In the latest (Winter 2011) edition of The Whisky Advocate, Dave Broom (one of the world’s finest whiskey writers) wrote an entertaining article describing a tasting experience with a woman that really knew her whisky. She noted that mature sherry aged whisky has a touch of the same aroma that an indigenous ant (in her area) gives off when crushed. Dave, who has been known to have some wild descriptors, was initially perplexed by hers.
Soon after the discussion, Dave found himself in the woods observing the very ant the woman described. For the good of whiskey geeks everywhere, Dave expedited the ants journey to its maker. He gave the ant a crush and noted the same aroma the woman had mentioned, and clarity was achieved…at least for him.
Dave used this story to illustrate what a big wide world it is, and how important it is to get out there and take it all in. “We all have ants to crush”, he wrote.
Taken figuratively, he’s absolutely right. All whiskey lovers (or aspiring ones) owe it to themselves to get out there and educate their noses and palates. Open up your spice cabinet. Put a flame to a sugar coated banana and find out what it smells and tastes like (you’ll find this type of aroma and flavor in MANY bourbons). Crush sweet southern spearmint and cloves in your hand and see what the combination brings. No doubt this will educate your senses. But crushing ants in the hopes that you can log it away in your sensory rolodex? Is that just a bit too far?
Here’s my ultimate point – if a crushed ant has a slight sweet-sharp acidity to it much like vinegar (which it does according to Dave), why not describe it as such in tasting notes? Would that not be a clearer and much less remote (“out there”) descriptor for the reader? And if so – think of all the ants that would be saved!
Dave argues his approach by stating his reviews would be all too similar in descriptive language if he didn’t push things a bit. He used another example of describing something as “fruity” vs. describing the actual fruit the whiskey smells or tastes like. I agree there also. A red apple and a green apple have very different aromas and flavor profiles – no doubt, but fruits and ants are vastly different in terms of how likely a reader can relate to them. And who is the review for?
For clarification, I believe Dave Broom is as good as it gets in whiskey writing. He is someone I respect a great deal, but as a whiskey reviewer myself I found this article tough to agree with. A point he did make late in the article is using Twitter to write short reviews that worry less about tasting notes and more about the attitude and mood of the whiskey. That I can get behind as it helps the reader get a picture for how the whiskey delivers flavor across your palate.
In closing I pose this to you folks, are whiskey reviewers taking things a bit too far with some of this stuff? What is your take?