We need to stop gendering whisky

This week saw Jim Murray’s latest Whisky Bible published, and Becky Paskin call him out for his sexism. The industry reacted remarkably well, and hopefully we’ll see some much needed change.

Real change requires more than just condemning whilst it’s convenient, it requires our long term involvement. So I’d like to propose a simple change we can all make. Hopefully it will not only make you less likely to be seen as a beastly relic, it’ll also help you see more in whiskies themselves.

First, some quick background. Those close to me - and some who have merely been nearby when I’m drunk - know I’m writing a book about grain whisky. (I wouldn’t hold your breath. It’s been seven years so far, at this rate it’ll probably be published just after “The Lonely Planet Guide to the Heat Death of the Universe”...)

One of the sections of the book is on perceptions of grain whisky. It aims to tackle certain myths and misconceptions that affect grain whisky. But some of those affect more than just grain whisky. Please remember that the following is a draft, and subject to change... 

SMWS Outturn 295 - The Gathering

SMWS 16.47 - The Steeplejack's delightThe September outturn coincides with The Gathering, an annual event within the Society that will now be a rather more distanced affair, due to you-know-what.

In terms of whisky it has resulted in a rather nutty Longmorn, which was re-racked into a PX cask and has become something of a nut bomb. If you like sherried whiskies - and nuts - then this is going to be your pick of the list. It is not, however, mine. It’s not bad, but I just don’t like nuts that much. I’m more of a sherbet man...

So what was my favourite? Well, the pick of the list is the Glenturret. It’s dirty, peated whisky with an adorable sweetness. And water just made it better. Simply superb, and I’d like multiple bottles.

Worthy not only of a bottle but a whole paragraph to itself is the quite remarkable Auchentoshan, which spent 28 years in a refill cask and managed to come out at a belting 61.1% abv. Normally that indicates something might have gone wrong, but not here - it’s got fruits, ginger and nutmeg but very little heat. It’s a fine dram that proves that the figures don’t tell the whole story.

That’s it for my picks of this list. I’m seeing some buzz around the Caol Ila online, but I won’t be standing in anyone’s way for it. It’s competent, and deserving of a high score, but not my style. Stand between me and the Caol Ila, and I’ll just drink something else. Stand between me and the Glenturret, however, and we have a problem...

As usual Matt will have the other half of the list over at The Dramble - we managed to get our schedules to coincide, and it’s always a pleasure dramming with him. We managed to swap a few drams to nose, and I think this list has some winners on his side too!

SMWS Outturn 294 - Flavour Invasion

SMWS 63.61 - Getting baked in the afternoonIt seems like an age since the last preview tasting. Mostly because it is.

Fortunately, August has a pretty good list. There was nothing that I wanted more than one bottle of, but a lot of bottle candidates. The scores never dipped below 3.5, either.

It’s no surprise that I really liked the Cambus, but it has a little spice that makes me less enthusiastic about it when compared to last month’s effort. Also worth investigation is the An Cnoc, which has a a delightful nose.

The Glentauchers is yet another young stunner, and the Linkwood is a fruit bomb.

What strikes me is that this list is above average and that it’s also quite nicely in keeping with the season - lots of lighter, sweeter drams. There’s nothing wrong with a taste of another season, but it can be jarring to be sipping sunshine on a winter’s solstice. It’s nice to have some seasonal suitability...

As it was Matt’s birthday he got two peaty drams, and a few other things that are to his liking. The peated dram I previewed - the Croftengea - has been sent back for relabelling so will be late to arrive. A real shame, as it's my pick of the list - a superb young peaty beastie...

You can read Matt’s reviews for the rest of the list over at The Dramble.

BPG vs JPEG vs WebP vs JPEG-XR

I was watching this excellent video about image compression, and was reminded of this article. On re-reading it I noticed two things - firstly that I was mostly right, and secondly that this was first written in December 2014 - almost six years ago!

I should say that my biggest mistake was in predicting that Firefox would be the kingmaker. But I was right in predicting that Apple would be the last to support WebP - everyone else has for years, but they've just announced that they will add support soon. And I was partly right in saying that Apple would choose BPG because they had video patents in the pool - they did, but by then BPG had morphed into HEIF. Which is a very similar technology to BPG in that it's part of a video codec, and therefore very efficient and easily hardware accelerated. And Apple is part of the patent pool behind HEIF.

I was also right in predicting patent licensing issues for BPG or HEIF - for example students not being able to upload their coursework because the website didn't support HEIF. Some cast that as a tooling issue, but the slow uptake of HEIF has been because of licensing - tooling has been available for ages. The problem is whether or not you can legally use it. Support is slowly improving, but it's very much a second-class citizen unless you're in an all-Apple ecosystem.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. When HEIF was announced I was tempted to rewrite or update this article, but I never got around to it. Now, in 2020, I think it's better simply to resurface the article with this brief bit of modern context. And having established that, let's get to it...


