Photograph: Magnus

Interview with Jörg Bechtold

This is the third interview in a serie of interviews with people who love whisky. This time I have interviewed Josh. I first found Josh on Twitter where he tweets about whisky. He also has two whisky sites in German (there is a translation feature for non German readers on the blog, see links below) which are updated regularly. Please put your hands together for Josh!

1. Tell me a little about yourself?

I’m 38 years old, living and working in my hometown Karlsruhe, Germany, earning my money as a professional webdesigner in a 15-strong agency. In my spare time I’m taking photos (mainly landscape and nature), listening to music (mainly rock/alternative), reading books and working on my two websites and Not to mention drinking whisky ;)

2. How did it all started, what’s your first experience of whisky?

I’ve always been a fan of spirits of all kinds, even after getting into whisky I still like fruit spirits (Calvados!), Rum and just recently I’m about to discover Sake (Japanese rice wine) and Shochu (Japanese rice or grain spirit). We have (or better had, recession didn’t stop them) quite a lot of Irish pubs in our hometown and after watching a documentary on Orkney on TV some 10-15 years ago I started to order single malts instead of beer and buing myself some bottles. It didn’t stop there. As far as I can remember my first single malts were Highland Park, Laphroaig and Bowmore all of which I still love today.

3. What’s your favourite and worst whisky experience and why?

Well, I’m trying about everything that contains some alcohol so I had quite a few bad experiences. Mekhong Thai whisky(?) is one of them. And I had some Chinese ones which were even worse. There a some German, Austrian (Reisetbauer!) and Swiss (Whisky Castle!) whiskies which are simply horrible. But there is bad Scotch too, e.g. Cutty Black (pure licorice!) or the standard Johnnie Walker Red Label. And even good whisky can turn bad if it sticks too long in a bad cask or gets the wrong finish (Jim, are you listening?). I’m always trying to find good bottlings aside of all the big names or trends and there are a lot more than one might think. And they are much more affordable. But of course, there are wonderful old sherried Highland Park single casks, lovely 30+ year old Glen Grant’s, perfekt old Nikka’s (even peated ones!) or Karuizawa’s and so much more to discover. My favourites are constantly changing.

4. What’s your opinion on today’s whisky rating systems (1-10, 1-100, stars etc.)?

I don’t like it, but people want it. On whisky fairs I often hear some guys saying: „Don’t try this one, it got only 88, the other one got 91!“. What a bullshit! Ratings only work for yourself, to distinguish what you have tasted with your own senses. Never rely on another ones judgement, always try yourself. There are so many whiskies that Jim Murray praised – and I didn’t like them at all. In my own tasting notes, I just say if i like it or not. And if I really want to compare two whiskies, than I compare them in the glass. That’s the only method that really works.

5. How do you taste whisky? Do you use water, and when?

The first sip is always neat, then I decide whether to dillute it or not. If yes, I pour more and more water in to see when the taste disappears. That is for cask strength whiskies, of course. After many years of prefering cask strenth bottlings I’ve returned to like my whisky at a strength of somewhere between 46-50%. And I love to do blind tastings, as it makes even big experts very humble.

6. How is the whisky ‘climate’ (bars, clubs, events & magazines etc.) in your country?

It’s improving, whisky becomes increasingly popular in Germany. For many years, Irish pubs and small online shops were the only resources, nowadays you can find single malts in nearly every bar (not much, but better than nothing). In many bigger cities there a whisky stores or at least wine stores with an additional whisky shelve. Tastings become more and more popular and are even organised by supermarkets. There a lots of local clubs and 10+ whisky fairs all over the country. And we have a whisky magazine called Der Whisky-Botschafter (the whisky ambassador) which is published by Christian Rosenberg who is also responsible for the InterWhisky in Frankfurt, one of Germanys biggest whisky fairs.

7. What’s your opinion on different cask-finish expression?

That’s a delicate subject. Every whisky is “finished”, even ex-Bourbon casks are giving a twist to the original spirit. So why not trying out what different casks do to the whisky? But not every combination works well and my opinion is, that the guys in the distilleries should decide what does fit to their whisky and what doesn’t. In reality, the marketing is in charge and more expressions mean more sales. In the end, the demand will make the judgement. If there is a market for finishes they will stay, but if it gets to expensive to experiment around and nobody buys it, they will disappear. So in fact we, the buyers, are in charge and can decide if we want it or not.

8. What is your opinion on the whisky snobbery that some are talking and writing about?

Whisky has always been a luxury product, single malt at least. Maltheads are willing to pay more than 100 € a bottle and that even for young spirits if it comes from Ardbeg, Bruichladdich or is any kind of restricted release. When we talk about snobbery we have to blame ourselves or at least ask ourselves what we may have contributed to the matter. But REAL snobbery is when you take some standard bottling, fill it in a crystal decanter and sell it to Russian millionaires. Be sure, they will buy it. Anyway, when someone pays a fortune on a bottle of whisky and drinks it with joy, I can appreciate that. When someone collects some brands because he really likes their whisky, no problem. But some are buying all the stuff just to sell it 2 years later for double the price. That is what really makes for the rising prices. But I’m getting off-topic…

9. Where in the world would you like to go to try whisky? Why, do you have a favourite place, distillery or country?

Since I started drinking whisky I wanted to go to Scotland, the holy land. After the first time there I understood that whisky is much more than just a drink. Whisky belongs to Scotland as much as the Highlands, the Islands, heather and thistle, the kilt, Nessie, and what ever comes to your mind. Whenever I have a dram, the pictures of my holidays come back into my mind. “My heart’s in the highlands, wherever I drink”, so to say. 

My favourite distilleries are constantly changing, but generally I’m more into the Highlanders and Speysiders (Tamdhu, Tomatin, Longmorn, Strathisla, …) than Islanders – with some remarkable exceptions like Highland Park and Laphroaig. And I’m a huge fan of Japanese whisky, especially Karuizawa. Suntory’s Yamazaki 18 is one of the best standard bottlings on the market, unfortunately high in price (my tipp: look out for it in travel retail, around 60 GBP!).

10. What whisky trends are you seeing, how does the future look like?

As my predecessors already mentioned, NAS (no age statement) or even new make is the big trend of the year. Highland Park has just recently announced to sell it in small bottles for high prices (which may be the next trend, as small bottles can help to conceal the rising prices). The fast growing markets are a challenge for the industry as the whisky production is not immediately scalable to any extend due to the maturation time. So they are trying to catch up with new ideas and even new distilleries like Roseisle. On the other hand, there a some relatively new (for the German market, at least) independent bottlers with ranges for reasonable prices. Again, the buyers are in charge and should not follow every trend. When you’re on whisky fairs, talk to the people behind the stands, ask them about their plans and tell them your opinion on it. It’s the best way to take influence on what’s coming up. You should watch other countries too, as India is coming strong. In the US there is a rising microbrewery movement that will swap over the atlantic some day. I’m in good spirits!

Did you enjoy the inter view? If you would like to be part of the serie or know some one else who would, please let me know.

  1. Inter view with Filip Ling
  2. Inter view with Gal Granov
  3. Inter view with Jörg Bechtold
  4. Inter view with Mark Gillespie
  5. Inter view with Thomas Maufer