Myths are all fun and games when they’re harmless, such as how making a wish when you blow out your birthday candles increases the chance of it coming true; but when it gets derailing, unwarranted or being passed on as dubious facts from one innocent believer to another, that’s when you know that it has got to stop misleading the common good.
Having existed for so long in so many parts of the world where different histories and cultures are bound to influence whisky, it’s inevitable that whisky myths would spread and take a life of their own. Some are worth investigating, while others are just nonsensical.
If you’ve been duped by common whisky myths and would like to find out the truth, you’ve come to the right place, cause we’re here to set the record straight together.
1. Older will always taste better
Um, first of all, ageist much? Let’s start off with one of the most popular and arguably misguided myths in the whisky industry. While older whiskies are generally more expensive, people are somehow under the impression that they must therefore, be of superior quality.
We’re here to tell you that price and age are pretentious assumptions when it comes to evaluating the taste of whiskies. If anything, they’re merely a marketing tool.
Matter of fact, older whiskies have to be sold at a higher price simply because of logistics and production costs. As with all industries, there will be periods of time where sales plummet, and when that happens, whisky producers will find themselves with an inventory of unsold whiskies.
This means that the whiskies are taking up warehouse space longer, and hence, costing them more money to store as time draws on. Let’s not forget that older whiskies would have greater angel’s share, too (A small amount of whisky evaporates through the wood and escapes in the open during maturation. This phenomenon is adorably termed “angel’s share”).
It makes sense then, for them to propagate the belief that older whisky is better and to convince consumers that they’re savouring the finest spirit, so that they’ll splurge on it.
Now, we’re not saying you should swear off older whiskies. The main takeaway here is that taste is extremely subjective and superficial factors shouldn’t cloud your judgment. If someone enjoys a younger whisky more than an older bottle, there is absolutely no need for snobbish remarks.
2. Single Malts are better than blended whiskies
Seriously, where is all this superiority coming from? Okay but to be fair, whisky labels and terminologies can be confusing as heck. Even if you get your terms right and study it down to the core, it can still be interpreted differently in different countries as the regulations tend to vary. We’re guessing this is probably how blended whiskies got their negative rep.
Just in case anyone needs a refresher, Single Malts don’t actually imply that the spirit is produced from a single barrel or a single batch. Rather, it denotes that the whisky is made up of a single malted grain and materialises from a single distillery. Meanwhile, blended whisky, as its name suggests, is a blend of malts and grains from different distilleries.
As you can see for yourself, the definitions are pretty technical and nowhere does anyone mention that one is of higher quality than the other.
Besides, blended whisky was created because the flavour and taste of a Single Malt scotch can be unpalatable to some. Whisky after all, is an extremely strong liquor that may take some time getting accustomed to. Blending made the spirit easier on the palate, thus appealing to a wider population of drinkers; so much so that blended whisky actually comes out on top in whisky sales around the world.
3. You can tell a whisky’s age and quality by its colour
Contrary to popular belief, a whisky’s age and quality cannot be determined by its shade. This is not to say that this claim is completely baseless because while it doesn’t apply to most types of whiskies, it does, however, ring true for bourbons as those tend to get darker with age.
For most types of whiskies though, the shade is simply an indicator of the kind of casks they were stored in during the ageing process. While it’s mandatory for all whiskies to be aged in oak casks in order to earn the ‘whisky’ label, the origin of the oak can differ, which largely contributes to the colour of the dram.
For instance, American oaks impart a more golden hue, while the European ones bring out a richer shade.
In fact, casks that were previously used to store other spirits can also influence a whisky’s resulting colour. Sherry casks render a darker tone, bourbon casks produce a lighter, straw-like tinge, while freshly charred casks give off a deep brown wash–especially more prominent in bourbons.
The type of casks used doesn’t deem one whisky better than the other, so you don’t have to factor that in when making a decision, unless you have a strange preference for a particular type of whisky colour, then by all means, pick your poison.
If you think that whiskies get their colour au naturel, you’ll be surprised to find out that most whisky producers are allowed to add a certain amount of caramel colouring in order to ensure consistency between batches and to achieve that deep amber shade, especially among mass-market blended scotches or Irish whiskeys.
Before you freak out thinking that you’ve been duped into drinking caramel-flavoured whisky all these while, calm down, because the substance is practically tasteless, and does not alter the whisky’s taste or diminish its quality in any way.
4. Whisky is best served neat
This is an age-old debate that clearly still hasn’t reached a conclusion. It’s a dangerous fine line between the purists and the mixers. One disclaimer from either side could end friendships and start wars.
Okay in all seriousness, let’s hear all sides to get a complete picture. But before that, it’s imperative that we understand the science behind whisky, water, and ice.
First off, whisky is made up of three components: water, ethanol, and guaiacol, or flavour molecules in layman terms. Whisky is binded by water and ethanol but ironically, these components repel each other. So how does that work, you may wonder?
The solution lies with the distillers. Different distillers come up with their own methods to keep water and ethanol together, and thus making sure that the other flavour molecules stay in place, too. This is how different and unique flavours are found in separate whisky brands and bottles.
Adding water will no doubt disrupt the original equation and balance, causing the perfectly constructed flavour molecules to break apart and go rogue. Plus, did you know that our taste buds are more accustomed to tasting intense flavour in warmer temperatures as ice tends to numb the tongue?
This is why the purists advocate drinking whisky neat from the bottle and on its own, as anything else that’s added will only distort the authentic whisky experience.
Although there is insight behind that school of thought, the other side is equally as convincing, too. Whisky connoisseurs often have a pipette and water ready during tasting sessions because water can prompt and release even more flavours and aromas.
And c’mon, how can we do without ice in all of our favourite whisky cocktails? Be it the highball or the Japanese’ famous Mizuwari, ice makes our dram more refreshing and easier on the tongue and throat. The hack is to use spherical and large ice balls rather than ice cubes, as the former takes longer to melt and lets you enjoy your drink without diluting it too soon.
Like tequila, take whisky myths with a pinch of salt
You can tell that there’s a pattern surrounding the four most common whisky myths above. Most of them start with telling you what’s good and what’s not, what’s right and what’s wrong. As with all myths, they’re not universal truths nor are they scientifically proven, so if you ever come across more whisky myths, you should definitely do some research about it first.
We’re not completely discounting the fact that science is largely involved in making whisky, but taste however, is purely subjective and unique to every individual with their own set of preferences, likes, and dislikes. So if you enjoy your blended drams on rocks or a perennial Single Malt straight from the bottle, don’t let anybody tell you that you’re drinking it wrong.