One of the coolest and most memorable parts of visiting the Miyagikyo distillery was the blending experience that Nikka set up for us. Just like at the Blender's Bar in downtown Tokyo, they had the components of Nikka's Pure Malt flavor profile broken down into single 12 year old profiles characterized by name: Peaty & Salty, Sherried & Sweet, Woody & Vanillic, etc. Whereas the menu at the Blender's Bar merely told you which percentages of each component comprised each of the blends, here we were actually able to taste them individually and play with them in our own personal creations. It was an incredible experience that both increased my awareness of the Nikka portolio, and left a lasting positive impression that I'll remember when talking to customers in the store.
It's easy to forget that a bottle of whisky is ultimately an experience. You're paying for the memory; just like when you go to a rock concert, baseball game, or week-long cruise in the Caribbean. I think some folks tend to lose sight of that every now and then. Maybe it's because, unlike wine, the experience of a whisky can go on for years after we open the bottle; we tend to see it as gas, or food, or some sort of staple commodity that needs to be rationed. If you're drinking purely for the sake of getting drunk, then really whisky is nothing more than another base asset. However, if you're treating whisky as something more than ethanol, something beyond an aphrodisiac, something you rank, and score, and write a blog about, and obsess about, and think about every day, then I think you have to look at each bottle as an experience. Like all experiences in life, some are more memorable than others—and it's not always the most expensive or extravagant that we remember.
Sometimes, however, there are factors outside the innate quality of the experience itself that make a moment significant. Those are the aspects of whisky that I choose to focus on rather than simply a cost analysis breakdown and a double-digit summary. There are stories, people, and moments like the afore-mentioned blending exercise that can quickly change how I view certain whiskies (like how I now view the Nikka 12 Year Old Pure Malt) because they create an experience that I'll remember more than the flavor of the liquid itself. Ten years from now you may recall where you were, who you were with, and what you were doing when you first tasted an amazing single malt that changed your life; but you might not actually remember what it tasted like. People ask me all the time if I've tasted expensive bottles like Macallan 30. Yes, I have; but I don't remember exactly where or when. I can, however, tell you exactly where I was when I first tasted Glenlivet 12: I was in my apartment in San Diego with my college roommates and we were trying to act all fancy with an "expensive" bottle of Scotch.
Looking back, that's a pretty great memory—one that I'll remember forever. Definitely worth the $24 I spent on that bottle of Glenlivet. On the other hand, sometimes an expensive bottle of whisky is the experience; like when I brought a bottle of Cristal to my holiday party last year and we all acted like blingy hip-hop artists. That, too, was quite memorable. Glenlivet 12 isn't ever going to win any "Whisky of the Year" awards, and Cristal often gets thrown into the overpriced, overhyped, big brand marketing category, but I've had more fun with those two bottles than I've ever had with some 94 point product that I bought based on the review, tasted, and moved on from.