Michael Jackson, the world respected whisky writer (not the pop star), wrote that when he was young an older colleague, “warned that the kiss of spirits led to moral decline, but it was too late. I had lost my virginity to a single malt.” (Complete Guide to Single Malt Scotch, 5th Edition, 2004).
Some months ago, I related how I “lost my virginity” to a single malt, in “A Wee Bit of a Dram” (See blog post). I am not the only person who has been seduced by “the kiss of spirits,” and in my post “Whisky Shots—What’s Your Pleasure” I discussed the difference between a shot as an alcohol delivery system or as the opportunity to experience the amazing qualities of a good whisky. This distinction is at the heart of maturity, both of the alcohol and the drinker. The young and/or immature drinker seeks the effects of alcohol more than the enjoyment of the imbibing. As I’ve matured physically and intellectually (my wife might disagree here) my tastes have matured as well, and now I’m interested less in the effects of alcohol and more in the taste. Certainly, the effects are pleasurable, but I like to think I have moderated my desires and cultivated my taste. I suppose the whisky could be clouding my judgement here . . .
It was back in the early 70’s when I first traveled to England and Scotland, that I learned that beer isn’t necessarily what I thought it was. I don’t believe I’m being snobby here. The English and Scottish beer was quite different from American beer at that time, and I learned to enjoy it.
Similarly, the new microbrewery beers are different from the beer most Americans grew up drinking. And I do think it is better. I wouldn’t have said that when I first tasted microbrewery beer. I didn’t care for the strong, hoppy taste initially and it took time to acquire a taste for it. But I finally was able to educate my palate and appreciate the wide variety of microbrewery choices. The proliferation of microbreweries has motivated people to redefine their tastes in beer as they try various microbrewery brews and learn to favor a wide variety of malted beverages. Sure, I still drink Bud, Miller, MGD, Coors, and other mass-produced beer, but I’ve expanded my preferences. Though I am not a fan of strong IPA’s, I prefer the new more flavorful lagers and pilsners, throwback IPA’s, Scottish or red ales, brown ales, and stouts.
So, the development of micro or craft breweries, introducing a wide range of beers, has changed the face of beer drinking. And now it isn’t surprising that local micro distilleries are popping up as well, in much the same way. Actually, micro distilleries have been around for a long, many of them illegal (think prohibition stills) but their numbers have exploded in the last 15 years or so.
Whisky writer Michael Jackson named the top five whisky producing nations to be Scotland, Ireland, the United States, Canada, and Japan. And it isn’t just from the large, commercial distilleries with which we are familiar. In the United States micro distilleries are following the wave of microbreweries. Many micro distilleries have started in old breweries and distilleries age their alcohol in beer casks in the same way breweries age some of their beer in whiskey casks. They are important cousins in the drinking world.
I can only assume that with the explosion of micro distilleries will come a maturation in the palates of the drinkers and a greater appreciation of various spirits.