Archive for the ‘Media’ Category

It’s Not Like That!

Tuesday, September 24th, 2013

Ian BuxtonIan Buxton has a bit of a shout about the persistent idea that Scotch whisky marketing is all tartan and bagpipes.

I’m beginning to wonder if my fellow scribes haven’t watched too many episodes of Mad Men. It pains me to say it, but some of them appear stuck in the 1960s as far as whisky marketing is concerned.

Now I know I’m a grumpy, middle-aged (at best), white male and that automatically disqualifies me from having an opinion about anything, but I’ve got to get this off my chest, because the same tired old clichés keep appearing. It’s lazy writing and it’s neither right nor fair. This is the myth that will not die. Watch out: you’ll see it again and again.

bagpiperWhisky ads evoke “scenes brimming with tartan and sheep dogs, the chilly Scottish hills” according to one recent article. And here it is again: “the iconic image of an old man sipping neat whisky, preferably in a tartan kilt by the fireside, somewhere in the Highlands, has been used time and again by whisky brands.”

But really? When was that, then? We haven’t seen the old boy by his cozy hearth for at least 30 years! As for tartan, I flicked through the current issues of three different whisky magazines to see what I could find. Not a scrap of the stuff in sight. No kilts. No plaids. And what’s more, no old men either, no bagpipes, and only a distant glimpse of what might have been a fireside.

Perhaps it’s all to be found online and on our TV screens. So I took a look. Johnnie Walker’s film The Man Who Walked Round the World seemed a good place to start. It begins with a misty glen and a kilted piper. Maybe it’s all true then? Except that he lasts about 30 seconds, whereupon in strides a cross-looking Robert Carlyle, who snaps “Hey, piper! Shut it!” And that’s the last we see of him.

Now given that Johnnie Walker is the best-selling and most heavily advertised Scotch whisky in the world you’d imagine they’d be as guilty as anyone of living off the tartan-clad clichés that seem to obsess my colleagues. Not if their stunning TV commercials are any guide; work such as Android, Leap of Faith and Take the First Step (check them out on YouTube) are incredible pieces of film-making, far removed from the land of hills and glens. Not to mention F1 sponsorship and their stylish luxury yacht Voyager.

Maybe it’s lesser brands? William Lawson’s is a blended Scotch doing well in Europe and making huge gains in Russia’s burgeoning whisky market. Their TV work has plenty of kilts and strong, silent men. But again, check it out. It’s an unusual take on a kilt that has Sharon Stone giggling, that’s all I’ll say. And by all accounts, the New Zealand rugby authorities weren’t impressed with Lawson’s Haka commercial.

Fact is, Scotch whisky marketing moved on from tartan, bagpipes, and heather and weather years and years ago. Brands like Cutty Sark take pleasure in exploding that image, literally blowing up a cozy study, complete with decanters, leather armchair, and fireplace before going on to host parties in London’s trendy Brick Lane with a hip crowd of edgy artists, DJs, and burlesque stars.

Scotch isn’t conquering new markets, engaging with new audiences, and defining itself as the spirit of the age by living off past glories. So let’s let go of the clichés. Scotch isn’t for old men.

Except for me, obviously.

Review: The Angel’s Share (The movie, that is)

Friday, May 25th, 2012

Today, Whisky Advocate contributor Ian Buxton joins us with a review of The Angel’s Share. The film will open in the UK on June 1st. (To view the trailer, click on the link below.)

Veteran left-wing British film maker Ken Loach is known for his uncompromising approach and the gritty reality of working lives presented in his movies. So it’s no surprise that the opening scenes of his latest offering, The Angel’s Share, feature a court appearance by the main character; some less than appealing images of Glasgow’s decaying housing projects and an unhealthy dose of casual violence, not to mention liberal and fluent use of the F-word. We might expect whisky to be presented in a wholly negative context, responsible for all kinds of societal ills.

Instead whisky is here the surprising agent of the redemption of Robbie, a Glasgow tearaway with a criminal record, but determined to better himself and find a new life for his pregnant girlfriend, Leonie. Sentenced to a period of community service he discovers whisky through his ‘angel’ of a supervisor, Harry, only to find he has a nose of unusual sensitivity and discrimination. Learning of the forthcoming auction of a genuine cask of Maltmill (in the auction scene it sells for more than $1.5 million, as indeed such a treasure might in reality) he contrives to acquire some bottles — unlabelled, of course. Selling one to the devious agent of a shadowy and unscrupulous collector (are there such people?) secures him a job at a distillery and funds a fresh start for Robbie and his new family.

