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Monday, 6 April 2009

Organic Orgasmic...

There are certain buzz words/phrases that i'm pretty sure we've all heard just about enough of over the past few months. They start out being witty and probably on the money, but start to get over-used, tired and very irritating. The term 'credit crunch' is one such particular phrase which starts my vitriol and bile working their way swiftly skyward.

which brings me onto another word which is perhaps overused and misunderstood - Organic.

A marketing man's dream if there ever was. 'Organic' conjures up all manner of positive images immediately; the rolling green countryside full of fresh crops, fresh air, clean running water, animals leaping around huge fields with gay abandon... I could go on, but you get the picture.

So how come it's suddenly relevant in the whisky business? Well, think about it for a second. With the exception of the animals above, the other imagery goes pretty much hand-in-hand with a perfect mental picture of rural distilling, a far cry from the fairly industrialised process which actually take place.

Organic whiskies are now cropping up, using malt grown under organic farming conditions.
The world's first organic single malt whisky was distilled at Springbank distillery in 1992.
since then, Bruichladdich have got in on the act and more recently Benromach Organic are the first to be rubberstamped by the soil association.

'Organic' perhaps alludes to a level of dare I say it...purity or freshness, so to test this out, we've decided to run a simple blind test- 2 glasses labeled A & B.

With a comparably priced single malt and blend as our controls, we've pitted the Benromach Organic and another highly regarded organic whisky, Highland Harvest Blended (under Royal warrant from Prince Charles!) against them. Let's see what the score is - and if there's anything really different with an organic whisky!!

Highland Harvest - Organic blended whisky - 40% vol - 70cl
Johnnie Walker Red Label - 40 % vol - 70cl

Nose A: Toffee apples, slightly buttery and with a hint of spirit. Some mild spiced notes come through with white pepper and a hint of aniseed. All quite pleasant and civilised.

Nose B: Slightly more spirity with more cereal and a touch of peat. More earthy and humble than nose A.

Palate A: Quite thin on the initial hit, but leading into a nice ginger tang, with notes of coffee and green beans and salted potato crisps. Not much by way of mouth feel, but fairly uncomplicated at the same time.

Palate B: Definite traces of grain and some sweeter, nutty notes- plenty of toffee flavour, which is a little off-putting, leading into desiccated coconut.

Finish A: Dry, with more of the white pepper coming back, balancing the ginger, which is slightly bitter.

Finish B: Cloying, with a meatiness anda more cereal/vegetative feel.

Overall: Ok, my impressions were that both were very reasonable whiskies, not hugely characterful, but drinkable with pleasant elements. Glass A was my favourite, with a smoother and slightly more enjoyable palate.

Next up: Could the Benromach make its organic presence known above a worthy competitor - Glenfiddich's 15 year old.

Benromach Organic - 43% vol - 70cl
Glenfiddich 15 year old - 40% vol - 70cl

Nose A: Earthy, with some very sweet fruit aromas, (flambe'd bananas) coming through and lots of rich malt & toffee notes.

Nose B: Honey, some pronounced spiced notes and more bananas again, with a waft of dark musty casks.

Palate A: Fresh fruit, (green apples) with a vanilla'y, spiced flavour developing on the tongue, some hints dried vine fruits thrown in for good measure.

Palate B: More malt on this palate, then leading into a honeyed sweetness and more dried fruits. Both have quite similar characteristics!!

Finish A: A good length, leading into some sweeter toffee elements.

Finish B: Slightly drier and more oaked, but with hints of golden syrup on the death.

Overall: Very tricky this one...! both drams were superbly drinkable and offered lots of lovely fruit, toffee and spice. I'm plumping for glass B this time as my favourite.

Results time: did any of the whiskies jump out as being 'organic'? Well no, not really. But i'm not sure what to expect- there were fresh and fruity aspects to all of them, but nothing that screamed organic.

In round one- my favourite, glass A was revealed as.... The organic Highland Harvest!!

in Round two.... The Glenfiddich turned out to be glass B!

So there you have it- there is nothing particularly unusual about organic whiskies, they happen to taste like damn good drams- and, on a different day, the Benromach might have triumphed as well. With my testing inconclusive, I decide to make a sandwich for lunch - ham with 'organic' tomato.... AGGGHHH!!!