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NOW, if you hang out with enough people who drink whisky, blended or otherwise, you’ve probably hear them using the phrase “cockroach smell” or “ka cat mei” in Cantonese, to describe a certain whisky. I’ve even had someone telling me he prefers blended whiskies to single malts because of that “cockroach smell”.

Now, what exactly do people mean by that? One of the most common whiskies I’ve heard described that way is the Glenfiddich 12-Year-Old, so I asked Glenfiddich regional brand ambassador Barry Chalmers what he thought about that description. Turns out he was just as baffled.

“I don’t know what it means, because I’ve never smelled a cockroach before in my life either!” he said with a laugh.

Chalmers reckons that one reason people here use that description for the whisky is because they may be used to blended whiskies, which tend to have a less distinct flavour.

“Therefore, when they move on to single malt, which is more flavoured and distinct, they may not be able to get used to it,” he said.

That still didn’t quite solve the mystery though, so I decided to test it myself by taking a little more time to analyse the Glenfiddich 12YO to see if I could detect any, er … familiar insect scents.

While I didn’t really know what a cockroach smelled like either (and I was certainly not going to catch a real one and attempt to smell it), I did detect traces of iodine and a slight peaty, medicinal flavour that is so prevalent in Islay single malts amongst the woody and fruity notes of the whisky. Comparing it side by side with a blended whisky, and that iodine-ish flavour becomes even more distinct.

So maybe Chalmers was right after all. Maybe people here are so used to the less obtrusive flavours of blended Scotch that they just can’t get used to the heavier and more distinctive flavours of single malt whisky.

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