Whisky Advocate

Whisky producers: be honest and straight-forward when marketing your product

September 27th, 2010

“This is our first creation in 52 years, and it really is a creation…” –Maker’s Mark President Bill Samuels Jr., The Huffington Post.

I’ve been reading comments like this about the new Maker’s Mark “46” Bourbon everywhere, not just in The Huffington Post. It’s the headline of most articles announcing the new bourbon, like here in Forbes. And when it’s not in the headlines, its usually stated somewhere in the article itself, like here in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Heck, it was even the headline in the press release put out on the wire.

While the statement sure is catchy, it’s not completely accurate. It’s really the third new Maker’s Mark bourbon in more than 50 years. In addition to Maker’s 46, there was a 101 proof Gold Wax expression (basically a higher proof version of the standard Red Wax bottling) and also a Black Wax “Select” which had older whiskeys in it. (I have included a photo of my bottle of the Black Wax version, next to a Red Wax bottle, below. I drank the two Gold Wax bottles I had.)

These whiskeys were not released in the U.S. (I picked up my bottles in Duty Free.) Still, they are different expressions of Maker’s Mark.

Don’t get me wrong. I really like the new Maker’s 46. And I have great respect for Bill Samuels, Kevin Smith (Master Distiller at the time), and the rest of the team at Maker’s. I just think that saying it’s the first new Maker’s Mark bourbon in over 50 years is stretching the truth a little bit.

How about you? Read any whisky marketing lately that didn’t come across as 100% accurate?

113 Responses to “Whisky producers: be honest and straight-forward when marketing your product”

  1. Gal says:

    Good point John.
    while I dont have an example myself, this is really something to think about,
    juts recently sampled the MM 46 and it’s lovely,
    ;)
    Gal

  2. Ben Kickert says:

    I think it would be easier to list the few whiskey marketing statements that are 100% accurate. It seems everyone stretches the truth: from conglomerates listing fake distilleries when everything is made at the same DSP to stretching the history of their brand / master distiller / etc.

    • Sku says:

      This is a big pet peeve of mine. Even worse than distilleries pretending that each brand is made at a separate distillery are American independent bottlers who call themselves distillers, show pictures of their distilleries and otherwise imply that they created the whiskey in the bottle when in fact, they bought the stuff from elsewhere. Scotland has a very open independent bottling tradition in which indies freely acknowledge where their whisky was distilled or, if not, make it clear that it is an independent bottling of some mystery distiller. Why can’t American companies be as forthright?

      • Ben Kickert says:

        That is exactly what I am talking about. I don’t expect distilleries to always spill the beans on the production of their products. I don’t even mind a bit of mystery, but misdirection and misinformation is unacceptable.

    • Michael says:

      I do not buy any whiskey if I do not know where and how it was made. I do not really need any “mysteries” . One of the reasons that I do not focus on American whiskey is that there is always some “mystery” in special releases and there is never a clear distillery history and continuum in those releases. As a matter of fact, I even stopped buying any new (Scotch) whisky at all to avoid marketing spin.

    • Ryan says:

      Right on, Ben! Epic conversation between Sku and yourself about the inauthentic authenticity of whiskey mythologies. Basic common sense tells a man that liquor stores shelves are not the place to go for historical knowledge concerning a bottler/conglomerate/distillery/master distiller. If someone is making a great product that they are proud of, then great, they should specifically discuss which characteristics of the product they are most proud. Including where it actually came from. Otherwise I can completely do without the year of their great-granddaddy’s birth, or the properties of the magical waters up-stream from the distillery… etc. That’s all ridiculous.

  3. JohnM says:

    Bushmills founded in 1608…
    IDL often say that Irish whiskey is all triple-distilled.

  4. I agree that a statement like this is stretching the truth quite a bit. And a popular brand like Maker’s Mark shouldn’t have to play such shenanigans with their customers.

    But this story also touches a subject that I find far more annoying: The limited releases for Duty Free (or Travel Retail or however you want to call it) that make it nearly impossible for some mere mortals to get hold of interesting whisky expressions. But perhaps this topic is alreeady on John’s rant agenda too ;)

    • Vince says:

      Oliver:

      You hit the nail on the head with my biggest pet peeve. I am a whiskey enthusiast that supports distilleries in a significant way (i.e. I buy alot of whiskey). I cant stand when a new expression comes out and I immediately know their is no way I am going to get this since I do not travel internationally.

  5. James says:

    Honest marketing–oxymoronic?

  6. Mark C says:

    Too much marketing these days is a load of – to quote yourself in a previous post – bullshit. Marketers will say anything to get you to buy their products. I think we know to take much of this with a pinch of salt but of course there are plenty of others who are not so savvy.

  7. JT says:

    I don’t like the cryptic manner in which whiskies are marketed, particularly with single-malt, single-cask, and no age statement bottles.

    I find myself often trying to remember the difference as I’m shopping…and I read this column nearly everyday! The run-of-the-mill consumer has no idea of the nuances that differentiate these releases. Yet the distilleries continue to muddy the waters to ensure that they stay profitable, while confusing their end customers.

  8. Keith says:

    Michters, the whiskey loved by George Washington. Buying the rights to an old name and then pretending that you’re still the same whiskey is my personal favorite.

    I’ve asked many people in the industry why America treats the noble-in-Scotland tradition of independent bottling as something akin to buying a porno magazine. No one seems to have much of an answer. Plenty of good, and a few great, whiskies are ruined for me by the ridiculous BS spun by the marketing dept.