The Internet loves a good format battle.

For years, we’ve had three image formats on the internet - JPEG, GIF and PNG.

We might be about to get another one.

 

HEY - Reinventing email?

Introduction

HEY LogoHEY is a new email service with bold claims. I spent 15 years of my career running email systems (1997 - 2014), and have used a heck of a lot of email clients. I long ago came to the conclusion that there’s no such thing as a perfect email client, but I’m always interested to see a new way of handling email.

The last service that impressed me was Google’s Inbox - rest in peace - which had some great features. HEY clearly leans towards some of Inbox’s features and ethos - to give you control over your email by stripping the experience back somewhat.

A quick spot of background - I run my own mail service at the moment. It’s fine and does exactly what I want. I get around 50 to 60 emails a day (excluding spam), which is nothing compared to my work inbox but for a personal account is quite a bit and can be overwhelming. The most important thing about running my own email system is that it gives me control and ownership of my data. When HEY hit the headlines (for a spat with Apple), the first thing I checked was “can I export my email”. The answer was yes, so I figured I’d give it a try and applied for a trial account.

On the SMWS, festival bottlings and handling demand

The Scottish whisky festival season came and went, and we were all in lockdown. No gatherings, just videoconferencing. No queues at distilleries, just order baskets on webpages.

Perhaps that increased demand? People knowing that they wouldn’t get to a tasting or Member’s Room to taste the festival whiskies?

Perhaps it’s just the ever-increasing demand hitting a point where the SMWS infrastructure can’t cope anymore.

It doesn’t matter which.

What matters is that it made people angry.

SMWS Outturn 289 - Hop Into Spring

SMWS 128.9 - ElectrochemysteryThe March list has lots of decent drams without breaking the bank. Nothing above a G price, and lots of decent scores of 4/5 for very reasonably priced drams. There's also plenty of variety, with almost all flavour profiles represented.

The star of the list was the Penderyn, which is a lighter and sweeter dram than our usual casks from that distillery.

Also worth looking at are the Strathisla, which is easily mistaken for sherry if you haven't read the details. The Caol Ila is the best peated dram on the list.

This has been a short turnaround due to late deliveries, so I apologise for the lack of analysis - it was all I could do to get the tasting notes written and formatted... Sadly Matt couldn't make it this month, so no notes from him to link to.

SMWS Outturn 288 - Get in the Mood

SMWS G10.23 - Honey on a cricket batIt’s February, so the Gods of Commerce demand their sacrifice to Hallmark Day Valentine’s Day. And this list is practically puppy love - a lot of youth, a lot of energy. More of a night clubbing than a candle-lit dinner...

The star of the list is the almost-too-spicy Strathclyde. That my romance with grain continues should surprise nobody, but this is yet another one of those divine noses that combines wood influence and fruit. More of this please! Also demanding multiple bottles is the Glen Deveron, which is a young fruit bomb with a little wood to back itself up - quite delightful.

Whilst the scores clustered around 4, there were only a couple of bottle candidates. One was the hilariously named Ardmore. Nowhere near as sherried as I expected, and nicely balanced, it’s a fun dram with a fun name. The other candidate was the Glen Scotia, which is full of citrus and hints of other flavours - a real joy to pick apart.

Honourable mentions would include the ludicrously named sherry monster that is the Glentauchers, and the destined-to-be-overlooked soft smoke of the Allt-a-Bhainne.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go and get some candles and set the mood. I plan on spending the evening drinking that grain... probably with another grain. I’m really not about sharing... 😉

(Not all the bottles arrived in time for previews, so this is about three bottles shorter than it should be.)

As ever Matt has the rest of the bottles over at The Dramble...

Things I Use - 2020

This is a list of things I use at the start of 2020. It's not completely canonical, but it's good enough. The idea is to track how things change from year to year.

Anything with a (£) is something I'm paying money for. Otherwise, assume it's free, or I'm on a free tier.

Battle Axe Islay Blend

50% abv, 8 years old.

SMWS Battle AxeThe nose has distant bonfire smoke, banana, and hints of peach and red apple. The mouthfeel is thin with no cling. The body has bonfire smoke, banana, dried coconut, salted caramels and grilled seafood. The finish has salted caramels, bonfire smoke and a little ginger - the latter builds in intensity (and heat) with repeated sips.

Water brings out thin, rapidly expanding whorling that doesn’t last long enough to mottle. The nose gains more smoke, banana and red apple, with the peach gone. The body gains red apple and more grilled seafood, and loses the dried coconut. The finish gains more bonfire smoke and salted caramels, and the ginger is diminished.

A very pleasant lightly peated dram, which I suspect has accomplished what it set out to do.

One for summer nights, under the stars.

Technical score: 4/5

Personal preference: I’d like a bottle.

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