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What Whisk(ey) descriptors Do you Think are BS?

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Jonathan started a discussion

Here's a sample. No judgment here:

Ardbeg ‘Dark cove’ (55%, OB, Committee release, 2016) Four stars and a halfThe label tells us that ‘its heart has been matured in dark sherry casks’. Which doesn’t mean much, really, or only that a part of it was matured (proportions? for how long?) in sherry that probably wasn’t fino or manzanilla. It’s also said, on the label, that it’s the darkest Ardbeg ever. Highly unlikely if you ask me, given the various fantastic dark-oloroso-ed Ardbegs the owners have had in the past. So, the label being partly wrong, doesn’t that make this wee bottle kind of collectable? Despite the fact that it’s yet another NAS? Ach… Colour: gold. Nothing dark, really, we’ve known hundreds of Ardbegs that were darker, both officials and indies. Nose: hold on, cancel any derision or affectionate mockeries, there’s something clearly ‘old Ardbeg’ to this. Really. This very particular creosote-y thing, these soy-saucy touches, this fattish, tar-like medicinal side that’s so different from Laphroaig’s, this natural rubber diluted in brine, the turpentine, the walnuts (the sherry)… Plus, above all, very little of the dullish new-oakiness that’s polluting so many modern malts. Perhaps a little caraway, ginger, and juniper, but that’s all. So far, so perfect. With water: some kind of salted lapsang souchong into which you would have thrown cloves. Mouth (neat): phew, there was a little ‘obvious’ oak in the beginning of the arrival (varnish plus ginger and caraway), and I may like the nose better, but this is frankly very fine, appropriately thickish, cough-syrupy (oh my), with some acidic lemon as well, some smoked ham, perhaps a wee bit of bresaola to please our Italian friends, some salt, and some bitter oranges. Salty soy sauce with some tar liqueur. With water: it takes water well, becoming even peatier, even if more oils from the wood tend to come out as well. A tannicity. Finish: extremely long, and spicier. More cloves, ginger, cumin… Comments: it’s maybe more the oak than the wine that’s been playing the largest part here. I find this Dark cove more to my liking than last year’s… ach, what was the name again? - but I do prefer Uigeadail in this ‘direction’. But it’s excellent indeed. SGP:468 - 88 points.


Ardbeg 22

9 days ago

9 replies

Jonathan replied

For example, I just had Three Cup Chicken (with soy sauce) and Serge's description of the Dark Cove describes soy sauce. I tried my sample again. Great dram, but doesn't taste much like soy sauce. In fact, no whisky will contain salt, but we talk about brine and salt, especially in Islay whiskies.

What role does the imagination play here, and what are the actual components of that (very real) experience of salt?

To say that everything is subjective is to render many reviews here meaningless.

So what is at stake in these reviews, from which I have learned so much?

9 days ago 0


@Jonathan It’s probably just the limitations of language presenting themselves. Some of these “soy sauce” notes might just translate as “something dark and umami” but soy sauce is the closest reference the reviewer can conjure.

7 days ago 2Who liked this?

Nozinan replied

@OdysseusUnbound Perhaps Tamari sauce might be a better descriptor?

I would have to taste something myself to differentiate between the two...

And then there is VH Soy sauce which I despise, and some of the sauce in packets that have a distinctive cheap north American style Chinese restaurant flavour (Wing's?). And then there is Kikkoman which I like (both soy and Tamari) and then the hundreds of non-English named variations from all over Asia that all taste different.

I guess soy sauce isn't such a great descriptor after all.

But it now makes me wonder...why is it I can differentiate soy sauces so much, and yet I have trouble describing the nuances of my favourite whiskies so specifically?

7 days ago 3Who liked this?

RianC replied

@Jonathan - On the surface, tasting notes should be transferable from person to person but, in practice, they are completely subjective: that three cup chicken might be lovely to you but I may dislike it. We might taste the same thing but perceive and experience it differently or, more accurately, idiosyncratically.

I always feel descriptors are just that; describing something that is unfamiliar and unknown but similar to, say, strawberries or, indeed, soy sauce! I don't think I actually taste salt in whisky but it's something akin to or evocative of. Is there a universally agreed upon definition of the flavour of barley, for instance? How a person then writes about a whisky depends on many things e.g. culture, experience (sensorily) and linguistic flexibility.

In short, Serge is French and so prone to flowery and philosophical meanderings laughing fishing_pole_and_fish

7 days ago 4Who liked this?

Jonathan replied

@RianC I think you nailed it. I aspire to that level of perception with whisky, which could become flowery and philosophical. I do often choose purchases after Serge's reviews, for those bottles I can find.

6 days ago 2Who liked this?


@Jonathan I like Serge a lot, I just can’t convince my wife to let me remortgage the house so I can buy a bottle of 37 Year Old Port Ellen bottled in 1983 for a small curio shop in Turku, Finland. She’s really selfish and unreasonable.

6 days ago 4Who liked this?

BlueNote replied

@OdysseusUnbound I feel your pain. I like Serge, too, but I liked it more when his daily posts included a music link. I don't know why he stopped doing that, his taste in music is as eclectic and quirky as his taste in whisky.

5 days ago 1Who liked this?

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