Same-same whisky

page 30

Tasmanian whiskies all taste the same.

An important ambition for the book was an infographic exploration of the [Broom & Beveridge inspired] "Flavour Camps" of Tasmanian whiskies. It would graph Tasmania’s amongst the rest of the world's whiskies. I did not have the tasting expertise to make the comparison, but no one who had the expertise would commit to the task because it would not, I discovered, have presented a pretty picture. On the world stage, Tasmanian whiskies are, unlike the startling disarray of Scotch whiskies, packed closely together in style and taste.

The text

On the diversity of taste in Tasmanian whiskies there is good news and bad. First the bad news: when considered in an international context, Tasmanian whiskies 'don't taste very different from each other', says Tim Duckett. I—on technical grounds rather than from any discernment of palate—concur with him, and other experts I consulted agreed.

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Science has quantified and generalised sensory data to establish vectors of taste. (See Wishart's Single Malt map.) Dave Broom and Jim Beveridge’s Flavour Map of whiskies (shown opposite)is a refinement of Wishart. The simplicity of the quadrant graph disguises its sophistication. Every whisky can be placed into one (and only one) of the quadrants and by its relative position can be contrasted (as well as clustered) against every other whisky. 

Ingenious as the chart is, the experts I consulted considered that if the same vectors and scale were used, Tasmania's whiskies would land in a tight circle around the middle. Mark Nicholson advised me that any such chart would be "a waste of time". Why? It may have been his literarture-inspired distrust of mathematics but I suspect it was because he too grasped that the chart would have shown too close a conjunction.

The close conjunction of the flavours in Tasmanian whiskies has three causes. From least to most significant: firstly, an Anglo-cenric calibration is hidden in the graph itself. The cardinal vectors emphasise Scottish taste profiles, skewering New World whiskies the same way that Mercator’s projection crushed Africa. Secondly, in Tasmania the ingredients and methods are similar: almost all the whisky comes from the same, single, strain of barley; it is all malted in one malthouse to the same “Pale Malt” specifications; hardly any is peated (and only very lightly); it is all mashed in waters indistinguishable from each other and fermented with very similar, off-the-shelf brewers and distillers yeasts using identical brewing techniques; it is distilled in the same kind of kettle stills; and it is all aged in the same refill American oak and French oak cask woods for about the same amount of time. And thirdly, it's what sells. It is what consumers are used too, what they like, and what they demand. 

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An unofficial Taste map of Tasmanian-made whiskies in 2014.

I invented new quadrants and drew new boundaries, but I could not escape the conjunction.  Tasmanian-made whiskies taste very similar to each other, and on Broom's chart would be tightly clustered. That’s the bad news.

What's the good news?  Duckett believes that although Tasmanian whiskies 'don't taste very different from each other ... they're moving further apart."

Bernard LloydComment