Whisky Magazine: Free Stuff, Discount

The fine folks at Paragraph Publishing publish four great magazines – the flagship Whisky Magazine , Cigar Buyer, Scotland Magazine, and the brand new Beers of the World.

They also are the organizers and hosts of the Whisky Live events I wrote about on December 8th.

Rebecca at Paragraph was kind enough to supply me with some free copies of two of their magazines (Whisky and Scotland) to share with some lucky readers of The Scotch Blog.

I love Whisky Magazine. I mean, how could you not love a magazine that has whisky icons like Michael Jackson and David Broom as contributing editors? You can’t. Don’t argue with me.

Paragraph was also kind enough to let me pick which issues I’d like to offer to you, So I chose issue 46 from April 2005 (The latest issue is 52).

So of course your question is "Kevin, why did you choose an older issue?"

Good question. The reason I chose issue 46 was because it was in this issue that the 2005 Best of the Best were named.

Best of the Best is held every two years, and is a tasting of the finest whiskies scored in Whisky Magazine over the previous 24 months.

Almost 60 great whiskies tasted blind in five countries by more than 100 tasters over four months… the Best of the Best event in 2005 can rightly claim to be the most ambitious whisky tasting ever held.

And the results reflect just how thoroughly we searched for the finest products from America, Ireland, Japan and Scotland… and what an exceptional standard of whisky enthusiasts have been able to enjoy over the last two years.

And how can I argue with a multi-continent, blind tasting by well over 100 individuals? Especially when they are obviously spot on — they chose Laphroaig Cask Strength as the Best single malt Scotch. (Which I personally selected as my favorite upon tasting it in London in February 2005.)

This selection methodology stands in stark contrast to the selection of Highland Park 18.

It is also in this issue that Whisky Magazine announced the winners of the Icons of Whisky 2005. For example, who is the Retailer of the Year? That would be Park Avenue Liquors (New York City). What about Hotel of the Year? Not surprisingly, the Craigellachie Hotel (Speyside region, Scotland).

The issue also includes a story on The Glenrothes, (my favorite under-rated distillery), a visit to Glen Grant, a story about the women involved in the mostly male-dominated whisk(e)y industry, and a number of other great features.

One of my favorite standard features is the always interesting side by side whisky reviews by Michael Jackson, Dave Broom and Martine Nouet.

I was also given copies of the latest issue of Scotland Magazine, which is serendipitous, as the cover story is about Perthshire – and I’m now in the midst of planning the Perthshire leg of my trip to Scotland this coming Spring.

But these copies aren’t for me, they are for you – or at least 10 of you. And this month, the normal "Free Stuff" rules are out the window. If you’ve won before, you can win again.

And how do you win?

It’s easy. Simply visit the Whisky Magazine site and send me an email telling me who owns the famous face on the cover of issue 51.

While you are at the Whisky Magazine site, check out the forums, which are inhabited by a very lively community of whisky lovers. You may even see the occasional post from yours truly.

UPDATE: (1/2/2006): Sorry, all of the issues are spoken for.

Didn’t you say something about a discount?

The best part of all is that Paragraph has decided to extend, to readers of The Scotch Blog, a very generous 22% discount on an annual subscription. This discount code is only valid for US subscriptions.

To claim your discount you need to go Whisky Magazine website; go to subscriptions and type in the code BLOG1205. The 22% discount will then appear.

Upcoming Whisky Live events:

  • Whisky Live Tokyo – February 12, 2006
  • Whisky Live London – March 3 & 4, 2006
  • Whisky Live New York – April 5, 2006

Happy Hogmanay!

Diageo wastes more money

I was recently given a copy of something called "The Blue Label Book" by an acquaintance of mine who is apparently on the Johnnie Walker "hit list"  - the book is being
distributed to high-level executives, including Fortune 500 CEOs.

He wasn’t much interested in the book, but I’m lucky enough that when he thinks "Scotch" he thinks "Kevin" and forwarded it on to me.

It is a beautiful piece of work with a tri-fold blue linen cover and gold-edged pages. It has one of those built-in ribbon bookmarks generally reserved for bibles and great master-works. Yet, it is singularly uninteresting – whether to a Scotch aficionado like myself, or to a busy CIO of a Fortune 50 company, like the original recipient.

Let me quote from the Introduction:

You are holding something rare. It’s called the Blue Label Book and it’s brought to you (personally) by the ultimate luxury Scotch, Johnnie Walker Blue Label. Rare because, like the whisky itself, we feel only a select group of individuals worldwide are capable of appreciating what the pages of this strictly limited-edition Blue Label Book have to offer.

The book goes on to show the "best seat in the house" for a number of worldwide venues – various theaters, opera houses, restaurants and the like, interspersed with paintings of well-dressed, beautiful people enjoying (presumably) Johnnie Walker Blue.

There are only four paragraphs in the entire book (all on a single page) that refer to Scotch.

But to be honest, I may well be wrong about that – as I quickly became bored with the book and put it aside; while the high-powered exec that this book was originally meant for (presumably to mesmerize him into buying a $200+ bottle of Blue) didn’t even give it a second glance.

So really, what is the purpose of this book — which very likely cost more to produce per unit, than a bottle of JW Blue? Apparently, according to this recent article in AdWeek, it’s for marketing people to impress other marketing people.

Booking It for Johnnie Walker

December 27, 2005

Mae Anderson


NEW YORK In an effort to reach luxury consumers who can afford a $200 bottle of whisky, Bartle Bogle Hegarty has created the Blue Label Book for Johnnie Walker.
The London shop created the blue, hardbound 96-page
book around “The best seats in the house“ theme to promote Johnnie
Walker’s high-end Blue Label. It profiles 12 cities around the world,
each with a seating-plan illustration of a luxury venue and commentary
by a different writer for each locale. For example, one chapter shows
the seating plan of Vu’s Bar in the Jumeirah Emirates Towers in Dubai.
An essay by Stephen Armstrong, a contributing editor to the Sunday Times in the U.K., discusses Dubai’s residences and fine dining.

