Our goal is to be unique...like everybody else! Basically we have searched the internet from top to bottom and back to front and have not been able to find what we are looking for. A whisky reference that appeals to both men and women but goes outside the typical conventions and injects fun, humor and pure enjoyment into our favorite topic!
Friday, 25 May 2012
Kilkerran "Work in Progress 2" and the Great "Terroir" Debate! He Says...
He Says…I have been excited about this whisky for a while
now! Oddly enough, the anticipation made it harder and harder to crack the
bottle, which is fairly strange for me…just ask any box of chocolates! So why
the excitement? Funny enough, when I saw the bottle I knew very little about
Kilkerran “I think it’s a Campbeltown?” was about all I managed to say when
Johanne asked. Then I read Glengyle and it all started to come together, an
article here, blog post there…the bits of my fractured and scattered memory
slowly coming together (funny I can do that with whisky but not the location of
my car keys…). The details really didn’t matter anyway; to paraphrase Jerry
McGuire (please forgive me for this…) “You had me at Campbeltown.”
I have a huge soft spot for Campbeltown whiskies. I identify
with them on all levels, not the least of which is that I come from a seaside
locale that, like Campbeltown, was once a boom town, in our case with a
thriving shipping and ship building industry that rivaled Boston and New York
only to fall on hard times and now going through a slow, progressive renaissance.
I like an underdog! Add on top of that the essence of sea air and slight
industrial harshness that seems to be encapsulated in their whisky and I’m
smitten. Despite the underdog appeal, it is the second point I’m enthralled
with…the sea in a bottle.
I think it really all boils down to a hotly disputed and
debated topic…Terroir (“Dun, dun,
dahhh!” Might as well add the music if we are sticking with tacky movie
clichés). It’s time to add my own feelings into the fray. Take it for what it
is…as I often say to Johanne when I’m looking to “poke the fire,” “We’re all
entitled to our opinions…even if they’re wrong!” My personal belief is that terroir can play a huge role in the
final nose and flavor of a whisky. The debate over this topic has many great
points both for and against. However; you and I may not be thinking of the same
thing when we use that word...much like the rest of the world apparently.
Research into the topic quickly reveals that the definition of terroir, even in the wine industry from
whence it came, is fairly loose and still debated. The main debate centers on
limits of the definition. So, what are some people in the wine industry using
for a definition of terroir?
Jamie Goode the London-based winewriter, 2007 Glenfiddich Wine Writer
of the year recipient and current wine columnist with UK national newspaper The
Sunday Express takes a fairly broad approach after much deliberation on his
Prior to this definition in his article Goode made a point to exclude
the process of winemaking from the definition and prefers to stick with the
influences of soil and region.
The folks at Terroir-France, French Wine Guide use the
“A "terroir" is a group of vineyards
(or even vines) from the same region, belonging to a specific appellation, and
sharing the same type of soil, weather conditions, grapes and wine making
savoir-faire, which contribute to give its specific personality to the wine.” http://www.terroir-france.com/theclub/meaning.htm
I find this definition very interesting because
they have included winemaking practices into the definition.
And there you have it folks…on a basic level, this
one simple difference forms the cusp of debate concerning terroir. In one camp you have the “purists;” a group that argues terroir is simply influence of the land
and environment on the final product and the “others” that would broaden this
definition to include plant varieties, the overall “sense of place,” the region
and the practices for making the wine.
The next step is for us to apply this to
whisky production. If we stick with the “purist” definition then the only terroir elements that can really affect
the flavor of whisky is production water and air influences during maturation
(such as salty influences from a seaside distillery). Even the barley needs to be excluded in
most cases unless we are talking about distilleries like Kilchoman and
Bruichladdich that either grow their own barley or source locally grown barley
from their region. The same needs to be said for peated barley; if the
distillery is using local peat to smoke local barley then that can be
considered part of the terroir,
otherwise the distillery is introducing an element that is outside the local
climate and therefore not part of the terroir.
If we move to the more loose description of terroir then we really are simply
talking about a system that is already in place and debated in its own right.
