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Thursday 4 December 2014

Guest Post: The Science of Drinking and Shopping this Christmas by Tim Ridley

Hello festive friends. This week, our good friend Tim Ridley (no relation) has penned this superbly constructed discussion on the science of flavour and the psychology of choosing the right thing to buy this Christmas. Tim has made considerable waves in the artisanal coffee world is a founder of Department of Coffee and Social Affairs.  If you have yet to explore the world of coffee like you have your spirits,  Tim is your sherpa through the world of beans, blends and single estates.  


As the festive season arrives we’re preparing to eat, drink and be merry. Regular readers of Caskstrength quite possibly pride themselves on choosing their whiskies on the basis of ‘quality’. While this is potentially true, I doubt it. I think something else is driving our decision-making. Here’s why - as well as my ideas to help you be merry this Christmas.

Before presenting some attributes that I think are now shaping our beverages choices, I want to start by dissuading you from the notion that quality is the driving factor in your drinks decision-making. It’s become so commonplace to say that it’s the sole criterion, it’s now offensive or a risk to one’s reputation to voice otherwise. I can already hear the sound of sharpening knives from people who are going to question my commitment to quality! Read on before you judge...

So let me start with this challenge. If you benefit from exquisitely developed whisky taste (buds), the quality criterion forces you to apply the same stringent criteria to other spirits, for example, tequila shots or Irish cream. Or other beverages, such as tea and coffee. And what about food? How was that lamb kebab you enjoyed on the way home at the weekend? Or that High Street sandwich you had for lunch? The reality is that even the best tasters I know don’t apply their skill set far beyond their area of expertise. I’ve eaten greasy chicken wings with winners after spirits awards ceremonies, know brilliant sommeliers who drink instant coffee, baristas who drink builders tea, and chefs that heat ready meals at home.

Some of you will be prickling already. But calm done laddie, there’s no criticism here, it’s just an observation. However, it seems to me that we actually understand these choices to be inconsistent if we pay creed to the idea of ‘quality’ being the driving criterion, so we sweep the crumbs of our takeout dinners under the mat or worse, us foodie types go out of our way to be outright condescending of mass-market food and drink. Furthermore, all the tasters I know have at least one unrefined food or drink indulgence. Mine is Pringles. Buy me a can, I’m yours.

Moving on, I also need to unpick the notion that people buy the best that they can afford. To do this, I’m going to cantankerously propose that judging beverage quality is actually quite easy. High quality beverages are those that are deemed to have 1) many distinct and clearly identifiable flavours, 2) those flavours have plenty of reach, life or depth and, 3) the flavours and tastes - salty, sweet, acidic, bitter and umami - have ‘balance’. Accepting that the contentious bit is the consistent assessment of these attributes, I’m just going to move on and point out that these attributes have traditionally been the basis of pricing. And here we introduce the concept of ‘value’. It works out nicely that good ingredients (which are costly), made carefully (by skilled people, who are expensive) and left to mature (time is money) typically benefit from the above flavour attributes and command a corresponding price point. This has become so ingrained that even uneducated consumers accept the logic. Just say something like ‘quality ingredients’, ‘skilled craftsmen’ or ‘maturation’ and people nod their heads with an appreciation of the price. Of course, quality and price don’t always match, and where there’s a gap, we blame marketing.

Now many of you have sufficiently good enough palates to taste through marketing. If you can do this (and I’ve kinda made the assumption that most Caskstrength readers can), I’m primarily talking about consumers like you. I’ve got no market data to support my idea but I’m inclined to think that we’re probably not the largest market segment, nor are we probably the highest spending, but my observation is that there are a significant, informed and quickly growing number of us and if you’re like my friends you’re rather vocal about your opinions. Caught between super-premium luxury products and commodity grade, we’re the ‘squeezed middle’ of beverage Britain. I also think that we’re a really interesting demographic because we’re the early and middle stage adopters and our opinions end up shaping the trends that go into the mass market. If you know what I am talking about, then you’ll also know that buying the best you can afford is a desperately disappointing experience. In short, you’re too well informed about what’s out there to be satisfied with the thing that is a pale comparison of the original or the best.