The branded-content piece starts with a chapter
about the history of Johnnie Walker’s Blue Label. The book is being
distributed to high-level executives, including Fortune 500 CEOs.

A print campaign with the seating plans, which were created by illustrator John See, is appearing in publications including Forbes, Fortune and Business Week.
The ads include layouts for venues such as the Grand Theater in
Shanghai, Le Palais Garnier in Paris and Madison Square Garden in New

John Hegarty served as creative director on the
campaign, and Dave Masterman and Ed Edwards were the creative team.
Sharon Chong oversaw art direction and typography.

I received the book about a month ago and hadn’t really thought about mentioning, until I read this article yesterday (12/27/05). It reminded me about how silly marketers can be.

I can just picture the meeting where this idea was pitched to the JW marketing people.

Johnnie Walker: OK, we need an idea to promote this stuff. We hear that Blue is really good (from people who actually drink whisky, which of course we don’t) but we aren’t getting a lot of takers at 200 bucks a pop.

Bartle Bogle Hegarty: Well, we’ve come up with an idea I think you’ll like.

JW: We are all a twitter.

BBH: OK – picture this. It’s a very large, very expensive book.

JW: I like it already. And we sell it on Amazon?

BBH: No. We give it away!

JW: And it tells the story of how we make Johnnie Walker Blue?

BBH: No.

JW: It tells the story of how old Johnnie Walker single-handedly created the blended whisky industry?

BBH: No. That’s so "yesterday."

JW: So it talks about expensive Scotch in general?

BBH: No. It doesn’t really mention Scotch.

JW: (Silence)

BBH: Well, we facilitated some focus groups and found that at the end of the day the only appropriate market segment to target who may buy this product are a pinpoint demographic that 1.) has VERY disposable incomes,  2.) knows nothing about Scotch, and 3.) basically will buy JW Blue simply to impress other people with VERY disposable incomes, who know nothing about Scotch.

JW: Keep talking…

BBH: And to leverage the core competencies here at BBH, we syndicated the idea with our "very large, very expensive book making division" – who came up with the idea for a very large, very expensive book.

JW: So, you think that a very large, very expensive book will sell Johnnie Walker Blue?

BBH: Our focus group findings point to "NO."

JW: Oh.

BBH: However, we are pretty sure we’ll be able to win a Clio in the "Large, Expensive Book" category.

JW: Brilliant!

The thing I love about Diageo is that they continue to do stupid things – allowing me an almost unending supply of entertaining fodder; all while the stock price continues to rise. Brilliant!

I wonder how much I can get for this thing on eBay?

The Glenrothes

The packaging for The Glenrothes is simply beautiful.

Glenrothes_1 From the minimalist shape of the bottle, to the hand-written label (reminiscent of a sample bottle), to the simple, yet functional "frame" presentation case – when you see The Glenrothes, you know you are in for something special.

A little background
The founders of the distillery in 1878 included James Stuart who was at that time the owner of the Macallan-Glenlivet distillery; Unfortunately the company went bankrupt in the midst of  construction, but was rescued and completed with a £600.00 loan from the United Presbyterian Church at neighboring Knockando.

The distillery was acquired by Highland Distillers in 1887, and changed hands again in 1999 when the Highland Distillers group was purchased by the Edrington Group for £601 million.

About the expressions
Launched as a Vintage Single Malt in 1994, following five years as a 12 year old, this single malt is currently available only in several vintage editions*:

  • 1992 [$65]
  • 1987 [$85]
  • 1984 [$100]
  • 1972 [$220]

Other vintages that have run out, but which you may be able to find, are 1989, 1979, and 1973, as well as a limited supply of Single Cask Special Editions from 1966 & 1967. In all, only five single casks have ever been released: 2-1966, 2-1967 and 1-1980.

Three more single casks of 1979 will be released in 2006 to celebrate the centenary of the founding of the distillery.

Ronnie Cox, Director for the Glenrothes, says that there’s no such thing as explaining the selection of a vintage edition "in a nut-shell." He is absolutely correct – the only way to understand The Glenrothes vintage concept is to try The Glenrothes vintages. But later on, I talk with Ronnie, and he does a great job of explaining the Glenrothes vintage approach.

In the Blend
A good portion of the Glenrothes production is used for blends — only about 2% of total production makes it into that distinctive bottle. Traditionally, Glenrothes was only available as part of a blend – the Glenrothes is the principal malt in Cutty Sark as well as The Famous Grouse and also makes it into a number of non-Edrington blends.

Adventures in Distribution in Scotch-land
Here’s a little insight into the complexity of the Scotch whisky industry and the various partnerships:

In 1997, Edrington and Berry Brothers & Rudd created ‘Cutty Sark International’ (CSI), a 50:50 combined venture: Edrington doing the distilling and bottling and Berry Bros the brand owner of Cutty Sark. No cross-shareholding – just an excellent partnership between these two fiercely independent private companies who compete in a world of multi-nationals.

CSI is responsible for the marketing of the Cutty Sark range as well as the development and marketing of the Glenrothes Vintage single malt, while Edrington remains responsible for the production.

The Glenrothes brand name is owned by Edrington, marketed world-wide by CSI and imported into the US by Skyy Spirits and NOT RemyUSA (which distributes three of the four primary Edrington products: Highland Park, The Famous Grouse, and The Macallan, as well as JMR Easy Drinking Whisky. Edrington also owns Glenturret and Tamdhu).

The connections are complicated, but it’s all part of why I find this industry so fascinating.

Tell me more
The Glenrothes is a working distillery that is not open to the public, meaning no gift shops or tours (except for (ahem) special individuals) – they focus on production.

You just don’t hear a lot about the Distillery or the product, except among people who know some damn fine Scotch when they taste it. I wondered why this is, so I sat down with the Director for the Glenrothes, Ronnie Cox, and Alexis Pagis, Brand Manager:

KE – Why did you move to vintage bottlings?

