I have often commented on the Scotch industry’s current obsession with “multiple expressions”. That is, producing ever more variants of the same whisky. In the past, there was simply one Glen Splash malt or one Grey Mare blend. Today there can be up to a dozen variants of either.
The last time I counted, there were 11 different sorts of Glenmorangie and as many or more types of Bowmore, some available in the UK, some only abroad, others only in airport duty-free shops. And the unflappable Grouse is now fluttering around in so many guises – Famous, Black, Snow, Naked – you could buy a crate of different ones without ever having two bottles of the same breed.
This marketing craze for variation has also affected Irish whiskey. On a recent trip, I scanned bar shelves awash with multiple choices of Jameson, Power, Paddy’s and other pot still whiskies and single malts (Ireland has suddenly discovered them in a big way) with differing spirit strengths, ages, cask types and finishes – all at eye-watering prices as alcohol taxes in Ireland are even higher than in the UK.
Not that it seemed to deter anyone: every pub I visited was full and no one came in just for one pint or one nip. Several rounds and a good laugh were the norm. Not that the pubs I visited were swanky – I visited one famous for being untouched since the year dot. It looked it but still had an amazing atmosphere: take away the modern beer taps and you could shoot a scene from Poldark there.
I visited another beside the River Liffey in Dublin that must have been decorated by Burke and Hare. Walls and ceiling adorned with skulls and skeletons and gruesome junk, but the place was packed. However, slurping Irish stew and Guinness under the baleful glare of a mummified figure straight out of Hitchcock’s Psycho is not everyone’s cup of hemlock.
But back to whisky. I visited Dublin’s Whiskey Museum, a strange cramped place up a steep steel stairway in a rear courtyard. Great ambience, cheery staff but the tour is a hefty 17 euros, although that included three drams. The stairs down were like those on a ship in the Bay of Biscay…