What is it about whisky that enсоurages philosophising?
Fritz Allhoff (FA): Whisky is a very cerebral drink; unlike many other spirits, there’s a lot to think about when you drink whisky. The history and culture of whisky also invite philosophical reflection, as does the sense of place that whiskies evince.
Marcus Adams (MA): Many people who drink whisky do so unreflectively. That is, they think about the tasting experience – such as the flavours and aromas at the nosing, palate and finish stages. But beyond these aspects, not many people focus on what makes a good whisky. Is it merely the taste or are there other such as the history, location it was made, and so on that make it a good whisky? One of our main goals in publishing the book was to encourage people to be more reflective about whisky.
Which thinker best sums up our relationship with whisky?
FA: Historically, big-name philosophers are on the record for being wine drinkers if on the record for drinking at all; Plato and Hume, for example, both talk about wine. But one reason for whisky’s absence in the classical philosophical canon is simply that whisky wasn’t around then.
When you go to philosophy conferences now, you can quite see how taken philosophers are with whisky!
What branches of philosophy can be applied to whisky?
MA: The most obvious branch of philosophy that can be applied to whisky evaluation and tasting is aesthetics, which is concerned with our appreciation of things such as art, music and so on. Other branches that are applicable include the philosophy of language and logic, among others.
With the philosophy of language applied to whisky, one is concerned with how we should understand the language of, for example, a whisky tasting note.
What’s the big philosophical ‘thought experiment’ [a proposal for an experiment that would test a hypothesis] relating to whisky?
FA: Do you think that you could make an Islay whisky in Kentucky? Assuming not, why? What is it in whisky that outstrips the physical elements of its manufacture? Why not send the water, peat, and already-grown barley? Although probably not the sea air, since many Islay single malts are aged on the mainland. Are whiskies irrevocably tied to their place of production or can those features be synthesized elsewhere?
Location is one of the big philosophical questions then?
MA: Anyone who has the least bit of experience with single malts and bourbons can recognise distinct characteristics of whiskies that are produced in different locations. Islay whisky, for example, is distinct for the peaty and smoky taste imparted to it by the unique process by which it is produced. Whether these qualities are essentially tied to a particular location, however, is a philosophical question.
Fritz Allhoff, PhD, is assistant professor in the Department of Philosophy at Western Michigan University
Marcus P. Adams, M.A. is a PhD student in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Pittsburgh
Whiskey and Philosophy is published by John Wiley & Sons and is available online