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Monday, 17 February 2014

A Rant Of Sorts. Our Two Pet Hates: Lazy PR and Whisky Ageism

Right then. This might not be pretty. But sadly, we have two particular pet hates which have been irking us this past week:  

No. 1: Extremely Lazy PR companies:  

Over the course of at least three or four emails in the past week, we've received invites or product introductions that have either been addressed to someone completely unconnected to either Joel and I or this website.   

'Dear (insert incorrect random name), we love your blog (insert incorrect random blog title) and have been huge fans for a long time... We'd really like you to feature our product in some capacity, as we feel your readers would really appreciate it...' 

Mistakes happen it seems. Fine with us -  we make plenty of them. But frankly, laziness is more prevalent than ever and the alarming number of shocking 'cut-and-paste' jobs from newly appointed PR companies working on behalf of well known drinks brands is unacceptable. I'm not looking to build a Caskstrength-shaped ivory tower here. But having been privy to just how much money certain companies are paid in monthly retainers to present a brand portfolio to a range of journalists, bloggers and other media sources, to quickly bang out a freshly laundered press release, changing the names to suit (or not, as it would seem) does not represent good value for money or help build relationships for their paymasters.   

Those who are guilty, pull your bloody fingers out. Please do your research and your homework. Actually get to know those who are simply at the end of a telephone or an email. Good relationships cost nothing. Bad relationships are VERY expensive. 

No. 2: The Seemingly Misunderstood World of No Age Statement Whiskies:

A very topical subject this month. Thus far, a few other blogs have featured stand points on NAS whiskies, including observations from Edinburgh Whisky, Billy's Booze Blog, Dramming and Whisky Israel.  

We haven't really commented on this - until now.  

Unfortunately, it seems that there's a real disconnect between what companies produce, why they produce it, who they produce it for and who actually drinks it.  

Let's assess what NAS actually means for a second. At its very best, no age statement whiskies offer something which has sadly been lacking in the category for a long time... PERSONALITY -  see the list a few paragraphs below to understand why we have no problem with the concept. 

Contrary to popular belief in some quarters, it is not a new concept. Lest we forget, Usher's Old Vatted Glenlivet, unquestionably a game changing whisky product when it was first bottled over 160 years ago had no age statement. Johnnie Walker Red Label -  the biggest selling whisky brand in the world, carries no age statement as far as we can see. And recently, Macallan's M Decanter, the most expensive whisky ever to be sold at auction again carried no age statement.  So just to confirm then: The world's first commercial blended whisky, the biggest selling Scotch whisky in the world and the most expensive single malt Scotch in the world -  all no age statement. 

You may turn your nose up at these whiskies - but the fact is that millions of drinkers simply don't give a shit about an age statement - especially in markets other than the blinkered, over-privileged and frankly over-educated ones. The result is simple economics:  You can't just turn the tap on at a distillery and hey presto... a 10 year old appears. If demand keeps on rising, business will dictate that whisky with an age statement will become even more premium- and rightly so. In the UK, and to a large extent, most of western Europe, we have simply taken it for granted that the whisky business revolves around our palates which have been lavished by aged liquid. Sadly, those days are numbered.  But have we really reached the Whisky-poclypse? Of course not.  

A quick glance across at the shelf in our office reveals a number of whiskies:

Talisker Storm, Aberlour A'bunadh, Highland Park Harald (a Global Travel Retail exclusive) Ardbeg Ardbog, Auchentoshan Three Wood,  Balvenie Tun 1401, Kilchoman Machir Bay, an old White Horse blend (ok, not newly released, but newly acquired and without an age statement) Laphroaig Quarter Cask, Ardmore Traditional Cask, Caol Ila Moch, as well as bottle of the Cutty Sark whisky we had the privilege to release and 3D Whisky - ALL no age statement products.  

Of course there will be a couple of duffers out there - we've tried a few that we didn't much care for (Talisker Port Ruighe not being to our liking, but seemingly popular elsewhere) but to tar the whole NAS category as the death knell of the whisky business? Totally illogical.  

At the other end of the spectrum there are opportunities for companies to bottle liquid with a much quicker turn around. This opens up a distinct side issue: The murky world of GTR (Global Travel Retail); now in its own right a sales territory so dominant and lucrative that every distiller in Scotland has undoubtedly had sleepless nights over it. 

A distiller once told us that unless they came up with a new product to put on the shelves as an exclusive, the shelf space available to them would effectively cease to exist or rapidly evaporate. This resulted in a fairly hastily assembled NAS whisky, which whilst youthful, was still filled with personality. Clearly, no one in their right mind would wantonly bottle a whisky that they felt didn't do justice to their brand just to respond to financial blackmail, let's give them some credit. 

Didn't like it? Fine, try another whisky. That is unfortunately the nature of the market place and everything needs to be taken on its own merits.  If it stops you from ever trying another whisky by distillery X, then so be it -  but we think people are probably a little bit smarter than that. Put it this way - I love pies. A lot. I buy a lot of them. If one day I saw that Pieminister were trialling their Wildshroom variety (contains many mushrooms) as a new exclusive flavour and I didn't like it, i'm unlikely to stop buying the Matador (which contains yummy steak and chorizo. (You really need to check these out, by the way)

The bottom line is that most distillers HAVE to have something exclusive (usually an NAS whisky) in GTR for simple economic reasons. But in many cases, the increases in sales have been very healthy, extending the halo effect to the other (age statement) products in their range- proof maybe that smart concepts, coupled with good liquid (a highly subjective concept in itself) a perception of exclusivity, good value for money and a strong brand identity are the key to success, making everyone happy.  There are numerous examples of NAS whiskies which are worth visiting an airport for: Highland Park Warrior Series, The Glenlivet Master Distillers Reserve, Laphroaig PX Cask and Glenfiddich 125th Anniversary (actually now available elsewhere, but we'll forget that) to name but a few. 

The other night, I took an old, age statement whisky and made a cocktail with it. It was delicious. Tonight, i'll probably do the same. This simple act might be viewed as vandalism by some, but to me, it's using something as an exceptional flavour component - in a different way. In the same session, i'll be drinking a particularly young tasting NAS whisky neat, or perhaps with a touch of water -  again an exceptional component of flavour in my glass. I know because I did this last night and absolutely loved it. If whisky can hold a compelling conversation with you, then its age really becomes irrelevant.   

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