On consistency... brands, bottles, vendors, countries...

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ChrisBacon
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Joined: Tue Feb 21, 2017 5:57 am

On consistency... brands, bottles, vendors, countries...

Postby ChrisBacon » Tue Feb 21, 2017 6:39 am

First, a short story. Then, a question.

I usually drink whisky as bourbon (Elijah Craig fan), neat or on the rocks, but a friend recently made me a whisky and Coke with William Lawson's. It's too sweet, but I was surprised how much I enjoyed the smokiness (peat?) of the Scotch with the Coke. So, I bought a 200mL bottle of Ballantine's from the supermarket and enjoyed smokey whisky & Cokes with pizza. Then I bought a standard-sized bottle of Ballantine's at a local liquor store, and it was awful! No smoke, and really unpleasant flavors. It was bad enough that I just poured it down the drain. Then I went back to the supermarket and bought a standard-sized bottle from there. Not the same as the 200mL bottle and little smokiness, but not as bad as the liquor store.

This is not the first time I have experienced inconsistent product. I live in Japan now. In the US, I used to always have a bottle of either Elijah Craig or Knob Creek on hand, but in Japan there seems to be about a 30-to-40% chance of getting a bottle that tastes somehow not right (so I have largely switched to gin).

Since I'm in Japan, not China or SE Asia, I really don't think the problems I've had are with counterfeit alcohols.

I have a friend who visited an armagnac distillery in France and claims that the owners told him that the bottles they send to Asia are filled with a lower quality product than the ones that are destined for sale in the West. I suppose it's possible the same is true for bourbon and Scotch distilleries, but I don't know enough about alcohol supply chains to know if this armagnac story is even plausible.

Question:

I'd like a primer on whisky consistency. Can someone point to a good, hopefully in-depth, article on the topic, or write something below?

I'm interested in knowing, for example...
Is it normal for a blended Scotch to vary from smokey to not at all smokey?
Are whiskies put into 200mL bottles drawn from different stock or treated differently than standard-sized bottles?
Can retail stores ruin their product easily with mishandling (as is the case with wine)?
Is buying whisky outside the US and Europe a complete crap shoot for quality?
Are certain brands less consistent in flavor than others?
Are supermarkets better or worse than liquor stores?
Do bars and liquor stores usually buy from the same suppliers?
Are suppliers usually more careful with the wares sold to bars?
Etc, etc, etc.

Thanks!

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whiskgeek
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Re: On consistency... brands, bottles, vendors, countries...

Postby whiskgeek » Sun Mar 05, 2017 12:21 am

Is it normal for a blended Scotch to vary from smokey to not at all smokey?
Brands like to keep their product consistent, but that's not always easy. Each vatting, or batch, can vary a bit. It requires a big organization with the ability to set aside the component whiskies that result in the proper flavors in each batch.

Are whiskies put into 200mL bottles drawn from different stock or treated differently than standard-sized bottles?
Each bottling run could be drawn from a different batch, so the little bottles could easily have a different profile. It depends on how careful said brand owners are with their batch consistency.

Can retail stores ruin their product easily with mishandling (as is the case with wine)?
Whisky is most likely ruined by light. If their shelves are in the sunlight, there could be a problem. Otherwise, probably not. Much temperature change?

Is buying whisky outside the US and Europe a complete crap shoot for quality?
No.

Are certain brands less consistent in flavor than others?
Certainly. See answer 1. Sales volume and price would be your best indicator.

Are supermarkets better or worse than liquor stores?
Worse quality spirits? I doubt many brand owners would try to divide differing quality bottlings between continents. It would be much more difficult to do it within a country.

Do bars and liquor stores usually buy from the same suppliers?
Depends on the size of the market.

Are suppliers usually more careful with the wares sold to bars?
Careful in what way? Probably not.


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