Archive for December, 2008

Bruichladdich “progressiveness”: your thoughts?

Saturday, December 6th, 2008

Since the new team took over Bruichladdich several years ago, they have been the most progressive Scotch whisky distillery, experimenting with peating levels, the number of distillations, barley varieties and, of course, a dizzying array of finished (“additional cask enhanced”) whiskies. Indeed, they have introduced more new whisky expressions than any other distiller I can think of.

I think it is fair to say that they have also been progressive in their marketing tactics, which included running a high-performance race car on 4x distilled Bruichladdich spirit.

Having visited dozens of Scotch distilleries and interacted with thousands of whisky enthusiasts on both sides of the pond during the past few years, I can’t think of a distillery that has polarized an industry so much in the 20 years I’ve been in this business.

So, what do you think about Bruichladdich and what they’re doing? What do you like? What don’t you like? Let’s get a discussion going.

Today is the 75th Anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition

Friday, December 5th, 2008

Take a moment today to celebrate by having a glass of something good to drink at a place of your choosing. If you already have this figured out, take a moment and tell is what you’re having and where you’re going to enjoy it.

(It’s 9:00 am, as I am posting this, so I still haven’t decided what I’m drinking. But trust me: I will be drinking something by the time 5:00 pm rolls around.)

A new Rye from Oregon

Thursday, December 4th, 2008

I just received this email this morning:

John, I am a distillery consultant. In January this year I was hired by Cascade Peak Spirits in Ashland, Oregon. They wanted me to come out and help with their vodka production as well as start production of a rye and bourbon. I set the rye up to be made in the traditional manner, unlike what most of the micros are doing with making any whiskey they make from a wash, they were set up to ferment the whole mash and distill in a pot, on the grains.

It turned out very well. I put it in 10 gallon barrels with a light char. The mash was 85% rye and 15% malted barley. All organic. They are getting ready to release it.

I know that a lot of rye drinkers read this blog, so I wanted to pass this information on to you. Plus, I’ll be getting a sample of it and I’ll let you know what I think.

Scapa turns 16

Thursday, December 4th, 2008

scapa16.jpgFirst a 12 year old, then a 14 year old, Scapa is now being released as a 16 year old. A gap in production has forced its owners to release increasingly older stocks of whisky while its young stocks continue to mature.

A whisky producer has a few options when dealing with gaps in production like this. Chivas Brothers, the owners of Scapa, have chosen the most honest and direct route (which I applaud): increase the age statement.

They could have just been bottling Scapa as a 12 year old all these years. People don’t like change, and changing the age statement (and packaging) involves a certain degree of risk on Chivas’ part. That’s why Ardbeg 17 year old remained being sold as a 17 year old even after the actual age of the whisky inside the bottle was well into its 20s. A whisky producer is allowed to put a younger age statement on the label, just not an older age statement. (This practice also occurs in the American whiskey industry, by the way.)

Another option that Scapa will have in the future is to combine young Scapa with old Scapa, take the age statement off of the product, and give it a name instead. (Hey, we could have a contest on what to call it! Any suggestions?) This is occurring a lot in the industry now too. 

According to a write-up in Talking Retail, Scapa 16 yr. old is being released this month in several markets (UK, US, France, Scandinavia, and Travel Retail) for about $100.

Whisky Boom? (Part 2)

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008

Continuing my previous post about the current whisky “boom” which may be short-lived or experiencing a significant bump in the road, we just received yet another email from another historically consistent advertiser:

As far as advertising is concerned I regret to inform you that (we) do not plan to advertise in 2009 due to the changing and deteriorating economic conditions that small companies like (us) cannot ignore.

These aren’t the kind of emails we get from whisky companies during a boom period.

And just this past week a long-time marketing manager for another small whiskey company informed us that she was let go–and was forced to go to the office over the weekend to clean out her desk so no one would be around when she did it.

The momentum of the whisky “boom” is facing a significant headwind with the recession we are experiencing. Sure, the big whisky conglomerates will get through this just fine, but I worry about some of the smaller companies.

Bourbon drinkers: good news, bad news

Monday, December 1st, 2008

A decade ago, I was encouraging the bourbon producers to experiment more. While the Scotch whisky industry had already been well into wood finishing and other sorts of tinkering, the American whiskey industry was, to a large degree, stuck at the starting gate.

A large reason for this is the fact that the bourbon industry is a very traditional group of distillers and (justly) proud of their heritage and traditions. They weren’t going to go out and start making radical changes overnight.

The good news is that all this has changed now. During this past decade, bourbon producers have really kicked it into high gear. Now we have Buffalo Trace Experimental Collections, Parker’s Heritage Collections, Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection and much more to keep us entertained.

What’s the bad news? Well, we’re guinea pigs to a degree. The whiskey companies are saying to us: “you asked for it, you got it!” Sure enough, we now have bourbon finished in Zinfandel wine barrels, straight wheat whiskeys, sweet mash whiskeys, four grain whiskeys, 27 year old bourbons, 23 year old rye whiskeys, and a lot more in the pipeline.

Some of the stuff has been incredibly good. Others have been disappointing. That’s what experimenting is all about. Some experiments work out, while others don’t.

I suppose we never get to see the really bad experiments. (I hope so anyway.) Those should never be bottled as a stand alone product.

But what about the “so so” experiments? Yep, we still get those, and I understand why. The producer doesn’t know how popular the whiskey will be (and they are hoping for the best), so they release it.

So, the responsibility is on your shoulders. Embrace the experimentation and be glad that we have it, but also be cautious. “Try before you buy” is always sage advice.