On my husband’s bucket list was a tour of distilleries in Scotland. He wanted to see how and where real whisky was made. And, so, a few weeks ago, I found myself wandering through distillery after distillery hearing about malting, mash and wort, the importance of good water, what temperature you have to roast the barley to and what it looks like when you add yeast to the mixture.
By the end of the third distillery tour, I felt like I could give the presentation myself. Then, I began to really listen to the tour guides. I watched as each one puffed up with pride when they explained their point of difference, the one thing which they believed made their whisky taste better than any other.
And the whiskies do taste different. I can now pick out if the barley was heated with peat, coal or steam. The casks in which whisky is aged leaves a distinctive taste. And little changes like double or triple distilling, the amount of water added and whether it is a single malt or blended, create whiskies which will appeal to a wide range of tastes.
So which is best? Well that is a matter a taste. Some people prefer the smoky effect the peat brings to whisky, while others prefer the milder flavors which come from steam heat and triple distilling.
As we sampled three different whiskies at Glengoyne. David, our tour/tasting guide, told us it would be unusual for all of us to think the same one tasted best. Our preferences would be impacted by the type of whisky we normally drank, as well as what we ate with it. He was right.
Given dramatically different taste preferences, there is no way to create a whisky which will please everyone. Instead the best distilleries have figured out there is a market for each type of whisky as long as it’s done well.
Each distillery finds that one element which makes them different and then they focus your attention on that element, so as you taste their product you become a believer, too.
What I saw as we toured so many distilleries was the importance of niche strategy. Truly exceptional products do not come from trying to be all things to all people. Best in category comes when you commit to finding the element which makes your product or service unique.