I'm reading the selective reprint of Alfred Barnard's 1887 guide "The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom" and apart from the interesting detailed description of the distillery buildings and machinery, it is a little disappointing. Why for heaven's sake doesn't he describe the taste of the whisky ??? That would have been extremely interesting. For instance, he writes that at a distillery (I forgot which one) he tastes a 10 YO malt. Not a wordt about the taste ! Has anybody an explanation for this ?
And something completely different : in his description of Bowmore distillery he writes that one of the two low-wines stills has a double head and two worms, which was quite unique. The picture in the book illustrates this strange still. Does anybody know why a distillery could have chosen for this double head ? In which way could it have influenced the taste ? I alread contacted Bowmore distillery, but the woman had to consult someone else. So far no response...
It would have been great if indeed Barnard had written down extensive tasting notes! But keep in mind that tasting notes on a level that we're so used to today have not been 'in vogue' for that long! Certainly in Barnard's days, people did not even think about whether the fruity note was strawberry or raspberry ... It simply wasn't an issue in Victorian times.
There MIGHT just be a way to get a glimpse of variation in taste in Barnard's days .... I'm working on it!
Usually he doesn't do any of this, but there are exceptions and the same is true of his writings on Irish distilleries. True, it is not in the highly detailed way we are familiar with today. I guess at that time people took for granted that whisky tasted like ... whisky and weren't inclined to offer detailed taste notes or if there was any such comment it was restricted to the barroom and trade circles.
About the fact that tastes are not described in this book, doesn't mean I think the book is crap, on the contrary, there are a lot of interesting technical stuff, for instance the drawings at the end of the book. I know, MrT, it was not the purpose of the book to describe the tastes of the single malts, but it was a tremendous occasion to do it and as far as I know, it has never been done in these ages. It would have helped Macallan with its replicas... instead of replicating fakes
I don't think we should confuse the above descriptions as an old type of "tasting wheel" !
I agree too the taste notes such as they are of Barnard are rudimentary and not in any sense a taste wheel but that very concept is a modern one, a production of food science which hardly existed then. But again you can glean hints from these books. The Byrn distiller text I mentioned advises that a distillation of raisins should be added to malt spirit to lend it "vinosity". Young malt spirit, if well rectified, was probably a little bland (possibly like a young grain whisky) so adding a fruity raisin spirit would make it taste a little raisiny/grapey, like a Cypriot or Spanish brandy tastes. In M'Harry (circa 1810) he states that French brandy is "dry and nutty" whereas brandy made in warmer climates such as that of Spain has more "oils" (by which he meant, careful reading shows, sugars and I think, esters). Good French cognac today tastes precisely dry and nutty and Spanish brandy tastes somewhat sweet and vinous - I don't think much has changed in almost 200 years...
Careful reading can lead to certain conclusions and they are deductions, yes, but can be informed.
I'll try to find more examples in Barnard and post them. But I think creamy is quite understandable, Glenlivet can be like that, Balvenie too. Maybe a better example is the old Singleton, I think it is still made but under another name. I think creamy meant sweet and not very peated.
Raisin spirit was just one of many possible additives. Contemporary literature refers to fruit extracts (made e.g., from prunes and raisins) which were fruits macerated in neutral spirit with flavourings (e.g. carob). These were added to new or immature spirit to lend it more flavour and cover up (if necessary) off-tastes. Southern Comfort is (in my opinion) a survival of precisely this type of flavouring. The flavoured vodkas and genevers date from this time, so do (I am sure) many of the korns and snapses of Northern Europe. Some American whiskey was flavoured, e.g, Rock and Rye (rye whiskey sweetened with rock - crystal - sugar and citrus fruits), the blended whiskies, etc. Not all that much (really) is new!
Here is Barnard on Laphroig:
"...a thick and pungent spirit of a peculiar 'peat reek' flavour".
We know what he means.
Barnard on Monasterevan Distillery, Co. Kildare, Ireland:
"We tasted some of the "make", six years old, and considered it a fat, creamy whisky".
This could have come out of Murray's 2005 Whisky Bible except Jim wouldn't put make in quotes.
Barnard on John's Lane, Ireland:
"delicious, finer than anything we had hitherto tasted, perfect in flavour, pronounced in the ancient aroma of Irish whisky".
True, somewhat vague, but I think this could have meant the whiskey smelled and tasted like ... Redbreast or Jameson 1780.
When I read some of the posts on this (great) forum - and I visit this site at least once a day - I often have my own opinion on the subjects, but it takes too much time (at work) to "translate" my ideas in good English (I'm flemmish btw). So you could call me a benign parasite .
PS : and don't ask me how many times I had to re-read this message to be sure there weren't too many mistakes...
I'm not really sure what you mean by a double head . I haven't seen the picture in Question.
Is it a bit like the bulbous still at Old Pulteney?
If the woman that you spoke to was Christine Logoan (which I suspect it may have been) I am surprised that she didn't answer the Question or get back to you with an answer because as far as that kind of thing goes she is exceptional.
Any chance of scanning the picture that you refer to and attaching it to the forum (I'm sure that there would be no copywrite issues).
Nice to see an old Post raise it's head again.
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For those who dont know, I got the entire Scottish section of the book scanned in and online on my site.
From the section's home page (http://www.peatfreak.com/alfredBarnard.php) there are also links to other sites who have the Irish section, and the English section online.
Hope this is usefull to those not having the book =)
No Jim, the woman was not Christine, who I have met in Bowmore some moths before reading Alfred's Book and is indeed a very kind person.
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