Not one, not two, but three samples landed on my desk this week – and they share a common theme: “Barley exploration series” by Islay’s Bruichladdich distillery. This year they’ve bottled an organic whisky from 2010, produced with organic malt from Mid Coul farms in Inverness, an Islay barley release from 2011, grown by six different farms on the island, and, finally a Bere barley release distilled in 2010 from the ancient barley ancestor Bere, sourced from Orkney. All releases are bottled at a relatively young age, 7 or 8 years and were matured without fancy experimental casks in order to let the spirit shine. The cask makeup is not entirely the same, though, with the Organic and Bere release being fully ex-bourbon matured, while the Islay Barley does feature 25% ex-wine European oak casks, making a direct comparison of the barley influence between all three of them difficult.
It is extremely difficult to quantify the influence of “terroir” in whisky – in other words, the influence of the barley and its heritage. There are also the influences by malting, mashing, distilling, maturation, the casks used and the age of the whisky. While technically we don’t have an equal lineup where only the grain used is the differentiating factor, there is one of these three samples that stands out: Bere. It is drastically different as a grain, at one point it was responsible for breaking the distillery’s ancient mash tun – back when they used Bere grown on Islay. Bere is also different in one other aspect: Nose and taste. The influence on the spirit is remarkable, noticeably different from modern distilling barley varieties. This became apparent when I tasted an earlier release a while ago – will I be able to pick out the distinct Bere influence again? We shall see!
“Which kind of glass would you like – Glencairn or Classic Malts”? That question, by malt mate Keith Wood, ignited a thought process in my mind. I was sitting in his dramming den, relaxing in a comfy leather armchair, when he hit me with the question of all questions. Up until this point, the “classic”, specially designed and sturdy Glencairn crystal glass had been my go-to whisky glass I always reached for. The first time Keith asked me that question I, naturally, wanted a Glencairn. On my second visit, I tried a Classic Malts glass for the first time after a long break. It was certainly a very good whisky glass and I enjoyed my drams from it. And then my mind started to wonder: Which one is really the best whisky glass for me? Avid readers of my blog will know I used a Classic Malts-style glass for my first couple of reviews, I actually don’t remember why I switched.
Thus it is high time I methodically compared some of the different kinds of whisky glasses I have at home with different malts to see if there are differences, and if so, how big they are. And, just maybe, I’ll choose a new standard whisky glass going forward. This test of course only reflects my own opinion and other people might come to different conclusions, but I’ll try to keep the descriptions as universally usable as possible.
Deliberately leaving out all kinds of fancy one-off branded glassware and other glasses I know not to be very good (the smaller half-size “Glencairn-style” ones you often get at distilleries come to mind) I chose four classic glasses to compare and added a fifth, odd-shaped one as a sort of “control-glass” that just has to be different.
Now, you might be asking why I didn’t include new bespoke whisky glasses, which have appeared on the market recently. The reason is simple: Without trying them first my inclination to shell out 20+€ (even more including shipping) for the next hot thing on the glassware market is rather low, when standard glasses, which work perfectly fine, are between 3€ and 6€ (and sometimes “free”), so I don’t have any of those to test, sorry. Besides, this should really be a test of classic, well-known, widely used styles of whisky glassware.