The Science Behind A Great Whisky

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During their recent interview on The Acquirers Podcast with Tobias, Steve Bishop and Patrick Fisher of Elite Wine & Whisky discussed The Science Behind A Great Whisky. Here’s an excerpt from the interview:

Tobias: Does whiskey suffer from that same problem with the variability between the vintages because the process is so controlled that they’re able to get much more consistency from year to year?

Patrick: You’ve hit the nail on the head right there. It’s a much more controlled process these days. 30, 40 years ago, there was more variation because it was so dependent upon the casks and where they were stored or what the bonded warehouse looked like and which part of the bonded warehouse, they were in. The climate of Scotland suddenly had a hot summer, evaporation rates would go up and various factors, they all came into play, before the big monster companies came and took over and broadened this degree and level of professionalism now, which gives the whole whiskey market the stability that it’s always craved.

You can pick up a bottle of 25-, 30-year-old, 35-year-old whiskey from any of the main distilleries, and it will always within a varying degree tastes the same. That is what has drawn more and more people to whiskey investment, because with the big global companies owning most of the major distilleries now on Scotland, it’s not only secured all the distilleries futures, because they have been standing for hundreds of years, and the Diageos of the world, the Bacardis, they are just treating them as custodians and passing them on.

But they have invested heavily into cask programs, so that the wood that’s in the cask is the same throughout whether it’s bourbon barrels, cork barrel, sherry barrels, refill bourbon, virgin oak, which gives you the consistency. All of the bonded warehouses now are all temperature controlled, so it doesn’t matter which part of the bonded warehouse the casks are sitting in anymore. It doesn’t matter if the weather is suddenly really freezing cold for months on end, which is very typical in Scotland, or if there’s suddenly swelteringly hot, you know that cask is going to age at a certain rate, and what the flavors will be.

The education programs have gone to the master blenders and the master distillers and the warehouse keepers who are continuously going around sampling these casks to find out when they are at their prime, that education ensures that you get that consistency in all from the products. The testing panels and the science that goes into whiskey casks, it’s not just 10 people now sitting around the table sampling, “I agree, and oh, yeah, that tastes very similar to what it tasted like last year.

So, we’ll release that.” I’ve sat there around these tables and the scientific reports that are done on a cask of whiskey before it’s bought are tested for everything or any off flavors, testing for, is it matching the same scientific criteria that it matched last year, and if it does, then great. It makes the cut. If it doesn’t, then we’ll send it off for it to be part of a blended whiskey rather than be this amazing single malt, because they’re so protective of what is released now, and ensuring that they maintain the quality, and consistency, and a well-balanced product.

I think that is part of what is continuing the rise and the growth of whiskey consumption around the world, attracting new people to the market. Because we have these great cask programs that they’ve brought into play, they’re able to ensure that when they do a cork barrel or when they do the sherry barrel, or when the master blenders and distillers come together and actually blend all three barrels together to release something really special or blend two together, that product is so accessible to everyone across the market, that it just keeps drawing in new and new drinkers. Of course, there’s education of drinkers also and the growth of social media has allowed people to be able to do the virtual tastings to find out what a product should or shouldn’t taste like before they’ve even reached off the shelf.

So, that quality control has become so important, and as I spoke about earlier, there’s sort of the drawing of the curtains, open up the distilleries to people to make it feel like, they’re part of that journey, and part of that distillery and continues to bring more and more people sitting around the table, enjoying the end product. That is where it’s so different to wine with whiskey, because it is more controlled. You can’t open a bottle of wines and see how it’s testing. But with a cask, they can continuously draw samples of year on year on year, and make sure that it is aging appropriately, make sure that it is in its absolute prime condition. With bottles of wine, that’s a much harder thing to do, and obviously, wine has its own experts and its own education behind it. But with whiskey, it’s so professional and has a much more protected way of checking year on year for that product is maintaining the highest of conditions for the highest end quality product. That deals with the question?

You can find out more about Tobias’ podcast here – The Acquirers Podcast. You can also listen to the podcast on your favorite podcast platforms here:

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