Whisky fans will be delighted to see their favorite tipple center and front, with tourist board scenes shot at Glengoyne, Deanston, and Balblair, not to mention a convincing performance by Charlie Maclean as the ‘whisky expert’ — though largely all he does is play himself!

Viewed in the context of Loach’s previous work, The Angel’s Share may appear flawed and morally suspect (Robbie embarks on further crime to escape his life of crime), but most movie-goers will accept it at face value as a feel-good cross between a rom-com and a heist caper and leave the theatre smiling.

Like a pleasant, well-made blend, The Angel’s Share pleases in an undemanding way. It lifts the spirits without challenging the intellect and can safely be shared with even your vodka-drinking friends!

Whisky Stones: do they “rock” or not?

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

There’s an article in the New York Times dining section today on the popularity of whisky stones. Give it a quick read. I’m quoted in it.

For those of you who are not familiar with them, they are small stones that you can purchase, keep in your freezer, and put in your whisky instead of ice. The idea here is that you can cool your whisky without watering it down.

I was interviewed by the author twice before the piece was published, and think she did a good job in the article conveying my general opinion of them: I see very little use for them in my whisky-drinking life. I own some because I was sent samples to review. For the most part, they just take up space in my freezer next to whatever that is in the Ziploc bag with freezer burns all over it that my wife put in there last year.

Most people I know who are “enthusiasts” drink their whisky neat or with a splash of water at room temperature. And, as I note in the article, my friends who are not serious whisky drinkers (like my fishing buddies who drink bourbon and ginger ale on the rocks) have never complained to me about the ice watering down their drink. (It’s probably because their drinks don’t last long enough for melting ice to become a concern…)

Plus, there’s the whole logistical and sanitary issue with whiskey stones. You have to have them handy, in a freezer nearby, to use them. (Try asking for them with your drink order the next time you go out to a bar or restaurant and see what response you get from your server.)

The few times I have tried them, they became a nuisance at some point. They weigh down my drink, and I am stuck with them when I’m done with it. Then I have to wash them, dry them (heaven forbid any ice forms on them, right?), and put them back in the cute little bag they came in before throwing them back in my freezer.

To be fair, I really do see one situation where they would be useful. I mentioned this during the interview, but it was not included due to space constraints. I keep most of my whiskies in a bar in my house here in Pennsylvania. In the summer, the house is air-conditioned, so my bottles never get warmer than the temperature at which I prefer to drink my whisky. But, I have a vacation home at the New Jersey shore and we often keep the windows open and forgo the A/C to welcome in the lovely sea breezes. But, my bottles of whisky sometimes get a few degrees warmer than I would like and I find myself wanting to cool my whisky down a bit. I suspect many of you have similar situations, depending on where you live and if you have A/C or not.

Even so, I have several options available to me that are very convenient and do not require the expense and hassle of whisky stones. What I normally do is just add a little cold water or a small ice cube to bring my whisky down a few degrees. I often drink cask-strength whisky and would be adding some water anyway. Even in the times when I don’t want any water or ice in my whisky, in a pinch I can simply keep some glasses in the fridge or stick my glass in the freezer for a minute or two, which will cool my whisky down shortly after I pour it in the glass.

I guess the point I am trying to make is: who are the tens (hundreds?) of thousands of people buying these? If you’re using them on a regular basis, please chime in here. I’m keeping an open mind. I am all for progress and buying new things that will make my life better. (Our house has iPhones and iPads with lots of cool apps, for example). If I can help whisky stone producers sell more product, make more money, and at the same time making whisky-drinkers (and therefore whisky producers) happier, then I am all for it.

P.S. Just after I published this post, I was coincidentally sent an email promo for something called the “Instant Wine Chiller” which you can find here. They say it also works for vodka, tequila, etc. You put it on the end of the bottle and it cools the beverage as it flows out of the bottle before going into the glass. I don’t know anything more about it or how well it work, but it looks like another alternative to putting stones in your whisky.

