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My Handcrafted Opinions on Whiskies, Distilleries and Other Related Stuff
Tuesday, 05 March 2013 02:12

Missing The Mark: ABV = Apparently Better Value

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Like many bloggers I followed the recent furur, forur, furora excitement around the announcements by Maker’s Mark with great interest. For those of you interested enough in whisky to be reading this rather obscure whisky blog but who do not know what I am talking about I can only assume you spent the last few weeks sealed inside a sherry butt. For your benefit the short version is, based on sales growth, Maker’s Mark announced they were going to cut the alcohol by volume (ABV) of their whisky from the traditional 45% to 42% to allow them increase output by about 6% and better meet the demand for their product. The uproar that resulted from the announcement led to Maker’s Mark changing their mind and hastily reversing that decision.

I am on the record as big Maker’s Mark fan so I was certainly interested but hardly alarmed. I felt like I should hold off until I had tried both samples side by side. I immediately acquired a 45% ABV bottle and stood by for my 42% bottle. I thought it would be fun to do, a nice test of my palate and an objective way to assess the change. Could I tell the difference?  Fun times.

Others took a different approach (hysteria might be a good word) based on what I can only assume is the  desire to have a higher ABV product. Apparently what it tasted like was irrelevant because not one of them ever tried the slightly lower ABV product.   This "higher ABV is better" is a phenomenon I see manifested in Scotch as well where something is often annointed desirable because it is “cask strength”. There is a subtle (but definitely tangible) culture around strong whisky being better whisky. I also see (with the help of Ding’s Beer Blog) similar behaviors in the beer world… higher ABV means better beer... more alcohol is good. FrankIy I can do without this immaturity and lack of understanding infecting the whisky scene like noro virus.

Occasionally I have 'humbly' suggested that bottling whiskies at 60%+ ABV doesn’t help the product and I end up having to dilute anyway. Someone will often try and argue that is a good thing because I can “dilute to my personal taste”. I can hear them now chanting the mantra of the ABV obsessed “you can put water in but you can’t take it out, you can put water in but you can’t take it out”. But it is a silly argument. This is whisky, usually expensive whisky, not orange squash. I don’t want to buy concentrate of whisky that I can easily screw up. I want to buy the product presented to me by the people who created it at the ABV they feel best showcases their product. Many chefs don’t have salt on their restaurant tables because they want the diner to enjoy the food as they think it is best seasoned. They want the food to be judged that way and I feel whisky should be the same. I am not saying a few drops of water to open up a dram aren’t necessary, they often are, but presenting me with 60% ABV spirit (often at cost of $100 or more a bottle) and then expecting me to guess the right water content to add to their whisky is a little asinine.  I dont care what the ABV of a whisky is.... I just want it to taste good.  if it does, then I am happy.

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