Locavores and Disruptive Technologies

A recent exchange with woman whisky writer Rachel MacNeill last week about whiskies produced in Austria was based on a misunderstanding. I thought she had been to a tasting of Austrian-produced whiskies, when actually she had been holding a whisky tasting in Austria.

The moment between miscommunication and clarification, though, got me thinking that whisky is the latest Chardonnay, i.e. that popular alcohol known mainly from France that gained enough cachet to become a popular marketing target for development all over the world.

The global demand for whisky has expanded over the past few years, so it’s natural that other people besides the traditionally known producers would want to get involved, driven by passion or business, or both.

Per Capita World Whisky Demand (2009) Source: Master Of Malt

Per Capita World Whisky Demand (2009)
Source: Master Of Malt

In this age of globalization when we often can’t follow the long comet tail of a product’s origins, there’s a cachet to buying locally. New small-batch whisky producers have been springing up around the world over the last few years, many placing a heavy emphasis on their local roots.

Whisky has an image of slow production. It’s bottled time, something to be savored. Mind you, I’m talking about aged sipping whisky here, not the rough stuff meant for doing shots, or destined for mixed drinks.

So it came as a bit of a surprise to me – although this says more about my naivete than whisky production – that there are new whisky producers who have aimed to speed the production process along a faster than the usual multi-year start-up time required of a whisky distillery.

Some small batch distilleries use the straightforward method of using smaller oak casks to increase the surface area of whisky against the oak surface.

One distillery uses a sort of pressure cooker combined with oak wood cuttings to process unaged whiskey bought elsewhere (getting back to the quick Chardonnay trend again), another company has developed a technique of oxidation and ultrasonic waves to process product.

TerrePure by Terressentia Image: Gizmodo

TerrePure by Terressentia
Image: Gizmodo

A couple of quotes from a New York Times article:

“In a matter of weeks, if not less, we have product coming out that rivals 10- to 12-year-olds.”

“Twelve to 18 hours will completely clean 250 gallons of whiskey in a way that is far better than barrel aging.”

So, what is whisky? If it’s simply a spirit distilled from fermented grain mash at less than 190 proof, with the defining characteristic of being stored in wooden containers for some length of time, than whisky is as versatile in its manifestations as beer.

Photo: PK Read

Photo: PK Read

I like trying local stuff, and when I travel, I always try to get a taste of something I can’t get anywhere else. So I would definitely try local whiskies even if they’ve been rushed with what has been called ‘disruptive technologies’. And I am big fan of buying local and supporting small businesses.

But in the end, time rushes by so quickly all on its own without rushing an ageing process. Comparing these fast-forward methods with traditional ageing might persuade newcomers, but I don’t anticipate many long-term whisky fans will be swayed beyond the appeal of trying something novel.

Origin doesn’t matter as much to me if the whisky is good. But in the long run, I’ll probably be sticking with the whiskies that have captured a bit of time in a bottle.

Mortlach 70 Year Old Image: Decanter.com

Mortlach 70 Year Old
Image: Decanter.com

*On a side note, I found this, the Austrian Whisky Association, a group of fourteen distilleries making whisky in Austria. I’m not sure whether they export at all.

Champagne, Temporality & Spatiality

Infinite Bubbles Photo: Kath Fries

Infinite Bubbles
Photo: Kath Fries

It’s not that I can’t find my way around a given situation or place without champagne, because that is most certainly not the case. But I know for a fact that after a glass of champagne, I usually feel a bit more sparkle. It’s always gratifying to have my subjective feelings substantiated by science. In news that was gleefully reported, champagne – like red wine and blueberries – seems to be beneficial to various cognitive functions as well as maintaining a healthy heart.

From a MedicalExpress.com article:

“New research shows that drinking one to three glasses of champagne a week may counteract the memory loss associated with ageing, and could help delay the onset of degenerative brain disorders, such as dementia.
Scientists at the University of Reading have shown that the phenolic compounds found in champagne can improve spatial memory, which is responsible for recording information about one’s environment, and storing the information for future navigation.
Champagne has relatively high levels of phenolics compared to white wine, deriving predominantly from the two red grapes, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, which are used in its production along with the white grape Chardonnay. It is these phenolic compounds which are believed to be responsible for the beneficial effects of champagne on the brain.
Previous research from the University of Reading revealed that two glasses of champagne a day may be good for your heart and circulation and could reduce the risks of suffering from cardiovascular disease and stroke.”
There’s not much I can add to these few lines that would be better news for champagne drinkers (or, for that matter, the champagne industry, even if they probably already knew this intuitively). I hope champagne will help me navigate the world for many years to come.
Image: The Levity Institute

Image: The Levity Institute

More:
MedicalExpress article – Scientists reveal drinking champagne could improve memory
Study published in Antioxidants and Redox Signalling – Phenolic Acid Intake, Delivered Via Moderate Champagne Wine Consumption, Improves Spatial Working Memory Via the Modulation of Hippocampal and Cortical Protein Expression/Activation by G. Corona, D. Vauzour, J. Hercelin, C.M. Williams, and J.P.E. Spencer.
Study published in Antioxidants and Redox Signalling – Dietary (Poly)phenolics in Human Health: Structures, Bioavailability, and Evidence of Protective Effects Against Chronic Diseases by D. Del Rio, A. Rodriguez-Mateos, J.P.E. Spencer, M. Tognolini, G. Borges, and A. Crozier