  9. Marc says:

    A recent example that comes to my mind is the Bowmore Tempest Feis Ile 2010 release. All marketing gave the impression that it was a new limited batch of 500 bottles produced for the festival… but as far as my research informed me, it is nothing more than 500 bottles of the normal old Tempest! It is even in the same packaging, the only difference is a small medallion draped around the neck of the bottle, and a card of authenticity with a bottle number. The marketing was clearly intentionally misleading to give the impression of a new limited batch.

  10. Luke says:

    Oh Dear – advertising blurb:

    “…our Magical Coastal Distillery…”
    “…almost hear the waves crashing against the rocks…”
    “…oldest established distillery in…”
    “…it is said they cried tears of whiskey…” (NO JOKE this actually appears on a bottle!)

    A Curse on Marketing!!!

  11. Paul M says:

    WhistlePig is marketed as if it comes from Vermont. I remember reading in an earlier WDJK that it’s a Canadian Rye.

    Maybe honest and straight-forward doesn’t sell as well as good old fashion B.S.

  12. bgulien says:

    John, your title said: be honest and straight-forward when marketing your product.
    That is the first thing marketeers won’t do.
    I have great respect for those little, independent distilleries in Scotland, who don’t have the budget to employ a professional liar.
    I can laugh at the guerilla marketing of Bruichladdich or the friendly atmosphere at the Bladnoch Forum.
    And the excellent whisky to be bought at reasonable prices.
    One question for the American guy’s.
    Last week I bought a bottle of Noah’s Mill and Rowan’s Creek.
    Both excellent whiskies. I was always a fan of Johnny Drum Private Stock.
    On the internet I noticed that the 3 originate from the same distillery.
    Is that honest. Maybe I am missing something, but in the single malt whisky world, a whisky comes from a distillery and that’s that.
    It seems that in the Bourbon world, one distillery can have several brands.
    I took a look at Heaven Hill, and I saw a awful lot of brands coming out of 1 distillery.
    What is the difference between these brands and how do they achieve this.
    worldsAlso Heaven Hill boasts a plethora of brands.
    Do the whiskies come from one still or

    • JoshK says:

      One American distillery can have many different recipes. The mashbill (american whiskey isn’t all barley but a combination of barley, corn, rye, wheat, etc) and yeast vary as well as the barrels and aging. Some brands (such as Four Roses) have a code on the bottle to decifer the recipe.

      • bgulien says:

        Thanks for clearing this up.
        But I still have a question: On the bottle(s) it says:
        Distilled in kentucky, Bottled by the Rowan’s Creek Distillery (or Noah’s Mill).
        Is this a result of owning the brands by take-overs or just a marketing ploy, to show the artisan heritage?
        Don’t get me wrong, I very much like the whiskey. But in the light of the discussion, I wonder about the marketing side.

        • JoshK says:

          This happens from some micro-distilleries that act as independent bottlers on the side. This implies they bought the whisky from another established distillery while they are waiting for their own stocks to age.

        • Ryan says:

          It’s just marketing.

    • Red_Arremer says:

      I’m with you bgulien. I like to know the history of the stuff in the bottle I’m drinking.

      Not explicitly announcing the manufacturer of a product is something people take for granted– So what’s wrong with whiskies with brands, but no distilleries. After all shouldn’t the taste of a whisky really be the main thing– does it really matter where a whisky came from? Some blended scotches come from as many 30 distilleries or more. How much should be put out there on the label?

      • Marc says:

        All the distilleries in the blend listed on the back of the bottle: Man would I love to see that! :)

      • Ryan says:

        The label?? Heck, in the case of publicly traded brands, screw the label. If you seek information about the history of a company or it’s products, or their interpretation of their industry, just pull their Form 10-K (or any other SEC filing) and see for yourself how closely their branding matches disclosures concerning their common stock. You can also see whom they co-package with, or engage in contract packaging with or for.

  13. bgulien says:

    Sorry. The last 2 lines should be deleted.

  14. Marc says:

    Oh wait, I have another one! What about Macallan packaging stating its a highland malt… when it is in fact considered a Speyside?! I know Speyside is a district of the Highlands, but it would surely be more correct to state Speyside on the bottle!?

  15. From the Bowmore website:

    “…one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland as well as producers of the very first legal single malt whisky on Islay. Achieved the same way today as yesterday, by our passionate team, our floor malted barley…”

    So they are making their whisky with 100% own floor malted barley? And a lot denpends on the definition of the word “yesterday”. I guess we just have to take it literally to save credibility ;)

  16. DaveP says:

    To set the record straight…..in approximate order …

    First … there was red wax Maker’s Mark …

    Next, there was Jimmy Conn’s Magic mint … a precursor to the Mint Julep product ..named after Maker’s Mark legendary Sales guru ..Jimmy Conn …no longer produced.

    Next, I think was the 101 proof…”Gold wax” product …first available in limited markets in the US ..principally KY ..later, also available in Japan …then limited to Japan only … no longer produced.

    Next, I think was Mint Julep … a Maker’s pre-mix … available in limited US markets ..principally in KY …released in small quantities a few weeks before the KY Derby each year…still in production.

    Then came Vintage … it was a small batch, limited quantity release.. pretty sure it was the precursor to the Black wax product … it was sold in the bottle that later became the VIP bottle …no longer produced

    Then came the “Black wax” product … it was only available in Japan and select duty free stores… no longer produced….

    There have also been a number of iterations of the VIP product …at least 5 that I can think of…. but they have never been nationally distributed ..only select markets … and the most recent is still in production …

    Finally, comes Maker’s 46 …a great addition to the family …but hardly the first since the red wax was introduced … even if you ignore the Magic Mint and all of the VIP releases … it is at least the 5th line extension since the red wax product hit the market…. by my count, it is more like the 11th….