RC- In 1993, we were looking for a unique approach and our 300 year association with the fine wine business set us thinking. Why should flavour consistency in Scotch Whisky be rule No 1? Doesn’t each Wine Vintage have a different personality?  By its very nature, matured malt whisky is always inconsistent because oak wood has a maverick nature.  Wouldn’t it be fun to make a virtue out of this fact? As some of our friends like the big, rich style and others the lighter, refreshing flavour, the idea was born. All would share the same heritage in the form of its character but each with a differing personality. Complicated, perhaps, but interesting and fun. So we changed from the solid, safe, good and consistent Glenrothes 12 years old to the "best of the best" concept, unashamedly luxurious.

It is important to explain the Vintage concept – Each expression represents the personality from one particular year’s distillation but demonstrating the true character of The Glenrothes distillery – the four flavour cornerstones of The Glenrothes being fruits, citrus, spices, vanillas with the four characteristics of depth, creamy texture, delivery (of aroma promise) and balance.

Each Vintage would be different from all others using the two dimensions of cask types and age. Whiskies would be chosen only when deemed to be exceptional and good enough to represent the distillery. Each Vintage would be, of course, finite. Most, and particularly the older ones, are low volume and as a consequence, very rare.

KE – How would you describe the flavors of The Glenrothes?

RC – The four flavour pillars of The Glenrothes are: black fruits, citrus, spices and vanilla. These, added to the five general characteristics of depth, creamy texture, delivery (of aroma promise), balance and elegance will give the general idea. But each of The Glenrothes expressions will be very different and designed to be. It’s this interesting difference that seems to attract "those in the know". Let’s explore and show you why!

KE – What was the idea behind the packaging?

RC- We went to the distillery itself for inspiration. The old pint sample bottles and labels in our Sample Room Library provided the answer.  The "frame" box was created out of materials present at the distillery and a concerted effort to "show" the bottle.  Minimalist, understated and perhaps a touch of the rebel.

KE – Was there a specific decision to keep the distillery closed (not open to the public)?

RC -Yes. We love to invite visitors who have a special interest, enjoy the expressions and who take the trouble to contact us. Like the product itself we want to keep distillery visits "special" and personal. For those who want to see a distillery producing whisky there are plenty nearby open to the general public.

KE – What is the next vintage to be released?

RC – A victim of our own success the Vintages laid down will not last nearly as long as originally intended. We do have 1991 and 1985 Vintages being launched right now, and these should take us through 2006 with others maturing for release thereafter.

KE – What makes The Glenrothes different?

RC – For many years Glenrothes was the blender’s delight, not just for our own and Edrington blends, but at the heart of many competitor blends — giving them primarily flavour, but body and structure as well. If you ask the blenders, Glenrothes is always one of their top favourites.  It was a natural for Single Malt bottling.

There are a couple of big differences.

The first is that we have turned the concept of age on its head. Everyone knows that age alone is insufficient to produce excellence, yet it is still used as a yardstick.  No, to make excellent whisky we require not only top Spirit but an extraordinary wood understanding. It is knowing when the whisky is in its prime. Wood maketh Whisky. We always promote flavour over age. You don’t see bold age statements on The Glenrothes but you will, if you need to know the age, see the year of distillation and underneath the year of bottling. You do the math.

The second is that we have but one consistent expression: Select Reserve – all the others are Vintages, like Premier Cru Wines or Krug Champagne. Each Vintage represents a chosen personality from one particular year whilst sharing the same distillery character. The fun of this is made all the more interesting when you look at the fact that the industry has been able to analyse only 60% of the maturation process.  The other 40% remains a mystery.  Unlock, through research, some of this 40% and apply it to future Vintages and you have our raison d’etre and difference of the Vintages versus the consistent recipes of other brands with their 12, 15 and 18 year old offerings.

KE – You mentioned Select Reserve…

AP – Because of the growing popularity of the Glenrothes, the vintages run out quicker than ever before and that is unfair for Single Malt and Glenrothes enthusiasts. So we wanted to create an expression that would typify the Glenrothes flavors (citrus, vanilla, spice) but one that would be available on an on-going basis.

Select Reserve, crafted by John Ramsay, is a vatting of casks from different years, all reserved for this expression. The emphasis is on quality and consistency. This year, the youngest malt whisky was filled in 98 but the remainder is older. The make-up and age profile will vary depending on what casks are available at the right quality to produce the complexity and balance so characteristic of the Glenrothes.

Select Reserve is the essence of all that is The Glenrothes in its early prime. It’s an exceptional whisky of freshness and vibrancy. The tasting notes on the label, written by John Ramsay are: Ripe fruits, citrus, vanilla, hints of spice… It is really really good.

RC – This concept has been two years in the making. Lots and lots of trial and error before we came up with this vatting. Some including, many distillers, were skeptical of a non-Vintage and whether you could mix maturity with younger characteristics. But again we looked at the top-end of the wine sector, Krug. They are best known for their outstanding Vintages but equally proud of their more accessible non-Vintage expression.  When we developed Select Reserve we were looking at flavour, not age, and this expression captures the very essence of the distillery. A vatting of casks – many of which are in their early Prime. That’s what we wanted and what we believed that others wanted too.  It’s our first-ever and very recent entry into the non-Vintage arena. It is hugely exciting and already very rewarding.

KE – When will Special Reserve be available in the US?

AP – Special Reserve will be appearing in 15 US markets (major metropolitan areas) starting in the first quarter of 2006.

* These are average retail prices. Binny’s Beverage Depot has, by far, the best prices on the Glenrothes. Check ‘em out.

Oh, and Happy ChrismaKwanzukah.

Campari gets into whisky

This from BBC News

Italy’s Campari seals whisky deal       


Whisky being poured

Campari is keen to enter the whisky market

Italian drinks firm Campari has acquired three Scottish whisky
brands from France’s Pernod Ricard in a deal worth 130m euros ($154m;

Campari said it was buying Glen Grant, the world’s
second-biggest single malt whisky brand, as well as Old Smuggler and
Braemar whiskies.

