We owe Bronze-Age Mesopotamia a lot. They gave us one of the first alphabets, code of law, and the first recorded beer recipe. They also gave us the first standardized, accurately surveyed maps. Before maps, knowledge of a place was purely subjective and experiential. Sure, a person could get directions like “walk towards the Sun until you hit the big tree, then hang a left”, but that was neither accurate nor objective. How left is left? How fast should they walk? What if the tree falls down or clouds obscure the sky? The traveler would have no choice but to wander, hoping to reach the destination purely by chance.
Almost five millenia later, the average person is in the same place when it comes to whisky tasting: wandering in the wilderness of the liquor store, hoping to strike it lucky. Sure, there are plenty of places you can read descriptions of a whisky like “oaky, sweet, with a hint of iodine and musk”, but how much is a hint? Is it more or less sweet than the last whisky that people called sweet? And what the heck is musk, anyway?
Distillers and malt masters have been using flavor wheels for years to help compare whisky to whisky, matching flavor profiles with their customers’ tastes. These wheels are vital to the work of (for example) a professional whisky taster, but aren’t very much help to the average person who walks into a bar or dram shop and is forced to choose from a selection of dozens upon dozens of different types, brands, ages and expressions of whisky. More and more whiskies hit the market every day, and without benefit of some kind of guidance even the discerning enthusiast might feel a little lost at sea.
Enter the The William Grant & Sons Whisk(e)y Map Program. Designed by the minds behind Glenfiddich, the Whisky Map is a simple two-axis chart that helps map a whisky’s flavor profile in relation to other whiskies based on its position on the oaky/floral and smoky/sweet continuums. Instead of choosing a drink based solely on price, region and a little luck, you can use the Whisky Map to find their next whisky by describing what you want relative to what you have had.
You can use the Whisky Map to tell a bartender in precise terms what you want instead of annoyingly vague descriptions cribbed from online tasting notes. You can use it to talk about tastes and flavors with a frame of reference in common with your friends and fellow enthusiasts. And, perhaps most importantly, you can use it to explore the world of whisky with some idea of where you’re going, without wandering blindly and without worrying that experimentation with a new whisky will lead you to an expensive bad experience.
The best tools for learning about whisky will always be taste and smell. On the other hand, just like there isn’t any reason why a sensible person wouldn’t carry a map with them when wandering around a strange country, there’s no reason not to use the Whisky Map when planning your next tasting or whisky menu.