    Now… if you were to say … the first nationally distributed line extension since red wax was introduced … i think i would give you credit for it….

    • John Hansell says:

      Thanks. I was only listing the ones I was personally aware of. But I am not surprised there were others.

    • The Bitter Fig says:

      Allow me to play devil’s advocate here. Perhaps it is the case that the previous Maker’s Mark expressions were effectively the same whiskey as the original, only they picked out particular barrels which were especially favored, older, or whatnot, strictly by chance. Same distillate, same barrel design, etc and thus it is the same whiskey, just different expressions of the same whiskey. With MM 46, they’ve done something funky to the barrels, and it thus counts as a different whiskey.

      If you think that what I wrote above is basically BS, keep in mind that I think the same thing, just trying to see if I can argue against the main point for the sake of it.

  17. DaveP says:

    Regarding WhistlePig Rye … we have always been straight forward with our claims … the stuff is made in Canada … but it is not “Canadian Whiskey” (ie it is 100% rye …not a blended whiskey) .. it is American style straight Rye whiskey …

    The label states that it is imported from Canada ..

    It is bottled at our facilities in VT ….

    All totally accurate …

    Check out our website…. this is a quote from it …

    “WhistlePig Straight Rye Whiskey is a 100 proof, 100 percent rye whiskey, aged for a minimum of ten years in oak barrels. The whiskey was discovered by Master Distiller Dave Pickerell, who spent over a year on an exhaustive search of North America for the best rye whiskey, and he believes that it embodies the perfect combination of proof, percent, and age — hitting what he calls “the sweet spot” in all three categories. WhistlePig Straight Rye Whiskey is hand bottled at the WhistlePig Farm Distillery in Shoreham, Vermont and is available in a limited initial offering of only 1000 cases.

    • Technically there may be nothing wrong with the statement. It’s just a little eh.. unusual that the distillery that makes America’s best rye does not want to be publicly known.

    • DavindeK says:

      Sorry Dave, Not to split hairs, but WhistlePig IS Canadian whisky, made in Canada, by Canadians. To say it is not a blended whisky may be correct, but that does not mean it is not Canadian. Nor is it the first non-blended Canadian whisky to be released in 2010, nor is it the only 100% 10-year-old rye whisky produced in Canada. There have been many of what U.S. definitions would call “straight whiskies” produced in Canada over the years, some of which are currently on the market here in Canada and some in the U.S.

      What could be a little bit misleading to some though, is to say it is a “found” whisky, as if it had been forgotten in some warehouse and you magically stumbled on it. It was almost certainly recorded in an inventory system, most likely bar-coded, and was for sale. You just happened to be the guy who bought it. What you did with it afterwards, of course, is the real magic and you are to be commended and admired, but let’s not pretend it has anything to do with American whisky just because it happens to meet an American definition.

      • DaveP says:

        Sorry to be “mis-leading” .. the term “found whiskey” is one that I use to distinguish it from “made whiskey” … in an attempt to be more forthcoming than most will do. At least we are not trying to obscure the fact that we didn’t actually make this product …. truthfullness was what we were stabbing at….

        Additionally, by distinguishing Canadian Straight from Canadian blended, we were also seeking clarity …not obfuscation … since many people refer to Canadian whiskey (blended) as “rye” …even if there is absolutely no rye in the product … we wanted to make sure that people understood this was straight rye ….not a blend …

        I agree that it is horribly misleading to buy someone elses stuff and give the impression that you made it … I am hoping that maybe the industry will get on the bandwagon ..and use some term …be it “found whiskey” … or some other industry standard term … to differentiate between whiskey that one makes and whiskey that one buys, bottles, and markets….

        I do think that there is a place for this practice …if for no other reason than that it can bring new and interesting products to market that others might have overlooked or disregarded….

        by the way …we have never claimed to be the first non-blended Canadian whiskey released in this or any other year … or that there are no other 100% rye whiskies available ….

    • Paul M says:

      Yes, I saw your web site. Vermont is mentioned several times and so is North America. Where does it say it’s from Canada? Your attempts to mislead are clear!

      • DavindeK says:

        Dave, Sorry, now I have been mis-leading – accidental, I assure you. I should have said not EVEN the first non-blended Canadian whisky… . I am not aware of you ever saying it was.

        Perhaps “sourced whisky” rather than “found whisky” would create a more accurate impression, although I am sure everyone on this board knows what you were getting at.

        In Canada we have called our whisky “rye” for more than 200 years. I am not sure when the U.S. regulations saying that American straight rye must be 51% from rye grain came into effect, but since then I suspect.

        Like you, I am very much in favour of independents releasing sourced whiskies for the very reasons you state. I have not seen a Canadian whisky create more sensation in years than WhistlePig has this year; I hope I have contributed to that. It is by far the most popular post on my website. And on tasting, the buzz is more than well-founded.

        Oliver – I have discussed this with two Scottish distilleries that do not let independents put their name on the bottle regardless of the quality. Both said that they put a lot of thought and effort into the image they project and the taste profile they want to be known for and they don’t want an independent bottling, no matter how spectacular, distracting from that.

        Paul, when launching a new product it is important to keep the message simple and memorable. Getting into all the details is just confusing to 99.9% of consumers. I knew of WhistlePig and that it was Canadian whisky within hours of WhiskyFest Chicago, where it was first shown to the public. They made no effort to conceal this. When my bottle arrived, it said clearly on the back label “Imported from Canada.” Perhaps Dave could clarify, but if they were not shouting about its source, perhaps it was simply to keep the message focused in the early days.

