By Rupert Wheeler

The Spirit of Islay

What soundtrack would you choose?
When I took over as Managing Editor just over a year ago I indicated that one of my objectives was to get out and visit as many distilleries as possible. Having recently visited Kentucky and seen Bourbon being produced, I have just been to the other end of the spectrum and had the opportunity of visiting Laphroaig on Islay. Doing some online research I was struck by the strong opinions there are; two distinct camps - you are either a lover or hater of Laphroaig. Very similar to the verdict on Marmite and for those not familiar, it's a yeast extract usually spread on toast. Whilst at Laphroaig, we spent a very enjoyable hour or so in the tasting room, sampling the 15 Years Old, Cairdeas, 32 Years Old and the 21 Years Old. This brings me on to a recent article I read about the sound artist Nick Ryan.

Nick has the neurological condition synaesthesia, which is where two or more of our senses are involuntarily experienced together. This means that Nick can hear and see taste for instance.

With this in mind he has created 'soundscapes' for a wine company producing Rioja and quotes, "My synaesthesia means that I experience sounds that I involuntarily associate with what I'm seeing in front of me and therefore I understand how one sense can be associated with another. This is why Campo Viejo challenged me to match its tasting notes and wines with sound."

So I was thinking as I tasted my various Laphroaigs how I would interpret these into sound. With my favourite being the Triple Wood, the track that came to mind was from Pink Floyd, The Great Gig in the Sky from the album The Dark Side of the Moon. Looking to the future, what about us trying to take Whisky Magazine's tasting notes and reinterpret them as soundscapes? Some people are put off a particular whisky by the tasting notes, but if it was linked to sound through an app on their smartphone it might actually help. Let's have your ideas on what whisky goes with what sound.

Something else that caught my eye recently was an article again related to wine but also very relevant to whisky. It has been established with research that wine tastes better if it is thought to be expensive. Researchers have found that preconceived beliefs created a placebo effect so strong that it changed the neural processes. It was also found that drinking from a heavier glass was said to make the wine taste even better. So does that mean that if I go out and buy a cheap supermarket brand whisky and drink it from a really heavy tumbler that this will result in a very fine dram? I don't think so.

Behind my desk I have every single copy of Whisky Magazine since issue one and I thought why not go back ten years and see what was going on. By sheer coincidence the headline news was, 'Future uncertain for Allied Brands' which at the time owned Laphroaig, Scapa and Glendronach. A number of potential bidders were detailed, including Diageo, and there was even talk of mothballing some of the distilleries. How times change and for every month I have been here I have been notified about another distillery being opened. In fact, today I was informed of a new distillery being planned for Raasay.

One other news item which caught my eye was 'Low prices threaten barley.' Scottish farmers were complaining that the future supply of barley to the distillery companies was under threat as they could not obtain a reasonable price - quoted at £90 per tonne. This very topic was raised whilst I was on Islay and now demand for barley outstrips supply with the current price at £550 - £750 per tonne.

And finally I would like to get our readers involved in our 'Battle of the Blends' competition. We have reached stage four with two stages to go. The blend will be complete and ready for judging by 1 September 2015. We want to involve our readers in the judging process and if you are interested then please contact me on the usual email address. You will receive samples of both blends nicknamed at the moment 'Left hook' and 'Right hook.' All you have to do is vote on your favourite. The winning blend will be announced on 4 December 2015.