The process of envisaging and building The Dramble has resulted in Danny and me having countless discussions about web design, font sizes and choosing between 400 different shades of the same green. In the end the site we’ve just launched has been built with a large amount of IT experience and knowledge (all Danny’s), but also firmly on the basis of our opinions. So, it occurred to me, whilst looking pensively at Pantone PMS354, that deep down, opinion is at the very heart of whisky appreciation. It’s also why we’ve created this website.
The Dramble is all about opinions, we’ve even got a section labelled as such, where we’ll be spending time getting to know the diverse people working across the industry. But, importantly we want your opinions too. All our tasting notes allow anyone with a whisky blog or website to link directly to their reviews and notes. By connecting up the whisky review ‘blogosphere’ visitors to The Dramble can get a fuller and broader look at a particular dram from a single location. Likewise, fellow whisky bloggers can increase the visibility of their tasting notes and sites by adding links to bottles they’ve also tasted. Simples.
It is all a matter of opinion – add yours.
It’s a familiar scene. Excitedly swirling the dram in hand around the glass, while a random self-proclaimed expert denounces the liquid contents as utter crap before the tasting has even begun. As you nose and inhale, a dismissive “…it looks caramel coloured too” is intoned. Aroma assessed, its time for a proper taste “…it’s too expensive for what it is” comes with an assured shake of the head. Only, wait. Hold on. You like this whisky. You like this whisky a lot. You totally disagree with the vocal detractor. Are you wrong? A freak? A malt-drinking aberration?
Of course not. You’ve just got a different opinion to someone else (Take heed: the loudest person in the room is oft-times just the drunkest person in the room).
Opinions are part and parcel of spirits appreciation and a good opinion from an influential site can send the price of a bottle skyrocketing, or reduce the availability of supply to nothing more than ‘Sold Out’ banners across online retailers worldwide. But, opinions are just that - only opinions. They’re individual, possibly wrong or at least in most cases impossible to prove right. They’re sometimes biased and based on brands or pretty packaging or preconceptions of what something might taste like (and therefore the mind convinces you that it does indeed taste like that). They’re also not always based on knowledge or even common-sense.
Yet, both having an opinion, and seeking others is important. Whilst we’re not going to go all existential about this concept, applying it to whisky appreciation is easy enough. It really comes down to personal taste and community-spirit (pun intended).
Let’s be quite clear right from the start, there’s simply no substitute for tasting yourself. Within the confines of being responsible, try as many different types and styles of whisky as you can. Even if you decide you like a particular style of whisky, I would encourage you to challenge your taste-buds further and expand your whisky knowledge and appreciation first-hand by moving out of your comfort zones. Of course, individual tastes will vary, but it’s not just about having a different palate in terms of preferences, it’s about our innate ability to detect and identify specific tastes in the first place. Humans can all detect the same five tastes: bitter; sweet; salty; sour and savoury (umami). However, the triggers in terms of the signals sent to our brains to identify these tastes are unique to us. What comes across as bitter and astringent to me might not have the same effect on you at all.
Virtually every single stage of whisky production has some influence on the final taste of the liquid. However, through your malt journey you’re going to find that every region/country has its own distinctive style. Whilst it’s not possible for two whiskies to be completely identical, you will discover that whiskies can often be alike in terms of taste – particularly playing to your individual preferences and ability to detect and identify common flavours. Naturally, we’re all going to have a preferred style, be it a gentle and herbal Lowland whisky or an aggressive fiery peat monster from Islay. How we judge these will be based on our experience and knowledge, and again, our individual preferences. But remember, both your preferences and tasts will evolve over time and, in the end, your opinion is just that….an opinion.
The world whisky community is a wonderful thing. From local tasting groups, through to festivals, brand ambassadors and commentators, everyone I meet shares the same love and passion for good whisky. The Internet has deepened this sense of community with myriad sites devoted to bringing together malt enthusiasts to share their knowledge and experience. Opinions abound online, many well thought out, equally many misinformed (there you go, my opinion!). However, these views are useful to the budding whisky enthusiast both in terms of guiding future appreciation (read purchases), but also for potentially helping better identify individual flavours and notes within a dram. Of course, as I’ve already highlighted, we’re not all predisposed to smell and taste the same, but the whisky opinions of other’s provide a great jumping off point. Don’t focus so much on overall scores, but look at what your fellow whisky chums think of particular flavours within a dram. It can help you find something which suits your personal taste, or even better, help you pick a whisky which is going to challenge your senses.
Above all, remember, it’s all a matter of opinion.