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Whisky has been around for hundreds of years and during this time numerous different brands have come with a wide array of styles. While in our last blog post we tried to clarify some of the basic differences between whiskies, we will discuss some of the most common untruths people and brands love to tell.
You might have overheard people say: “I have an old whisky that has been aging for a couple of years. We should drink it at our next party!”
This is unfortunately not possible! The only way whisky is able to be properly aged is when it is stored in a cask. Other than wine, conventional whisky will not go through an aging process when stored in the bottles. The whiskys interaction with the wooden staves enables a so-called “maturing process”. That’s why you will find the years aged directly written on the bottle (e.g. Macallan 18-year old) while with wine you will find only the year it has been bottled (e.g. 1993 Pétrus red). Scotch whisky for example has to be matured for at least 3 years with regular checks and proper storing until it can be sold.
“Single malt is just superior to other whiskies” or “Single malts are the only thing that is close to drinking straight off the still”.
First of all, no whisky is better than the other. Single malt only refers to whiskys that have been produced at one distillery, while blended whisky comes from various different ones. However, from that particular distillery, a batch of numerous casks is used in order to ensure flavor consistency. Due to the commercial surge of whisky and the lack of supply, brands came up with the idea of blended whisky. While single malt production follows a traditional pot still distillation process, it does not offer “superior taste”. The taste is just simply different. The most important thing is that the person drinking the whisky enjoys it which does not mean that it is the best of the best. So whether it is single malt or blended whisky, pour it in a glass, drink it and savor the experience.
Various marketing research has shown that the older a brand is perceived, the more it is perceived as trustworthy. This has led a multitude of brands to overexaggerate their company's establishment date, to increase trust and thereby boost their sales. While there are some legal boundaries that impede brands from abusing this technique, some will take big liberties with the branding and use dates that correspond to the year their namesake was born or died or the year the distillery they are using was built. Hence, do not necessarily trust the funding year but maybe look for the maturity of the whisky instead.
While the color of whisky is very distinctive, it is not an indicator of the age of the spirit. A more plausible connection that can be made is to indicate what kind of wood it has been aged in. Since all whiskys need to be aged in oak in order for them to be legally called whisky, the differences between the oak origin can have a major impact on the final color of the liquid. Usually American oak creates a darker brown tone with a slight reddish nuance, while European oak gives creates a more golden color.
Connecting to our last myth, and most likely why not solely the barrel can be used as an indicator for whisky coloring, is the fact that many manufacturers use slight caramel tones to artificially enhance the visual perception for the buyer. However, this is more common with mass-market blended scotches or Irish whiskey. Bourbon on the other hand has to be pure without any additives.
In the past years, a lot of brands have turned against adding coloring and using it as a value-adding part of their product. While the color usually does not add any flavor to the liquid, many enthusiasts and whisky purists would rather not have it in their favorite drink, which has led to the natural color movement among different producers.
While to some extent certain myths have some truth to them, you should never completely rely on your friend's "trust me bro" argument. If you want to impress with real facts, make sure to double-check your information. If you want to learn more about whisky in the future, Make sure to follow the Konvi newsletter!