Some people are just way too obsessed about ‘natural’ whisky.
Don’t get me wrong its great to taste whisky in its natural form but some people are just way too concerned about this and are just way too precious about it all.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard people (read snobs) say, ‘I only drink cask strength, naturally coloured, non chill filtered whiskies that have an age statement.’ I say, stop being such a bore. Don’t be such a pedant when it comes to whisky, you are missing out on a whole host of whisky goodness.
I can say with great certainty that when these kinds of people started out drinking whisky they would not have known what E150a, NCF, NAS and cask strength meant, they would’ve just been drinking whiskies and enjoying them for what they were.
For some reason a minority of people seem to, for want of a better expression, become ‘whisky snobs’ at some point in their whisky journey.
They have this irritating holier-than-thou elitist air and basically have self imposed whisky drinking criteria and they are ridiculously stubborn if challenged to change their ways. In short, they are the worst kind of whisky drinker. So why are they so hung up when it comes to these acronyms mentioned above?
The use of plain caramel colouring in whisky has long been debated. The use of E150a, the technical term for the specific permitted type of plain caramel colouring, is used to create consistency of colour in whisky from batch to batch. Whisky is a natural product and each cask is unique meaning that the colour will probably vary from cask to cask.
Whisky has its current status in the world because it has been able to produce a consistent and high quality product for decades, partly because of the use of plain caramel colouring. If a brand, like Johnnie Walker, varied in colour massively it would like to consumers thinking its quality was inconsistent.
Can you see why it is important now? The plain caramel colouring purely acts as a colour adjusting tool for the master blender making the whisky, it does not impart any flavour or taint the whisky’s taste.
Another thing some elitist whisky snobs obsess over is chill filtration of whisky. Again, the reason for this stems back to whisky being consistent and of a high quality around the world.
If a whisky is non chill filtered it may become cloudy or hazy if it gets cold. This haziness could be seen by consumers as the whisky going bad or spoiling. To prevent consumers thinking something has gone wrong with their whisky a lot of the whisky industry will chill filter there whisky, which prevents the haziness from occurring.
Chill filtering a whisky removes the fatty acids in the whisky which case the cloudiness. By removing these a whisky will remain bright and clean looking even if ice or water are added to the whisky.
Many of these snobs also limited themselves to only drinking cask strength whiskies for some strange reason. They feel that whiskies less than say 55% alcohol by volume are too dilute.
Many of them refuse outright to add water which is mad and alco masochistic. I for one can’t see how anyone can enjoy blowing their face off drinking 55% or higher alcohol.
It it nigh on impossible to pick up any nuanced flavours or aromas when the alcohol strength is so high. So this is why, as a general rule, most whiskies are bottled at 40% alcohol by volume, as they have been blended to taste their best at this strength. Also, if you want to enjoy your whisky neat you’ll actually be able to taste some interesting flavours at that kind of strength.
Finally, the other thing that boring snobs seem particularly hung up about at the moment is the introduction of no age statement (NAS) whiskies. This is a whisky that does not give an age statement for the whisky in the bottle.
By law, if a whisky has an age on the bottle it must give the age of the youngest whisky in the recipe of that particular whisky. Meaning that a 10 year old single malt might contain some 12 year old or even 15 year old single malt to add depth of flavour but the age on the bottle would have to say 10 year old.
The irony of the snobs not liking this is that historically whisky was all sold without age statements. The use of age statements on whisky is a relatively new thing. By removing the age statement from a whisky it gives the master blender a much wider palate of flavours to work with.
Personally, I think a lot of the new NAS whiskies are cracking and much more interesting because the people creating them can work with more unique or unusual casks because they are not having to worry about getting a particular age on the bottle.
So, the key give away from this is avoid whisky snobs and bores. You only live once, so don’t bother limiting your enjoyment of whisky based on an uber-geek’s rulebook of which whiskies you should drink. It’s all good stuff and we (read the whisky snobs) need to chill out with a dram of supermarket own label single malt.
Blair Bowman is Scottish Field’s whisky expert, and an in demand whisky consultant. He is the author of the Pocket Guide to Whisky: featuring the WhiskyTubeMap and regularly hosts whisky training sessions and multi-sensory whisky tastings around the world. He is passionate about introducing the world to whisky.