Single Malt Whiskey Scatter Plot

Performance improvement professionals need to understand and use a variety of visual tools to display data. The two-dimensional scatter plot or matrix is one of the classic tools in the kit bag.

In this example, Malts.com (http://www.malts.com) has helpfully mapped the scotch whiskeys they carry (there many other well-known scotches not on this map but there are not sold by Malt.com).

As with any two-dimensional plot, the selection of axis is critical. First, they should exhibit independence or exclusivity, that is, the dimensions chosen minimize overlap or correlation. Second, the factors selected should provide some form of useful guide, insight or value add.

In this example, Malts.com selected a vertical axis to reflect degree of peat; from the Smoky top part of the axis, to the Delicate bottom part where little or no peat is used in the malting process.

The horizontal axis is relatively less clear-cut, but in general it represents the richness or earthiness of the scotch. On the right end is Richness reflective of American and European oak casks that impart vanilla, cigar box, and perhaps nutty overtones. This is contrasted with the left end, “Light,” characterized by more floral nose and fruitier taste. These properties come from a number of factors including the extent wood casks are used, the age of the casks, and the shape and type of stills.

Helpfully, there is a relatively good correlation between regions of Scotland and the quadrants. Twenty-five years ago I favoured the upper right quadrant as exemplified by Lagavulin. Later my palate drifted south towards the lower right as personified by Macallan. Now and for the last 5 or 6 years my preference is for the lower left, such as the Glenkinchie. This style, delicate and fruity, is what defines the Lowlands scotches. Today, at least in North America, the Lowlands style is generally not as popular as the strong peaty scotches, and so a Lowlands person such as myself must often wade through bins of Highland and Speyside malts or hand-carry treasures back from the U.K. where Lowland scotch is much more abundant. Some Lowland scotches I think are worth trying include Littlemill, Rosebank, and Auchentoshan. The Campbeltown area is also of personal interest, especially Springbank, with its floral notes and light peat.

In any case, one of the side benefits of understanding this tool is that it can make even a hobby like scotch collecting and drinking appear somewhat business-like and rational. It’s a great excuse to have a wee dram or two in the name of measurement and analysis.

Another site I use for information on scotch is http://www.royalmilewhiskies.com/default.asp. Michael Jackson’s “Whiskey: The Definitive World Guide” is one of the best resources on the science and art of making whiskey.

Whiskey Magazine is a good publication devoted to the “water of life”: http://www.whiskymag.com/.



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