It’s easy to tell when my mate Enrico has found a whisky he likes. He’s an animated chap at the best of times, prone to waving his arms around to make a point, something that he does with considerable regularity. But when it comes to a dram, it’s tropical fruit that he wants.
There’s nothing quite as scary as an intense Italian grabbing you by the lapels, looking you straight in the eye and calmly saying, ‘give me the fruity, fruity whisky’.
Fruitiness is a holy grail in whisky. 1960s’ Bowmores and 1970s’ Laphroaigs are legendary, with years of maturation in oak magically turning the distilleries’ characteristic smoke into buckets of grapefruit and pineapples. Irish pot-still whiskey’s wine gum uber-fruit wins awards every time it pops up. From Glenfiddich’s pear orchards to Kavalan’s mangos, Balblair’s bananas and Benriach’s tropical tinges, fruity flavours in whisky are a big thing.
But where does the fruit come from? As ever with whisky, it’s a combination of factors, but a place to start is one of the first things that helps a whisky starts developing its complex array of flavours: yeast.
Yeast serves two main purposes in the making of whisky. Firstly it turns sugar into alcohol and secondly it creates flavours. Unfortunately, the first half of yeast’s role is often getting more focus these days, and the flavour creation is taking a back seat, but there are still distilleries pushing their wash to be as fruity and flavoursome as they can. Check out more recently distilled Bowmores, especially indie releases: the distillery famed fruity character is making a comeback.
Fruit isn’t just a big thing in whisk(e)y, with the latest crazes across the spirits and beer worlds also being built around fruity flavours. Firstly, flavoured vodkas are rapidly becoming huge (Didn’t that already happen Billy, in the 2000s? – Ed). While there are weird and wonderful things like wedding cake, whipped cream and fluffy marshmallow (trust me, and if not, google it…), the biggest growth is in fruit-flavoured spirit. If you like a bit more to your drink, then look no further than rum – spiced rum has been around for ages, but Plantation rum’s recently launched Pineapple Rum won Tales of the Cocktail 2016’s prestigious best new spirit. Tropical fruit is on the rise.
The final fruity obsession is one I can get behind: fruity beer. Not beer with fruit in, which I’m also a big fan of, but beer that pulls its fruity flavours from hops. There’s a new wave of beers, from regular session strength pales to 9% Double IPAs, packed with tropical fruit flavour. Adding the hops later in the brewing process leaves the bitter alpha acids behind, instead dragging out the fruity flavours that have made American-style pale ales massive around the world. When taken to extremes, the result are beers that are alarmingly close to fruit juice in flavour and in some cases, appearance.
The last decade has been all about smoky drams, but the next looks like it could be the return of tropical fruit. Fortunately, the distillers saw it coming and there’s a new wave of fruity drams hitting the shelves – hopefully you won’t need to spend thousands on a bottle of 1960s Bowmore to get a glass full of pineapple.
Billy Abbott is a whisky geek and writer for The Whisky Exchange as well as his own blog Spirited Matters. No mangoes were harmed during the writing of this post, although one passion fruit was mildly bruised.