Why a Sense of Place is Important, Part I
Let me take you back almost 300 years, to the old Kingdom of Hungary where something revolutionary and modern was beginning to take shape. The volcanic plateau of Tokaj became the first protected wine region, and from that point any wines wishing to call themselves ‘Tokaj’ would have to be made only there, no matter how similar their style was to any of Tokaj’s various wines, or how they wanted to spell ‘Tokaj’.
Ideas can take a little while to catch on, but the now almost generic names of ‘Port’, ‘Sherry’, ‘Bordeaux’ and ‘Champagne’ are applicable only to drinks made in these protected regions. Cheeses have done similar, and our beloved Cheddar, Wensleydale and Stilton have some lasting bruises from ferocious battles over the right to their names.
So, Let’s turn to whisky, a product where we see these regional appellations at every level.
- ‘Scotch Whisky’ can only be made in the country of Scotland.
- ‘Speyside Whisky’ can only be made in the region of valleys around the river Spey.
- ‘Macallan Whisky’ can only be made at the Macallan distillery, at Easter Elchies.
So why do these naming restrictions apply? From the view of the producers, it’s obvious: it frustrates the efforts of upstarts and charlatans to produce imitations of your product. It stops them using your region’s reputation for excellence iterated over generations to sell their product which hasn’t got that hard-earned history.
It Tastes Better, Too!
I think there’s another level, too – on which consumers end up having a better time as well as the producers. Imagine a world where there was no Tokaj, Sauternes or Eiswein. There was only ‘Sweet White Wine’. A world without Gorgonzola, Stilton or Bleu de Gex – just ‘Blue Cheese’. No Glenmorangie, Redbreast or Hibiki – just whisk(e)y.
It feels a bit… flat, doesn’t it? Isn’t it more wonderful to take a sip of, say, Laphroaig and not just taste the combination of peat, sweet and salt, but also imagine those whitewashed buildings reflected in the glassy Hebridean water, the peat shovels digging in and exposing dark layers of rich loamy peat, and that peat burning in a kiln and sending its pungent aromas through the barley and up to the boundless western sky?
Do you not get the feeling, knowing that the whisky was made at Laphroaig, that this whisky could only have been made at Laphroaig? Knowing the origins of something can connect us more firmly to it, and we can draw on so many more stimuli when it comes to enjoying it. Information is beautiful.
I remember those times where I’ve drunk a whisky blind, and really enjoyed it. I’ve let the flavours develop, I’ve pondered the aromas and I’ve indulged fully in the finish. But once that’s all out of the way, there’s only one thing I want to ask:
‘Where’s it from?’
It’s important, and until I know which distillery is responsible – until I can picture the scenery of the place where this whisky originated – I feel like something is missing. Give my whisky a sense of place, and I’ll like it all the better.
So, why have I chosen this subject to write about? Seems an odd place to plant my flag.
At Cask 88, we independently bottle whiskies from Scottish distilleries, and we know that giving each bottle a contextual sense of place helps it to stand out, and to ultimately be more enjoyable for the drinker. We choose to theme our bottles in such a way that enhances the connection to the whisky’s point of origin, and we’ve spent enjoyable hours of research to make sure that the stories we’re telling really do bring extra colour to the provenance of the whisky.
Come back next week for part II of this article, where I will reveal more about the development of our Folklore and Scotch Express single malt whisky series, which really lean into this set of ideas. We don’t just tell you where the whisky is from – we make a big thing out of the unique history and lore of the place it came from. We like our whiskies to be well grounded.