Thursday, 26 February 2015

Old vs New - VAT 69

VAT 69: 70's vs Contemporary

One of those bottles is the wrong way up, surely.

My old granddad was a confusing chap. Full of ancient wisdom and barely concealed xenophobia, he used to churn out clich├ęs for the vast majority of his waking hours. I spent a great deal of my young life being painfully aware that contemporary items were of inferior quality to things produced in his day, whilst simultaneously being painfully unaware that I was born, or so I was told.

Skip forward thirty years or so and I find myself regularly drinking with the modern day version of my grandfather. The (piss) artist known as Agent X, whilst a number of years my junior, often tries to counsel me in the ways of the world, regularly coming out with a whole host of wild and disturbing maxims. Whereas granddad would rely on banality, Agent X has planted himself firmly in the region of the subversive. One evening he reliably informed me that Jews can't/don't (I can't remember which) eat cake and that peated whisky is like anal sex. I'll leave that one to your imagination.

Ok, now I'm really confused

There's no doubt that both my grandfather and Agent X, whilst clearly insane, could be regarded as prophets of their respective times; their differences in style are a stark reminder that the world we find ourselves in now is a million miles away from the world that once was. That, if you'll forgive the clumsy segue, brings me nicely to the subject of whisky.

A number of influential whisky enthusiasts have put forward the notion that, due to the global demand for whisky in general and, to a lesser extent, the appetite for single malt bottlings, the majority of modern blends pale in comparison to their former selves. In an attempt to experience this for myself, I took the opportunity to compare two bottlings of one of blended whisky's permanent fixtures, VAT 69 - one from today and one from the 1970's. To give this experiment a modicum of scientific integrity, the samples were tasted blind.

VAT 69 - Sample 1

Sherbet, spirit and saccharin. This is pretty uninspiring, if I'm honest. A little burnt sugar after a while but it's all rather dull. It reminds me a bit of the Douglas Laing King of Scots, although nowhere near as horrific.

Thin and a little bitter to start with. Faint malt, a fair whack of smoke and a little spice. Nearing the finish it develops a squirty-cream note.

Short. Yup, that's about all I can say.

VAT 69 - Sample 2

Strong varnish, pear drops, acetone and a huge amount of polished wood. I'm starting to suspect that someone has made a mistake here. This doesn't tally with the first sample at all.

Wood and, to start, cardboard. Faint sherry after a while with butter toffee, wisps of smoke and a drop of menthol. A little more time brings big sherried notes, wax and polished wood. The difference in quality is marked. Tastes nothing like sample 1.

Long and drying with honeycomb and smoke. Pleasing.

You win this time, granddad

There's no doubt in my mind that sample 2 is head and shoulders above sample 1; it's not even close. Sample 2 is revealed as the 1970s bottling and, if this is anything to go by, I can see what the enthusiasts are saying. However, before we get all misty eyed and nostagic, the 1970s bottling isn't a "90+" whisky, it just so happens that the contemporary bottling is so awful in comparison.

Big thanks go to Agent X (who may or may not be a real person) for the samples, for setting this up and for the worrying imagery.

Oh yeah, if any of my Jewish readers could get in touch, that would be great. I have a question to ask you.

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