Have you seen the History Channel show on Whiskey?

Friday, September 30th, 2011

A couple years ago, the History Channel featured a one-hour show titled “Whiskey.” It is part of their popular series called Modern Marvels. They’ve run the show again several times since then. I mentioned it here before for two reasons:

  • It’s a very entertaining and informative show that I think will appeal to both the novice and seasoned whisky enthusiast.
  • I’m interviewed several times during the show. (Let that be a warning to you…)

If you still haven’t had a chance to see it, or if you would like to watch it again, you can now catch it on Hulu. I’m including the link here. They excluded most of the commercials (thankfully), so the show is only about 45 minutes.

Check it out.  One bit of advice: having a whisky in your hand while watching it only enhances the pleasure!

An important note for Malt Advocate magazine subscribers

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011

The fall issue of Malt Advocate will be released a couple weeks later than usual. This is intentional, and I promise it will be worth the wait. We spent the last several months re-designing the magazine, and we will relaunch it at a special event in about two weeks.

A magazine re-design is nothing new. During the 20 years of Malt Advocate, we have re-designed it several times. This one, however, is our biggest–and the one we are most proud of.

That’s all I am going to say for now. I just wanted to let our loyal subscribers know why they will be getting their issue a little later than usual. 

When it is released, I will let you know right here. Stay tuned…

Are craft distillers creating a whiskey crisis?

Thursday, August 4th, 2011

An article in The Atlantic last week suggests that a “whiskey crisis is looming” because craft distillers are aging their whiskey in small barrels in a (failed) attempt to accelerate the aging process, and then they are putting the whiskey on the market at a young age and calling it “bourbon.” (The issue here is that these bourbons aren’t as mature and complex as the straight bourbons being put out by the larger distillers and it’s going to drag down the reputation of bourbon.)

The author says they are cutting corners to save time and suggests that it could lead to a decline in the entire industry.

Read it here.

What do you think?

P.S.  I think this article is significant because it shows that the issue is now being picked up by mainstream press, not just bantered about by us geeky whisky bloggers.

“En Primeur” whisky ratings: good or bad?

Friday, April 8th, 2011

It’s been a while since we had something really good to debate here. Here’s one that has been on my mind for a week now.

I was reading a story in Decanter magazine about a controversy centered around how special, highly regarded, wine critics are allowed access to taste–and rate–Bordeaux wines en primeur (in advance) of the wines being bottled and released.

(The story actually is more complicated than that. There is an official en primeur tasting of Bordeaux wines for wine writers, but a very select few are allowed access to those wines even before everyone else. They are immediately rating the wines and posting them up on their social media sites like Facebook–before the other wine writers even get to taste the wines.)

One obvious issue here (besides the fact that some writers are more privileged than others) is that ratings of these wines, prior to being released, will influence the wine producers regarding the price they charge for their wines. If James Suckling gives a First Growth Bordeaux a perfect 100 based on his en primeur tasting, you can be certain that the wine, when eventually bottled, will command a high price.

So, this got me thinking. En primeur whisky tastings are a regular privilege for the most highly regarded whisky writers. We have access to barrel samples when we tour distilleries. Even more so, we (on a regular basis) get samples of whiskies well before they are released to the public.

In this new age of social media, where we can blog, tweet, or post up on Facebook our rating as soon as we get a whisky (often months before a whisky is actually released to the public), what impact does this have on consumer demand? Equally as important, what influence does this have on the whisky producers when they decide what price to charge for their whisky?

This, in itself, is a good question. But I’ll take it one step further. Some whisky writers actually taste, rate, and publish ratings of the “new make” spirit–right off the stills and long before it is aged for three years and can legally be called whisky.  Are these ratings based on the quality of the whisky as it is, or is it based on its potential?

For example, in the 2010 Whisky Bible, Jim Murray rates two “New Spirit” Kilchoman samples from Islay (one from a bourbon cask and one from a combination of bourbon and sherry casks) a 93.5 and 94, respectively. Is this based on the actual whisky that was tasted, or its potential? I ask this question because in his 2011 Whisky Bible, he rates two actual whisky releases (including the inaugural release) and gives them an 85 and an 82.5.