        • Paul M says:

          Yes, on the BACK it does state that it is from Canada, BUT on the FRONT it says bottled in Vermont. That IS clearly an attempt to mislead and not be “honest and straight-forward”. How much does it matter where a product is bottled as much as it matters where it is produced?

          Don’t get me wrong, I like the whiskey. But are the Canadians not proud of what they produce? Not the ones that I know. Here, you have an opportunity to showcase a good product from Canada and both the web site and the label are trying to conceal it.

        • Davin, I get your point about Scotland, and it’s along the lines of what I learend about that matter as well. But I think the situation here is bit different. I can think of no independent bottler of Scotch single malt claiming that his “bastard malt” he found tucked away in a forgotten warehouse somewhere between Loch Ness and John o’Groat’s the best of its kind. They usually say “We ‘found’ a nice dram and want to share it with you”. And SWA regulations (whatvever criticism they deserve) will at least make sure the bottle states what region it comes from.

          Dave Pickerell, please state on the WhistlePig label: “100% Pure Canadian Rye Whiskey” or something along these lines. You have been confirming this fact on many occasions, so it is only fair to put it on the label and on the website.

    • Josh West says:

      Hi Dave,

      Regardless of the marketing and labeling debate… what I’ve read about WhistlePig sounds great and I’m a big fan of rye whiskey. Something 100% and full of spice sounds amazing to me. I’ve been looking for WP in Massachusetts, but I can’t find it anywhere! And… by living in MA… I cannot order spirits online to be shipped here.

      Any idea if WhistlePig will be headed to Massachusetts any time soon? Or do I have to drive to VT or NY to pick up a bottle or two? :-)

      Thanks!

  18. Tim F says:

    There was also the Maker’s Mark Mint Julep (Green Wax ), although I believe that might now be discontinued.

    Marc, plenty of what many people consider to be Speyside distilleries refer to themselves as Highland. Other examples include Glenglassaugh, an Cnoc, Ardmore, Royal Brackla and Glendronach. The boundaries of Speyside are pretty blurry and not even all the experts agree on some of the names I have listed (personally when in doubt I go with the Michael Jackson classifications)

  19. Tim F says:

    Ah, Dave P beat me to the punch on the Makers in far more detail than i ever could have supplied :)

  20. Jason Pyle says:

    John, you pointed something out I had to make some assumptions about. I reviewed MM 46 on my site a number of weeks back and noted that it was the first true product release into production. I was making that assumption based on the fact that I considered the others limited edition one time releases. But I suppose should MM decide to drop “46” it to would be in the same boat as all of those. And technically it to is limited in terms of quantity.

    Bottom line, it’s a very good point. The whisk(e)y nerds (I mean this affectionately of course) are the only ones that are going to catch it also which makes me feel they knew what they were doing (MM).

    It’s still a very good product though.

  21. Chillfiltering doesnt change the taste of our whisky

  22. The Bitter Fig says:

    I’ll toss out a big one. “There are only three ingredients in single-malt Scotch whisky – barley, yeast, and water.” I guess that isn’t marketing per-se, but it’s clearly a bogus statement. Distillers have plenty of ingredients, they just have to be more clever about how they put them in. Peat, for example, gets into the whisky when you smoke it into the barley. Tannins and other things extracted out of the wood are clearly ingredients (in the same way that tea leaves are an ingredients in a cup of tea). Lastly, here’s the kicker: when finishing a whisky in some sort of refill cask, be it a Bourbon cask, a wine cask of some sort (ie Sherry), a rum cask, whatever liquid the cask previously held becomes an ingredient in the whisky. The previous contents got soaked into the wood in the cask, and slowly out into the whisky. I’m not saying it’s bad that distillers use additional fancy casks for finishing or maturing whisky, just that folks ought to be more honest about the chemistry and food science behind the processes that go into making the whisky.

    • Willie says:

      All the other things you mention get into the whisky rather indirectly Bitter Fig. You are quite right though there is one other ingredient that is often deliberately added, namely E150a spirit caramel.

  23. Keith says:

    Use of any of the following words, in any combination:

    Select
    Reserve
    Premium
    Special
    Rare Old

    What do those words even mean?

  24. Josh says:

    Great point John!

    Back in the early 90s I dated a girl who worked at a restaurant/bar in DC that had the black wax and the gold wax bottles. I had almost convinced myself that it was a figment of my imagination…This place also had Maker’s Mark steak sauce – it even came in bottles with the signature red wax top!

    But I digress…I don’t mind what Bill Samuels is doing with the 46. After all, advertising is all about the hyperbole. It’s the sensationalism of what is being stated (or depicted) that draws people in. If more people are turned on to whisky through the Maker’s ads, then that’s a good thing. There’s certainly a lot of precendent for making wild claims. There’s a famous producer of lousy American lager in St. Louis that claims right on the bottle that there is no, “other brand produced by any other brewer which costs so much to brew and age/” That’s a load of crap, and we all know it. Yet Budweiser is an enormously popular (albeit terrible) beer. Advertising…

  25. Ryan says:

    “According to figures released by the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, super-premium bourbon saw double-digit sales growth each year from 2003 to 2008, while lower-priced varieties remained flat.” … Business First of Louisville – by Cary G. Stemle. Correspondent. Friday, April 24, 2009.

