Scotches and Watches

Despite it being over twelve years since I bought the first bottle after my whisky epiphany (there were many that came before), I remain quite scrupulous when it comes to buying whisky, and anything else come to think of it. Many a time my wife has pulled me up for including the value brand item in the shopping trolley and politely instructing me to replace it with the proper brand.

I don’t, and won’t, spend £250 on a bottle for example because higher cost doesn’t automatically increase quality or enjoyment. Will I get £200 of extra pleasure compared to a £50 bottle? Will the whisky be £200 better? No. Do distilleries want you to know that? No, why would they? Let’s face it, most bottles at this price level sit unopened on shelves anyway, at least until the point where Ikea’s finest creaks under the weight creating an orchestral-like ensemble that sings ‘time to send us to auction’. Again, if that’s your bag then fair enough, it’s your money, but it’s not for me (this isn’t going to be a holier than thou crusade by the way, to each their own).

As many of you know, ultimately I buy to drink. That’s not to call people out that don’t, it’s just my personal end goal. The most I’ve spent on a single bottle to do this? £120. Having grown up in the 90’s in a low-income household with two incredibly hard working parents, this would have been unthinkable until recently. Even so this was for a well regarded 40yr old but it still made me break out into a cold sweat when the order confirmation email arrived. Old habits die hard.

Notwithstanding my almost Scrooge-like abilities to get as much whisky as I can for the money, tuppence is tuppence after all, I do sometimes splurge on bottles with the above being one example. At the moment this is being driven by that ever increasing sense of FOMO. This is a phrase that I hadn’t heard until recently but is becoming increasingly used in the whisky scene and getting a lot of traction. I’ve found a lot of this has been caused by my more recent immersion within social media. Like being back at school when surrounded by your classmates in certain trainers, now I’m surrounded by whisky drinkers with certain whiskies. We are after all, children of our surroundings.

As I’m checking my social media more frequently at present, I’m noticing reels and reels of posts, on Instagram in particular, of high-end often unopened bottles of whisky. Sometimes they’re mysteriously in trees like some sort of glass squirrel or sat precariously on moss strewn rocks in flowing rivers, or in some cases, adorned with expensive, Swiss made watches strewn over their necks looking like drug/oil barons are having a casual game of quoits out on the front lawn. Is the latter some form of mating ritual? The whisky equivalent of the bird of paradise dance? If you want to tell the time do you need to carry the bottle of whisky round with you? Sounds inconvenient and in principle would a Casio calculator watch hung on a bottle of Grants have the same effect? Asking for a friend.

Some of these bottles will be owned, others will have been provided in exchange for the post acting as a sanctioned advertisement given the amount of followers the account owners have. Either way given the amount of screen time we as a society are currently taking in, it all adds up to the point of saturation and creates an almost constant level of access to the human eye.

I’m equally at fault in that I am occasionally sent samples to review. I don’t review them all and do it on my own timescale but I feel that I have a responsibility to make it clear when the sample has been provided free of charge and despite this it does not affect my opinion of it.

Distilleries are at it too, let’s not forget that and have been for a while albeit in a different sense. On shelves there is an endless onslaught of colourful tubes adorned with slogans such as ‘finest hand selected casks’, ‘using the clearest and purest water from *insert water source here*’ and others that only a mother of a PR employee can love. The amount of whiskies from varying distilleries that I’ve seen carry reference to ‘finest casks’ is bewildering. Maybe there’s some sort of secret timeshare on the nine finest casks in Scotland? Nobody truly ever knows where they are, in fact has anybody ever seen these casks in the same room together?

I’ve mentioned previously the Whisky Circus. I love every minute of being a a part of it but I may as well confess that again it has molded and massively influenced my spending habits, and not for the better.

I’m actively trying to rein in my own severe case of FOMO. Mainly this will be aided by the ‘new year, new me’ delusion I sell myself every year where I still find myself eating cheesecake at 8am but hey, I do it in my running gear – Regardless I will be actively spending less on whisky in 2021. I’m not going cold turkey as I need reviews for here and the channel but I will be thinking a bit more before I click ‘order’.

