A Matter of Taste

New ways of communication
and organisation
by taste
can encourage discovery.

Winston Churchill spoke with knowledge and experience when, savouring his favourite champagne Pol Roger, he said “My tastes are simple: I am easily satisfied with the best.”

But for many, especially when faced with a complexity of choice, not knowing what is the best creates a barrier to trial. A key is in the taste. Take whisky for example…

For years whisky was a male rite of passage – a ‘difficult’ drink whose taste had to be acquired. Malts were even more inaccessible and best introduced by a male friend, mentor or barman. Age provided something of a guide – to expense – but not necessarily taste. Traditionally malts were categorised by provenance and hence, via terroir, to taste but this still proved too complex. Now, with limited aged whisky stock, there is a swing towards non-aged, narrative based whiskies. These narratives often still try to link provenance with taste eg Talisker Storm ‘An intense Talisker with a profoundly maritime character, like a warm welcome from the wild Hebridean sea.’

Enter the Millennials – keen on experiences and discovery, would-be gourmets interested in taste but many drinking more selectively for health reasons and because they are cash strapped. They want to experiment but equally ensure they are going to like what they buy!

Jon, Mark and Robbo were early taste-led pioneers in the whisky sector. Back in 2002 they created The Smokey Peaty One, The Rich Spicy One and The Smooth Sweeter One. The story goes they were mates (two of them brothers), who passionately believed that decent quality whisky should be enjoyed, not worshipped. They decided their world ‘needed’ whiskies that removed the waffle, tasted amazing and was for them, not some 80 year old laird. They toured the country promoting their taste-based portfolio. Maybe they were ahead of their time? Or maybe the informality of their packaging veered too far from the credibility required in this status ridden category? Today they are listed within Edrington’s brands and distilleries but appear to have gone quiet.

More recently, Jameson has introduced three new taste driven expressions into GTR; Jameson Bold, Lively and Round. Anna Malmhake, CEO of Irish Distillers said “The idea is that the series invites consumers to experience Jameson in a new way, exploring its defining taste characteristics. Bold takes its lead from pot still whiskey, starting with sweet and creamy flavours with soft fruits, and developing to into barley, baked apples and a hit of spices. Lively has been influenced by grain whiskey, giving sweet notes of perfume bonbons and Turkish delight combined with hints of citrus and a little chilli oil to bring a prickle of spices to the mouth. The third expression in the collection is Round, and was inspired by wood and offers plump charred tones, with sweet vanilla flavours coupled with ripe fruits and pot still spices.” The packaging is highly crafted and engaging in its detail, less of a category breaker than Jon, Mark and Robbo’s range. It will be interesting to chart its taste-driven progress.

And bars are also considering how to make whisky more accessible through the communication of different tastes and the literal removal of any physical barriers. Black Rock is a Shoreditch bar without a bar! Roaming bartenders wheel drink trolleys and mix whisky-based cocktails from more than 250 brands on offer.

They can effortlessly perform an educational role and provide consumers with an all important interactive experience. Abandoning the tradition of keeping inaccessible bottles behind a bar and arranged by provenance, the whisky bottles are in glass-doored cabinets arranged by flavour rather than by region or brand. Every element of Black Rock is geared towards demystifying whisky and making the complexity of flavour and the breadth of variety in whisky more understandable to the uninitiated. Pricing is also transparent with a tiered pricing system. And a bit of retail theatre is created with an 18 foot oak table made from an 185 year old English oak tree with two channels lined with charred American oak and toasted European oak respectively. One is filled with the house cocktail and the other with the house whisky. Covered with a glass top it provides a table surface for consumers to place their glasses on whilst also helping to educate consumers with the story of how whisky ages and the magic role of oak affecting flavour.

An interesting lesson that accessibility doesn’t have to be dumbed down. New ways of communication and organisation by taste can encourage discovery. And indeed innovations in creating taste, such as controversial hyper ageing with barrel fragments, can only mean it’s a matter of ‘watch this space’.