The deal sees the end of a series of assets sales at Pernod Ricard following its takeover of UK rival Allied Domecq.

Campari said the acquisition still needed European Commission approval.

Under the deal, it will take control of the whisky distillery in Morayshire, Scotland, where Glen Grant is produced.

"We are proud to have concluded another important deal
that not only enables us to strengthen our position in the spirits
segment further, but also to mark our entrance into the key Scotch
whisky segment," said Campari chief executive Enzo Visone.

Pernod said it would keep control of its Glenlivet and Aberlour single malt whisky brands.

Meet the winner

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How it works….you sign up (through a service called "FeedBlitz") and the evening after a new TSB
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Now back to our regularly scheduled program…


Meet the Winner
The results of the "Why I deserve a free The Scotch Blog T-Shirt" are in and the judges have spoken.
The judges?  Yours truly, Tony Dirksen (Radio Whisky) and Jake Jamieson (Liquor Snob).

Why I Deserve A Free T-Shirt, or, What I Did On My Family Vacation

By Will Dinyes

I love scotch.  I am particularly partial to Islay, but a good scotch can come from anywhere.  So much do I love scotch, I took my family on a vacation to Scotland this past February.  As you might imagine scotch featured prominently.  As did haggis, but it’s not a free haggis shirt.  We toured Scotland’s smallest distillery, The Edradour, where I bought not one, not two, but three bottles of scotch.  Featured among them are a 21 year old, signed by the distiller himself (he descended from his office to do so), and a 13 year old cask strength in a lovely etched bottle.  We toured the Royal Yacht, where my souvenir was, you guessed it, Her Majesty’s Own Scotch.  A trip to the Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre yielded two scotch glasses, as well as 4 more bottles of scotch, including a 21 year old Isle of Jura, and a 21 year old Isle of Skye, and various gift scotch bottles.  Keeping count?  We didn’t.  The last of our pound sterlings were spent at the duty free shop at Heathrow on 3 more bottles, where I discovered a lovely scotch, Scapa, a 14 year old single malt from Orkney.  So, laden with enough scotch to keep me nicely drunk for several years at least, we returned home.

But you wanted funny.  So here’s funny:

The state in which I live allows 1, count ‘em, 1 bottle of spirits per traveler over the age of 21.  Which entitled us to exactly 2 bottles, my daughter being only 18 months old at the time.  However, since 18 month olds are extremely cute, we used her, or more precisely the area under her stroller, as a scotch mule and snuck roughly 6 times the legal limit back into the United States.

If this tale of bootlegging and subjecting a minor to "educational" alcohol-related tours isn’t enough to get me a free shirt with my beverage of choice emblazoned on the front, here are two tie-breakers: my last name is an anagram of the mouse company, and a photo of my daughter and me just outside said Heritage Centre (the little sign to the right of my daughter is the Centre).

Wear it proudly Will.
And make no mistake. The blatant use of the baby as the mule sealed the deal.
And here is Will, sporting his handsome reward:



  This picture in from Matt Jablow:


OK, maybe not the model you were looking for to promote the new shirt, hey but it’s all I’ve got! And now I’ve got the shirt!!!
a great one too, I’ve been showing it off to people and they love it.
everyone loves the Walt Disney spoof, and quite a few have done a
double take to figure out what that says. Kinda scary how certain
things get burned into our brains!

Hosting a Tasting

Last week I hosted my annual Christmas Scotch tasting.

This is an invite only event for 10 or so of my personal friends. Most of these guys are NOT Scotch drinkers, but are fans of alcohol in general and are always looking to learn new things.

In an informal tasting I generally offer some chocolate and shortbread to go along with each whisky. The chocolate is generally Dove and the shortbread is always Walkers. In a tutored tasting, the snacks are offered after we finish the flight of whisky. I make note of what I offered with each whisky below.

Chocolate chip cookies are always available.

This year I presented six whiskies in the following order. (Remember, when hosting your own tasting, always present the whisky by flavor, from lightest to strongest/more complex):

Compass Box Orangerie - This wasn’t really part of the tutored tasting, I just wanted everyone to try this excellent beverage. I also didn’t want to wait until the end when people’s olfactory nerves and taste buds might not fully appreciate the sublime flavor of this once a year beauty. The Orangerie was offered with orange flavored chocolate – you know the one – the orange-shaped ball of chocolate that you whack and it separates into wedges. Good combo.

Bruichladdich 10 – This is what I use to show people that not all Islays are peaty and smoky. The Bruichladdich 10 is light and floral – and perhaps a little young for a 10. Shortbread was offered with the Bruichladdich.

Johnnie Walker Green - We switched gears a bit and I pulled out what I think is a very fine example of a mass market blended malt. Most of the guys, whose experience is limited to JW Red or Black label, were very much surprised by this — as was I when I first tried it. Served with shortbread and milk chocolate.

Glenfarclas 12 - All things being equal, given a choice between a Macallan 12 and a Glenfarclas 12, I’ll take the Glenfarclas. Keep in mind, that I REALLY like the Macallan, but the Glenfarclas is a Bowmore_bspecial treat – It’s Macallan’s rough-edged cousin. It has all the sherried goodness, but a bite that I enjoy. Dark chocolate.

Bowmore 12 - "The Islay Malt" – Bowmore has the smoke and peat that people expect from an Islay, but is much more even-tempered than a Laphroaig, Lagavulin or Ardbeg. As such, it makes a great introduction to the stronger Islays and is a fine dram in its own right. Served with shortbread and dark chocolate.

Laphroaig 10 year old Cask Strength –  I love this stuff. And I am a kind and generous man for offering it to my guests. Delicious, smoky, peaty. Serve with anything.

