantastic.
If I owned a distillery, (a dream I have often had,) say Balvenie for example and I had a surplus of 10 year old casks, I would have several choices.
(you have to remember that the decision to lay down so many casks was made some time ago in different economic circumstances)
1. Sell off cheap.
2. Increase future availability of 15yr 18yr 21yr etc
3. Try to sell to blender (often themselves)
4. Sell malt to Cardhu (or maybe not)
5. Finish for a while in different casks and sell at good price.
Option 5 for me is a winner.
I would love to try Lagavulin finishined in Aberlour Cask.
or how about Glenkinchie finshed in Laphroaig cask.
What about Macallan finished in Tequilla cask.
This does not dillute the quality of the malt.
If you prefer the original, buy the original.
Anyone who doubts funny finish whisky should try Glenfiddich 21 Havana.
If everything was the same I would have no fun.
However, you've probably pinpointed the underscoring drive behind the scene....
5. Finish for a while in different casks and sell at good price.
The thinking of the producers no doubt changes from "How can we make a better whisky" to "How can we increase our selling price?"
I do some-what share your dismay at the profit before quality ideals that seem to exist in the industry nowdays.
But and it is a big but. The whisky industry in Scotland is leading the
way in the world because it started to listen to the marketing men and adopted the global market.
Just look at how many distilleries went to the wall in Cambletown because thay took for granted that their share of the market was guaranteed.
A more recent example is the Irish whisky industry, reluctance to adapt and change has seen what are fantastic distilleries production slump.
I look at it this way.
Every consumer that buys a bottle of mass marketed fancy finish whisky gives the distiller sufficient profit to continue to produce the classic 18 and 21 year olds we all enjoy.
Plus sometimes a gem comes along and we can enjoy that as well.
BTW, I do find the choice of Islay casked Balvinie as wierd . It's not something I would risk my money on without trying first at a bar or pub. I do like Islay and Balvinie (seperatly), the idea of the marriage is... wierd.
As long as quality doesn't suffer, I like the idea of more choices and expressions
I agree with you in principle, Frodo, but unfortunately, we have seen a nasty pattern over the years where new "finishes" come along with a bang and a flourish, but then deteriorate horribly, and sit on the market for many years at outrageous prices.
Recent and worthwhile examples include the Glenmorangie Sherry, Port & Madeira Finishes, as well as Bowmore Darkest.
When these were first launched, make no mistake - they were tremendous whiskies. And they quickly established a reputation. However, once that reputation is built, the distilleries can then start to use cheaper or more widespread casks, reduce the duration of the second maturation, and subsequently produce a whisky that is considerably inferior to its predecessor. However, the reputation is in place, so they can afford to keep producing this inferior make until the fad has run its course. Then, a new variation or finish will be launched, and the cycle starts again.
The malt whisky industry has become marketing driven to a disturbing degree and we are see a "bait and switch" strategy, as you said; use your best product to introduce a new bottling, and then slack off.
Either my tastes are changing, but a lot of the OB's have lost something in recent years.
I suspect, that there is a finite number of high quality casks available each year at a given age that a suitable to be bottled as a quality malt. As the market for malts has increased it has necessarily resulted in a decrease in overall quality. Also the better casks are diverted to a greater degree from standard OB to special bottlings at a premium price.
The question becomes whether the single malt sector of the whisky industry can be sustained long term if the standard range of OBs becomes increasingly mediocre.
I am also shocked, shocked to learn that distillers are trying to maximize their profits. Whisky should be free, just like music, dude.
If you like it, drink it. If you don't, don't. Don't waste too much time worrying about ignorant consumers being gulled by the marketeers. To some extent, they support your own habit. If they all suddenly became as discerning as you, you wouldn't be able to get a good dram for love or money.
However, since in this case we are talking about second-use SCOTCH barrels it is different. Scotch whisky called single malt is supposed to be from a single scotch distillery and in this case I argue that it is not, the whisky is from both a speyside and an islay distillery. Scotch has long been matured in barrels which formerly held bourbon and sherry, and I'm sure scotch barrels have also been reused but no one would have thought of putting such an obvious combination together that showed the swish nature of it all. Seems dubious to me.
I like islays and I like speysides, just not in the same barrel or glass!
Most barrels are broken down into staves and new ends are made but not all the time. Some are transported and reused whole.
I know that there won't really be liquid sloshing around in the cask but that which is soaked into the wood has much more of an influence on the first fill then on refills. That was my main point.
And you're right, the islay cask possibly being the a vatting of speyside and islay is the same as ex-bourbon casks possibly being vattings of scotch and american whiskies. Where does a cask become a marrying tun rather than just the next use of a cask?
The debate on whether this produces vatted malt or single malt is also interesting. In the case of Balvenie Islay cask, we should note that the Islay cask was originally a sherry cask or a bourbon cask. The fact that the Balvenie was marketed as an Islay cask finish (as distinct from a Bourbon refill finish or sherry refill finish) means that the Islay whisky must have had a significant influence on the flavour - as distinct from the American or Spanish oak that the barrel was made from. In that case, it seems reasonable to count the Balvenie Islay Cask as a vatted malt, regardless of the percentages.
Surprising the gold you can find if you mine deep enough in these forums.
As Lawrence mentioned (way back when) this is a sign of a vibrant industry which is always looking for something new and a little different.
This is also very applicable for me at the moment as next week I have a whisky tasting which looks specifically at wood finishes.
I have 7 different drams but only 6 are "finished".
The first half of the tasting is a unique comparison of "finished" expressions from Bowmore.
I start with the "12" as a standard, non wood-finished expression to be used for comparison.
Then we look at the Bowmore Dawn, Dusk and Darkest to see how the different cask finishes affect the flavours.
In the second half of the tasting I will introduce:
Auchentoshan 3 wood
Arran Trebbiano D'Abruzzo
Bruichladdich 20y "Islands"
Unfortunately, there are currently very few signed up for this tatsing at the moment and I just may have to postpone it until later. But we'll see what happens over the next few days.
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