When stripped back to basis – all whiskey is made the same way.
A vegetable grain is processed to allow the starch within to be converted into sugar.
The sugar is eaten by a yeast to produce a mild alcoholic liquid.
The liquid is distilled – ending up as new make spirit.
The spirit is aged in wooden barrels.
The wooden barrels are emptied, filled into bottles and labelled.
It’s now whiskey!
Each step in the process – from the choice & quality of grain used – to the length of time & type of wooden barrels used for maturation – ultimately alters & influences the resultant flavour.
Yet it’s all whiskey.
Different countries have different rules governing the whole production methods used. What can be done in one country may not be allowed in another.
Yet it’s all whiskey.
A distillery can make new spirit in one country – mature it in another – ship it out to a third for final blending – perhaps bottle it in a fourth – and sell it in a fifth.
Yet it’s all whiskey.
Whether it is labelled Bourbon, Rye, Single Pot Still, Blended, French, German, Chinese, Irish – by the distillery itself – the blenders – the bottlers – the third party brand makers.
It is all whiskey.
I drink whiskey.
I enjoy exploring the huge variety of styles, flavours and experiences brought about by the myriad of options available both within one country – as well as the countless choices around the world where whiskey is produced.
I enjoy the never ending innovation, experimentation and technical adaptation that constantly evolves what we know of as whiskey.
Roll out the barrels – of whiskey!
All distilleries featured & whiskeys photographed have been visited, sampled & written about previously on this site.
But living in the global village – I reach out for the biggest selling brand of whisky in the world.
Which I failed to get hold of.
So I give you the world’s 2nd biggest selling whisky in the world.
McDowell’s No 1 Reserve Whisky.
Selling an astronomical 25.5 million 9 litre cases 2016.
Johnnie Walker – the top selling Scotch – comes in at 17.4 million cases.
Jack Daniels – the top selling Bourbon – at 12.4 million.
Whilst Jameson – the top selling Irish – comes in at 6.2 million.
7 of the top 10 biggest sellers in the world are Indian whiskies.
Which considering they aren’t exactly household names in Europe is rather surprising. Especially when for the most part there are very familiar companies behind these brands.
So what does McDowell’s No 1 taste like?
To begin with the nose is rather soft & sweet grainy. None of that over powering added caramel hit I’ve experienced with other mass market blends.
In the mouth it’s also rather easy drinking. No strong flavours or notes. Just a gentle soft heat mixed in with a pleasant graininess & a slight chemically industrial note which doesn’t overwhelm the experience.
What flavour there is fades fast – but the warmth stays for a while.
I’ve had a few whiskies of this style from around the world.
Scotch is imported in bulk, blended with locally produced distillate made from easily available home grown grain/rice/molasses – which are all legally permitted in the country of origin – to make the final product, which is generally only sold in the country of manufacture.
McDowell’s No 1 stands out as one of the finest of these.
A friend kindly brought it back from Nigeria for me. Africa is a market Indian Whisky is expanding into. Which has led to action from the Scottish Whisky Association (SWA) which you can read about here.
Maybe I’m missing something though.
Isn’t Diageo a member of the SWA?
And a certain Scottish gentleman by the name of Mr Angus McDowell founded a company in India back in 1898 to service the needs of ex-pats stationed there?
The very company Diageo is now the majority share holder of?
There are a number of factors mitigating against holding a Burn’s Night in the heart of Ireland.
One of them is the difficulty in finding a haggis for sale in Westmeath!
Thankfully I brought some of the prize pudding back with me from a recent Scottish trip – along with some whisky I had in mind – which is my cue for a song!
So January 25th found me in Sean’s Bar – the oldest bar in Ireland – hosting an Irish versus Scotch blind whiskey tasting.
I’d decided to go blind – the whiskey that is, not me – wrapping the bottles in tinfoil to disguise the brands – so there would be no bias in the results. The nose & taste of the spirit would be the crucial factor.
I roughly paired the whiskeys into 4 categories.
‘a’ being grains,
‘b’ obviously blends,
‘c’ single malts &
‘d’ being undefined – which will become clearer later. I tried as far as possible to get pairs of equal cost, style, flavour & profile – with only 50% success. The idea was to get a winner for each pair – then a ‘best of’ for the evening – having some fun along the way.
Votes were cast at the end of the tasting round to get the 4 individual winners – as well as the overall winner – before any of the whiskeys were revealed to some surprised faces.
The first winner of the evening was Egan’s Vintage Grain.
I’ve featured this single grain previously in a blog here. For a grain whiskey Egan’s delivers some punch both in flavour & style which didn’t go unnoticed by the audience. Most of them assumed it was a Scotch. 1st surprise of the evening.
I’d cheekily paired this with McDowell’s No 1 – the 2nd biggest selling brand of whisky in the world. This is actually a blend of Scotch, malt & neutral spirit – as it says on the label. Guinness Nigeria is also on the label – although McDowell’s is distilled in India by a company founded back in 1898 by a Scotsman unsurprisingly named McDowell.
Some 90% of all whiskey sold throughout the world is blended. So category ‘b’ is the real battle ground. The winner of the evening?
Well – being held in Sean’s Bar what else would you expect? But remember – this was a blind taste test and not all the participants had tried either of the entrants before.
The other bottle was named after an Irishman. Ernest Shackleton was born in Co Kildare in 1874 and went on to became a famous Antarctic Explorer. This blend I found a rather weak representation of a whisky he took to those frozen lands in the early 1900’s. My audience seemed to agree.
The single malts also had a clear winner. It gives me great pleasure to announce the wonders of this whiskey.
I’d paired this with the Dalmore Valour which delivers quite a nice rich, dry port & sherry finish to the palate. It’s youthfulness probably let it down when compared to the depth of flavour of the Irish 26yo. On a price front however – they are comparable.
The last category contained spirit which is not currently available in both countries. Ireland has it’s single pot still whiskey made with a mash of malted and unmalted barley. While Scotland has just released it’s 1st rye for over 200 years. The winning margin in this case wasn’t as wide as previous categories – but a winner there was.
The cleaner, bolder, more upfront spice hit of Arbikie Highland Rye gave Scotland it’s only winner of the evening. There were a few surprised faces during sampling on this one – and even more when it was revealed – but clearly rye is a style to be reckoned with – and I can’t wait for that 6 year old Kilbeggan rye to be released. Unfortunately Green Spot just didn’t hit the high notes in this round.
Of all the category winners – in fact of all the entrants – I’d asked for a favourite for the evening. The 67% majority vote took me a little by surprise.
What else can I say but congratulations to Aldi & all the team that were behind this amazing release.
The bottle was drained, the haggis was shared out, and the participant that turned out immaculately attired in a kilt was duly given a bottle of whisky by way of a prize.
I’d like to thank all those that attended. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and from comments on the evening, everyone else did too! Big thanks also to Sean’s Bar for hosting the event. By the sounds of it – we’ll be back for more!