The consensus

Everything went over very well…even the rank novices followed the flight and could differentiate distinct differences among all six whiskies — but the consensus was that for the price ($40) and the taste, the Bowmore 12 couldn’t be beat, and it will likely be a new addition to quite a few liquor cabinets as a result.

Here’s a parlor trick you can use at your next tasting. This is particularly useful for novices who can’t detect anything in the nose other than "whisky."

  1. Have your guests hold the tasting glass in one hand, while completely covering the mouth of the glass with their other hand.
  2. Then instruct them to vigorously swirl/shake the glass. The palm of their hand should get wet – this has the benefit of aerating the heck out of the whisky.
  3. Have them put down the glass and rub the palms of their hands together – this should be done quickly to generate a little heat and cause the whisky to evaporate.
  4. Have them immediately cup their hands and place them over their nose and mouth. They should then take a deep whiff.

They should now be able to detect some of the more distinct "non-whisky" aspects of the nose. Plus, it is quite entertaining to see a group of people do this.


The tasting was also a great socialization test for Elsa, the wonder dog, who has never been exposed to that many people in a confined space at once. It’s important for large dogs to have proper socialization – she just turned 7 months and is pushing 60 lbs – and rather than ripping out the throats of my guests (which would have been frowned upon),  she spent the majority of the tasting laying at my feet to protect me from all the drunks. Or was it to lap up any inadvertent spills? Either way, good dog! 

I wanted to let everyone know that www.whiskynews.com now redirects to The Scotch Blog.
was too busy to keep the site up and running with the frequency he would
have liked. He kindly donated the URL to me, and for that I am immensely grateful!

Wall Street Journal, Tsk, Tsk.

I haven’t had the opportunity to pick on a poorly researched article from the New York Times in a while.

Unfortunately, the Wall Street Journal stepped right in, granting me a new target at which to "unleash the fury."

The following excerpts (through the glory that is the fair use doctrine) are from an article released on Saturday, December 10, 2005 in the Wall Street Journal and written by G. Bruce Knecht.

One too many "e’s" in Whisky

Let’s start with the title – which immediately shows that the WSJ has writers and editors who aren’t qualified to write on the subject: "Whiskey’s Risky MovesMakers of scotch roll out new twists on an ancient quaff."

As YOU know, but the WSJ writers and editors obviously don’t, when referring to a whisky made in Scotland, it is spelled whisky – no ‘e’. But if only that were the least of the transgressions.

There are a number of small mistakes and stupid statements throughout the article, but I don’t have all day,so I’ll stick to the big ones. For example, the third paragraph:

The appeal of single malts is based on a singular proposition. Each spirit comes from a particular distillery and has been aged, generally for 10 years or more, a period that is usually specified on the bottle.

Silly me, I thought that the appeal of single malts was based on taste.

Do you even know how this "stuff" is made?

From the fourth paragraph:

Some distilleries, like Bruichladdich, are creating a new type of single malt by blending whiskeys of different ages.

Did you know that Bruichladdich (since it reopened in 2001) invented vatting??? Jim McEwan will be delighted to hear that he has now been credited with yet another innovation!!!

And here I had foolishly thought that distillers had been vatting the product of different casks/ages for a couple hundred years. My mistake.

Others are adding flavors by pouring their stuff into barrels that have previously been used to age different types of spirits and wines.

Whisky makers have been "pouring their stuff into barrels that have previously been used" since whisky was first transported – for several hundred years at least. Yes, I know what the writer is trying to say here. The problem is that he doesn’t know what he is saying.

1.5 hour interview distilled into 2 sentences

I know that the Wall Street Journal spent quite a while interviewing Dr. Bill Lumsden of Glenmorangie at the New York Whisky Fest this past November. Are you telling me that all they walked away with was this:

"We took up so little shelf space that we weren’t being noticed." says Bill Lumsden, the maker’s master distiller. "So we took some of our whiskey (sic) and put it in a barrel that had been used to age port."

The author also mentions a Glenmorangie Cognac finish that "flopped." My source at Glenmorangie tells me that Bill mentioned the Cognac finish to the writer as an example of experimentation. The whisky was wholly matured, not finished in a Cognac cask. The experiment was done with a single cask, and produced 250 bottles, which sold out immediately. I’d hardly call that a flop, would you? In the end, Bill decided that the resulting whisky did not truly represent the Glenmorangie house style, so the experiment was not repeated. Another thing to note is that the Cognac experiment took nearly ten years from start to finish – I think this shows the patience of the Scotch industry. You can hardly pull off a marketing gimmick over ten years.

"Expert" Opinion????

And after deriding Glenmorangie about their line of finished products — comparing it to a Proctor and Gamble line extension — the author goes on to talk about the purity of the Glenlivet line:

Not every distillery has jumped on the bandwagon. Glenlivet offers just four products and it’s going to stay that way, says Joe Uranga, a marketing executive with Pernod Ricard, which owns the distillery: "We believe in being true to a heritage that goes back a couple of hundred years."

Hmm. What about The Glenlivet 12 year old French Oak Finish, and the 12 year old American Oak Finish. Granted these aren’t ex-Madeira casks, but the term "Finish" is proudly displayed on the label. Sounds like "brand extension" to me!

Better yet, the Joe Uranga who is quoted is apparently the Global group director for Wild Turkey.

In my book, getting a person who markets Wild Turkey to comment on Scotch is like getting a Budweiser delivery guy to comment on the nuances of Chateau Lafitte.

Another "expert" opinion which raised my ire:

Others worry the rush of new products could threaten the industry’s proud heritage. ‘Single Malts are like liquid history, says Nick Semaca, a senior consultant with McKinsey & Co. "You look at a bottle and think this is something they have been making in a certain way for generations. There is a mystique and aura to that, and that’s the reason why it is so dangerous to tinker."

Yes, Nick Semaca does work for McKinsey, which IS a respectable and revered consulting firm. However, according to McKinsey, Nick Semaca is the Sector Leader, Americas, Travel & Logistics Practice, and he does not do consulting for the beverage industry.

