Whisky Advocate

Flavor Comes to Scotch Whisky

March 25th, 2013

Ian Buxton reports on the addition of flavors to Scotch whisky.

We’ve seen a raft of what I’m going to call ‘flavored whiskies’ in the past year. From Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey to Jim Beam’s Red Stag, a couple of Seagram’s Seven Crown products to Crown Royal Maple Finish to—crossing the Atlantic—Bushmills Honey, this category seems to have come out of nowhere. But consumers are lapping it up.

As Dr Nicholas Morgan’s Diageo’s Head of Whisky Outreach told me, it’s worked. Crown Royal Maple Finish has been “astonishingly successful” he says. So why has no-one done something of the kind with Scotch Whisky?

Dewars-highlander-honey[1]Well, in part, they have. We’ve seen Orangerie from Compass Box (described as a “whisky infusion”) and Sheep Dip’s rather more challenging Amoroso Oloroso. But, speaking plainly, they appeal only to a few hard-core enthusiasts and whisky geeks. How could it be otherwise: their volumes will always be tiny and their prices high.

But when a major brand such as Dewar’s comes along with something we should sit up and pay attention. Except that, strangely in my view, the launch last week of Dewar’s Highlander Honey was greeted (on Twitter at least) by a wave of indifference among whisky bloggers and commentators.

They’re missing something if you ask me. But before I explain what that is, what is Dewar’s Highlander Honey? It’s described as “Dewar’s Scotch Whisky infused with Scottish Heather Honey filtered through Oak Cask Wood”* and to make sure I don’t fall foul of the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) I want to clarify that legally it’s NOT Scotch whisky.

In Europe, Dewar’s Highlander Honey is a “spirit drink” and in the U.S. there is a category of product called “flavored whiskey,” and there are fairly strict labeling rules about how such products must be labeled so that it is clear that they are flavored. For example, it is required that “the name of the predominant flavor shall appear as part of the designation,” i.e., it can’t just be called “whiskey.”

But, in the words of the old saying, “if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it’s probably a duck.” If you were to glance at a bottle of Highlander Honey alongside regular Dewar’s White Label you could easily be confused: same bottle, same typeface, same Royal Warrant, and same two-part label.

Dewar’s themselves are clear. “When you look at what’s happening in Bourbon and the overall flavor trends in the U.S., we figured it was time to create an offering that is still truly scotch, but gives those who play with flavor trends an option to play within scotch,” said Arvind Krishnan, vice president, brand managing director for Dewar’s.

To avoid any confusion their PR statement is unambiguous in describing the product as an infusion of “hand-selected Scottish honey into the original DEWAR’S WHITE LABEL® blend.”

So are we all clear? This is definitely NOT Scotch whisky! Yet it’s already raising hackles with the SWA, who have stated, “We do have concerns that the labeling and promotion of Dewar’s Highlander Honey could distinguish the product more clearly from Scotch whisky.”

No doubt that will all be sorted out in due course. So why do I think this is significant? Quite simply, because call it “spirit drink,” “flavored whiskey,” or whatever you will, this is the first time in any major market that a significant brand of any scale has taken Scotch whisky, added a non-traditional ingredient, and marketed it in a way that makes it abundantly clear what’s in the bottle. While respecting the regulations, naturally.

Now it seems to me that this opens a door that hitherto has been kept firmly jammed shut. If Dewar’s Highlander Honey is a success, the commercial pressure on other brands to enter this market will be enormous. For now, major players have avoided this route; how long they will continue to exercise such restraint remains to be seen.

For purists this may be sacrilege. For others it may be an exciting innovation that opens Scotch whisky to new drinkers. Just where would YOU stand on a flavored whiskey based on your favorite Scotch?

 *Before you ask, I have no idea how you filter any liquid through wood. I am planning to ask Dewar’s master blender Stephanie MacLeod exactly that very soon!

65 Responses to “Flavor Comes to Scotch Whisky”

  1. David Rogers says:

    This is the type of trendy crud I do not like. This is like trying to market Night Train and MD 20/20 as fine wines. This could be a bad move, and if the product is badly received it can hurt the entire brand.