So if quality, price and marketing are not driving our decision-making, what is?

Before I take a stab at answering this, I’m going to shift to a beverage that I know more about: coffee. While I largely select coffees on the basis of the breadth and vitally of the flavours, you might be interested to know that ageing provides no benefit to coffee; in fact, it’s a flavour killer. Once coffee is harvested and processed, everything is in decline. This is true for pretty much every aspect of a coffee post-pick. Few coffees last well more than 12 months; all last just a few days after roasting (or around 16 days for espresso); and just seconds after grinding (despite what those hawkers of ground coffee might tell you). This is depressing news for the coffee professional as well as the enthusiast. I’ve long been jealous of (and inconvenienced by) my spirits friends who crack open a good bottle and fill my glass. It has been necessary to reciprocate their generosity by demonstrating the intricate coffee- making process at a location where I have sufficient equipment to precisely weigh the coffee, measure the water temperature, filter the water and time the extraction. Making coffee is delicate and hard work (oh, and this is all for a cup of coffee that retails between £2.50 - £3.00 compared to pouring a dram at £8 plus. Well done whisky, you have the margins and the ease of service sorted. Coffee has a lot to learn, but that’s another story).

Having had the privilege of walking a number of incredible people in the spirits industry through the coffee-making process, my observation is that they’re all bored to tears - until they actually get to drink some coffee. At this point, I have their full attention. The strange thing is that despite having some of the best tasting palates in the world, they can’t definitively say that the coffee is good as it’s typically outside of their reference points (this ties in with my point above about the transferability of tasting skills). However, so far, they’ve universally been won over and I want you to understand that while initially they can’t judge it accurately, they’re sold because the beverage gives them a sense of ‘it’s just right’ or ‘something interesting is going on here’. And this is where I introduce my concept of ’pleasure’. A google search defines pleasure as ‘a feeling of happy satisfaction and enjoyment’.

To further test my theory and demonstrate my point, I presented the awarded and qualified owners of this site with a modification of the Desert Island Disc conundrum: ‘Which single whisky would you take to a solitary existence on a desert island, of course, along with your eight music tracks, the Bible and the complete works of Shakespeare?’
Interestingly, both responded with a shortlist of two and they both had a whisky in common. Neil Ridley (for the sake of clarity, no direct relation of mine) chose a Lagavulin 16 or White Horse blended whisky and Joel Harrison also selected Lagavulin 16 or Balvenie Double Wood. These are whiskies you can pick up at a good bottle shop. If I could only have one coffee for the rest of my life it’d probably be
a high-grade Kenya or high-altitude Colombian coffee. Neither are cheap, but similarly they’re regularly available and far from luxury products.
Now, truth be told, I could have used pretty much anyone with a half-decent palate for the above two examples. I just wanted to bolster the credibility of my argument by referencing your captains of industry and the Caskstrength crew.
My thesis is that despite all the talk amongst us foodie types about quality and how it is achieved, we are more fundamentally hardwired to pursue and choose ‘pleasure’. My theory is that people don’t move from mass-market to quality, they move from commodity and brand, with the help of knowledge, to hedonism. If this is the case, how can we have a clear framework for judging a beverage’s quality, but not its pleasure-inducing attributes.


So, here’s my starting point for developing a framework for what makes beverages pleasurable, and therefore what we should be buying this Christmas to be happy:

They are made for you
I can make better coffee than most, but my favourite coffee of the day is usually the one made for me. The same goes for food and is part of the reason why restaurant dining can be so enjoyable. There is a difficult to define but easy to recognise ‘generosity of spirit’ that has to be at the heart of good hospitality and food and drink, whether that’s in a commercial establishment or at home. Creators of beverages need to make them for others to enjoy, not just for themselves or at the dictates of their production line. If you’re in doubt, go talk to the producer and hear their motivations. Also, you can show generosity of spirit and lift someone else’s enjoyment by serving them a beverage.

A shared experience
Drinking should be a social experience. I like to point out that pretty much all beverages are historically made in volumes to serve a group of people. A one glass wine cask? A Chinese tea ceremony for one? It sounds wrong, and for good reason. Drinks should bring people together. I think that you should choose drinks that the entire table can enjoy.