    So to fully capitalize on that super premium bourbon growth; just stick a few pieces of burnt wood into same said whiskey barrels for two or three months, water it down a bit less than the normal, dump it into novel non-square bottles, brand it uniquely modern and innovative, see if focus groups embrace the “all new creation” myth, and then slowly leak product rumors to industry-friendly journalists until the “all new creation” is ready to hit store shelves carrying a 50% (roughly) retail price hike. Declaring 46 an “all new creation” already distorts the truth, so we should not be surprised that MM also distorts how “all new” their not-exactly-new creation is. I’ll never buy it.

  26. Red_Arremer says:

    Yeah John– you know what’s worse than Maker’s advertising for 46? The way they snared you into consulting on and rating it, which is against your principles– I’m surprised you haven’t brought up that part of the story….

    • John Hansell says:

      Here’s the deal on that–and I’m glad you brought it up. I don’t rate whiskeys that I am involved creating. But, their “46” was basically done before the contacted me. They let me try other samples of whiskeys they arleady rejected in adddition to their final product. But, Kevin Smith told me they didn’t change anything just because I tasted it before it was bottled. (The final product was just a larger vatting, which did alter the flavor slightly in a favorable way.) So, that’s why I still reviewed it.

      In hind sight: yes, I won’t do that again, because of the appearance that I consulted. Lesson learned.

    • John Hansell says:

      Expanding in more detail, when Kevin Smith approached me with the product, he did so in a manner of: “We have this new whiskey and want you to try it and get your opinion”, not ” We are in the process of coming out with a new whiskey and want you to help us formulate it” or something like that. If he did, I would have given him my consultation rates. :)

      • Red_Arremer says:

        I knew that was the case and that’s why I unsarcastically used the word “snared.” Personally, I think that Kevin’s behavior their was, ethically, on the edge.

        • DavindeK says:

          Red,
          If people stop sending whisky to John to sample and review, we will stop hearing about it.
          If John stops offering his opinion on works in progress, we will lose the benefit of his input.
          He’s the one who told us in the first place that he had tasted and commented on an earlier vatting of MM46, so there was no deception. If the final product was influenced by his comments, great! The consumer has benefited as much as Maker’s Mark.
          My disappointment came when John announced he would no longer participate in press junkets because of the appearance of being biased, despite the fact that business travel, once you’ve done enough of it, is a pain in the neck. I guess this means there are some events we just won’t hear about. Please don’t now suggest he should avoid early sampling and comment or that distillers should avoid contacting him prior to release of a new whisky. We are the ones who will lose the most.

        • Jason Pyle says:

          Red it’s a little off base to insinuate Kevin was unethical. It’s also assuming a lot. I don’t think any of us understand what sort of relationship John and Kevin have. And even if there isn’t any relationship, Kevin saw an opportunity to get some great input. I’d have done the same.

          I think it also was a big part of makers strategy to get this in the hands of peiople to create buzz. I am certainly okay with it. Maybe if more listened we’d get better and better products. It’s also not Kevin’s fault John accepted the opportunity to provide feedback and input and then share with us. But I am sure everyone enjpoyed reading about. I sure did.

          Whisk(e)y is serious gents but let’s not take it too serious.

          • Ryan says:

            Take it as seriously as you want Red. Your questions and comments are as valid as anyone else’s.

          • Red_Arremer says:

            Thanks Rayn– Appreciate that– I hadn’t seen your comment when I replied to Jason.

          • Red_Arremer says:

            Jason, the serious/unserious distinction is a crude and sorry thing. Any one who’s ever enjoyed good whisky, good music, good conversation knows this intuitively.

            Further, these are business people we’re talking about and semi-public figures. Do you seriously think it crosses the “serious line” to suggest that, in this case, one of them might have been “ethically, on the edge.” Doesn’t it, in fact, sound quite run-of-the-mill and light? So relax, talk– Don’t be so serious.

          • Jason Pyle says:

            Red, here’s my point. Let’s say John and Kevin are friends (are they? I don’t know). Would you ask a friend to try something and give your feedback? I would. I’d do it in a minute. These are business people sure, but they’re human beings too. Was it strategy trying to “snare” as you mention? Maybe – it worked and yielded a cool groundswell of info on the topic of their new product. Was it intentional or did Kevin just genuinely want John’s thoughts and John chose to make it public? Just because John tells Kevin privately, “it’s good” or “it sucks” doesn’t mean Kevin has intentions of changing it based on that. Maybe he just wanted a guy that knows his stuff to give it a try.

            All of the above are hypothetical but underscore my point that we don’t know the whole scoop. Maybe I’m the one that’s not looking at this right but that’s the way I see it.

            And to your point, yes perhaps I read something more serious than it was intended. That’s the problem with comment threads sometimes.

          • Red_Arremer says:

            You’re right of course. We don’t know exactly what went on. I was just stating my impression.

            And I feel more or less entitled to state such impressions here because– Part of John’s business is the cultivation of his reputation in the industry, and his appeal to consumers. His proclaimed and generally apparent adherence to uncommonly strict principles plays a role in this. He draws attention to ethics.

  27. lucky says:

    I hate it when rectifiers – bottlers- pass themselves off as distillers. I think Whistle Pig and High West are notable in that they are clear that they don’t make it – they buy it and batch it – proudly. I like their juice and respect their honesty. Good on em!
    Michter’s is one of the worst on misleading statements and obfuscation of facts regarding where their product comes from. As an example Michter’s “Master Distiller” (as if they were actually distilling and not buying in bulk and bottling) is going to be the guest of honor at a dinner at the Bourbon Society of New Orleans soon. When does the masquerade and?