  2. Danny Maguire says:

    I’m with you on that David. I think Bacardi could have made a mistake here but if it works for them watch the herd follow.

  3. Ian Buxton says:

    STOP PRESS! BREAKING NEWS (Monday 25 March):
    I understand the the US launch of this product has been postponed indefinitely while the SWA’s concerns over the labelling are further reviewed with Dewar’s.

    • Ian Buxton says:

      Interestingly, I have now been contacted by a second source, anonymous but close to Dewars, who insists that “the brand will be moving forward as planned”. Source 1 is adamant that it will be delayed while changes are made and co-incidentally Dewars New York PR agency have sent me new label art! The product description now reads “Dewar’s Blended Scotch Whisky infused with natural flavours filtered through oak cask wood.”
      That seems to meet many of the comments here and is closer to US labelling requirements for flavored whiskies. So I guess both sources are correct: there probably was a delay; Bacardi have worked quickly to meet official concerns and the launch proceeds with amended labelling.
      No word yet on oak cask wood filtration. I’m assuming they’ve created a filter bed out of oak chips made from old casks but that’s just my hypothesis. We’ll have to wait for the official word on that one.

      • Ian Buxton says:

        Apparently it’s not “new” label art – merely “revised”.

        • Jeff says:

          Given that, as has been observed in other quarters, Dewar’s White Label is the whisky that taught many to bring their own bottles to weddings and other family gatherings, I still wait with bated breath to find out if the addition of honey makes it palatable to more than bears. The real question, of course, is whether whisky patriarch Jim Murray will deign to review it and whether or not it will do better than Black Grouse at 94/100. The maelstrom in the tea cup goes ‘round and ‘round….

      • John Hansell says:

        Given the five different press releases I was emailed today, from three different sources, I would have to assume it is indeed going forward as planned.

  4. Brian Bradley says:

    I, for one, cannot wait for my Ardbeg Doughnut flavored Supernova. This is a glorious marketing trend that will absolutely be polarizing between the casual drinker and the whiskey geeks. Sadly, the latter group does not determine the future. That future is written by sales numbers

  5. Morgan Steele says:

    Posts here will be largely negative; but, I must say that Orangerie by Compass Box is a wonderful drink. I’ll wait to make up my mind.

    • theBitterFig says:

      I can imagine the creation of a Cutty Sark Spice Islands Reserve, something somewhat restrained (that is, not fireball cinnamon sugar) with a more ‘exotic’ array of spices: black pepper, cardamom, mace, grains of paradise, cassia, and so forth. I guess that’s almost a whisky-chai. Done right, it’d be really good. I don’t trust them to do it right, however.

      • Jeff says:

        Which is why many of these experiments should just be done at home: if it’s a disaster at least you don’t have an entire bottle of it.

  6. mark davis says:

    These types of drinks aren’t really for the sort of person who reads this blog. These sorts of flavored whiskeys might be a gateway spirit that leads people to the sorts of things we like. I just hope this doesn’t mean aberlour starts to cost more.

  7. Tadas A says:

    I hope they differentiate whisky from flavored whisky properly. Crown Royal Maple is pretending to be a whisky. Crown Roal is writing on the label “Crown Royal Maple Finished”. The problem that it was not finished in any way. Finishing means aging in some sort of barrel that had other liquid inside before. Only in small letters it says “flavored whisky”.

    • David Rogers says:

      ExceptI do not believe he term “finishing” has an accepted legal definition in the whiskey making world. So anything that is done after the spirit is distilled can be thought of (and marketed as) finishing. If I am wrong then I will change my thinking.

      Now, I do think that the label for this Dewar’s product does not use the term “finished” but rather “infused”.

      No matter – it will not cross my lips.

      • Tadas A says:

        Good point. I was talking from the real world perspective – what matters is the term’s accepted common meaning. People buy the whiskey or liqueur bottles, not just lawyers.