A true and simple story
Of course, most simple stories are not true, but the point is we need straightforward narratives to be able to grapple with unfamiliar things. The details of the coffee-making process are too intricate for even inquisitive beverage professionals from other sectors. So, I’ve learnt to serve first, pique interest and then explain. I’m still looking for a simple, but true, story on coffee-making.

There are way markers
There is a trend in art galleries for less information to be provided about the artworks because the idea is that people should be free to experience whatever the art speaks to them. I’m all for this, but many of us lack the vocabulary and framework to explain - and therefore meaningfully share or understand - our experience. If you’ve ever felt lost standing in front of a painting, then apply this feeling to how many consumers feel about beverages. We need to provide the right level of information, background, context whilst retaining sufficient room for individual discovery and personal preference.

It’s difficult, but not too difficult
I’m sure you all know the story about Betty Crocker’s failed introduction of instant cake mix and subsequent success once the formula and marketing was amended to require “women” (sorry, their story not mine) add an egg to the box mix before baking the cake. Adding effort is rewarding. We need to find ways to get involved. Start with something basic like serving your drinks at the right temperature.

Knowing when to serve clarity, comfort or complexity
I have an idea that people default to one of three camps when tasting for pleasure. Some people like clarity, which I define as a clear expression of flavours, ideally showing a correlation between production and palate. Some people default for beverages that provide a sense of reassurance and comfort. And some people lean towards drinks that emotionally energise and excite them. I can think of malts in each of these categories. A slightly more nuanced approach is to say that it depends on the occasion, but my experience suggests people have deep-seated defaults. I generally prefer complexity and clarity. I ideally want to be inspired by what I drink and if it’s less than inspirational I at lease want to be drinking a clear expression of the style. Know yourself, know the room and serve accordingly.

It’s of quality
I’m not trying to reduce the importance of quality, rather I’m saying that it’s not enough and nor is it the sole driving factor in the selection of beverages for an important and growing section of the population. Not everything I enjoy is technically brilliant, and neither is everything that scores high points enjoyable for me. I can already hear a debate about whether Scotch or Japanese whiskies are more enjoyable.

Is good for you
I have all sorts of ideas about various forms of production, the use of pesticides and chemicals and how beverages are stored. This is not the place to impose my ideals, but it is fair to point out that food and drink should nurture, not damage, our bodies. Do your own research, get your own ideas and choose things that your body responds well to.

Think that it’s expensive
You’ve probably seen Benjamin Wallace’s TED talk on super-premium items and how our bodies actually register greater pleasure from items we believe to be expensive. It’s yet more evidence of just how fickle we are as a species, but it’s good news if you turn the logic on its head. Just thinking it’s good can lift your enjoyment. You could even do the Christmas dining table a service by giving them the impression that the beverages are more expensive than they really are. Just be wary of using the ‘was’ price at the wine merchant or supermarket as your reference point over the festive season.

The retention of context
This is tricky in a globalised world both because of the variety of what’s available and we are quickly losing our reference points for traditional and seasonal pairings. Living in London, I drink coffee from the Americas, wine from France, tea from Japan and whisky from Scotland on a regular basis. However, something magic happens when food and drink that evolved together are paired together. That said, I’m not against fusion, but throwing things together - no matter how good they individually are - never works.

With a framework in development, we now need a formula to help us rank and choose the most pleasure-inducing drinks. I propose:

P = Pleasure. Scores between 1 and 100 are possible. You should aim to be higher than 5 and things get really interesting over 10.
Calculate P by giving values to:
Ip = Individual pleasure. Estimate the pleasure you’d get from a particular drink, using the above framework on a scale of 0 to 10. (e.g. a bit below average is a 4 and above average is a 7)
Gp = Group pleasure estimate. Estimate the pleasure the group would get from a particular drink, using the above framework on a scale of 0 to 10. (e.g. above average is a 7 and below average is a 4)
Pr = Rank the beverage’s price on a scale of 0 - 10, where 0 is free and 10 is expensive* (e.g. an average price is 5 and slightly expensive is 7)
* Obviously, free drinks are off the scale! 