Making up Stuff

At the end of the article this:

In New York, Park Avenue Liquor carried fewer than 40 single malts a few years ago. All of them were 12 years old except for one 21 years old, and none cost more than $100.

The above is quite untrue. I spoke with Jonathan Goldstein at Park Avenue Liquors. The above statement may have been true in the early 1980’s (20 plus years ago), but as far back as ten years ago, Park Avenue carried a couple of hundred distinct expressions.


To throw salt in the wound, the article was accompanied by a "review" of 10 expressions — only four of which were finished expressions. And the reviewers? Well the reviews were the results of "an informal tasting among the scotch lovers on our staff."

Are you kidding me?

The Glenmorangie Madeira Wood Finish was described as "a little too metrosexual."

  1. I didn’t know Scotch wore Banana Republic.
  2. I’m not sure if the perceived metrosexuality was referring to the nose, balance or finish.
  3. Whoever said this is an idiot.

Plus, the price points which accompany the review are based specifically on the prices at Park Avenue Liquor, who supplied the Scotch for this story, but which is not necessarily representative of your local liquor store. (This is the first time I’ve EVER seen a 12 year-old Glenlivet priced higher than the 10 year-old Glenmorangie) They do say "Prices will vary" in the footnotes — but couldn’t they have made even a little effort?

Christ Almighty. When will established news sources start doing a decent job of reporting on the Scotch industry? How hard is it to check your facts?

I have a rolodex full of industry insiders and experts. The next time, I’ll be happy as hell to give you the numbers of people who actually know what they are talking about. Me included.


On the Other Hand

Let’s contrast this article with an article from the latest issue (December 19, 2005) of New York Magazine. They asked frequent The Scotch Blog contributor Dave “Robbo” Robertson, former master distiller of the Macallan and now partner in Jon, Mark and Robbo’s Easy Drinking Whiskey Co, to lead them through a tasting.

They acquired Scotch from a number of establishments and contacted someone who knows something. Imagine that! The result is an informative article, that I’m happy to promote as something good for the industry.

You are "Different than Average"

My deep dark secret is that I grew up in New York. Yep, in the city — not Long Island or New Jersey. I went to Saint Mary, Star of the Sea, a Catholic grade school in the Bronx on City Island, and to the Bronx High School of Science. I am a "real" New Yawker.

I know people move from all over the world to New York so they can spend 3/4 of their salaries to live in an apartment the size of a shoebox with three roomies. The other 1/4 is apparently spent on Banana Republic, Uggs and subscriptions to eHarmony. But, no, I turned my back on all that and left.

I’ve lived in many places, but I now call Virginia my home — and it’s great here — but there are drawbacks.

Forget about landing a decent pizza. Bagels? Puh-lease. And no one here has ever even heard of a knish.

But the biggest drawback of all is that Virginia is a "Control" state – which means it has state-owned liquor shops.

It’s not that they do a bad job, it’s just that unlike a Binny’s, Sam’s or Park Avenue Liquor, they just can’t carry everything I might want to get my grubby hands on. They tend to carry the lowest common denominator.  And since its a monopoly, there’s no specialty Scotch shop to give me choices (believe me – if this was an option, I’d own one).

Imagine my surprise and joy to see a bottle of Bruichladdich 10 year old on the shelves last week. I bought it for no other reason than to prove there IS a market here.

Could the March/April issue of "StateWays" (The Beverage Alcohol Merchandising Magazine for Control States) have something to do with it? Very likely, considering the November 2005 issue of The Virginia Wine & Liquor Quarterly reprinted the Stateways article "For Peat’s Sake."

Below is the article, which is well-written, interesting, and informative — mostly because it speaks bluntly about how the Liquor industry in the US perceives the Scotch drinker.

Oh, go ahead and read on…the perception is a good one:

For Peat’s Sake

While dwarfed by the relative size of several other distilled spirits categories, Scotch remains one of the identifiable standard bearers of the urbane consumerism. Its cachet of uncompromised quality, breadth of expression, and dynamic range of flavor has made Scotch a global heavyweight.

"Even though Scotch is not the largest of the whiskey markets, the category still carries more gravitas than other whiskeys," contends Larry Kass, director of corporate communications for Heaven Hill. "Scotch offers more expressions, superb marketing and packaging, and a strong academic/educational bent. Collectively they’re positioned in a sophisticated, upscale way, lending an importance and weight that’s disproportionate to case sales."

Consensus is that Scotch enthusiasts are different than your average spirits drinker. They’re more prone to try new releases and sample unconventional bottlings. They are driven by the sense of discovery and the need to experience something new and exciting. It’s all like an urban adventure. Distillers appreciate these compelling desires because it’s the same forces that drive them.

"Our experience has shown us that what impels consumers to purchase a blended or single malt Scotch is taste, recommendation and self-discovery," observed Jack Shea of Allied Domecq. "As a consumer’s palate becomes more discerning, he or she may be willing to move on — and up in price if necessary — to experience a more complex malt, maybe something more adventurous. More often than not, they purchase based on a recommendation or through their own discovery and research."

Richard Nichols, Diageo’s vice president of marketing for Scotch, agreed. "Discovery is absolutely what drives consumers to single malt Scotches — the provenance of Scotland, the history of the distilleries, and the variety of flavors you can experience by region, age, finish, etc."

Mary Therese Kraft of Jim Beam believes that successful retailers will continue focusing their efforts on educating consumers. "Hand-selling and personal recommendations are imperative when it comes to selling Scotch. The retail trade is the single-most important entity in the education of consumers. (KE – She must not know about The Scotch Blog :)) They are perceived as experts, and the more knowledge the retailer and their employees can impart to the consumer, the more they will enjoy and experiment within the category."

This past year or so has featured the release of new and tremendously exciting malts, each nudging the envelope and expanding the horizon. So discard the notion of "best" as outdated and overtly subjective. Instead, line your shelves with genuinely ‘intriguing whiskies.
Source: March/April 2005 issue of StateWays the Beverage Alcohol Merchandising Magazine for Control States, via the November 2005 Virginia Wine & Liquor Quarterly.

