You choose

Posted 02 November 2021 by Matt / In Group Tastings
You choose

I’m just about old enough to remember there only being three TV channels. No really. In the UK, until 1982 your viewing choice was restricted to light entertainment and period dramas on BBC 1, more cerebral, and certainly more sedentary documentaries on BBC 2. And little more than bilge water on ITV. Some things never change. It was not until 1984 that Blockbuster video launched. Wow, what a difference. And then in 1989 and 1990, Sky Television and BSB respectively. Over the course of my lifetime, TV choice has grown from barely a handful of concurrent programmes to a world of continuous streaming where everything and anything is continually available. And consequently, with this endless selection – there are times when it seems that there is never anything good on. Choice can be liberating…until a certain point.

Choice overload, also known as overchoice was coined by Alvin Toffler in his 1970 book Future Shock in which he and his wife Adelaide Farrell posited that global change was happening at such a pace that individuals would be unable to cope with what they perceived as “too much change in too short a space of time”. And as part of this futurism – lets call it globalisation say – the authors suggested that purchasing decisions could become overwhelming due to having too many approximately equally good options, as each would need to be both understood and then weighed against all other alternatives before a selection could be made.

In short – going to the biscuit aisle of the supermarket and becoming stupefied by the sheer number of biscuit options available – to a level where maybe no biscuits were actually purchased as a result. I guess this sounds like a plausible theory in certain circumstances. But the problem is that in many cases, there’s little actual empirical evidence to back it up.

Nevertheless, evidence be damned – the phenomenon of choice overload has been regularly applied to almost every consumable product on the planet. Including alcohol. And you won’t have to look far to find articles (often about wine) which theorise that consumers are regularly bewildered when presented with large selections of bottles. Suggestions abound that retailers should reduce the number of bottles they stock to avoid overwhelming consumers or that producers should reduce the number of different label styles that apparently do nothing but confuse everyone. Utter rot.

Across global booze markets and entirely contrary to choice overload theory – you will not see rows of people lined up in front of booze shelves, entirely unable to make a selection. For a start - retailers, producers and distributors – whether physical or digital all employ a variety of ‘nudges’ which work to eliminate feelings of overload. These can be as simple as a price reduction (discounts work), an indication of some kind of global award (everyone loves a gold star for good behaviour), or simply through putting the stock at the end of an aisle (or on the front page of a website) to heighten its visibility. All of these mechanism and many more work to alleviate choice overload – for those who might be perceptible to it.

And for everyone else – there’s knowledge, interest and passion.

With 184,897 bottles listed on Whiskybase as of writing – and therefore a required 508 years to sample every single bottle on a one-per-day basis – would you argue that this is too much choice? Are you confounded by the sheer number of whiskies that it is possible for you purchase? I dare say that you are not.

As drinkers some of you will be highly knowledgeable. And some of you on the earlier part of your journeys will be less so. But regardless of your level of experience (and whether that is real or perceived), I’ll posit that most of the time you don’t feel choice overload at all. And certainly not to a level where you end up not purchasing anything at all. A 50-page long dram list might take you a while to wade through – but you’ll be ordering a dram nevertheless. Indeed, hands up how many of you find pleasure (not overload) from taking the time to browse a spirits emporium stacked from floor to ceiling? Yeah, me too.

American psychologist Barry Schwartz observed what he called the ‘Paradox of Choice’ in 2004. In his now extensively quoted self-help book, he noted:

"Autonomy and freedom of choice are critical to our wellbeing, and choice is critical to freedom and autonomy. Nonetheless, though modern Americans have more choice than any group of people ever has before, and thus, presumably, more freedom and autonomy, we don't seem to be benefiting from it psychologically" 

This all seems outwardly logical in essence. But when it comes to alcohol, I’d argue that bottles are not biscuits. There is a world of difference between shopping for something where one might perceive that a ‘correct’ choice might lead to a greater eventual satisfaction, and where the shopping (and knowledge that is gleaned along the way) can actually provide a pleasure of itself.

To my mind, and particularly when it comes to alcohol, the notion that greater consumer choice can only be debilitating is a fallacy. Advocating for a reduction in the number of bottles or lumping all consumers together into a single pot which promotes that labels are best formulated with helpful suggestions such as “….goes well with chicken” does nothing for advancing consumer education. And it is continued education, not diminished variety that is required for both industries and their consumers to thrive….and to actively enjoy their choices.

And so, speaking of choice, today we have yet more for you – this time from Watt Whisky who have recently unleashed their latest batch of independently bottled whiskies. Oh and a notably big score.

The Dramble reviews Watt Whisky Glen Spey 2008 13 year old

Bottle Name: Glen Spey 2008

ABV: 53.6%
Distillery: Glen Spey
Bottler: Watt Whisky
Region: Speyside Age: 13

Our first new release from Watt Whisky comes courtesy of a 13 year old from Glen Spey that has spent nearly all its life inside a single ex-bourbon hogshead, before a brief 3 month rerack into an ex-sherry cask. You’ll find bottles available at The Whisky Exchange for £65.95.