Using the examples:

So, you’re better to buy a drink that the group moderately enjoys that you don’t like so much at a middling pricing than buy something you really like that the group doesn’t like (unless it’s cheaper).
But if this theory is any good, then you already knew that right? And that’s my point, there’s definitely something going on here - and we all know it. May you have a very Merry Christmas. 

Monday 1 December 2014

The Ultimate Christmas Spirit - Part 1

Apologies for the lengthy absence. Both of us have been travelling extensively, all in the name of Spirits Exploration and we have come out the other side, blinking in the December sunlight, filled with knowledge from the world of fine, well crafted spirits. 

As it’s the first of the month (assume you all have your Master Of Malt Advent calendars… if not, get cracking and play catch up!) we’ve decided to take a leisurely look at the spirits you should be drinking this Christmas. 

We start off with a definitive winter warmer; something to ease you into the month helping banish any chills you may be experiencing and set up your palate firmly for the numerous log-fired, lazy family filled holiday dates that are coming later this month. 

The spirit in question is a whisky. It’s name is Glendronach and for those in-the-know, it’s a distillery that in recent years has begun to excel at producing hugely powerful-yet complex sherry cask monsters - but for a fraction of the price of a 'Marque' brand like Macallan. This particular bottling was selected by our friend David Margulies, owner of the Grapevine retail website and it’s an absolute cracker…

GlenDronach – 1994 Vintage – Pedro Ximinez Sherry Puncheon – 52.1% - Cask No: 279 (£80)

Nose: An initial hit of rich caramel toffee, some woody spice and then a syrupy fig/raisin laden fruit cake. The spices are amplified with a little water and the sherry notes become slightly sweeter – more like bonfire toffee, with a Manuka honey topping. 

Palate: Much like the nose, the dried fruit, spice and drying oak come through on the first wave, with a very sticky, unctuous mouthfeel.  With water, the sherry becomes more dominant and the spice a little more pronounced, but for us, this is absolutely superb straight, at its full 52.1%.

Finish: Lingering notes of toffee, oaky spice and raisins.

Overall: A stellar sherry cask choice, highlighting that for the money, there’s plenty more options out there than just diving in with the big bucks for a massively well known brand costing twice the price.  

Friday 7 November 2014

Salud! TequilaFEST Is Coming To London - Win Tickets!

Wow, what a month for spirits November is turning out to be...

This week has seen us already attend the launch of a brand new gin from French masters G'Vine, (more on this next week) as well as the expansion of Sipsmith, one of London's finest craft gin distillers.  

In addition we had our whisky hats on for the launch of Diageo's Special Releases (which you can read about here) and Neil was in action on the BBC's International News programme, discussing the state of world whisky making today. You can watch the broadcast below if you haven't already seen it. 

Neil Discussing World Whisky On BBC World News from Caskstrength Creative on Vimeo.

We're also especially pleased to announce that later this month we're partnering with the organisers of TequilaFEST for what is the UK's very first expo of Mexican spirits. TequilaFEST will be running over two days on the 22nd and 23rd of November at the Grange Tower Bridge Hotel in London and promises to be a great way to explore the changing face of Tequila, as well as lean more about the rustic brilliance of Tequila's brother-in-arms, mezcal.  

For both of us, Tequila and mezcal have been flying high on our spirits radars over the past year and feature heavily in our new book, Distilled, which has plenty of suggestions for great expressions to try, alongside interviews with a number of highly passionate spirits producers. Tequila and mezcal are truly vibrant spirits and TequilaFEST will be a unique opportunity for anyone passionate about spirits to begin to understand their different personalities and try some exceptional examples of both. 

Alongside the line up of leading brands, food pairings and cocktails there will be seminars and masterclasses on both spirits and we'll be hosting a discussion each day with renowned bartenders and brand ambassadors on the main differences of Tequila and mezcal, so keep an eye out for more details on the complete programme, by clicking here: 

But that's not all! We're giving away three pairs of tickets to the event.  

All you need to do is simply send us a Tweet to @weheartwhisky with the hashtag #tequilafest and we'll enter you into a prize draw to win a pair. The competition will close at 8pm UK time on Wednesday 19th November and we'll be notifying the winners shortly afterwards. If you haven't got a Twitter account, you can simply email us your details (name, age and location, plus contact details) to

Usual rules apply: Only enter if you're over 18 and can definitely attend on the 22nd and (or) the 23rd November. Also, UK residents only please. You'll need to make your own way to the event too...

