Posted 09 November 2020 by Matt / In Blend
Bottle Name: A Fine Christmas Malt 2020
Bottler: The Whisky Exchange
Booze scientists (which is a different thing to boozy scientists) have long demonstrated that changes to ambient conditions can markedly change our perceptions of taste. One recent study sought to pair music with wine – discovering that the right combination (based on individual tastes of course) of wine with music was noted to improve the perception of a wine’s quality by up to 15%. Another back in 1999 directly linked in-store music to purchasing decisions – play French music and consumers are more likely to purchase French wine. Simples. But it’s not just changes to music that can affect our taste buds – light conditions, places and even the composition of the air will all affect our perception of taste.
And at the same time, whilst it’s well known that alcohol can affect your mood – similarly, mood can also affect our enjoyment and perception of alcohol.
In the broadest possible sense, when you’re in a good mood – everything tastes better. And the converse of this often true. When we’re grumpy comfort eating/drinking can sometimes come into play. When we’re feeling down or emotionally tired, we’ll often purchase and consume something which we believe will make us feel better. Let me tell you - in this household, chocolate is never far away.
There’s a strong link between aromas and flavours which we believe will increase our enjoyment levels and our actual measured satisfaction. In many cases – particularly when it comes to comfort food, this is related to sugar. Assuming you’re not sitting on a magnesium deficiency, the dopamine released through consuming a substance that quickly releases absorbable carbohydrate into the body is regularly felt to elevate our moods. And depending on our moods – the consumption of alcohol can either make things taste better or indeed worse. I don’t believe anyone has ever tasted the best whisky of their life whilst being in a foul mood.
Ever wondered why a whisky consumed on tour, in a dunnage warehouse steeped in history sometimes tastes better than when sampled sat at your dining table? I’ve rather spelt it out already in my description. The experience of the dunnage – its ambient conditions, temperature, aromas, and sounds – all of these affect your experience of that whisky. And likewise, so too will your excitement of simply being there. The chemical release of exhilaration and enthusiasm is already taking place inside your body before the liquid has entered your olfactory system.
People put a lot of emphasis on matching drinks to food – pairings being picked either because of their comparisons or their contrasts. A lot less weight is put on matching drinks to moods. In many cases we’re often caught up by favoured brands and styles to even consciously consider the influence of our emotions. And yet we’ve all likely made these types of matches based on a seasonable basis. A lighter ‘breakfast’ whisky on a summery day – a smoky whisky which we’ll believe will warm us on a colder evening. Whilst these choices might at a glance be seemed to be defined purely by the weather – they can also be identified by the outcome that their selection has been designed to achieve. We all have personalities that change, so too do whiskies - lively and vivacious – or deeper and more brooding.
And we pick different whiskies – and even drinks based on how we expect them to interact with our moods. A 2017 study published in BMJ Open questioned 30,000 people across 21 different countries and demonstrated a strong association between feelings and emotional states and the drinks that individuals selected and their relatively enjoyment of them (though important to note, it did not explore the mental and/or physiological reasons for those selections). And of course, in doing so found relationships between dependency drinking and its impact on what are perceived as the positive emotions associated with drinking – but that’s a piece for another time.
That brings us onto today’s review – and the next in The Whisky Exchange’s series of Fine Christmas Malts.
Christmas whiskies are often associated based on flavour alone – namely an abundance of sherry. A drink which itself has a relationship with Christmas – or at least did with the older generation when I was a child. But similarly, when it comes to Christmas, there’s a whole host of emotions at play – and these can vary greatly depending on the type of Christmas – and how testy the in-laws are being. Is a whisky selected because it’s sugar and spice and all things nice? Or is something stronger required as a quiet escape? Both are valid choices in my book.
There’s always an array of Christmas moments to choose from – and retailers will attempt to suggest that all of these are a reason to buy whisky. An early in the day aperitif - a later in the evening postprandial – or just something designed for sharing. Tis the season after all. Regardless, I’ll suggest that not only can drinks be paired with the upcoming Christmas food coma, but they can also be matched to the array of moods that exist throughout the (ever-lengthening) festive period.
TWE’s A Fine Christmas Malt 2020 edition comes in the form of a 19 year old blended malt. It’s their oldest release in this festive series to date and in no huge surprise (though last year’s release was arguably a divergence in this regard) is described as “sherry aged”. Like the best made Christmas cakes – the exact components of the blend are not specified – you’re getting what you’re getting – trust the chef. 1918 bottles have been produced at an ABV of 44.5% - they’re available for £74.95 from The Whisky Exchange.
Nose: Chocolate sponge cake, candied Seville orange peels and a glug of cider is livened by perky baking spices – cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg. Dried fruits are scattered into a lacquered oak bowl – juicy raisins, sultanas, currants and diced glace cherries. Running throughout – ginger ale and spent coffee grounds. Dilution presents a sweeter and fresher orange note – mandarin and clementine – alongside honeycomb and a dusty oatiness.
Taste: A silky arrival combining sugars, fruits and prominent, impactful spice. Cinnamon spiced apples, clove studded poached pear, dried red berries and chocolate covered cherries lead off. Stem ginger and grated nutmeg is not far behind – conjoined with a fresh cup of filter coffee and a plate of chocolate cornflake cakes. Brown sugar toffee and scattered, crunchy turbinado sugars sit in the mid-palate as chocolate notes turn bitter. Water offers a wonderfully soft mouthfeel with syrupy orchard fruit salad and a progressive spice journey from cinnamon and ginger through to nutmeg and back round again.
Finish: Medium and coffee shop – fresh brews and oven-baked pastries – alongside a touch of mentholated oakiness.
2020’s Christmas Malt is more obviously traditionally festively focussed than last year’s Linkwood. There’s certainly sherry and there’s absolutely spice. However, despite the label coming with a built-in holiday serving suggestion, I find the composition relatively broad. This isn’t quite so traditional as the pitch-dark, face-slapping sherry that is all too easily described as “Christmas in a glass” – and where indeed, that’s pretty much all that’s on offer. There’s a robustness to this blend that allows the bottle to be enjoyed well after the in-laws have packed up and headed home. A Christmas Malt that’s a feast for all seasons.
Review sample provided by The Whisky Exchange.
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