I’m talking about the lines that have been drawn to identify the various whisky
producing regions (Lowland, Highland, Speyside, Islay, and depending on how you
lean Campbeltown and Islands). Lets take that second definition for wine terroir and translate it to whisky,
“A "terroir" is a group of distilleries
from the same region, belonging to a specific appellation, and sharing the same
type of soil, weather conditions, water and whisky making process, which
contribute to give its specific personality to the whisky.”
Going by this definition we move from the town of specifics
to the region generalization. Does the average Islay nose and taste differently
then the average speyside, so on and so forth?
Now I know what a lot of you are saying…you’re saying “but
that’s not what we mean when we say terroir!
We mean; are the local or site-specific elements the determining factors in
what allows certain whiskies to have certain nose and flavor profiles (or
something like that)? And if the answer is “yes” then how come we can distill a
whisky on Islay and then age it in a warehouse somewhere in the “sunny” lowlands
and still have a whisky that noses/tastes of the sea?” This is where I suppress
the urge to slap people with mental microscopes; you know the proverbial
blinders that some people wear? To these people I say: Whisky, like so many
people, places and things, is the sum of its parts. We can’t look at one
element of the process and wonder why changing it doesn’t completely alter the
entire flavor profile when there are so many other elements that are working
just as hard. The problem is that there are so many variables that it’s almost
impossible to nail them all down to specifics and absolutes.
The other problem is that we have to consider the importance
of regional whisky culture in production. Lets face it whisky making is a
tradition. Techniques and skills are passed from generation to generation. I
know that the skills and techniques of whisky making are now taught in
professional schools and universities and we no longer simply rely on word of
mouth and on-the-job training to teach the next generation but these are is
still a very important elements of the craft. People often forget that when it
can be anywhere from 3 to 45 years or more for the spirit to go from the copper
to the crystal there is a certain hesitation to change too many things at once.
Why? Because we don’t always know how those changes will turn out in the end
product (12 years or more down the road).
In my opinion these traditions and methods have to be considered part of
the terroir because they influence
the profile of the whisky greatly and are as much part of the final product as
the water and malted barley.
When I go to a distillery I go to look at a package. Inside
that package is all the elements used to make whisky. Sometimes the wrapper
starts at the distillery doors, sometimes it starts when you set foot on the
island and it wraps around the people places and things that make the water of
life what it is. The truth is those that make whisky don’t know all of the
secrets that determine why their whisky tastes as it does…and maybe they
shouldn’t. You can’t have a product that spends part of its life as “spirit”
and celebrates “the Angel’s Share” and not leave a little mystery and chalk
some of process up to faith, despite all of our science. Whisky making is an
art, a science and a culture, and for many a religion too; the terroir always reflects all of the
elements that it takes to get spirit in the bottle…whether you can taste the
soil or not.
Kilkerran “Work in
Progress 2” 46%abv
Glengyle Distillery – Campbeltown
Nose: Salt and
brine. Saltwater taffy. Rubber. There is what I would have to describe as a
very industrial nose. It’s robust and upfront but still very appealing. In many
ways this dram speaks to the “other side” of whisky…an industrious bold dram as
oppose to light, floral or sweet.
Add water and it becomes more fresh with grass and cereal notes.
Water knocks the hard edges off.
There is also a very earthy, almost damp cellar appeal.
Pallet: Drying, slightly
medicinal with a hint of bitter. Iodine. Dulse (for those of you who don’t know what dulse is, it’s
a local delicacy comprised entirely of dried seaweed, very salty with bitter iodine.
Send me your address, I’ll mail you a bag, its quite lovely!). Slightly viscous
mouth-feel. Water sweetens the pallet but there is still a hint of damp earth and
mothballs (as horrid as that sounds it is really appealing and very addictive)!
Finish: Fairly short
finish with a bitter aftertaste.
I like this dram. It is a working dram, not necessarily for contemplating
after Chirstmas dinner, rather something to take in a flask fishing or park beside
you while you do your taxes or write your latest edition to your blog! ;) Now I
have to track down the first and third editions…might as well have the set!