    • Texas says:

      I would say things like the Michter example you provide annoy me far more than the Maker’s marketing. The Michter example you provide is just downright misleading (Master Distiller when the whiskey isn’t even distilled by them??). While not as egregious, I also wish companies like Buffalo Trace, when they acquire another brand, would just say it was distilled at BT..and not come up with a fictitious distillery. E.g..Old Charter the bottle says it was distilled at Old Charter Distillery Co..no it wasn’t AFAIK the Old Charter distilery is an abandoned building. Why not just say on the label that it was distilled at BT using the proven methods of the Old Charter brand..blah, blah, blah

  28. Josh says:

    Ryan,

    I don’t think it’s entirely fair to slam DISCUS and it’s memebers like you have. They have a prodict to sell and that requires marketing. They also have a really long lead time for their products – which makes for a lot of overhead.
    For all the nuances and complexities of whisky (in all its forms), it’s still a fairly straightforward product. How else do you attract new patrons to a bottle of brown liquid if you don’t try to make the product innovative through packaging, savvy advertising, new finishes, and other changes?

    • Ryan says:

      Josh,

      My comment concerned Maker’s Mark 46. How exactly does a lead-in quote from a Business First of Louisville correspondent (who was paraphasing that association’s data) constitute a unfair “slam”?

  29. Moose says:

    Just an FYI John. I purchased my MM Gold in Delaware.

  30. David D says:

    Small Batch is the ultimate misleader. The guys who use is don’t even know what it means

  31. Henry H. says:

    Enjoying the hell out of all this. Can’t thank John and all you informed drinkers and industry-watchers enough. Now, can someone please explain why on earth there’s so little information about single malt Scotch casks? How can we learn about whisky if we don’t know exactly what we’re drinking? How do we know what to seek out next if we don’t truly know how the bottle we just enjoyed – or didn’t – was crafted?

    Casks are critical ingredients in the process of crafting a whisky, are they not? I want to know how it was vatted; I want to know WHICH hogshead, dammit! What percentage of sherried malt went into this bottle? You could have knocked me over with a feather the other day when I learned on this very site that there has never been a single bourbon cask involved in crafting any Highland Park I’ve ever tasted.

    And please don’t trot out the “trade secrets” nonsense. These aren’t elaborate pharmaceutical drugs with patents and billions of dollars of profit at stake (thank goodness). So what gives here?

    • Henry H. says:

      Hope the above isn’t a hijacking of this thread. I certainly don’t see it that way. I’m simply telling the producers of whisky that the very best way to “market” your product to me is to TELL ME THE TRUTH ABOUT WHAT IT ACTUALLY IS!

      If that’s a radical request/demand, we live in hilarious times.

    • Michael says:

      One way out of this dilemma (that I completely understand) is to focus on single cask releases :-)

  32. Louis says:

    I have to second the vote for (or is that against) Limited Editions. Yeah, only 5000 bottles. Then again, maybe it’s a good thing, since they end up getting dumped for sometimes, half of the original price.

    Then there are non-Islay distilleris in Scotland suddenly making peated malt ‘just like in the old days’. OK, maybe you did use peat back then, but that doesn’t mean that what you are making today is going to taste good with a dose of peat. Especially if it isn’t aged for very long.

  33. Willie says:

    The one that got me recently was yet another Scottish distillery claiming to have made the ‘first’ organic whisky. In this case it was Deanston, but previously Benromach and Bruichladdich made similar claims. Springbank probably was the first. The basis of the Deanston claim was that it was the first ‘aged’ bottling. As far as we can determine this means that they were the first to put the age of the whisky (10yo) explicitly on the label. This is held by the distillery to distinguish this bottle and make it the ‘first’ even though there was no secret made about the ages of the other organic malts.

  34. Jason Pyle says:

    Here’s another question. What marketing isn’t somewhat misleading and why would any of you expect whiskey to be diferent? Isn’t it the point to put a product in the best light? Whistlepig says Canada on the back. The reality is they may not have felt that was the best way to market their product. No crime was committed. And its Canadian and its great.

    Makers may consider 46 to be their first true product they intend to continually produce. So to them maybe it’s truly their first new product (and not a one time or experimental release).

    Honestly none of this bothers me all that much. It’s gonna have to get a little worse than this for me to get frustrated. If this is all we can complain about then we’re doing fine as consumers of whiskey.

    • Ryan says:

      Since your question is rhetorical I’ll assume the only answer your interested in is your own, and move on to disagreeing with you. Your point of view is your own, but when used to marginalize and distort other’s opinions as unreasonable frustrations, it is difficult to respect. The point of this line of commentary is to call-out inaccurate marketing. And I don’t see any particularly monstrous or outlandish comments here. Being critical here does not mean that we have never been positive elsewhere, or on other WDJK posts. So the sum of these comments hardly defines either the scope of our interest in whiskey, or it’s frequently frustrating marketing inaccuracies… as you imply.

      • Jason Pyle says:

        Ryan, I think you took me out of context a bit here. Or rather I didn’t phrase my comment appropriately. Probably the later. I’m not trying to trivialize others comments and opinions, only stating my opinion that most of the items others sited as issues didn’t concern me very much. I was honestly not trying to disrespect anyone, but rather illustrate how I view the subjects that have dominated the thread.

        But to take that further, one comment in particular miffed me a little because it insinuated someone was acting unethically, when we don’t really know the whole story. I thought there was a lot of assumption taken in that comment and perhaps I generalized the whole lot in writing that last one a bit too quickly.

        That said, I still stand behind my opinion that in the great scheme of things, the above is not all that bad.