I understand why wine writers rate based on potential. Wine ages and changes when aged in a bottle. And with some wines, they can “close up” and become worse before they get better and peak. Theoretically, whisky doesn’t change at all when it is bottled.

If we start rating whisky based on potential and not actual flavor, imagine what would that do!

So, I have two questions for you:

1) How do you feel about whisky writers tasting and rating whiskies long before they are released (and priced)?

2) How do you feel about rating a distiller’s spirit (or whisky) based on potential?

Let the discussions begin.

Gordon & MacPhail releases another 70 year old whisky–and more!

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011

I don’t usually post up press releases. But it’s pretty rare to see the release of a 70 year old whisky. Gordon & MacPhail has done it again, as part of their “Generations” label. The first time it was Mortlach. This time, it’s Glenlivet. Details below in the release.


Exclusive, 70 Year Old Malt and the ‘Lifetime’ of one of Scotland’s Most Iconic Whiskies Revealed
‘Sequel’ to world’s oldest whisky unveiled

From today, whisky lovers will get the chance to own the ‘lifetime’ of one of Scotland’s most iconic whiskies, with the jewel in the crown being a £13,000 bottle of 70 year old Scotch.

Family-owned whisky specialist, Gordon & MacPhail, will unveil one cask of The Glenlivet 70 Years Old, one of the world’s oldest whiskies, at a ceremony in Edinburgh Castle. Described as a “stupendous”, “smooth” and “voluptuous” single malt, and released under G&M’s Generations label, only 100 full-size bottles of this exclusive whisky will be available to buy in 2011.

To make these exclusive purchase extra-special, enthusiasts will also be able to buy a limited edition set, the “Private Collection: Glenlivet Decades.” This set contains a bottle from every decade from the 1950s to 1990s – giving collectors the rare opportunity to own the ‘liquid lifetime’ of the malt.

Founded in 1895, Gordon & MacPhail is known the world over as the custodian of some of the oldest and rarest single malts available. Members of the third and fourth generations of the Urquhart family now own and manage the business.

David and Michael Urquhart, Joint Managing Directors of Gordon & MacPhail, said: “Following on from the phenomenal success last year of Mortlach 70 Years Old, we decided to release this ‘sister’ Generations cask as there is clearly an enormous demand for greatly-aged Scotch Malt Whiskies.

“This cask of The Glenlivet was laid down on 3rd February 1940, on the instruction of our grand-father, John Urquhart. Since then, successive generations of the Urquhart family have been waiting for today – the day it would be ready to share with fellow whisky lovers.

“Throughout the 115 years since we were founded, we have made it our business to nurture and mature some of the finest whiskies Scotland has to offer. The ‘Glenlivet Decades’ collection revisits this special malt throughout the years, allowing whisky enthusiasts to get a real sense of how the cask and the maturation process change the character of a whisky.

“Altogether, these six whiskies represent the ‘liquid lifetime’ of The Glenlivet, and six decades of experience, dedication and passion on the part of our family. We’re confident that this investment has resulted in a suite of whiskies of unparalleled quality: a real collector’s piece.”

The whiskies will be revealed to an audience of invited guests at a 1940s-themed ceremony at the historic location of Edinburgh Castle.

Well-known whisky connoisseur Charles Maclean described the launch:

“Made at the height of the Battle of Britain, The Glenlivet 1940 opens a door into a different time, another country. To smell and taste this exquisite whisky is to experience the past in a unique way – layer upon layer of flavour, profound and evocative. Its companions from the succeeding five decades provide an unrepeatable opportunity to explore subtle differences in the flavour of this Prince of Whiskies over half a century – as well as being a Blue Chip investment!”.

Each bottle will be beautifully presented in a tear-shaped hand-blown crystal decanter with an elegant British Hallmarked silver stopper. The decanter nestles in a sterling silver base and is framed in a handmade box, crafted in Scotland using Scottish Elm.

The Glenlivet 70 Years Old was matured in a First Fill Sherry Butt, and bottled at cask strength (45.9% ABV). Only 100 70cl bottles and 175 20cl bottles will be released in 2011. The 70cl decanter has a recommended retail price in the UK of £13,000 and the 20cl version has a recommended retail price in the UK of £3,200. It is the second in a series of extremely rare malt whiskies to be released by Gordon & MacPhail under its ‘Generations’ brand.

