WHY OLD AND RARE?
Whisky is far from static. Over the centuries of production, the spirit has changed hugely. From uisge-beatha, an unaged spirit infused with herbs – a proto-gin – it has gradually become the oak-matured whisky that we know and love today.
While we haven’t had a huge jump comparable to the ‘what happens if I put this in a cask?’ moment in recent times, whisky these days is not the same as that produced even as recently as the 1980s. Since the early 1980s, for example, regulations on sherry production have changed the way that sherry casks for whisky have been made; meaning that a sherry-matured whisky from that period might taste significantly different to one produced more recently. Step back further, to whisky distilled in the 1960s, and you can easily find large changes, especially in the types of casks used: bourbon casks revolutionised whisky making when they started appearing in the 1950s, imbuing whisky with new flavours which we now so often take for granted.
Some people like older whisky bottlings for collecting, but for us it’s all about taste. Seeing how the flavours created by the distillers, warehousemen and blenders have changed over the years. Old whiskies aren’t necessarily better, but they are different, and that difference is what we enjoy looking for.
One of the most common questions we’re asked is, ‘where do I start?’
With so many whiskies available, launching into the world of old and rare bottles can be daunting. But worry not – here are a few easy ways to start your journey.
One problem when first setting out to try older bottlings – especially single malts – is that they can be expensive. If you’re looking for a more reasonably priced place to start and develop your palate, then old blends are great.
The way that whisky has been blended has changed a lot over the years. Ratios of grain whisky to malt have shifted, with older blends often having much higher malt content than we find these days. 50% malt/grain recipes weren’t uncommon, compared to the 20% and lower malt whisky content that we usually find today.
The components of the blends were also quite different to today. Not only were the single malts not the same, with different yeasts, fermentation times and distillation techniques used, but the grain whisky has also changed. Changing tastes and new technology has led to a lighter style of whisky, both of grain whisky and modern blended whiskies.
Stepping back to the 1980s is enough to find whisky of a different style. If you find whiskies from the 1970s and earlier, with components often distilled in the 1960s and further back, things change even more. With just a few bottles you can start to unpick the recent history of whisky.