        • Henry H. says:

          With all due respect, this post by John Hansell is about ***ethics in marketing***. We could simply say, “Sorry, mutually exclusive terms,” and bring up the laugh track, or we can discuss what practices, and by whom, might be unethical. Most have opted for the latter. Sure, treading lightly seems like a fine way to approach this, but an open discussion that’s ON TOPIC is what most folks seem to be pursuing here. Seems fine and dandy to me.

          • Jason Pyle says:

            Henry, clearly all of these comments are on topic and I was not trying to insinuate they weren’t. I did however want to point out that I didn’t think they were all that bad. That is all. I’m not an “industry guy” or an “insider”, but I still didn’t feel like much of this wasn’t really over the line. I do realize that I am in the minority with that thought and that’s the way it is I suppose. My comment was offering a little different perspective and it came out kind of snippy – that’s where I went wrong.

          • Henry H. says:

            Jason – it’s plenty okay that we disagree. And of course these breaches of ethics in spirits marketing that some of us find so appalling pale in comparison with the horrific consequences of same in, say, the disgustingly unethical marketing of pharmaceutical drugs, the selling of the latest war, the rationalizations for the ongoing erosion of civil liberties and so on. In other words, if you’re suggesting that we maybe lighten up a bit, your point is well taken.

    • JamesK says:

      Ryan brings up some very good points. Jason, it sounds like you think the rest of us are just here whining about minutiae. As far as other industries and their shady marketing, I agree that it exists and I have issues with that, but just because others are doing it doesn’t make it acceptable within the whisk(e)y context. You say that it isn’t all that bad in the grand scheme of things, but shouldn’t we try to curtail this practice before it gets out of hand?

  35. Jon W says:

    I also find it amusing that they have a big 46 where many whiskies put their age statement! (Forty Creek does the same thing)

  36. […] of Whisky, as has my own post in the Maple Leaf Lounge. Second, a discussion about WhistlePig on whatdoesjohnknow.com, and a review on sourmashmanifesto.com have trickled down to little old canadianwhisky.org. Thanks […]

    • DavindeK says:

      My apologies for this post. Yesterday I posted a link to this discussion on my own website and all I can figure is that somehow it got tracked back into the discussion. I have told John off-line so he may delete it if it disrupts the flow. This really looks like flagrant self promotion. It was not intended to be.
      Sorry.
      Davin

  37. I totally agree with you on this one John.

  38. H.Diaz says:

    To have raised the price by $10 for this new MM46, versus the regular MM, is very modest. I’ve tried it. I like it. More robust and more personality than the regular.

    Nearly all other brands, especially Scotch, would have doubled the price for their efforts, dumping the whisky, adding French staves to then age a few more months.

    Reminds me of the Macallan Replica whiskies several years back. Use a needle to extract a 100 y/o sample, replicate it using exsisting stocks so we can taste yesteryears Macallan — charging a couple hundred bucks for their efforts. Give me a break. Nice B.S.ing err…marketing guys.

    Jason, #34 makes some good points. It would be good to know what Makers had in mind when making their claims for MM46. In their defense, it would be great if they would chime in.

  39. Texas says:

    Frankly the MM thing doesn’t bother me. Maybe they did not feel that the other expressions were anything different or now. They were older, or higher proof but not new. Of course the 46 is still bone-stock MM at heart, but it does have this wood treatment.

    • John Hansell says:

      Sorry Texas, but older IS new. Completely different flavor profile, packaging, proof, etc. Not a valid argument.

      • Texas says:

        All right..point conceded. However, this still bothers me far less than what I said in my reply to lucky in post 27.
        Put this in wrong place at first..

      • Texas says:

        On further thought…

        I realize that you are the expert and I am not..but the more I think about it I just have to disagree. Taking the same mash bill, and just leaving it in the barrel an extra few years is not really new..it’s different but not new. Same with mixing in some older whiskeys, different, not new. No new process was developed, no new techniques. In this case they experimented with various wood treatments and came up with a new technique.

        His quote:
        “This is our first creation in 52 years, and it really is a creation,” Maker’s Mark President Bill Samuels Jr. said. “It’s not like it’s Maker’s with a couple of more years age on it.”

        I just don’t see anything wrong with it…

        • John Hansell says:

          It’s either the same identical whiskey or it’s not the same identical whiskey. If it’s not, then it’s new. Blending older whiskeys with newer whiskeys creates a new whiskey.

        • John Hansell says:

          Let me quote to you what Bill Samuels, Jr. says on the side label of the Black Wax edition:

          “Our 95 proof Maker’s Mark Select reflects my own individual preference in the Maker’s Mark style. While I’d never alter the soft, clean, and gentle taste Dad achieved with his original creation of Maker’s Mark, my tastes have always leaned towards a slightly more robust, more full-flavored whisky–a perfect compliment to our 90 proof red wax Maker’s Mark. I hope you enjoy Maker’s Mark Select as much as I do.”

          Sounds like a new creation to me, Texas. And FWIW, I like it better than all the other Maker’s Mark bourbons–including the 46.

          • Texas says:

            OK, let me put this another way. Obviously me trying to talk about the technical aspects of whiskey is a pointless exercise. I am just a moderately educated consumer, and as a moderately educated consumer I have ZERO problem with what MM is saying.

            Frankly for this topic I wish you had picked on the folks like Michter’s and all the other fictitious distilleries and names floating around. I think that would resonate with more people. This MM46 thing got stuck in your craw but I think it is way down in the noise.

          • John Hansell says:

            I’m not picking on Maker’s Mark. They just happen to be the example that I chose. It’s timely, given that MM 46 just rolled out and I am reading about the “first new whisky in over 50 years” statements everywhere.