That’s good news for people, like me, who live in control states.

If the Virginia ABC takes this to heart, I can (hopefully) look forward to a wider selection, and not have to leave my clothes behind in cities around the world so that I can make room for new whiskies I pick up when I travel.

Here’s a hopin’, y’all.

Whisky Live New York

You’ve heard about it. You know you want to go.

Whisky Magazine hosts a number of special Whisky Live events around the World – Paris, London, Glasgow, Tokyo, Johannesurg, and Cape Town have each been the site of this interesting and exciting event.

And here in the US, we get our own Whisky Live event, which takes place at the beautiful and historic Tavern on the Green in New York City on Wednesday, April 5th 2006, smack dab in the middle of Tartan Week.

Whisky Live New York brings a magnificent evening of great whisky, fine food
and spectacular entertainment to the heart of New York. Organised by Whisky
Magazine during Tartan week and held in spectacular Tavern on The Green, Central
Park, the seasoned whisky lover or novice can expect to experience an incredible
and in-depth insight into the world of whisky drinking and producing. This is
your chance to become closer to the industry, taste rare and sought after
whiskies, increase your knowledge and meet the whisky experts!

The evening breaks down into 3 three distinct parts.
1. Icons of Scotland
5:00pm until 6:30pm

Icons of Scotland starts Whisky Live New York with a celebration of Scotland’s very best. With Live music & festivities from the heart of Scotland, and the unique Icons of Scotland awards, Whisky Live New York is guaranteed to start on a high.

2. Whisky Live
6:30pm until 10:00pm
The Main Event which includes:

Tasting Hall: This is where you can taste the whisky from Scotland to Kentucky,
mingle with the producers and distillers, independent bottlers and brand
ambassadors and meet the stars of the industry! You will witness the Bourbon v
Scotch Challenge on stage and hosted by Whisky Magazine and to add to the
terrific atmosphere, there will be a Bourbon Cocktail Bar where you can enjoy
some truly delicious combinations. The sheer range of whisky on show will
challenge even the most determined taster; everything from old favourites to
unusual finishes and rare bottlings. The very best whiskies of the world all
under one roof.

Whisky Experiences: The Whisky Experience areas are the education and entertainment
zones, with themed areas providing sensory experiences such as coopering, whisky
blending, cocktails and much, much more. With a dram always on hand the Whisky
Experience seeks to educate and entertain those who want to learn a little more
about the diversity of this delicious nectar.

Seminars: The Seminars provide a taste of the unique intricacies of the whisky world.
These are tutored by renowned experts in the field. Entry to each Seminar costs

Tickets for the seminars won’t be available until February 7, 2006

3. Whisky Live After Show Party
10:00pm until 12:00pm

The total cost of all this merriment depends on how you’d like to participate:

  • You can get an all events pass (Icons, Main Event, After Party) for $160.
  • A pass to the Main Event and the After Party for $120.
  • Or just attend the Main event for $95.
  • All levels include 15 vouchers (Vouchers are required for tastings)- Additional vouchers will be available at the show at $25 for
  • You can also attend the After Party (only available at the door) for

And remember, it doesn’t have to stop there (although it probably should) as bars in New York are open until 4 am. Ouch.

The Whisky Live events are different than either an SMWS or Whisky Fest
(both excellent events), in that they are much more celebratory – with
music, dance and live demonstrations.

Tickets are strictly limited. Book now to avoid disappointment. Tickets can also be ordered by phone - 1.866.700.7320

To find out more about this or other Whisky Live events, visit www.whiskylive.com.

Still not sure? Why not take a look at some video of the things that happened at the 2005 Whisky Live New York.

By the Way – No admittance will be granted to anyone under 21 years old. This includes children in pushchairs and babes in arms. Leave the kids at home and get your Scotch on. You deserve it.

World's Most Expensive Scotch

If you found this via a search engine, I must admit that I’ve played a trick on you. But it’s not a cruel trick – it’s for your own good.

If you read on, you’ll find out about those "most expensive Scotches" you’ve been Googling.

If you are a regular reader, I think you’ll find this discussion quite interesting.

Today’s article is not to talk about "The World’s Most Expensive Scotch," but instead to vent about how I am tired of reading about rare and expensive Scotch and the people who buy it.

The question: "Why is it that every time some wanker (see also: drunken, rich fool) spends way too much money on a rare bottle of Scotch, it’s given so much media attention."

Everyone is familiar with the stories:

  • The six bottles of 1937 Glenfiddich on sale at the Hong Kong Airport for $48,000 each.
  • Johnnie Walker releasing a new blend at $28,600 per bottle to celebrate the real Johnnie Walkers’ 200th birthday.
  • The Dalmore 62 that went for £25,877 ($44,000) in 2002.
  • Or my personal favorite: how this year another bottle of the same vintage was bought at a London hotel bar for $55,000 and how the purchaser uncorked it on the spot and consumed it with friends.

Now the fine folks at Whyte & Mackay and William Grant & Sons, are happy to promote the fact that their products hold the distinction of being the most expensive bottles of Scotch ever sold, but at what cost?

While I understand that positive exposure and free press are a great thing, in this context, and in my estimation, it simply reinforces the widely held misconception that Scotch is for silly old rich men, Dot Com millionaires or Traders with expense accounts.

I wonder if there is a correlation between the release of the "most expensive" stories and a noticeable increase in sales? I also wonder if such stories have the effect of solidifying any "for the old & stodgy" perception that Scotch may have amongst the general public.

All in all, I would really like to know if these stories ar a net positive or a net negative. Both for the companies mentioned as well as the sector as a whole.