  8. Tadas A says:

    From the other perspective, why cannot you call honey flavored whisky just a whisky?
    * By Canadians regulations manufacturers can add up to 9.09% flavoring to the whisky and call it a whisky. Most of them do that.
    * Rum does not really have regualtions except Martinique rhum. So many rums have flavorings added to make them better tasting or hide imperfections. Nobody mentions that in the label.

  9. Tim Forbes says:

    I’m one of those who poo-poohed the importance of this on Twitter. In my opinion this is only different to Bushmills Irish Honey in that the base spirit is Scotch rather than Irish. To be sold in the UK, it will almost certainly have to say Spirit Drink on the label and remove the word whisky. It’s a storm in a teacup and cynics may even wonder if this controversy is being deliberately courted for free publicity.

    The real news would be if the SWA rolled over (or if any whisky company decided to try a genuinely innovative flavour rather than the ubiquitous honey), but I don’t believe that they will. But by then, Dewar’s will have had the exposure they were wishing for.

    • Ian Buxton says:

      Hi Tim, I think that is the key point actually. It’s Scotch not Irish and as such it means a huge taboo within the industry has been broken. But, from what I hear, there is more to come on this. Dewar’s may well have more in the pipeline. But don’t under-estimate what a big deal it is that a major Scotch brand in a major market is doing this.

      • Jeff says:

        Yes, it’s a major move by a scotch brand – to make a non-scotch product. At first glance, the labeling seems definitely deceptive to me, but that’s in the eye of the beholder. If it’s not called scotch, there are no taboos broken. Yet whether I’m outraged by its “sacrilege” or enthused by its “exciting innovation”, it seems, for some reason, that I’m almost destined to be the victim of some strong emotional response invoked by Dewar’s latest offering. I’m not sure what polarizing spell this stuff is thought to have cast over the world of scotch, but, picking up on Tim’s cynical theory, I’m a little concerned that the purpose of the story is to save Dewar’s Highlander Honey from drowning in the noted “wave of indifference”, and maybe I’d be more convinced it shouldn’t drown there if someone could actually say it was good and not just controversial. This “l’enfante terrible” angle ala Compass Box, Bruichladdich and lately Maker’s Mark, is getting old.

        • David Rogers says:

          Can you expand on the hatred towards Compass Box and Bruichladdich? I have not heard of nor have been looking for any backlash towards these two. Links? Just curious….

          • Jeff says:

            Not so much hatred, but I was referring to the past extra attention that Compass Box and Bruichladdich have enjoyed as part of their “controversial” images as companies that set the whole industry on its ear – Compass Box with its go-around with the SWA over staves in Spice Tree and Bruichladdich as PROGRESSIVE HEBRIDEAN DISTILLERS (their caps, as if, by comparison, other distilleries were either standing still or in retrograde). The Spice Tree stave saga is still displayed, with copy from 2009, on Compass Box’s page for the product (http://www.compassboxwhisky.com/spice-tree.php) under “Read the full Spice Tree Story”. Clicking there, you’re taken to “The Spice Tree: The Second Coming – The Return of the ‘Illegal Whisky’”, where the whole heroic crusading tale is laid out. Overcoming adversity as the underdog and “with the proverbial gun pointing at our head”, brave Compass Box persevered so that, today, I can conveniently find its “illegal” product in most of the stores I go into.

            Bruichladdich’s great “polarizing” effect is discussed at great length in Whisky Advocate’s blog “Bruichladdich “progressiveness”: your thoughts” from Dec. 2008, (http://whiskyadvocate.com/2008/12/06/bruichladdich-progressiveness-your-thoughts/) and it is a very good discussion – I’m just not sure I buy into the “bad boy/rule breaker” image that the distillery tries to present, but which gets it a lot of free buzz and publicity. And, even today, with Bruichladdich, where does the put upon self-congratulation end? – “THERE ARE MANY ATTRIBUTES WE SHARE WITH OUR DISTANT GAELIC FOREFATHERS: STUBBORN, RESOLUTE, SELF-SUFFICIENT, TOUGH, HARD-WORKING, ENDURING, STRAIGHT-TALKING, EMOTIONAL, PASSIONATE, PHILOSOPHICAL AND ENGAGING… PERHAPS WITH A CERTAIN ROGUISH QUALITY.” (again, their page, their caps). “We are proudly non-conformist, as has always been the way in these Western Isles – Oirthir Gaidheal, the Coast of the Gaels, the land of the outsider.”