For more info about TequilaFEST, visit the website and hope to see you there!

Follow TequilaFEST on Twitter:  @tequilafestuk On Facebook On Instagram: TFUK2014

Friday 31 October 2014

The Ardmore Legacy: A (slight) Return of the Unsung Smoky Hero


Everyone loves an underdog, don't they. Be it the minnows in the World Cup, or the most unlikely victors (recently Leicester City, known as the Foxes, beat the once mighty Manchester United 5-3, after coming from 3-1 behind) there's something to truly celebrate when a small time player comes from nowhere and trounces the competition.

Now, without patronising a clearly great distillery, The Ardmore, one of only a handful of malt distilleries on the mainland of Scotland to use peated barley in its production, never seems to be on anyone's radar when discussing the best smoky whiskies on the market.

Think Smoke - Think Laphroaig/Ardbeg/Caol Ila/Lagavulin/Bowmore etc and you begin to see a very clear picture of just how Islay has a major stranglehold on the world of peated Scotch whisky (not forgetting Skye's Talisker of course)

All this is fine and whisky makers, marketeers and everyone connected with promoting whisky likes to play on the obvious relevance of 'terroir' when it comes to peated whiskies.  The harsh island climates, the lonely peat bogs - in essence -  it's all encoded deep into the DNA of every Islay/Island whisky story.

But in all the swirls of mist, bottomless black lochs and 110 year-old peat cutters, we seem to have forgotten that great peated whisky can pretty much be made anywhere - not even just in Scotland- look at the mighty Hakushu in Japan and Connemara in Ireland for a global picture. 

Ardmore is one such distillery who has been making a whisky unlike any of their Highland neighbour’s wares. Ardmore Traditional Cask has long been on our list of undiscovered gems and a whisky that we often use to highlight the breadth of flavour when considering a 'peaty' whisky. It very much has its own style and as a result, counterpoints some of the more medicinal beasts from Islay.  

Recently, Ardmore Traditional Cask has been retired, in favour of a brand new whisky, The Ardmore Legacy, taking its place as the Highland challenger to the Islay-dominated smoky crown. 

Legacy continues on a fairly lightly peated trajectory, but don't let this put you off, if you are a fan of the bolder stuff. There's something unique about this whisky that allows it to sit comfortably next to its more medicinal Island brothers, highlighting a whole different world within the concept of peat.  What's more, it sits nicely at under £30 here in the UK....

The Ardmore -  Legacy -  40%

Nose: Fresh pine wood shavings, a hint of coal tar soap, some dry coal dust embers and then something altogether more floral: a sweet, incense note, candifloss and freshly laundered cotton sheets. It's fresh, youthful, but still full of complimentary aromas.  

Palate: A touch of dry oak, some creamy toffee, before the smoke delivers a fresh, almost fruity flavour -  think slightly smoked/charred citrus fruit and you're on the right way. There's a good helping of something a little dryer too, with a woody/bonfire note developing, but any overly dry notes are kept nicely in check here. Given time, some more floral, lavender notes develop, with a milky coffee note. Very well balanced indeed.

Finish: The slightly smoky/creamy coffee notes linger, with a hint of lemon zest returning as your palate dries.

Overall: A cracking introduction to peat if you are new to whisky, but with enough complexity going on to still put a smile on any peat head's face too. At under £30, it also represents a departure to where other whisky companies seem to be heading at the moment, so much so that we'd consider this a cabinet essential. 

Thursday 16 October 2014

The Sound Of Aberlour (or 'Aberlou(de)r')

Hey hey!  Both Joel and I find ourselves at an unusual point this month. Our new book, Distilled is finally out and we're really delighted with the reaction so far. It's been a hugely rewarding ride into the world of spirits and we look forward to many more years to come, writing about and enjoying great spirits in the company of great friends.  

Last week, we had a slight return to our roots back in the music business, albeit as part of a fun and engaging tasting masterclass for The Whisky Show. In fact, it was a superb opportunity to reminisce about 'the old days' of making records and generally revisit what was a fun chapter in our lives. 