The main, overarching influence when I do click ‘add to basket’ is pretty simple. Value for money. This sounds a bit woolly and don’t get me wrong, it is. Value has an intrinsically different meaning for each of us. Personally for me as a drinker rather than specific collector, I break it down into a few simple categories;

  • Presentation, Natural colour? Strength? Filtration?
  • Price – Sounds obvious but I always have a budget. Is the spend warranted at the time?
  • Distillery – Have I tried multiple examples before, do I get on with the ‘house’ style? Are there any known flaws or inconsistencies?
  • Competition – Now, this one is key for me. For example when it comes to indie bottles, is there similar from a different bottler at a cheaper price? Why would I spend £75 for a 15yr old hogshead Deanston from one bottler when I can get a similar cask for £60 from another? Is the difference worth the £15 which could be used towards something else?
  • Desirability – Is this a bottle that will sell out fast? (FOMO anyone?)

Everybody’s budget and motivation will be different so the above is by no means exhaustive, but hopefully the above gives you a bit of insight into what’s going on when I’m browsing sites looking for the next bottle to review and enjoy. Others may be driven by resale value or putting it away for their children. I am finding though either way that we’re putting more and more pressure on ourselves to ‘keep up with the Jones”, and it’s not healthy.

Regardless of what you have read here, the end of 2020 is nigh and 2021 presents new hope and new challenges. There are vast numbers of people out there that are worse off than me that have had an equally bad, if not worse year and I’ll be remembering that before I next start to breeze through the express checkouts of whisky websites and asking myself, do I really need this?

Congratulations again if you made it all the way down here and I hope you and yours have a prosperous New Year.

Cheers,

Andy.

2020 Summary and Whisky of the Year

As 2020 draws to a close, I thought I’d record a summary of the year as well as plans for 2021. and, a first for me, my whisky of the year!

Whilst this year hasn’t been fantastic, it has allowed me yo make new friends, and in some ways, recharge. I’m aiming to carry renewed vigour and hope into 2021, not just for the blog but other areas as well.

If we don’t speak beforehand, I hope that you and yours have a fantastic and prosperous new year and I’ll certainly be going into the early hours with a dram in hand!

Andy

Four More Tiers.

This is why I didn’t start a written blog previously.

What you lot can’t see is that I’ve been sat here for 1 hour and 13 minutes watching the cursor flash on and off like the seemingly not-so-weatherproof outdoor LED Xmas lights on next door’s garage.

This blog is here not to replace my YouTube channel, but to work alongside it. If it was up to me, which come to think of it it is, I’d be sat there for hours at a time on the videos because for me, as with many others in the ever expanding whisky scene, whisky isn’t just a liquid, it’s a seemingly endless conversation. Cliche one out of the way but such is life. I also realise this will now likely be the 53,462nd whisky blog in existence at the moment. I want to try and do on here what I don’t or can’t on my channel, like music pairings (except you jazz), opinion pieces and food pairings. Also it will give me the opportunity to think about what I say a little bit more before it comes out of my mouth which isn’t something I tend to do in-front of the camera.

Right then, there are four numbers that will strike fear in to the heart of anyone that reads them; 2 0 2 0. Fear not, I’m not going to sit here and furiously type away as to how bad it has been through various prose and mediums. Unless you’ve been living in the sewers with four pizza eating, martial art practicing reptiles and a suspiciously well dressed rat, we all know that. What I didn’t know until now is how much whisky influences my life on a day to day basis.

I don’t work in the whisky or drinks industry. I work in an industry in which numbers, and the ability to assess risk are king. Like any job, it can be stressful and it can also be rewarding. Either way, whisky is a solid way to temporarily escape. I set up my first blog back in 2011 as the not particularly catchy ‘Affordable Whisky Reviews Blog’, the fact that’s almost a decade ago is frankly terrifying. This targeted bottles under £50 because at the time that’s what my budget allowed. Malt Box came into being as a YouTube channel in 2015 before I took a two year break in the middle because, to be honest, I fell out of love with whisky for a while. There, I said it. My job at the time was becoming increasingly stressful and I was drinking it for drinking’s sake, and woke up with a sore head on several school days. I still don’t think we talk enough about that in whisky. I tried to scrutinize, to taste, to envelop myself into the experience but ultimately it was just something I had a sizable amount of in the house, a commodity of convenience. I restarted the vlog in 2018 alongside a much more sensible approach to week-day consumption.