Nose: Opening with big balsamic strawberries, macerated red berries and cranberry jelly. Broadening out to include a selection of dried fruits and orange peels alongside ginger powder, almond paste and a scattering of rose hips. The addition of water reveals foam prawns, strawberry milkshake powder and soft, creamy nougat.

Taste: Drying. Berry preserve, sour cherries and sultanas join burnt caramel and another round of vinegar sharpness. Bitter chocolate and fresh, sticky, tannic sherry comes in a wave, alongside freshly made toast that’s been left in the toaster just that little bit too long. Reduction introduces gooey toffee together with hedgerow berry compote.

Finish: Medium to long in length with ginger and clove lingering alongside tart, sour berries.

Rather too acetic for my tastes – particularly at the delivered strength where the profile is certainly sherry forward (quite the active cask for a mere 3 months) and brings with it an abundance of sharp, tart vinegar notes alongside a rather carefree delivery of tannins. Modernism in a bottle. This will certainly have an audience – I’m just sadly not among that number.

Review sample provided by Watt Whisky

Score: 77/100

The Dramble reviews Watt Whisky Blended Scotch Whisky 2003 18 year old

Bottle Name: Blended Scotch Whisky 2003

ABV: 56.3%
Bottler: Watt Whisky
Age: 18

Watt Whisky have already demonstrated that they’re not afraid of combinations of casks – and more power to them. Whilst there’s certainly a joy to selecting single casks packed full of idiosyncratic character – there’s likewise an even broader palate of possibilities available once you wade into the realms of combined distillates – either at their birth or once they’re fully matured. This latest blend appears to be the former of those two – matured for 18 years in a single ex-bourbon hogshead. It’s available via The Whisky Exchange for £69.95.

Nose: Fruitcake – mandarin peels, rolled marzipan and golden syrup. Trifle – angelica, charred meringue, sponge fingers and whipped cream. Together at the same time. Dilution expresses Sherbet Dipdab (both sides at the same time – there’s a theme emerging), orange oils and a combination of rolled oats and syrupy tinned fruit salad.

Taste: Effervescent. Pineapple and mango sherbet joins stone fruit cordial, whilst poached pears and honey, lemon and ginger cough sweets sit alongside a grind of pepper and an underlying mineral/powdery bite. Water presents a less saccharine perspective with French toast and crème caramel together with fizzing fresh oakiness.

Finish: Quite long. Crushed minerals and fruity sherbet alongside lingering ground ginger.

There’s a consistent, vibrant fruitiness to this blended Scotch – and a solid integration of grain and malt throughout. Far more than it says on either the tin or the ex-bourbon maturation – there’s a wonderfully eccentric and unexpected aerated fizziness from the first nosing through to the lengthy finish. Agreeably divergent and well put together.

Review sample provided by Watt Whisky

Score: 84/100

The Dramble reviews Watt Whisky Imperial 1996 25 year old

Bottle Name: Imperial 1996

ABV: 53.6%
Distillery: Imperial
Bottler: Watt Whisky
Region: Speyside Age: 25

There was a time when despite being a shuttered distillery, that Imperial was largely ignored by the bulk of whisky enthusiasts, and bottles could be picked up relatively easily. However, as stocks of the distillery have dwindled and the price of naturally weighty distillates has risen across the board, Imperial’s desirability has finally been recognised - and consequently the days of it flying under the radar are now long past. In particular, whisky lovers have recognised that similarly to another famously textured distillate, that parcels of Imperial casks from the mid-90s that have been left to age for a decent amount of time are habitually excellent.

And that’s precisely what we’ve got from Watt Whisky today. This 1996 25 year old Imperial has been matured in a refill ex-bourbon barrel that produced 214 bottles. It has been bottled at 53.6% ABV and with an RRP of £225. As best as I can tell this has sold out on impact everywhere it has been put on sale. And rightly so….standby for a big score.

Nose: Polished teak, sea chests and aged tobacco sit alongside walnut and lamp oils, whilst anise and liquorice are livened by zesty citrus, cooking apples and a delightful flintiness/steeliness from graphite and copper coins. The addition of water presents a more overt fruity element with cantaloupe melon and lemon posset together with underlying earthiness. Highly appealing stuff.

Taste: Double thumbs. Arriving with paraffin and a Clynelish-eque waxiness offset against Imperial’s natural mineral quality. Lemon oils and peels join crumbled limestone whilst ancient felled waterlogged trees sit alongside mahogany polished to a mirror sheen. Fresh French baguette sits with sliced green apples whilst fusty tobacco joins coffee beans. Later – mentholated oak and camphor. Deeply complex. Reduction reveals additional waxes and greases together with clementines and brass polish.

Finish: Long with chopped walnuts, ginger spice, a touch of mineral salinity and a pot of freshly brewed coffee.

I have no qualms at all giving this Imperial my highest score of any Watt Whisky to date. The bottler has clearly made an educated investment into this cask – on the one hand knowing that Imperial’s light is presently shining brightly, and on the other, knowing that this is quite simply an outstanding cask selection. The result is as delicious as it is textured, layered, expansive and at times, frankly intellectual. Excellent.

