Ovine Appreciation

Image of the suovetaurilia, a Roman sacrificial rite in which three animals - a sheep, a pig and a bull to the god of Mars.  "That with the good help of the gods success may crown our work, I bid thee, Manius, to take care to purify my farm, my land, my ground with this suovetaurilia, in whatever part thou thinkest best for them to be driven or carried around." This 1st century Roman engraving is found in the Louvre. Source: Wikipedia

Image of the suovetaurilia, a Roman sacrificial rite in which three animals – a sheep, a pig and a bull – were offered to the god of Mars. “That with the good help of the gods success may crown our work, I bid thee, Manius, to take care to purify my farm, my land, my ground with this suovetaurilia, in whatever part thou thinkest best for them to be driven or carried around.” This 1st century Roman engraving is found in the Louvre.
Source: Wikipedia

Sheep have been domesticated and a part of human life and agriculture for something around 10,000 years.

The annual sheep herd that grazes in the meadow next door to our place arrived over the weekend. They’ll forage here until December, when they get carted off again by a sheep farmer who places sheep in meadows all across our region like shaggy pawns in a large chessgame of milk, meat and wool.

French sheep farmers released a small flock of sheep into the Louvre Museum in Paris last week to protest cuts in subsidies to small farmers which are under discussion in the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

Herd of sheep in the Louvre. Photo: antenna

Herd of sheep in the Louvre.
Photo: antenna

From a Reuters article, “They were objecting to the effects of the industrialisation of agriculture, saying they feared for farmers’ jobs.

“What we can see today is a desire on the part of the agricultural ministry to impose a marginalising policy which will get rid of farmers so we came here to say we don’t belong to a museum and that our place is in the countryside, where we can revitalise the countryside, create jobs and develop quality produce, that’s why we came here today,” said a spokesman.”

The sheep next door in the cherry orchard. Photo: PK Read

The sheep next door in the cherry orchard.
Photo: PK Read

The farm next to ours, and many around our place, unequivocally add to the life quality of our area, and not just in terms of food. The small farms here ensure that the area isn’t paved over with suburban and apartment developments, and that the farmers who have been here for generations carry on the knowledge of land and farming they have inherited.

I do feel a bit badly for the sheep that were herded through the Louvre, probably in panic and without any time to enjoy some of the lovely pastoral paintings there. But I do have a deep appreciation for the fact that no arrests were made – all protesting farmers and their sheep were released without charge.

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.