            More interesting, however, is Bruichladdich’s railing against the rest of the industry: “At Bruichladdich, we believe the whisky industry has been stifled by industrialisation and self-interest – huge organisations have developed that require a stable status quo to ensure that their industrial processes can run to maximum efficiency, producing the maximum “product” with the minimum input and variation, all to the lowest unit price. We reject this.” I do wonder if all these sentiments are still in place since Bruichladdich was bought by Rémy Cointreau in July 2012.

          • David Rogers says:

            Thanks for the perspective notes. I had been to Bruichladdich’s site and poked around a bit a few months ago. I’m still trying to fully understand exactly what message they are trying to convey. I enjoyed the Rocks, however. I may try some other releases.

          • Jeff says:

            You’re welcome. The upshot of what I was trying to say is that, while what’s actually “controversial” is a matter of debate and degree, what isn’t debatable is that perceived “controversy” itself is good for publicity, increased sales, and the bottom line – and companies that like to portray themselves as edgy and maverick play to this fact (and generate some pretty dramatic, even messianic, PR copy in the process).

  10. David Rogers says:

    Funny thing is the label says “Scotch Drink” – reminds of that $0.99 crud you find in the grocery store labeled “orange drink” or “grape drink” which are water, tons of HFCS, then some food coloring and some dreadful flavoring addition.

    • David Rogers says:

      Correction – “Spirit Drink” – not “Scotch Drink”. Damn brain-to-fingers wasn’t doing too well there.

  11. Randy Perrelet says:

    This is an issue that has been bothering me for some time. Rum producers have been in this space for quite a while and have largely run amok. As mentioned by “Tadas A”, because rum is produced in multiple countries, there has never been any governing body to decide what constitutes rum and what does not. Scotland at least has laws to determine what is called Scotch. But what constitutes flavoring agents? Surely, if one adds pink goop to a barrel of whisky and bottles it as Bubble Gum Fun, then the pink goop is a flavoring agent. But isn’t a sherry cask doing the same thing? Aren’t Scotch producers using peat as a flavor enhancer? Who is to say that the name gin should be discontinued and replaced with “flavor infused vodka”? For me, whisky producers should be made to show a list of ingredients on their products in the same way as a can of soup. Most of the shenanigans in the food and drink industry come from that mystery ingredient, “natural flavors and colors”. And now, whisky producers are headed down that same slippery slope.

    • David Rogers says:

      Except to call something Scotch it has to, among other things,
      — been matured only in oak casks of a capacity not exceeding 700 Liters;
      — been matured only in Scotland;
      — retain the color, aroma and taste derived from the raw materials used in, and the method of, its production and maturation;
      — too which no substance has been added, or to which no substance has been added except water, plain caramel coloring, or water and plain caramel coloring.

      So I guess you could roast the barley over a honey-based fire or soak the barley in a honey bath before roasting, or spray-coat the inside of an oak barrel with a honey-based liquid and still call it Scotch.

      Side note- I’ve always thought that the last two items above were contradictory -(retain the color, but you can add caramel coloring).

      • Randy Perrelet says:

        The producers are playing a little fast and loose with the part about “no substance added”. Apparently, it is okay if the desired flavor oozes out of the oak barrel the whisky is stored in. I was thinking that you could finish the whisky in charred oak barrels that use to contain cinnamon oil. Call it Fireball Scotch. And as I am about to click Submit Comment, there will probably be some guy in marketing thinking, “Fireball Scotch, this could be huge!”

        • David Rogers says:

          Patent the process then license it.

