I saw the tweet on the morning of WhiskyFest San Francisco. You know the one: the video of “scotch pods,” Glenlivet’s Capsule Collection of cocktails served in edible casings made of seaweed. “We’re redefining how whisky can be enjoyed,” it read. #noglassrequired.
The backlash among whisky drinkers quickly supplanted the furor over the recently passed tariffs on scotch, even exceeding the outcry surrounding the release of Jane Walker in 2018. Never mind that many angry tweeters missed the point—there wasn’t unadulterated Glenlivet in these pods, and they weren’t going up for sale at the store. They contained whisky-based cocktails, designed by a London bartender as a special one-week promotion to highlight citrus, spice, and wood flavors. Yet scotch lovers came out in droves to express their displeasure. After the backlash came the backlash to the backlash, with other whisky drinkers calling out detractors as snobs and gatekeepers.
My initial reaction was merely bemusement—Glenlivet wants to “redefine how whisky can be enjoyed,” but how much enjoyment can be had in such a fleeting drinking experience? You can’t nose and barely have the chance to taste the liquid. I defend anyone’s right to drink their whisky the way they like it, but admit that I see little point in, say, doing shots (unless intoxication is the only goal, which I don’t recommend). Perhaps shooters are an unfair comparison, but like them these pods are meant to be consumed in one go—pop it in the mouth, bite down, swallow.
As I walked the floor at WhiskyFest that evening, though, I realized that many of the experiences on offer might appear just as outlandish as whisky pods at first glance. Bowmore set up an “oyster luge”—slurp the oyster, fill the shell with single malt, drink up. Maker’s Mark replicated its Kentucky tasting cellar, to the point of cooling down the interior to the same temperature as the underground room. Dewar’s converted its whiskies into vapor, aromatizing the liquid and allowing drinkers to separate their nosing and tasting processes. Taken in isolation, these experiences would be lame—but in conjunction with actually tasting the whisky, they offered fresh experiences to help drinkers learn and understand more about the whisky.
Consumed alone, cocktail pods don’t make a lot of sense; a one-sip wonder doesn’t allow much opportunity to get to know the drink. But as part of a repertoire, one way among many of drinking whisky, they could provide a new perspective. Think of it this way: When you first began drinking whisky, did you start off having it on the rocks or mixed with Coke? Maybe after that, someone encouraged you to try it neat, and you found that was nice, but you also still liked it on the rocks. Perhaps you also came to enjoy whisky cocktails, and whisky chocolates, and even whisky in your barbecue sauce or steak marinade. Consuming whisky in different ways means more entry points into enjoyment—ample opportunities to get to know the spirit more deeply and from different perspectives.
If it’s okay to cook with whisky, and it’s okay to drink whisky neat and on the rocks and with Coke, why shouldn’t it be okay to make it into a gel pack cocktail? So maybe it ends up not being that enjoyable; failed experiments can be every bit as valuable to learning as successful ones. Don’t be afraid to play with your whisky. Get silly. Mess it up. The worst that happens is you don’t like what you put in your mouth, in which case, spit it out. But stay open to the idea that (aiming for intoxication aside) there is no wrong way to experience whisky—and you might just be surprised.