Before we start, some background…
About two years or so ago the Diageo folks in charge of the Cardhu distillery were faced with a big problem. Cardhu Single Malt was popular in Spain.
The whisky was selling so well in Spain that stocks of Cardhu were quickly being depleted. This would not have been such a big problem if Cardhu were not also a major ingredient in Johnnie Walker.
What to do, what to do?
Well, the Diageo folks looked at the bottom line – Johnnie Walker worldwide is more important than Cardhu in Spain. And besides, the Spanish didn’t seem to make much of distinction between a single malt and a blend. But they were brand loyal.
Diageo came up with a brilliant (so they thought) plan. Keep the packaging the same, but the whisky inside would be changed to a vatted malt –a whisky comprised of a mix of single malts from different Diageo distilleries. The only clue that Cardhu had changed was a single, minor alteration. The label would now say “Pure Malt” where it had once said “Single Malt.”
Now, keep in mind that the term “Pure Malt” was not new. It was an existing, though thoroughly confusing term for a blend of single malts from different distilleries.
However, it had never been applied to a former single malt.
Suffice it to say that this little change set off a firestorm among single malt distillers and malt blenders. It resulted in several things: at first, a change in the label color packaging from the original red & gold to green (while retaining the pure malt designation and original bottle shape).
Then in Spring 2004 an apology from Diageo, then the departure of some Diageo executives, and a return to Cardhu as a single malt. This Pure Malt fiasco started in 2003 and ended in 2004 (though on a recent trip [April 2005] to Spain, I acquired a red labeled Cardhu Pure Malt…go figure)
But the ripples continue…
The SWA (Scotch Whisky Association) decided that they had to clarify the situation so never again would the term “Pure Malt” be used.
After a year plus of investigation, negotiation and various other –ations, they recently announced that the proper term for a whisky which consists of single malts from different distilleries would be “Blended Malt.” They’ve announced that dissenting opinions would be welcome until this month (August) when a final decision shall be made.
Let’s get down to brass tacks…
There are several terms in play. Let’s look at them objectively:
There are those purists who feel that the term “Vatted malt” should be used.
This is the term that has been used for years, and those familiar with scotch whisky know that “vatted malt” means a blend of single malts.
All whiskies (aside from single cask) are vatted before bottling.
More than that – The term simply sucks. We are trying to minimize confusion among and attract new drinkers – who wants to drink something from a “vat?”
The Scotch Whisky Association wants to use "Blended Malt":
It’s accurate. The products in question are comprised of a mixture of single malts. In my book, that’s a "Blend."
Companies producing vatted whiskies feel that this term demeans the blended malts in question and may cause confusion among new drinkers through an unwanted association with “Blended Scotch whisky” the term used when describing a whisky which is created by combining single malt whisky(ies) with grain whisky.
MALT SCOTCH WHISKY
An alternate term, pushed by some of the vatters is "malt Scotch whisky.”
John Glaser (Compass Box Whisky) was quoted as saying:
“Blends are perceived by many consumers to be inferior products. The potential damage of using the word blend is far greater than sticking with vatted malt or simply using malt Scotch whisky.”
None. While I cannot argue with John’s logic, I think this term only benefits producers of vatted whiskies.
The term is simply too generic and too easily confused with Single malt scotch whisky and for that reason is just unacceptable.
Small Isle of Skye based distillery Pràban Na Linne is relaunching its Poit Dhubh unchilfiltered malt range as the far hipper PD and had planned to use the designation “malt Scotch whisky.” Douglas Smith, Commercial Director of the distillery, contends that his whisky will seriously be harmed by being forced to label as blended:
“We’re currently selling PD at the same price point as some single malts. If we start sticking ‘blended malt’ on the labels, the danger is that customers who are unfamiliar with the brand and the definitions might assume it’s an inferior product and opt for the ‘safer bet’ of a single malt.”
Are you talking about the same people who pay $60 for the apparently inferior blended Johnnie Walker Green?
And as far as being "unfamiliar with your brand?" Tough titties. That’s what a marketing department is for.
In a previous article I took issue with Monkey Shoulder’s self-designated “Triple Malt”
Why? Because of consumers’ “more is better” mind set. A Double Stuf Oreo MUST be better than a regular OREO!
If we allow the "Double" or "Triple" malt designation, just think about some smart marketer’s next move: they’ll start telling unknowing consumers:
"Why have a single malt, when you can have a Quad Malt. That’s right, four malts in one bottle – Four malts are better than one."
If you were waiting for me to come up with some fantastic term that no one has thought of, I hate to disappoint. There’s a better term out there somewhere. But I don’t know what it is.