          • Danny Maguire says:

            Have to be careful how much cinnamon was taken up.Been a while since I last did anything on the Scotch Whisky Act but I don’t recall it saying anything on colour.

  12. sam k says:

    Why not just allow the usage as has been pioneered by American distillers? They’re starting with straight whiskey (which is more highly regulated than scotch in that it can be adulterated in no way, including color, and more definitively regulates the barrels themselves), then mixing it with flavorings. It is still whiskey, but now with flavoring added, and is marketed as such: “straight bourbon whiskey infused with natural flavors.” The term says it all, and the consumer is not left wondering.

    “Scotch whisky infused with natural flavors.” As a consumer, I know exactly what I’m getting. “Spirit drink?” WTF is that? Might as well be flavored vodka for all we know.

    P.S. I have nothing against flavoring any kind of whiskey, anywhere. I won’t buy it, but why should I want to rain on someone else’s parade?

  13. Jeff says:

    I’m surprised to read how “abundantly clear” and “unambiguous” Dewar’s is here, given their VP describes the product as “an offering that is still truly scotch”, and it’s left to John to say “this is definitely NOT Scotch whisky!”, while no other clear description is offered. Spirit drink, flavoured whiskey, whatever, the SWA is right here: Dewar’s is definitely trying to fool people while capitalizing on its name and label’s association with scotch. For some reason it’s also important that we know these products are “astonishingly successful”, based, not on figures, but on their makers’ own declarations as such. Is it the product that people are “lapping up”, or the press releases?

    Infusions, filtered through Oak Cask Wood (?), etc., etc., it’s not really a big deal that another flavoured lower-tier non-scotch product, unable to stand on its intrinsic quality, just hit the shelves – it happens every day – but please stop associating it WITH scotch, regardless of the pedigree of its producer. Also, even as a “scotch-based drink” I’m not sure what part of the wheel has just been reinvented here – flavoured scotch cocktails have been around forever, made both by people at home and by any of a long line of competent barmen. To be wowed by getting it flavoured from the source is sort of like being floored that CC now has “Canadian Club & Cola Mixed”. The alchemy involved just isn’t that difficult to follow. “Sacrilege”? No – ‘cause it ain’t scotch. “Exciting innovation?” – sorry, I can’t find anything innovative to get excited about.

  14. theBitterFig says:

    Considering how often the SWA has kicked Compass Box and Bruichladdich in the rear over stuff which is actually whisky, I really hope the hammer comes down hard.

    Oh, and then there’s the other trend of unaged whisky. Wonder how long it will take a major blender to get in on that. Johnnie Walker Silver anyone?

    • Jeff says:

      But remember, Bitter, it’s still somehow one of the “most exciting times to be a whisky enthusiast” – maybe in the sense of the Chinese curse “May you live in interesting times”.

      • theBitterFig says:

        Oh, don’t get me wrong. I’d try a hypothetical Johnnie Walker Silver. Maybe not a full bottle, but I bet a skilled blender could do something nice with unaged Scottish distillate.

        Mostly, I’m just hoping that the same SWA which has slapped round folks making serious whisky won’t cave in once the big boys want to make candied ‘whiskies.’

        • Danny Maguire says:

          They’ve already got J.W. Red as an un-aged blend.Can’t see them discontinuing that, Can you?

          • theBitterFig says:

            Well, JWRed is at least three years old, and accounts put the average age around six. For a hypothetical JW Silver, I’m talking zero. Absolutely unaged. Newmake. It wouldn’t even be scotch by any legal standard.

          • Danny Maguire says:

            It most certainly wouldn’t. Have you tried clerac? Personally I don’t like it, my wife loves it. I wouldn’t touch your JW silver but I’m sure she’d love it. On the other hand if anybody could make a drinkable concoction out of it they deserve a medal.