Together with an old friend of ours, record producer Danton Supple, the man who produced Coldplay's X&Y album, as well as working with a host of highly successful artists from around the globe including Amy MacDonald and Natalie Imbruglia, we devised an experience for 30 passionate whisky and music fans, who were in attendance at the Whisky Show. For all three of us, there is an undeniable link between whisky and music. It has been said that whisky and rock ‘n roll are the ultimate bedfellows and that the creative energy flowing through many of the greatest and most enduring classic blues and Rock ‘n Roll songs can be attributed to the ‘spirit of the spirit’. From the raw emotion laid bare in Robert Johnson’s seminal recordings of the late 1930s, through to the hedonistic, hell-raising antics of Led Zeppelin and beyond, whisky, of some kind, seeps with abundance from virtually every pore.  

But not only is there a creative link. There are also parallels between the production of classic whiskies and the creation of classic albums and our tasting sought to highlight a number of these similarities. 

We chose the classic Speyside malt, Aberlour as a perfect example of a liquid laid bare, ideal for pairing with music. The concept was to find five unusual expressions of Aberlour, each with its very own personality to match with five similarly characterful pieces of music. Working alongside Danton,  we rattled through our combined record collections with each whisky in tow, until we felt confident that we had mirrored the individual nuances of the liquid. No easy feat, as it turned out, given that music - and tasting notes are so damned subjective. But our collective thinking was that certain styles of whisky have very distinct character traits and it was these that we hoped to highlight with each piece of music.  

Are you still with us?  - honestly, it will become clearer, we promise!

Assembling a fairly high-end stereo in the huge arched tasting rooms down in Vinopolis, the location of The Whisky Show, we laid out our plans -  and the whiskies. Had we succeeded in capturing the essence of each liquid in song form?  

First up was a real cracker: a 16 year-old single cask Aberlour matured in a wonderfully rich sherry cask, only available at the distillery and bottled at 59.1%. In fact, if you pay the distillery a visit, this is one of a pair of releases that you can bottle yourself, so a very special whisky indeed.  As a prime example of a characterful Speyside spirit filled into a clearly very active sherry cask, this whisky is powerful and brooding- rich in body and complexity. It has a mighty spiciness, which develops alongside a highly resonant fruitiness.  To us, a single cask whisky is about as near to completely immersing yourself in the spirit as possible and our idea was to pair this with a stark acoustic recording: something where you hear a song -  and the vocal - in its rawest form, with every nuance of the performance on show. After much discussion, there was only one artist who could truly take on such a mighty whisky and that was 'The Man In Black' himself, the late Johnny Cash.  

The song we chose was The Man Comes Around, taken from his beautifully recorded American IV album, released in 2002. Here, Cash's voice is arguably at its finest: As resonant and cavernous as a 300ft sinkhole, yet still in possession of a rich, spicy character. A voice that has truly lived, if you like. For us, this simple, honest recording was the perfect backdrop to the Aberlour sherry cask. We hit play and stood back.  

With our palates still tingling from such a complex whisky, our next pairing was almost the antithesis of both sherry cask maturation and the fearsome pipes of Johnny Cash. As mentioned above, there is a pair of single casks available at the Aberlour distillery and we were lucky enough to get a bottle of the sister to the brooding sherry bomb: A wonderfully light, zesty, fruity and buttery first-fill Bourbon Cask 16 Year Old Aberlour, bottled at 54.5%. Here, we wanted to try and demonstrate the contrasting lightness against the shade of the sherry release - the ethereal, soft, sweet vanilla/ tropical fruit notes of a first fill bourbon cask.  

This initially proved to be a little tricky. We were convinced that a simple, beautiful acoustic track sung by a timeless female vocalist was the way to go, but finding something uplifting and confident, yet syrupy smooth caused a few disagreements. In the end, after several reaffirming drams at Danton's studio in Shoreditch, we hit on the perfect match: Carole King and her timeless piano led classic, You've Got A Friend from the 1971 masterpiece, Tapestry. The warm, analogue notes of this recording really helped to counterpoint the unctuous notes of the whisky. So far, so good!