  40. John, have you invited MM to comment on this issue here?

    • John Hansell says:

      No, but I am sure they are aware of the post. I can’t blame them if they don’t want to jump in.

      • Jason Pyle says:

        This is precisely the kind of forum/post that a brand should jump into the fray and comment on. That tells me they either aren’t paying attention, they are but are ignoring it and hoping it goes nowhere beyond this site, or they have a very bad strategy in dealing with these things. The later goes against what I’ve heard before. They’ve worked with very transparent, intelligent people like Jason Falls and others when dealing with social media and branding online (in the past as far as i know). I’d have thought someone would have engaged by now.

  41. Texas says:

    All right..point conceded. However, this still bothers me far less than what I said in my reply to lucky in post 27.

  42. George Jetson says:

    Any declaration of “the first”…. is a red flag to me. I can’t even remember now how many “first” single barrel or unblended Canadian Whiskies there are now. Except the real first Bush Pilot’s which flew in well under the marketing radar at the time.

    Wow, what a snarky thread. Was there a full moon last night?

  43. John, you’re exactly right!

    If you consider innovation to be any slight tweak and/or fancy packaging, we have done a few line extensions in our past. Based on your definition of innovation, I was reminded of our prize line-up called the “overs series.” It included our famous over-priced alternative called Fat Cat, the over-proofed version called Billy Bourbon and my favorite – the over-aged product called Pappy Samuels. (There’s a picture of all three on our Facebook page if you haven’t seen them before.)

    In all seriousness, Maker’s 46 was our first attempt at doing something really unique and special, which is how we define innovation. It’s good to hear everyone is enjoying Maker’s 46. Thanks for your support.

    Bill Samuels, Jr.
    President
    Maker’s Mark Distillery, Inc.

    • John Hansell says:

      Bill, thanks for chiming in here. A change in packaging doesn’t count, but bottling an older whiskey does. That’s what the Black Wax bottle was. A NEW (and different) whiskey.

      BUT, I am very happy (and pleased with) your new Maker’s 46. More please!

      • H.Diaz says:

        Boy, over-proofed and over-aged Makers Mark! Wouldn’t that be something? Hopefully in my lifetime.

        See Buffalo Trace for pointers.

    • I’m glad to see an official statement from Maker’s Mark, Bill. It believe you that you didn’t have the intention of misleading the buyers. But John’s point is still valid nevertheless. Changing proof or adding older vintages will result in a new expression and this should be officially recognized.

      An while we’re at it, why not set up a range of age statements and maybe a cask strength bottling on top of that? This works with Scotch and it should work with bourbon as well.

    • sam k says:

      I, too, appreciate your presence here, Bill. Many times these threads go unanswered by the distillery in question, and your backbone (and sense of humor) are welcome here! By the way, you have the most beautiful distillery I’ve visited.

  44. Hoke Harden says:

    I’m not at all concerned with the “first new” marketing claim, as it doesn’t seem of too much importance to me, frankly. But maybe I’m warped by spending too much time in marketing in my callow youth.

    What I’m having a problem with is the standard marketing practice of “turning a feature into a benefit”, then raising the price on it.

    MM is basically a ‘wheated bourbon’ (and one of the finest in that style, I might add, and a benchmark I use for Bourbon) and to change it (since you can’t go the spicy rye route because you’re wheated) to create a “new” version you pretty much have to alter the maturation regimen, i.e., pump up the oak.

    That’s okay, too; especially if Bill likes to have a more robust version of MM beside the original.

    My problem is they don’t go the extended barrel time route to achieve that. Instead, they use inserted French oak staves to put on that extra coat of wood. I’m as much into wine as spirits, and in the wine world that’s a way of admitting you chose a shortcut method because the standard maturation method was too expensive/time consuming.

    People who do that in the wine biz admit they do it because its cheaper. And they hesitate to mention it to customers. That MM46 marketers have chosen to use it as a benefit (we took a shortcut, but we want you to think it was more expensive so you’ll pay more for it) is what’s bothering me.

    I can’t say that inserting foreign staves is necessarily better or worse than using full barrel maturation. But I can say that it feels to me that any “insertion” of something separate and foreign from the prescribed process, while certainly “new”, doesn’t quite feel right when you’re calling it Bourbon.

    (And having said that, I’ll add that the MM46 does taste pretty damned good; they certainly hit their target. It’s just how they hit their target that bothers me a bit.)

  45. Sam W says:

    I absolutely love this site, and the well-informed comments on this particular thread (I especially like the input/response from Bill Samuels, Jr!). Thank you, John, for the forum and the illumination.
    I own a bar and try to pass along my mediocre whisk(e)y knowledge to my customers. I often find myself quoting you, or referring patrons who seem particularly interested to your site. This type of hearty discourse is fascinating to me, and gives me great talking points as I try to sell another dram.
    I look forward to my regulars coming in so I can pass along all that I’ve just learned about “truth in marketing”, and correcting statements that I’ve made about MM46 (which I really enjoy, BTW) and other brands.
    Cheers!

  46. […] you produce as much whiskey as Jim Beam, a relative small batch is still quite a bit of liquid.  What Does John Know had a great thread about this very topic […]

  47. […] earlier this year. For example, if it’s NOT your first new whisky in more than 50 years, then why are you telling everyone that it is? Sure it sounds nice, and it’s a great marketing tool. I’m even thrilled that you came […]

  48. […] 46. It’s supposed to be their first new bourbon in 50 years although John Hansell already debunked that myth. Don’t get me wrong, I like this bourbon, I do. I just don’t understand why everyone […]

© Copyright 2014. Whisky Advocate. All rights reserved.