When whisky nerds get together, sensitive topics that hold dear to our hearts can sometimes be raised and debated. These sessions can get rather heated if not controlled, and more often than not, we agree to disagree with one another. A recent whisky event held at a bar raise this question between Geek Choc and me, and hence the debate began.
What does the ABV do to the whisky?
ABV, or alcohol by volume, is the measurement of alcoholic content within a beverage. In the simplest of terms, I would describe the effects of abv as creating a fuller picture of the whisky. There are more flavours; the whisky is more complex and robust when the abv is above a certain value. The optimal abv for each person varies, as it depends on how far the person has journeyed in his whisky adventures.
The Classic Debate
It appears that the classic debate amongst whisky drinkers is often the abv of a bottle. What constitutes a high abv? Some of us may have heard people saying, “Less than 50% abv, cannot drink lah!” Others may rebut and say, “60% abv? You might as well drink ethanol la!”
In an attempt to understand the debate, Geek Choc and I studied the effects of drinking high abv whisky (above 50% abv) and lower abv whisky (49.9% and below) by judging how our noses and palates react to the whisky. Over the course of a few weeks, we drank whiskies that were 40%, 43%, 46%, 50%, 55.7% and 60%. We also take into consideration the type of cask used for maturation as well as the age of the whiskies.
Here’s what we discovered.
It is not about the abv all the time
It’s true. The profile of a whisky does not depend on the abv all the time. While the abv does affect the nose and taste of the whisky, the production methods play a more vital role in the profile. Not all 40% whisky is under the “cannot drink” category, and not all 50% and above whisky are pleasant too. At the end of the day, it really depends on where the person is in his drinking journey and also the experience of the particular drinking session that he is after.
Cask influence is more crucial
Our conclusion is that cask influence is a more crucial element than the abv itself. The cask plays an integral part of whisky maturation, and the flavours imparted from the cask to the whisky determine the final product. An ex-bourbon matured whisky differs from an ex-sherry matured expression; the same goes for those matured in other types of casks. For example, a 46% abv ex-bourbon matured whisky may not taste as good to me as a 40% ex-sherry matured whisky because the flavours from the cask are different. The body and character of the individual liquid help to determine the final profile of the whisky, not the abv.
Light-bodied whisky is perfect for blending
This seems like an off-topic but no, I am still on the topic. We discovered at a light, ex-bourbon whisky of about 46% is perfect for blending. The medium abv coupled with a light-bodied character accepts the addition of a more flavourful and yet lower abv whisky easily, making a new, robust whisky that has an abv of an in-between. We blended a Scotch (46%) with a Taiwanese whisky (40%) and the blend is better than either of the single malts. Well, maybe it only tasted better to us, but the idea is there! Therefore, it is not true to say that a whisky with a standard abv is a weak or bad whisky.
Taste is subjective
Finally, I want to say that taste is subjective. While one low abv whisky may taste bad to you, it does not mean that every low abv whisky will taste bad. Be open, and explore the world of whisky. Try not to turn up your nose at a whisky that is 40%, but try it. You never know when you may like one! The same goes for high abv whisky – not every one of them is nice. I had tried some really horrid ones to be sure!
I hope this article sits well with all of you. I know some of you may disagree, but we can always discuss it in details again! 😀 May all of us get to drink as much as whisky as we want!