Saturday, 3 September 2011

The Subjectivity of Tasting… Glendronach Revival

Do you see faces or a glass?
Subjectivity is something that makes the world a more vivid and vibrant place. It is a force that drives discussion and debate and forms the context of the world we live in. A concept both flawed and personal, we wouldn't be human if we didn't form our own opinion of the world around us. For me, the most interesting facet of subjectivity is our perception of what we sense. Green Blob Theory is something that sums this up quite nicely: How do we know what you see as a dog and we both call a dog, doesn't look like a green blob if you looked through my eyes. Or put more simply, is what we both call orange the same colour?

I think this is very interesting and after some thought I came to the realisation that I could test this. Writing tasting notes for alcohol demonstrates it quite nicely. The reason for this is because what we taste in whisky and wine are esters and acids that form the flavour profile. For example, if you taste lemon in a dram then it is probably the citric acid content of the drink that is giving you that flavour. Of course tasting high alcohol beverages isn't as clean cut as that. There are so many chemicals knocking around in a glass of whisky that it is quite difficult to differentiate between them. This is the reason why tasting notes can differ so much. Some flavours are obvious; an Ardbeg tastes smoky to everyone, except those with the most warped palates, because of its high phenol content. So in essence, tasting notes become buzzwords that remind us of a particular flavour. Some aren't particularly pleasant, cat's piss is a common one for some sauvignon blancs, and it isn't even a critical tasting note. Conventions do occur, this is why you'll see similarities across tasting notes until you get occasions such as a conversation I had recently when one person got a complex leathery quality and the other (me) got car tyre.

So back to my test…

On hearing that the irrepressible Robert Manning who judged my tasting competition a few blogs back (see here), had tried the Glendronach 15 year old a couple of nights back, I went out to get a sample for myself. We then both wrote our tasting notes down ready for comparison. The idea being to see what similarities and differences there would be. Clearly there isn't much experimental control going on here but for the sake of whimsy we persevered. Here are our notes, starting with my own:

Glendronach Revival
46% - 15 Years Old - Sherry Cask 
Nose: A fruit driven nose of raisins and sultanas with raspberry and blackcurrants. Cabernet sauvignon is also present giving this woody whisky a stern backdrop.
Palate: The sherry wood is very apparent with dark fruits, dry leaves and a hint of ash adding to the Revival's rich intensity.
Finish: Port is the flavour that jumps to mind with that cabernet sauvignon appearing again with a dose of red currants.
Overall: Richer and more overpowering than the 'Dronach 12 year old. Maybe a touch too much wood for my liking although I'd say that is personal preference only. A masterclass in whisky making.

Nose: Dry sherry, and the bitter sweet aroma of cherries and summer fruits complimented by a biscuit-like maltiness.
Palate: Fruit cake, dried fruits with fresh citrus undertones and sweet toffee abide alongside a small hint of oak.
Finish: Fresh summer fruits and chewy toffee accompanied by a crescendo of malty liveliness.
Overall: Unlike any other whiskey in my tasting arsenal to date. Probably the smoothest dram I've had in a long while. Very fruity and sweet with a nice malty flavour. Christmas cake is the analogy of choice when describing this particularly morish dram.

Us camping above Dalwhinnie
with a cigar (midgie repellent!)
So in conclusion you can see some obvious differences: I got dry fruits whereas Rob got summer fruits on the nose; and on the palate I got that very dry woody quality whereas Rob was gathering citrus undertones and lots of toffee. Despite this there are some clear similarities; the dried fruits I got on the nose appear on Rob’s palate. Also, those summer fruits that keep recurring for Rob do pop up in mine in the form of raspberries and red currants. The unambiguous sherry presence was identified by the pair of us. What is most interesting is that Rob got a much sweeter flavour profile than mine. For me there are a few interesting factors that can be deduced from this. Firstly, the similarities didn’t necessarily occur to us at the same time, where one of us got a note on the nose the other would get it on the palate. Secondly, the sweet to dry ratio of the tasting notes clearly is subject to individual perception. Although I would say I was comparing quite to the 12 year old, which is sweeter still, so maybe this explains part of the difference. Finally, what is most interesting for me is the different language we both use to describe the whisky. Rob and I discovered whisky together so I assumed we would have picked up the same buzzwords for the same flavours, this clearly wasn’t the case. Then again perhaps all that is important is that we both enjoyed it. The Glendronach 15 year old is a fantastic whisky as indeed all the Glendronachs are. So, where to go from here? Clearly one whisky isn’t enough to draw absolute conclusions from so in the interests of science I have posted Rob a Glendronach 18 year old, so watch this space for the next chapter of this experiment! I would also be interested if anyone has any conflicting tasting notes and welcome them to comment below.

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