Defining Whisky TerroirThe term terroir has historically been used to describe four factors which shape the taste of a wine:
Perception of Whisky TerroirThe only poll I’ve been able to discover on whisky terroir was on the Whisky magazine community forum and while 78 people have thus far commented only 21 actually participated, so common perception will need to wait until my next whisky survey is ready to go. Still the impact of climate is far from new and haslong been associated with the Scottish climate, Shinjiro Torii and Masataka Taketsuru for for example who established Japan’s Suntory and Nikka brands built their distilleries where they felt it most closely resembled the Scottish climate. Still this has traditionally been more closely associated with water softness and the impact on alcohol evaporation.
Wine Vs WhiskyThe notion that terroir impacts wine makes sense in a very real way, the acidic quality of the grapes, the amount of sugar they contain which in turn impacts on the alcohol volume. As to whether the concept applies to whisky is another matter entirely however as the impact or terroir will likely be considerably higher for a wine (where less than 20% of the content is alcohol) than a whisky where the spirit may have been distilled to as much as 94.8% ABV before maturation. The concept has also been applied in a limited capacity to cognac as well however Wilson (1998) notes that this is largely not applicable and large scale production is now the norm.
The Heart of Gold ExperimentBruichladdich have stressed the importance of terroir for sometime, in particular emphasising the impact that altitude has on their Octomore field with the top two thirds ripening before the lower third (Bruichladdich, 2013). Now the distillery is conducting a great experiment on terroir working with farmers in eight segmented regions of Scotland, each tasked with growing 100 tonnes of Concerto barley in exactly the same way for the past four years, they tell me that
It is far to early to draw qualitative conclusions but there are already quantitative differences apparent. Again it is too early to say whether these differences are due to regional climatic variations or soil types or some other variable, but there is no doubt that these differences are significant with regard to the character of the new make spirit.As to whether the great experiment means more liquid gold in future for Bruichladdich, well we’ll just have to wait and see.