The third pairing was perhaps the most interesting to explore and gave Danton a chance to demonstrate just why he is one of the most in demand record producers in the world. Our task was to find a way of articulating the perfect balance of cask types found in an Aberlour 17 year old Double Cask release, bottled exclusively for the French market at 43%.  As we have previously seen, both first fill sherry and bourbon cask styles have very different flavour profiles and too much of either one can change the balance of light and shade- potentially in the wrong direction.  

It was here that Danton likened the practice of mixing a song to that of the whisky maker obtaining that perfect balance of flavours in a finished recipe and to highlight this, he bought along something you simply wouldn't get to hear every day: The multitrack recordings of one of Coldplay's biggest hits, Fix You. Using his laptop to highlight individual tracks he began with the song's simple organ part and stark vocal, building to a crescendo of instruments and emotions. Too much of one aspect (the organ and bass parts) gave the track a darker feel. Too much lead vocal and guitar, coupled with vocal harmony parts produced a mix that was sweeter and lighter, but lacked the solidity and foundations of the finished, balanced recording. In tandem, the 17 year old Aberlour hit that sweet spot of rich, darker notes, whilst building to a wonderfully balanced, sweet fruitiness. 

For the forth pairing, we wanted to really push the boat out and thanks to the almost archive-like inventory of the Whisky Exchange, we managed to locate a dusty bottle of Aberlour/Glenlivet 8 Year Old, bottled in the middle of the 1960's.  This time capsule of a whisky was unlike any modern whiskies on the palate and made us wonder about the difference of production methods back then. Today's whisky business centres on practices that deliver consistency, with a greater understanding of wood management and maturation, so you can pretty much guarantee that the bottle you open today will taste pretty similar to the one you open in a decade.  However, back in the 1960's things were a little different. Aberlour Ambassador Phil Huckle gave us some background on the distillery at the time, pointing to the idiosyncrasies that might affect the differing flavour profiles of a whisky, such as coal fired stills and less of a scientific approach to understanding the maturation process.   

For these reasons, we wanted to find a classic track made roughly around the same era, which despite the limitations of technology at the time, is arguably regarded as a groundbreaking piece of music. We didn't have to think too hard about this -  Pink Floyd's Breathe from their seminal Dark Side Of The Moon.  

With the room feeling particularly chilled out and no doubt drifting off into a dreamy whisky/progrock-induced haze, it was time to bring things back to life. Our final pairing was the most lively of all, a given, when you consider the whisky we decided to finish on. Aberlour A'Bunadh is arguably the distillery's most well known and highly regarded expression and has developed an almost cult following since it was first released in 1997. For us, this is the most extreme style of Aberlour (batch 48 is bottled at 59.7%) and our pairing needed to reflect this. In fact, it made us think of the concept of seeing your favourite band play live: You know the songs, but everything is so much more lively, loud, driven and direct. All in all, everything is turned up to 11, with everyone on stage delivering a visceral and incendiary performance. There was no disagreement as to which track would perfectly articulate this: Can't Explain from The Who's incredible 'Live At Leeds' album, rated by many music critics as the best live album of all time. The recording is brutally honest, leaving Townshend, Entwistle, Moon and Daltery no room to hide, each one at the top of their game and performing out of their skins. It's the sound of a band so accomplished, they can strip open the songs at ease and allow the listener to understand what each instrument really adds. 

Aberlour A'Bunadh has the same simplistic and powerful heart, but there are also layers of complexity amongst all the extremes. It's a whisky that transports you right back to the beginnings of the distillery with each passing sip (for those who don't know, it was a recreation of a very old bottle front he late 1800's that was found at the distillery)- much in the same way that listening to 'Live At Leeds' gives even those listening today that feeling of "I Was There'. 

What a way to finish. For those of you who would like to try and recreate the same experience at home, we've created a 'Sound Of Aberlour' Spotify playlist which you can listen to here.  

The Sound Of Aberlour

But why not try creating your own pairings? Of course, each listener and drinker has a deeply personal relationship with their music and whisky; this was ours and we're willing to bet that given half the chance, you can find your own perfect Sound Of Aberlour.