Beauty Before Age
Georgie Bell, Global Ambassador for Mortlach Whisky, explores how flavour is the most important component when choosing from your whisky portfolio.
Do you judge a whisky by the number on the front of the bottle? Well think again!
There’s so much more to a whisky than meets the eye, especially when you begin to explore the flavors. Here I take a look at the importance of taste over age when it comes to creating the perfect serves.
The next time you have a minute behind the bar, stop and take a glance around, have a look at the range of bottles on offer in front of you.
Let your eyes be seduced by the plethora of labels in all the colors and shapes and sizes.
Now focus specifically on the whisky selection.
30 years ago, I’m told, there would have been just half a dozen bottles of single malts on offer – maybe even 10 if you were lucky. Today we are overwhelmed with choice – visually the back bar displays are brimming with a multitude of whiskies.
And consumers are embracing this…
Thirst for Knowledge
We are now in a world of very engaged consumers with a thirst for knowledge, people who want to know about what they’re drinking.
Type in ‘whisky’ into Amazon books and your eyes will pop at the number (2,905 to date on the US site alone). This knowledge is being taken out of the book and into your bar.
You see it yourselves probably every day – a customer comes in and says, ‘I’d normally order an Old Fashioned, but I hear a ‘Hoots Mon’ is all the rage these days so I’ll go for one of those instead.’ In case you haven’t heard of it before – and I hadn’t until I asked my friend who works at The Savoy in London - a Hoots Mon is from The 1930s Savoy Cocktail Book and is a combination of ½ Scotch, ¼ French aperitif and ¼ Sweet vermouth. Delicious!
The view of the whisky category has shifted. Stereotypes are changing, supposed rules are being broken. Whisky is no longer just a ‘mans’ drink; it doesn’t just have to be drunk by itself late at night. ‘Regional flavors’ are shifting – it is no longer the case that smoky whiskies must come from Islay or that lighter style whiskies have to be lowlands. The category is having a revival and, as a bartender, I believe you’re integral to this revitalization, brandishing your chosen single malt like a knight welding a javelin on the front line of a battle.
However, there is still a murky depth of misunderstanding around one particular feature found on the front of most whisky bottles…the age. For this number still holds a stereotype that older means better – age before beauty.
Now, in the past, a new release equaled a new number: a new eleven year old, thirteen, fifteen…but, at the end of the day, what does a number tell us? I don’t go into a bar and introduce myself as ‘Hi…26’ as that tells you nothing about me. Instead I may say ‘Hi, I’m Georgie and I like the occasional glass of champagne and long haul flights’ which, from the outset, tells you so much more!
Just judging a whisky by number alone doesn’t give us an idea about flavor – and actually by us just focusing on this we’re selling the increasingly more knowledgeable consumers short. A thirteen year, 4 month and 6 day old whisky won’t really fulfill the market requirements – but the exploration of the ‘flavor’ and personality of a whisky can.
How has the whisky industry responded to this thirst for not only new expressions, but new drinking experiences? They have done it through vibrant works of innovation driven by flavor profile and overall drinking experiences; through placing beauty before age.
Artists of their Profession
Today, more than ever before, our whisky creators and malt masters have the freedom to act like Picasso or Dali, creating exquisite new personality defined (flavor driven) whiskies.
All single malts are actually blended - recipes either directed by a number or a character. When driven by a number – such as an age statement – our malt masters can only use casks at or above that age, thereby creating boundaries and limitations.
However, if they’re led by a character or ‘flavor’ description this opens them up to a whole new world with no rules, no boundaries. They can balance whiskies of mixed maturity and character to create something multi-dimensional and really quite unique– it allows the blender the opportunity to focus solely on quality, to create something new, something exciting. Two great examples of these from recent months have been the new Singleton Spey Cascade, and one very close to my heart: Mortlach Rare Old… worth testing out!
A New Perspective
So take inspiration from our whisky creators who see no boundaries or limits; place flavor at the forefront of your whisky choice for your customer and allow yourself to be their guide through your ever growing, ever vibrant portfolio of bottles.
Gaze at your backbar and allow yourself to go cross-eyed just as you would when looking at a grainy optical illusion. Brand names and ages will blur, and into focus should come the flavor spectrum. Then, either in your head or on paper, start listing the bottles by flavor qualities and play with opposites.
Light or heavy? Fruity or floral? Afternoon or evening? To be paired with a lager or a stout? Meat or fish? Now think about how you can play on these during service. An old fashioned in the early evening may call for a lighter style of whisky, and later at night a smoldering smoky one. If a customer asks for something ‘special’ – start off by assessing the time of day, what they’ve just done/are planning to do, what they usually drink (red/white wine, new/old world) and pick it based on that. Chances are, if you give them that personal service and recommendation you’ll have a new customer for life.
Good luck and adopt a new attitude - it can’t help to open your mind to the possibilities!
Georgie Bell is the Global Ambassador for Mortlach Whisky. She enjoys sipping on Champagne at the weekends and taking long haul flights all over the world tasting whisky. To keep a track of her journeys follow her @BellesWhisky
THE SINGLETON, SPEY CASCADE and MORTLACH words and associated logos are trade marks © Diageo 2015.
READ GEORGIE'S CONTRIBUTIONS:
>Tasting Whiskey PT 1: Smell
>Tasting Whiskey PT 2: Sound
>Tasting Whiskey PT 3: Sight
> Tasting Whiskey PT 4: Mouth & Culture