          • Jeff says:

            Given how bad Red Label is, I’d have no interest in JW’s version of moonshine, certainly not as a paid proposition – try it for free as a whisky “experience/story”, sure – but almost anyone could say that about almost any whisky. I don’t know what a skilled blender could do with new distillate, but I bet a skilled PR department could do far more. For all the hype about how good young whiskies are, very few seem proud enough of them to say HOW young they are (as per the Red Label question). The producers not giving you this information aren’t doing so because they don’t have it; they’re doing so because they think sharing it with you will hurt their bottom line – which tells you where they relegate your interests relative to theirs. Adjectives and speculation abound but, more and more, it isn’t your business to know the facts about what you’re drinking.

          • Danny Maguire says:

            Jeff, I agree with your assessment of Red Label, but it’s not the worst Scotch I know, I’ll give that prize to Bells with Teachers a close second. I’ve never tried new make from a grain distillery but I’ve had several from malt ones. Can just about manage a first sip, certainly not a second one, can’t see a skilled blender being able to blend out the fact that it’s raw spirit. Like I said, if he or she can they deserve a medal

          • theBitterFig says:

            I can’t bring myself to hate on Red Label. It’s nothing extraordinary, clearly. In that $20/bottle price range, I find Black Bottle and Dewars White Label superior, and bourbons at that price point are way better. However, it’s not awful. It isn’t particularly yeasty, it’s maybe a bit sweet – apple juice concentrate, but it does have a pleasant bit of dusty soil to it. Compared to the other low-end whiskies which falsely hold up the banner for “high quality” for their nations – Jack Daniels, Crown Royal, Jameson’s – I’d say JWRed is the only one which isn’t a total rip-off.

            No, JW New Make isn’t going to be great. But with enough peat and dirt and such, it might be an interesting cocktail spirit, hopefully earthy and vegetal like unaged tequila can sometimes be. That’d be the goal, in my opinion. A whisky you’d make a Margarita with. I’d buy a half-bottle or at least a mini to try it, probably no more than that.

          • Jeff says:

            I agree with a lot of what you guys are saying, and I only have reservations about Red Label in terms of absolute quality (say, 60-70/100). It isn’t the worst I’ve tried either, that honour falling to Inver House Green Plaid, age 36 months in the big green plastic bottle. I think JW has an honest and accurate idea of the product they’re offering, and price it accordingly, which at the same time acknowledges that, as scotch, it’s nothing to write home about, and I think we’re on the same page there – to say it isn’t very good (in absolute terms) isn’t to hate it, it’s simply to call a spade a spade. It’s a decent base for a tall glass drink, but, like White Label, you only want to depend on it for punch, not flavour. It can’t, and shouldn’t, stand neat and, like Dewer’s (Highland Honey added or not) that is not a producer serving recommendation. Yet if economy-value tall glass drinks were my preference, I’d probably try to avoid many of the potential objectionable flavour problems and make them vodka powered.

            The blend I currently object to the most is, indeed, Black Grouse, for its presentation and pricing as the “step-up” from the Famous Grouse. Jim Murray’s rating of this stuff at 94/100 is utterly inexplicable to me, and certainly destroyed my faith in “the Bible” (and I have serious questions about what John Hansell found there that deserved an 86), but then again, Murray gives Red Label an 87.5, half a mark behind Blue Label at 88. No idea what’s going on here, yet I’m supposed to be able to trust these opinions on quality in guiding my purchasing.

            I find Danny’s comment about anyone making newmake drinkable as “deserving a medal” a little haunting as the industry is “earning” medals all the time at a number of venues and if the idea ever takes hold that something fresh out of the still ever represents “quality” (and I’m certainly not saying Danny believes this), it’s game over.

          • Danny Maguire says:

            They deserve a medal for bravery for trying it.

          • Danny Maguire says:

            I’d probably buy a mini to add to my collection, wouldn’t want to try and drink it though. Jeff, your comment about Jim Murray’s whisky bible, well I’ve never had much faith in it, by the time it comes out the ones he speaks so highly of are gone from the shelf and I’d much rather buy one myself and decide whether or not I like it based on my own experience. I think my nose and pallet are as good as his, as in all probability are yours.

