This Blair Athol 15 year old Manager’s Dram was one that I promised you a review of months ago. But something strange happened while reviewing this and that had everything to do with my taste buds, which made the taste of this whisky completely different from how I normally perceived it. Time to learn more about taste buds and why I found such a complete deviation in taste.
Taste is of course a personal thing, there is no arguing about that. But we should certainly not forget that there are also a lot of other external influences involved. What you eat can have a huge impact on taste, whether you smoke, if you’ve been sick, and even climate has that. The warmer the weather, the more sweetness you will taste. But it has even been proven that if you eat a lot of salt, sugar and/or fat, it will affect your taste buds too. If you are used to a certain amount of sugar, fat or salt intake and you taste other food that lacks this it might taste bad or incredibly dull. It’s not that the intake of one of these taste sensations dulls your taste buds, but it’s your sense of taste that expects to pick up a certain signal but doesn’t get it, so your brain processes this signal as unpleasant. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, your brain just loves sugar, salt and fat.
The fact that food has such an impact on what we taste is also one of the reasons many distillers taste in the morning. In this way, they have the least impact on their taste buds. But what about us, the regular whisky drinker or reviewer? When do you taste your whisky?
I personally do that later in the afternoon just before my dinner. Then I have finished working and there is a long time between lunch and my tasting. But in the meantime, I have already had breakfast and lunch. Well, during the day I eat a little less vigorous (in terms of flavours) than in the evening, hence my choice to taste whisky before dinner, but the best would, of course, be before breakfast, although that is just a bit too early for me.
So it may be that my breakfast and lunch already have a certain influence on my taste. Still, I do notice that I have a fairly constant taste when I return to certain whiskies. However, this was slightly different with this Blair Athol, which I really thought was a horrible dram. It was, therefore, a whisky that arose a lot of discussion and of which I (and several other people) didn’t understand that this could ever have been chosen as Manager’s Dram and where those higher scores came from in Whiskybase. It’s a soap bomb in the worst possible way, at least in my experience …. Or not?
Because then came Covid-19 … I was bored and I like to experiment a bit with food. This can vary from trying new recipes or food that I haven’t tasted before. But in this case, I had adjusted my diet for a week, namely completely to Japanese food, from breakfast to dinner and everything in between. And then it turned out that something fundamentally changed in what I tasted. That horrible soapiness that I normally found in this Blair Athol had almost completely disappeared.
Can diet alone have such an effect on my taste buds? Well that’s something to try, isn’t it? So I put it to the test and decided to try this whisky three times. I started with the Japanese diet (I already knew what it tasted like before this diet), then back to my normal diet, and then try the Japanese food for a week one more time. And this is what happened…
This Blair Athol has matured in a sherry cask and is bottled at 59.4% ABV.
Blair athol 15 year old tasting notes (part 1):
(After eating Japanese food for a whole week)
Nose: quite heavy on the sherry influences at first. Dried fruits, figs, raisins. Honey. A little sulphury, but that disappears after some time. Then a floral note appears. Fresh sweet oranges. Caramel. Lavender. (Later this goes a bit towards soapy, but not super as disturbing as I remember).
Taste: lots of sherry influences again with forest fruit such as blueberries, red berries. A sweet thick layer of honey. Soy sauce. A dark but sweet chocolate. Lavender again, later slightly soapy but very minimal and really in the very background.
Finish: mid-long, with mostly dark chocolate truffles. A faint hint of lavender.
Blair Athol 15 year old tasting notes (part 2):
(Without Japanese food)
Nose: a thick viscous sherry smell at first, which goes mostly towards the dried fruit; figs and raisins. Yup, cheap perfume alright. Orange juice. Maple syrup in the background. Forest fruit, such as blueberries en blackberries. The soapy element seems to disappear now (luckily). Lemons in the background, followed by Milk chocolate.
Taste: ai ai ai, and there it is. That cheap perfume. And plenty of it. Yikes… Dark chocolate. Quite spicy too, red chilli peppers. Cinnamon.
Finish: long with cheap perfume, and plenty of it…
Blair Athol 15 year old tasting notes (part 3):
(Again with Japanese food)
Nose: big bold sherry influence. Dried fruits, such as figs, dates and raisins. A thick honey. Maple syrup in the background. Dark chocolate. Coffee. A little floral.
Taste: wow. Japanese food works totally on this dram! So much less soapy again, ha! It’s there, but just way more towards the background. Honey. Dates and figs. Dark chocolate. Orange peels. Maple syrup. Some heath.
Finish: mid-long to long. Coffee and dark chocolate.
Ok, after a whole week of Japanese food, the soapy element is actually much less present than all the other times I’ve tasted this Blair Athol. Normally, it starts fine in the nose, but as soon as you start to taste it, the taste of a very bad perfume takes over quite quickly. And that’s all you taste then as if you were literally drinking perfume. However, this is almost completely gone after a week of Japanese food. At first, I thought maybe this could be a coincidence, but it was such a big difference that I wanted to test it again. And as you can see in my tasting notes, after the second time on a Japanese diet for a week, the soapy element is almost completely gone.
How exactly this is possible, I have no idea. But I’m sure it’s the week’s diet. I often eat a Japanese dish, for breakfast, lunch or dinner, but this has never had an effect before. What I can imagine, however, is that the amount of dashi and miso may have played a role here. This was the biggest change, along with more fish (almost daily), that I had made. However, I can imagine that these flavour determinants have a greater influence on your taste buds than adding more fish to your diet.