What I’ve found over the last nine months has solidified that calling to return. This year has made it abundantly clear as to how truly important whisky is to me. When I say whisky, I’m not just talking about the rows of glass bottles with their varying hues glistening under the spotlights in my basement like a disturbing urine sample cache in the lab of an NHS teaching hospital.

I’m also talking about people. People can be absolutely fantastic. Saying that they can also be absolutely not. I think I’ve seen plenty from both camps this year with many examples of civil and agreeable debate, down to outright name calling and the social media equivalent of pulling someone’s hair at break time when teacher isn’t looking.

I’m generally something of an extrovert. My wonderful wife isn’t which in a way is why I think we work so well together. To retain some form of extroverty sanity however (and you’ll discover the irony in that statement after the close bracket) I’ve become a serial Twitterist. I may not post too often but thanks to the various Social Media companies’ and their penchant for abusing human habits such as muscle memory, I find myself checking my Twitter feed on an alarming basis. On the plus side what that has led to is me taking in more content from fellow bloggers and distilleries than I ever have before.

One way that I’ve managed to do this is by being a fully fledged member of the Whisky Circus, if you know you know. If you don’t then congratulations, you’re probably not in danger of being sectioned any time soon. Sorren Krebs, ringmaster, fellow blogger and plough pulling deviant, has single-handedly organised what is probably some of the best content in the whiskyverse right now. Organised Zoom calls with distillers, reps, writers, historians and regular tavern nights mean that I’ve met and interacted with more people than I thought possible. There’s been exclusive bottles to boot. Would this have happened if it wasn’t for the current pandemic? Doubtful, but entirely possible and a testament to every cloud having a silver lining. I live in North West England, I know a bit about clouds.

There are so many out there putting out some fantastic content. Others I once respected and read/watched, not so much.

As I write this, I’m drinking a whisky from a distillery that’s close to my heart, the Arran 10yr Old. Those that know me may know why, but whilst I’ve reviewed the previous iteration on the channel, I’ve not given the newer bottling released in 2019 any air-time so far. This bottling carries a higher proportion of sherry casks than the previous release so the distillery did really change this from the ground up along with the branding. Which by the way I feel is one of the more successful re-brands of the last few years.

Arran 10yr Single Malt Scotch Whisky – 46% – NCF – Natural Colour

Image Courtesy of Oddbins

On the nose there’s lots of honey, black pepper, a touch of tropical fruit but where the previous iteration was like licking the Caribbean, this is a fleeting sniff of an under ripe mango at the greengrocer. Possibly some pistachio gelato in there too but is that a step to far? Do I care if it is? Probably not.

On the palate the mouthfeel is lovely, and you’re greeted with an initial warmth. There’s more of that honey up front but we’re talking solid honey. Then cinder toffee and good quality milk chocolate. A bit like if Waitrose did an own brand Crunchie, we don’t really get Waitrose around here.. maybe that comes as part of the Northern Powerhouse package eventually?

Heading in to the finish the sweetness continues but there’s a touch of warmth from that black pepper coming through from the nose and a delicious salinity too.

Overall this is a lovely dram and well worth the circa £38 RRP. Sure, it’s not the same as the older bottling that I also enjoyed, but it’s a great whisky in it’s own right and we can’t get too stuck in the past. If the current situation has taught us anything its to enjoy what we can now and to look ahead.

Score: Very Good

Fancy some tunes? My Malt Music for this dram comes from New Jersey based quintet Real Estate. The song; Paper Cup, comes from their latest album and brings those soft and flightly guitars alongside a bit of a surf rock vibe that they’ve become synonymous with:

Thanks to all of you who have weathered the storm to this part of the seemingly endless novel. Whilst articles may not always be particularly regular, they will come.

Andy.

Scoring Scale:

Holy Grail – Indiana Jones himself can only hope to find such a treasure.
Unbelievable – Among the best I’ve ever had. Must be tried at all costs.
Outstanding – One you should try to get hold of. Qualities in abundance.
Very Good – One to have on the shelf regularly. Provides consistent enjoyment.
Good
– I’d happily drink this. One to buy at the right price.
Solid
– No particular flaws but no wow factor either.
Fine
– There to take the edge off. Good for highballs and won’t need much thought.
Meh
– Somewhat flawed. More of a chore than a pleasure.
Oh Dear
– Consistent flaws. Gets you where you’re going at the speed you want to get there.
Please Make it Stop
– Not one to seek out. Hope for a gift receipt.