Review sample provided by Watt Whisky

Score: 90/100

The Dramble reviews Watt Whisky Tormore 2010 10 year old

Bottle Name: Tormore 2010

ABV: 57.1%
Distillery: Tormore
Bottler: Watt Whisky
Region: Speyside Age: 10

Over to Speyside for an uncommon Tormore that has spent 10 months maturing in an ex-Islay (peated) cask following an initial 10 years in an ex-bourbon hogshead. Delivered at 57.1% ABV and available from The Whisky Exchange for £63.95.

Nose: Cream cheese and smoked Chantilly sit with green apples, gooseberries and white grapes. A touch of background ashiness sits with faintly distant treated bandaged and more prominent planed oak. Dilution offers reed and flax together with expressive florals from tree blossoms.

Taste: A similar profile to the nose, but with a more voluminous delivery. Pan fats and sunflower oil lead into green orchard fruits, whilst ashy smoke morphs towards cold cream and wispy antiseptic. In the background, cask char and dried grasses. Water offers a far more fruit-forward palate with tart and sharp green and white fruits together with scorched oak and smoked whipped cream.

Finish: Medium to long in length. Sweet white wine offset against residue ashiness.

A well-judged additional maturation marks this Tormore out as worthy of looking at. The spirit, original ex-bourbon cask and re-racked Islay cask all have their parts to play and likewise sing in harmony, resulting in whisky that offers a solid balance throughout. This could well be a whisky to consider as the ‘next step’ for normally peat-adverse friends, following initial lower strength introductions to lightly peated fare. Straight-forward and effective.

Review sample provided by Watt Whisky

Score: 85/100

The Dramble reviews Watt Whisky Orkney Distillery 2012 8 year old

Bottle Name: Orkney Distillery 2012

ABV: 57.1%
Distillery: Highland Park
Bottler: Watt Whisky
Region: Islands Age: 8

Until Scapa starts properly feeding the indy bottler world more readily, mysterious Orkney bottlings offer little wonder from their labels alone. This Watt Whisky non-Viking edition has spent its 8 years maturing in an ex-bourbon hogshead before being bottled at 57.1% ABV. Still available from The Whisky Exchange for £60.95.

Nose: Appealing from the get-go. Lightly smoked creamy toffee alongside desiccated coconut, crème caramel and vanilla buttercream. Smouldering hillside foliage runs throughout – that wispy ethereal note expected from this Orkney spirit – and most certainly delivered here. Dilution presents banoffee pie together with brand snaps and sunflower oil.

Taste: Much more oomph now. Crème brule, burnt toffee and velvety fudge lead into peppered cream whilst typically HP in-land smoke sits alongside underripe fruit from foam bananas and ripening peaches. Reduction is most beneficial – less peppery spice and far more ex-bourbon with coconut macaroons and vanilla cream piped buns.

Finish: Medium with char and delicate smoke together with sustained fruity distillate sweetness.

Elementary, elemental Orkney whisky that’s controlled throughout and given ample breathing space for both the spirit and the cask. The distillery itself has been putting out a range of higher strength, younger expressions recently – this Watt Whisky treads a similar path – but with a composition that outshines them. Simple and all rather effective.

Review sample provided by Watt Whisky

Score: 86/100

The Dramble reviews Watt Whisky Lochindaal 2007 13 year old

Bottle Name: Lochindaal 2007

ABV: 57.1%
Distillery: Bruichladdich
Bottler: Watt Whisky
Region: Islay Age: 13

Our final Watt Whisky bottling from this release cycle comes from Bruichladdich in the form of a 13 year old Lochindaal (peated more than Port Charlotte, but less than Octomore.) The 50+PPM spirit was first distilled in 2007, but to the best of my knowledge has not become a mainstay spirit in active production in the same way as the distillery’s three main styles. As such, there’s only a limited number of these cask available – and as such they come with a premium in-built. This release was matured in a single ex-bourbon barrel and has been bottled at 57.1% ABV. Blink and you’ll miss it.

Nose: Dirty. Iron filings and wire wool sit with greasy axles, whilst clay, putty and very wet peat smoke join margaritas and zesty citrus peels. There’s a nougat creaminess at the centre – partly confectionary, partly barnyard with elements of sour cream and Philadelphia – all trademark Laddie. The addition of water presents sack cloth and burnt plastic together with haylofts and an aside of cowpat.

Taste: Olive oil, lamp oil and pan oils. Apple and lime zing before moving into a funkier industrial/farmyard spectrum with steel, graphite, damp hay, wet wool and billowing chimney smoke. Water retains the oily texture whilst presenting all of the aspects with a gentler outlook – salinity, burning barns and smoked whipped cream.

Finish: Long, with ash, factory floors and lingering creaminess.

This Watt Whisky Lochindaal is very much ‘of a style’ and that style is archetypally Bruichladdich. That will either float your boat, or it won’t – the earthy, farmyard peat being something of a marmite note for many peated whisky fans. Personally, I very much enjoy this type of agricultural and pastorally-led peater as a divergence from my ‘usual’ style of smoke – and this example ticks all the boxes one would expect.

Review sample provided by Watt Whisky

Score: 87/100



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