Fifty limited edition collector’s packs are also available, containing all five Private Collection whiskies, priced at £2,850 per pack. The packs contain one bottle of each of the following whiskies: Glenlivet 1954 50.6%; Glenlivet 1963 40.6%; Glenlivet 1974 50.1%; Glenlivet 1980 48.5%; and Glenlivet 1991 54.4%.

The Private Collection: Glenlivet Decades bottlings are also available individually, with recommended retail prices in the UK ranging from £95 to £1,250.

Prices may vary in different countries due to different excise and sales taxes and currency fluctuations.

For more information visit

Six year old whiskey in six month’s time?

Friday, July 30th, 2010

Tom Lix, an entrepreneur, says he found a way to do it, and he received a permit from the feds and got a grant from a local community college innovation fund to conduct his research. Here’s an excerpt from the article, which ran in a Cleveland, Ohio, publication:

Last month, Lix gained a federal permit to operate an experimental distilled spirits plant. And he has a sponsorship with the American Distilling Institute, a 1,200-member trade group for craft distillers.

Bill Owens, president of the institute, said he was impressed with a scientific paper Lix submitted to the group.

Owens directed Lix to a bourbon distillery in Kentucky that supplied Lix with a batch of “white dog.” That’s the highly potent spirit distillers age for years in charred oak barrels to make bourbon whiskey.

Lix started in his home, refining a process that uses heating, cooling and pressure to greatly reduce the maturing time for whiskey. Essentially, a six-year whiskey can age in six months, Lix claims.

Owens said Lix is placing charred wood in the spirits to impart the color and vanilla tastes that come from barrel storage.

Read the entire story here.

What do you think? Is he legitimate?

And do you think it’s good for the craft distilling movement, or will this kind of experimentation tarnish this young industry’s reputation?

Malt Advocate, Inc. joins M. Shanken Communications, Inc.

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

Well, this is the big news for the day (year? decade?) It’s all very positive–a perfect match.  Please let me know if you have any questions. I’ll be happy to answer them. Details below in the press release.

(That’s Marvin Shanken and me in the picture, earlier today, after I signed what seemed like a million papers. The synergisms have already begun. I’m giving him a bottle of The Glenlivet Cellar Collection 1959 vintage, and I went home with a handful of pre-Castro Cuban cigars, also from 1959. Very nice!)


Malt Advocate, Inc. joins M. Shanken Communications, Inc.


 John Hansell stays on as Publisher & Editor; Amy Westlake remains WhiskyFest Director

New York, June 15, 2010:  Malt Advocate, Inc. today announced that it is now a part of M. Shanken Communications, Inc.   Malt Advocate, Inc. includes Malt Advocate magazine, WhiskyFest New York, WhiskyFest Chicago, and WhiskyFest San Francisco.

M. Shanken Communications, Inc.  publishes a variety of consumer and trade publications.  They include Wine Spectator, Cigar Aficionado, Food Arts, Market Watch, and Impact.  In addition, the company hosts a number of events across the United States including the New York and New World Wine Experiences, Wine Spectator’s Grand Tours and Cigar Aficionado’s Big Smokes. 

John Hansell will remain Malt Advocate magazine’s Publisher & Editor, and Amy Westlake will continue as Director of WhiskyFest events.  Malt Advocate, Inc. operations will remain at their current office in Emmaus, PA.

“Amy and I are very proud of our efforts promoting the whisky industry, both with Malt Advocate, which will be celebrating its 20thAnniversary in 2011, and the 25 WhiskyFest events we have hosted over the past 12 years,” notes John Hansell.

“Our activities dovetail perfectly with those of M. Shanken Communications, Inc. from a publication and events standpoint.  There are definite synergies that will be achieved between the two companies.  The M. Shanken Group will take Malt Advocate magazine and our WhiskyFest events to levels that we could not have achieved on our own.  We are very excited about our future together.”

“John and Amy are pioneers in this industry and highly regarded,” commented Marvin R. Shanken, CEO of M. Shanken Communications, Inc.   “We are proud to have them on board with us.  Their creations—Malt Advocate and WhiskyFest—are benchmarks.”

For additional information, contact Amy Westlake (610. 967.1083 or