I’m guessing that the short term bump in brand recognition is not worth the long term effect. But I’ve certainly been wrong before. So lucky for me (and for you) I have access to people in the industry who can and will share their viewpoint with us…

Name withheld, Major Distillery

Yes, I’m tired of the emphasis on expensive, as opposed to "good." These frivolous purchases ARE over-hyped – but at least the Dalmore was enjoyed, and isn’t sitting on the shelf of some collector.

Mark Reynier, Bruichladdich

There are two types of person who will support these extraordinary prices: The Collector and the Show Off.

Pride and the ‘reflected glory’ of being the most expensive malt (“Look what some nutter has paid for a bottle of our malt – so our malt must be really special”) keep it in the public arena.

It is certainly nothing to do with quality – it is all to do with rarity for collectors. The ultimate ‘supply and demand’. Anything ultra rare will fetch astronomic prices: 1787 Chateau Lafite @ $156,450 a bottle is not a reflection on extravagant drinkability – but rarity. Worse – single malt does not improve in bottle. It will taste the same today, as the day it was bottled. And a collector will go to any lengths to complete his collection.

Sure, some City Boys in a restaurant, spending excessively (I’ve seen it myself) on company money is another story. That is showing off; one-upmanship. And that is entirely their prerogative – their company’s budget.

Congratulations to the restauranteur!

Jimmy Robertson, Morrison Bowmore

We would rather pick up a lot of awards for our 12 year-old, 17 year-old and 25 year-old–affirmations of quality that the average guy out there can actually go out and enjoy.

At Frankfurt this year we introduced a Bowmore 16 year-old unchill-filtered, cask strength at 75 Euros (KE – which has just arrived in the US at about $90) and I believe that will do a lot more for our image than a few bottles sold at a few thousand Euros – in that a hell of a lot more people get to try it than if we did a super super deluxe!

Ronnie Cox, The Glenrothes

To see a fine wine or picture break record prices is not an unusual story. Being for a moment on the side of the producer, I would hope these would offer a true excellence combined with unbelievable rarity, but there are lots of other reasons that motivate the purchaser.

It is not so extraordinary that Rare Old Malt Whiskies should be considered in the same light. Purchasers pay what they want and with their own justification criteria ; no rule against that. But, if I personally, wanted to enter this world, now as a consumer and a Scotsman at that, the wee sample would need to do a great deal of convincing.

Robert Ransom, Glenfarclas

We have recently released a 50 years old Glenfarclas, to celebrate the bicentenary of the birth of John Grant, who purchased Glenfarclas in 1865. With a recommended retail price of GBP 2,250 per bottle it offers excellent value compared to the bottlings you have referred to! I am pleased to say the rate of sale has exceeded our expectations.

Brett Pontoni, Binny’s

It’s a good perspective, the one thing I can tell you is that the breadth of people stories like this reach is narrower than you might think.  We face the problem you bring up all the time in both wine and spirits.  The fact is the vast, vast majority of business and interest is in the price range real people actually regularly purchase in, but for some a disproportionate amount of attention is paid to the high end.  I usually turn it on its ear, because I can prove that:

a.) you don’t have to spend a ton of money for a great whisky,
b.) at a certain price point you’re buying rarity, not necessarily the best whisky, and
c.) age isn’t everything.

It’s good to add perspective to the issue.

Dave Robertson, JMR Easy Drinking Whisky

I suggest that it is a positive ’cause it suggests to some consumers that whisky can be rare, expensive and very, very exclusive.  It brackets whisky with the top fine wines, top champagnes, luxury cars, jewellery, etc.

Of course this is classic aspirational marketing, but why not.

Who are we to say that someone has to be old/stupid/crazy to buy something rare and expensive – caveat emptor (buyer beware) and for those lucky enough to have the means to access this rarified world – good luck!

Just look at top fashion brands, car brands, holidays, travel and you see that it is not just the "old money" classes that choose to experience the best.

Rory Steel, William Grant & Sons

 The coverage of the Glenfiddich 1937 leaving the distillery even surprised us. We issued the story in Scotland and it went around the world on the Press Association wires and was covered extensively from there.

I wouldn’t say from the coverage that I have seen that it implies Scotch is for ‘silly old men’, but rather that it’s a defining moment in the history of the world’s favourite single malt distillery (in much the same way the world’s oldest Model T Ford being sold would create media interest).

As I’m sure you are aware, the Glenfiddich 1937 was a truly remarkable find and there can be few other single malts to have aged so long. It is the amazing story of the 1937, together with the price tag, that seems to have appealed to media. This underpins that Glenfiddich is a quality product, so you’re right, the coverage probably does benefit us, but measuring any direct impact on sales is nigh on impossible.

If you look at the record prices paid by collectors for vintage wines, it’s far more than for Scotch, but wine doesn’t have an image of being for the elite, fuddy duddies. Collection of these vintage wines may have the image for being for the ‘silly old men’, and this could be the same for vintage Scotch collectors, but to say that these types of story depict an image that is applied to drinkers across the whole Scotch or wine categories’ range is, in my opinion, misleading. Besides, you just need to see the commentary from people such as Angus Winchester in  the UK to see that Scotch is having a resurgence and is fast becoming the fashionable drink of choice in style bars.

As always, blunt responses from industry insiders (much appreciated), and varying opinions (also much appreciated). It’s obvious that the whisky industry in Scotland does not "vote as a block."

I agree with a good portion of William Grant & Son’s response.

I’ll definitely agree that maybe I went a little too far with the "Silly old rich men" comment. I’m a "man," I’ve often been called "silly," and to your average college-aged person, I’m sure I’m "old." As for "rich" let’s just say that writing about Scotch hasn’t started paying the bills yet.

But what the heck, I like to stir up the pot :)

I WILL disagree with promoting Scotch as the next fashionable thing.
Fashions tend to come and go very quickly. Polyester suits were fashionable at one point.
BY The Way
On this day in 1933 Utah ratified the 21st Amendment to the US Constitution, finally ending prohibition after 13 years. Kansas however didn’t allow the consumption of alcohol for another 16 years, finally repealing their own prohibition in 1949.