Whisky: An Introduction, Part IV

Changing World of Single Malts

In the final episode of ‘Introduction to Whisky’ I give you a couple of my tasting notes on the best selling Single Malts, and I will try and help you get acquainted with the changing world of this spirit. Gone are the days of Single Malt Whiskies being produced in small batches in remote distilleries of Scotland. While Single Malt Scotch Whisky is exclusive to Scotland, Single Malts are not. Single Malt Whiskies are now being being produced across the globe in sufficient quantities to be recognised; countries such as Canada, Ireland, Japan, Taiwan, and USA all have more than one brand which has international recognition. India has recently been put on the map by ‘Amrut Distilleries’ who have produced some spectacular Single Malt Whiskies. Amrut has in fact consistently astounded the world by creating unique and luscious Single Malt Whiskies. Some expressions from Paul John distilled in Goa have been recent additions.

Single malt whisky tasting

On one hand we have an increasing number of countries producing more Single Malt Whiskies and on the other hand we have the price of these drams going through the roof! And this phenomenon is not restricted to India where the tax on imported Scotch ranges from 130%-160%. Does not make economic sense does it? Let me crack at an explanation.

Production: Firstly the new entrant countries producing single malt whiskies though producing in significant quantity by the historical standards; are really not enough! Most of these production batches appear experimental to me and distilleries are getting acquainted to the process.

Acceptance: Single Malt Whiskies produced in a place like Taiwan often raise a brow, and the market will take some more time to accept this change. All I can tell you is that my one tryst with the Taiwanese ‘Kavalan’ has left me gasping for more.

Expansion of the Consumer Market: Statistics tell me that in 1990 the sale of Single Malt Scotch contributed to 1% of the overall sale of Scotch Whisky, and today the figure stands at 12-14%. When you get served Pultney for a private party in Langkawi (an island in Malaysia) you know Single Malts are reaching places. Increasing disposable incomes from countries such as China and India are creating new markets for the previously exclusive “Usige Beatha”.

Whisky as an Investment! Move over wine, Whisky investment is now reaching crazy heights. As weird as it may sound, it is true that a bottle of some of the rare Single Malts are selling for over $300,000! Yes, I got the number of zeros correct just in case you had a doubt. I will elaborate on this subject in one of my future articles, so for now just imagine that there are an increasing number of crazy people collecting drams rather than drinking them!

So, yes those would be some of my reasons why the Single Malt Whisky bubble has reached crazy proportions. A decent bottle of Single Malt Scotch which used to come in a 1 litre bottle and used to cost less than $15 now has a standard size of 700ml or 750ml and costs nothing less than $40 in tax free outlets! Where is that time machine? So in a nutshell demand is high, supply is low. The aged whiskies are giving way to young and NAS (No Age Statement) bottles with a lot of creativity and marketing blitz behind them. So that was the bitter part, on the other hand spirit is not as ‘un-obtainable’ as it was, it is available readily at any of the well stocked retail outlets and most often than not, ‘Glenfiddich’ or ‘The Glenlivet’ is revered to be a Whisky a notch above the famous Johnnie Walker Black Label or Chivas Regal.

When it comes to tasting and detail in notes there are enough ways to do it that will perhaps make the range of Single Malt Whiskies look minuscule! So again this section of the article is profoundly influenced by my opinion.

How to taste Single Malts?

With or without ice has been a debate in the world of Single Malts for quite some time now. I suggest that the best way to get the best out of the drams is to have a go at it without the ice. Reasons being pretty simple, ice to a certain extent numbs the taste buds and subtle flavours may be lost out. Also there is a more scientific reason associated which suggests that cold temperatures do impact the esters in Whisky and one may not get to experience the Whisky in the natural form. I have to add that in a tropical country such as India having a peaty Whisky in summer can be hard to send down, so if you out for enjoyment of the drink go right ahead and add some ice, but if you are out to study the drink in detail please refrain.

Next would be the dilemma of adding water! Like many questions to life the answer comes in many options apart from the standard ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Some experts believe that adding little water helps the Whisky release some of the hidden flavours, where as the opposing group claim adding water may contribute in changes of the taste, colour, flavour and does not retain the originality of the drink. My suggestion would be the most logical one (as per me)! Try it first without the water; this gives you the opportunity to have the first sip in the way the drink was bottled. Adding water has to be in very limited quantities and not quite like how we are used to being served in India with the expression ‘top it up’! A few drops with the help of filler or using a tea spoon would be the best way to ‘taste’ the malt depending on your preference of adding water or not.

Finally remember not to be coloured by opinions and suggestions which border on the realm of fallacy. If you are not able to taste some flavours that someone else can it is absolutely fine stick to your observations. We will start with something that is simple and available easily!

Glenfiddich 12 year old whiskey

Glenfiddich STD 12 Year Old 40% ABV – The largest selling Single Malt brand across the world. The colour is bright amber, has a nice nose to it; reminds me of some Indian cinnamon wine, sweet aromas of vanilla. On the first sip, lots of vanilla now, some resins and there is a bit of spice on the palate. It feels rather harsh without water towards the finish, but adding water makes the nose weak.

The Glenlivet STD 12 Year Old 40% ABV– This drink for me was the one that pushed me over the edge. Colour: Gold. Nose: Wonderful rich honey, vanilla, apples. First sip: Nice cream, toffee, honey, this is delicious any number of times I taste it, a bit of ginger and cinnamon and feels fruity. There is some bitterness towards the end but it remains one of the best entry level dram I have tasted.
Know your drink, & drink it responsibly!

Hemanth Rao

Opinions cited in the above article are purely of the author. Hemanth Rao is a Single Malt lover and the founder of Single Malt Amateur Club India. Read more about SMAC at https://www.facebook.com/smacamateurwhiskyclub