You may have heard about Jon, Mark and Robbo’s Easy Drinking Whisky Company (JMR), you know the "small" whisky company started by brothers Jon and Mark Geary and David "Robbo" Robertson, that wants to make whisky more accessible to the masses.
Their approach to accessibility is evidenced,in part, by the names that they’ve selected for their three products: The Rich Spicy One, The Smokey Peaty One and The Smooth Sweeter One.
And If those product names are accurate descriptors for the product in the bottle, then these guys have done something so insanely simple that it might just work.
But if you are reading this in the US, you haven’t been able to buy the stuff. But you soon will.
Though they officially launched in the US in June, it’ll be this August before distribution will begin in earnest.
Let’s take a closer look at the company and the product.
FULL DISCLOSURE: I have not tried any of their products yet, though I am looking forward to it.
Their website SCREAMS irreverence. It’s not your standard scotch whisky site.
"What we’re seeking to do is exactly what Aussie winemakers have been doing for over a decade: make Scotch whisky more accessible and package it in a more contemporary way."
Sounding even better.
If you read ScotchBlog regularly (and you should), you know I’m 100% behind making whisky more accessible.
Then I hear that "the company believes leaving any age statement off JMR’s bottles further enhances accessibility."
As you probably know, the Immature Spirits Act of 1915 (Scotland), requires that scotch whisky MUST be aged at least three years. As you probably also know, in the case of a blend (including a vatted malt), only the age of the youngest whisky in the bottle may be displayed. As a result, bottlers sometimes choose not to display any age on the label – if the youngest whisky in the blend is not at least ten years old. That’s fine, it’s a common practice, among vatted/ blended whiskies.
But, to declare that you are positioning yourself for new drinkers, and then mislead those same new drinkers by leaving an age declaration off and then spinning the decision to say that it "enhances accessibility," is just not right in my book.
And then some confusion about the product itself.
On their web site, they don’t make it clear exactly what is in the bottle. (The best I can make out from the pictures on the web site is "Malt Scotch Whisky" on the label). Not Blended Malt Scotch Whisky, Not Vatted, Not Single, Just "Malt Scotch Whisky."
Again, for someone familiar with the oddities of scotch whisky labeling, I have less of an issue with this – but they are specifically marketing to new drinkers.
I’m guessing that the product is a vatted malt. Since they are marketing a vatted malt, we’ll classify them as bottlers, since it doesn’t appear they are actually producing any whisky. Nothing wrong with this at all, I just like it to be clear.
I’m also a little confused about the funding and distribution model for this upstart independent.
It appears that the company is backed by the Edrington group. In case you are not familiar with the company, they own Highland Park, Famous Grouse, Macallan and Cutty Sark. It’s not a secret that David "Robbo" Robertson, was formerly master distiller at the Macallan, but according to an article in today’s Sunday Herald (Scotland), apparently one of the Gearys (I’m not sure which one) continues to hold his position of Director of Planning and Research at …Edrington Group.
How many companies do you know that would allow someone to continue employment when they have publicly launched a company that competes by selling in the same space? None in my experience.
And the US importer for JMR? Remy Cointreau/Amerique. Who also happens to be the US importer for Highland Park, Famous Grouse, Macallan and Cutty Sark.
What am I getting at? I am just wondering if maybe JMR is not really a small start-up, but instead a marketing ploy by Edrington to see how the market reacts to such innovative labeling and marketing tactics.
I could be wrong, but until JMR is clear about all of this, it is my nature to be a little incredulous. It is equally possible that these guys are just well connected and have called in a few markers. But that’s hard for me to believe based on what I’ve read.
The product is very likely, very good, given the pedigrees of the involved parties, and since I admittedly haven’t tasted it, I’m not equipped nor am I attempting to judge the product.
I am questioning the creation of confusion in the marketplace. It is NOT what the whisky industry needs right now.
I am all for attracting new drinkers, but attracting new drinkers through innovative tactics also needs to include helping new drinkers understand the what whisky is, what it is not, and opening their eyes to the spectrum of available whisky – not to sell a few bottles short term.