Sunday, 11 September 2016

Not Good Enough

The Wines & Spirits Education Trust recently launched a series of videos, Three Minute Spirit School, which they describe as, "an entertaining and informative introduction to the world of spirits". To talk about whisky, they brought in Richard Patterson of Whyte and Mackay.

Sadly - and surprisingly, given that Mr Patterson has been working in whisky since the 1970s - the video makes a couple of questionable assertions.  There's also one statement which is presented as fact, but which, in my opinion, is actually a reflection of a crucial failing in the modern whisky industry.

Here is the video in question:

Questionable assertion #1:  Mr P says there are four whisky regions; Lowlands, Highlands, Campbeltown, & Islay.

Now look, I know that there are a fair few Speyside distillers who label their bottles as Highland, and Speyside is entirely inside Highland, but nevertheless it's right there in the Scotch Whisky Regulations; there are two "localities" (Campbeltown and Islay) and three "regions" (Highland, Lowland, and Speyside).

Questionable assertion #2: Mr P says, "take that barley, and we must let it germinate, which produces the natural starch, and then we obviously boil it up in the mash tun".

No it doesn't, and no we don't.

Germination during malting is what produces the enzymes which convert starch which is already present in the barley to sugar. And worts are made by adding very hot water ( 63-90°C) to the grist. Distillers worts aren't boiled. Perhaps Mr P was thinking of brewers.

And then there's the statement of current practice presented as eternal truth: wood contributes 70% of the flavour. Well yes, I'm sure there are plenty of modern distilleries for whom that's true. But if you are such a distiller, then I humbly submit that you're doing it wrong. I believe that the drive for efficiency in Scotch manufacture over the last sixty years has been at the expense of flavour, and as a consequence distillers have had to turn to ever more elaborate wood management schemes to produce interesting whiskies. With, in my opinion, variable results.

Two flat out errors and a policy position presented as natural law, all in the space of a three minute four minutes forty-four seconds video. Frankly, WSET, that's just not good enough.

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