          • Jeff says:

            Point well taken, Danny. I’d rather, and do, judge them all for myself as well – and as for my probably having a nose and pallet as good as Jim Murray’s, thanks…. I think (ha ha!). What I was trying to get at was that those who attempt to establish themselves as authorities in whisky can’t simply revert back to the position “hey, it’s just one guy’s opinion” in the face of crazy inconsistencies. These folks make (and take) money as experts, and I’m not a slavish devotee of any of them, but they are responsible, and should be held accountable, for the calls they make as the guides to purchasing they claim to be.

            Good luck with the pursuit of JW Silver (please God, no!). Sláinte!

          • John Hansell says:

            Professional reviews are there as a guide for those who want them. If you don’t want them, then ignore them. I can’t speak for the others, but this reviewer can’t be bought. Please do not imply this.

          • theBitterFig says:

            Well, with this new Google Nose, it doesn’t matter what whisky professionals are up to anymore.
            http://www.google.com/landing/nose/

          • Danny Maguire says:

            John, I don’t think anyone did, my reading of what Jeff said was that you should stand by your written report regardless of what other people say. Please don’t be so sensitive.

          • Jeff says:

            I did not mean to imply, John – and I did not, by the way – that reviewers are “being bought” only that, as professionals, they are to be held to a higher standard. A reviewer cannot present, and promote, their opinions as being more experienced and knowledgeable than those of others, and therefore worthy of financial compensation, and then run back to “just my opinion” in the face of criticism. It would be like not being able to expect more from a professional plumber than from your brother-in-law who comes over one Saturday to help you put in a sink. It’s a case of are reviewers pros or humble hobbyists, and which are they paid to be.

            The point about “taking money” was that professional whisky reviewers don’t have their job, status or compensation thrust upon them – they actively seek and accept (take) all three. And finally, it’s not a case of my simply “wanting” your numbers or not – they are offered as professional assessments (are they not?) and are fair game for criticism on that basis. Part of the territory in setting yourself up as an authority is to be critiqued as an authority – and the news may not always be good.

          • John Hansell says:

            But that’s just it, Jeff. They are just our opinions and nothing more. Yours, mine, Jim Murray’s, the professional plummer’s, your brother-in-law, etc. If people value them, then they will pay for them. If people don’t, then they will ignore them. Respect is earned, not implied from the onset. And once it earned, then that person IS held to a higher standard: and worthy of critique. But please don’t lose sight of the fact that it really is one person’s opinion, nothing more, nothing less. Let the reader decide whether it is valuable or not, or whether it’s worth paying for. Or trusting.

            I don’t want to go off topic here, so this will be my last comment on this. (Perhaps a good idea for a future post?)

          • Danny Maguire says:

            A very good idea, why not start it now?

          • Jeff says:

            It’s true that all reviews are personal subjective opinions, but for professional reviewers, the similarity of their opinions to those of myself, my brother-in-law or my plumber is clearly implied to end where the marketing begins. Far from simply offering its reviewers’ work in the marketplace of ideas as “just another opinion, one of many”, and letting the reviews stand or fall on their own merits, the magazine tries, not unjustifiably, to give added weight to the reviews of its staff through assertions of expertise. Although they don’t claim, like Jim Murray, to be writing the whisky gospel, all reviewers for the magazine are described as “an authority in the whisky world, an experienced whisky reviewer, published author, and veteran writer for Whisky Advocate, formerly Malt Advocate.” So it’s not simply a case of “letting the reader decide” whether a review is valuable or not – the magazine TELLS the reader that these opinions are expert, and therefore valuable and to be trusted, and most certainly implies they are more valuable and trustworthy than the opinions of those not so qualified. While respect is indeed earned, here the claim is not just one of earned respect, but of authority on the subject – and it not just “implied from the onset”, it is explicitly stated from the outset.

            It’s John’s position that when respect is earned “then that person IS held to a higher standard: and worthy of critique”, but I say that accountability begins the moment anyone makes claim to professional expertise. As with the recent issue of the misidentification of whisky at auction at Bonhams, those who make public and professional claim to know what they’re talking about shouldn’t be able to cry foul and run and hide behind disclaimers when their asserted expertise is scrutinized. As with Bonhams, the reviewers in Whisky Advocate indicate that I can trust them, based on their claimed authority, prior to the transaction, but if I do and later have questions about the assessments made, it’s suddenly just “one person’s opinion, nothing more, nothing less” and let the buyer beware.

          • John Hansell says:

            Let’s agree to disagree and move on. We’ve drifted off-topic long enough.

  15. kallaskander says:

    Hi there,

    malted barley peat smoke in varying degrees yeast water time and different kinds of barrels make Scotch whisky. That is put down as rules or law even somewhere.

    It is ok to offer a drink on the base of Scotch whisky flavoured with whatever one likes – but it should not be called Scotch whisky. And it should not be presented as if it were Scotch whisky nor should it be advertised or talked about as if it were.

    I think that Dewar plays their hand to close to their blended Scotch will break their neck over this.

    Greetings
    kallaskander

    • Danny Maguire says:

      Another important item on your list is natural enzymes, which are derived from the malting process. Even in grain distilleries they use about 10% malted barley in the mash for the same reason.

  16. Ian Buxton says:

    Thanks everyone for your thoughts, comments and the lively debate. This story will continue to develop. Keep the observations coming.

  17. kallaskander says:

    Hi there,

    http://www.sys-con.com/node/2595142

    Greetings
    kallaskander

    • Jeff says:

      Thanks for the post. It is interesting to see this stuff from the perspective of those promoting it, and it does clear up the oak cask filtration thing.

      The “original DEWAR’S WHITE LABEL® blend, the #1 selling premium Blended Scotch whisky in the United States.” If only there were the same legal qualifications for the term “premium” as there are for “Scotch whisky”. This is a “premium” product, with honey directly added, also infused “with other natural flavors” (?!!) and it’s STILL recommended that you ice it, shoot it, or mix it with cola.

  18. Gary Gillman says:

    On the point in the comments above about flavouring and Canadian whisky, my understanding of the rules is that flavouring is defined only as any domestic or imported wine or spirit, so honey would not qualify in the sense of an addition that would not call for further description on the label or some other change to the way Canadian whisky is normally described on the label.

    As to this new product: is the concept really new?. To me it looks like a variation on the good old Scotch liqueur category, drinks like Drambuie, Glayva, Loch Fyne, etc. True, some of those are sweet, but some more than others. Plus, if you mix them with a regular Scotch blend or malt (which many who buy them do), I’d guess the results would be rather close to this new product.

    It’s all good, this is a good way to extend a brand franchise. I am sure the labeling issue will be worked out, it won’t stop the new products from gaining traction because it seems it is what people want. I don’t mind some of these drinks, the Crown Royal Maple actually is very good, so are a number of other flavoured (in the broad sense) or spiced whiskies. IMO, there is little new under the sun when it comes to potable spirits…

    Gary

    • Danny Maguire says:

      Good point, there really is nothing new under the sun. Don’t know about the other side of the ditch but on this side liqueurs must contain a minimum 20% sugar, the regs don’t specify the source of the sugar only the minimum quantity.

  19. Howard Yagerman says:

    So what is Drambue?Isn’t that a liquer.Mighty good in a rusty nail…if that’s your thing.Give me Balvinnie 14 year old straight up and I’m a happy lad.

  20. Ramon says:

    Not a fan of the idea. Will not even try it. But I do understand the corporate pressure to try it out. Let’s see what happens.

  21. One more comment from the perspective of looking back on what whisky was like in the good old day when whisky was rough and unaged stuff to which herbs and honey were added to make it more palatable.

    http://www.scotch-tasting-bums.com/Blog_Year_4,_2013/Entries/2013/3/19_Is_John_Dewar,_Founder_of_Dewars,_Turning_Over_In_His_Grave.html

© Copyright 2014. Whisky Advocate. All rights reserved.