Malt Resistance

Narrating the Rise and Fall of Single Malt Scotch.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Malt Resistance

Malt Resistance is Back!

It has been over a year since Malt Resistance has been up and running. Hurricane Katrina was the main culprit to be sure, and its arrival in our lives brutally confirmed that there are things slightly more pressing and urgent than Single Malt Scotch. (On that note, I found it rather unsurprising that very little if nothing was done -- or mentionned -- forKatrina victims in the Whisky World. Further confirmation that it is indeed as small, insular milieu.)

In the aftermath of it all, I found myself left to sip a blend (my malts having been left behind in New Orleans) at night in a cellar which I called home for the better part of last year. The blend wasn't bad, perhpas a 'best bet' when it comes to standard No Age Statement blends. So we are starting over aren't we? A best bet, great value for money, good taste with an islay backbone I would venture. Have you guessed? White Horse. (Which is fitting since I tasted the bottle in the basement of the house of a great lady who was kind enough to put me up for free a few weeks after Katrina --sight unseen no less!)

There will be more entries in the future. Here's a sampling:
--A detailled review and grade for Yamazaki 18 --perhaps the best stuff I've tasted all year.
--A nostalgic voyage back in time when Michael Jackson used to rate distilleries (not just their whiskies). We'll look at his grades for those of you who don't have the 2nd edition of his guide on hand! One thing needs not be pondered for too long: why did he stop?!
--A quick Panorama of the developments in the Whisky world besides the above.
Cheers to all!

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Does Jim Murray have any shame?

Since we at Maltresistance pride ourselves on our independence and outspokenness, here is the lowdown on one of the worst frauds in the Whisky industry. To wit:

Why would anyone consider Jim Murray an authority on anything, much less whisky, absolutely baffles me. Jim Murray is in the running for world's greatest fraud and he's got an ego to match. For starters, he modestly titled his collection of badly written (but often quite funny) tasting notes the "whiskybible", I suppose that in his own eyes this makes him the WhiskyGod....

I've always wanted to believe that Jim Murray was a good guy, a disinterested Whisky writer whose goal was to popularize Whisky in all of its incarnations... But everytime I try to give him credit, or take his tasting notes seriously, hard cold facts come in the way. For example, the other day I found out that the 3 brands of corn Whiskey made by Heaven-Hill distileries (Dixie Dew, JW Corn and Mellow Corn) were and have been for a long time, one and the same whiskey, same age, etc... Yet, Jim Murray reviews them as three seperate products and gives them wildy different grades and notes in his maltoporn compendium full of "impossibly-badly-written-its -funny-tasting-notes" and inuendos. (That's the aforementionned whiskybible in case you missed it!). To sum up, that's 3 different tasting notes, 3 different grades for the same whiskey!!! If that hilarious example doesn't bring home the fact that Jim Murray is a bufoon and a sorry excuse for a taster, nothing will.

If his hignessness (the greatest whisky writer in the world as he constantly refers to himself in his own book) comes anywhere near my town on one of his pontification tours I'll make sure to ask him why he gave great reviews and grades in Whisky Magazine to whisk(e)ys of a certain japanese distillery without at the same time disclosing to us WM readers that he was on their payroll as a 'consultant'... Perhaps that's the real reason he no longer reviews whiskeys for that publication?

And how about his giving near-perfect grades to whiskies "he" was paid to help create? Ardbeg 17 comes to mind, but there are many others... He also was on The Balvenie's payroll and at least one U.S. distillery but made sure that no one reading his rave reviews of these distilleries products were aware of his blatant conflict of interest. And then as a cherry on the cake, he goes on and on about how 'fearless' and independent he supposedly is on his book. I kid you not, the guys has absolutely no shame, not one ounce of it.

I always wonder if when he's about to give very high grades to whiskies he was paid to help create, the notion of recusing himself even cross his mind?

Doubt it... This insecure whacko who talks of wife swapping in his 'book' and basically says all Cognac is caramel-colored crap, needs to learn how to write (or get a real editor; I know I'd like one...), he also needs to take an extensive course in ethics, and --last not least -- he urgently needs to humbly thank Michael Jackson on his hands and knees for making his own career a possibility. Until then, he's nothing short of a disgrace to the whiskyworld.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Dram of the Day

Now for something truly different: an old style barrel strength 100% rye Whisky. Its called "Old Potrero" though it is in fact pretty young. Let me state at the outset that I am not usually inclined towards Rye Whiskey or Tenneessee Whiskey or Bourbon. This however, completly won me over. Here's why:

Old Potrero, Distilled 12/31/1997, Bottled 07/14/00.
Essay 7-RW-ARM-6

Nose: Very sweet. Alcohol. Calvados notes, then persistant strong banana aroma. 'Bananes Flambees au Rhum' desert somewhere smart. I know this talk of bananas makes it sound like a Beaujolais nouveau is being reviewed but this flavour blends in marvelously with the others.
Mouthfeel is viscous, mouth coating. Bananas in Rum again, with honey and young oak. Tropical fruits behind. It is also the rythm with which the flavours hit you, everything is perfectly synchronized.
Finish is warm and supportive and never burns --amazing at 124.2 proof.

A unprecedented and magnificent experience. This could be a new genre all together. [90] Old Potrero is something all whisky afficionados have to try at least once at the risk of missing out on one of the most exciting development in American whiskey history.

I still can't get over this discovery. None of the heavy, almost sweaty, sweetness of Bourbon here. Old Potrero is truly different than all other ryes on the market. Partly because the legal requirements to make a rye whiskey are pretty counter-intuitive. If you just have 51% rye in your spirit you can call your Whiskey a Rye whiskey!

Compare Old Potrero to any of the well known ryes on the market (Wild Turkey, Jim Beam, Old Overholt ) and you are comparing two completly different drinks. American whiskeys are virtually all a mix of some sort, corn, rye, barley.... Legaly, the word Bourbon or Rye or Tennessee Whiskey or Sour Mash never require the sort of disclosure that is required of Single Malt Scotch... and therefore exact ingredients on the label for the consumer to see was often missing for the american consumer. Not with Old Potrero. You have got to try it, even if only for curiosity's sake.

About its young age you ask? Well, I think 100% rye whiskey clearly doesn't need to get that much age to be great. Further, lets remember that the option for American Whiskey should not necessarily be to reflexively imitate Scotch and come out with 15,20 year old all over the place....Like with most Islays, I find Bourbon to be at its best at no more than 12 years old.

As this experience has been unexpectedly rewarding, we hope to pursue our exploration of new world whiskies, with the other ryes on the market, and the few remaining corn whiskies available as well. This should be interesting and different. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Just found out that Macallan is a Franchise

I found another gem, this time in msn's web site. A Jon Bonee reports about the Macallan's lauching of the Fine Oak, and the marketing rationale behind it. More truth in this small modest piece than in a lifetime subscription at Malt Advocate Magazine... Check it out. [My comments in brackets.]

“There was a lot of soul searching,” says Mark Izatt, brand manager of single malt whiskeys[sic] for Remy Amerique, importer of The Macallan, as the whiskey[sic] capitally calls itself. "We're not trying to change the world, but we would like to draw newer drinkers into the Macallan franchise."

[I didn't know that The Macallan was a franchise, just like Coke or McDonalds --stupid me, I thought it was a Single Malt!]

In the past decade, makers of premium brands — BMW comes to mind — have unveiled more downmarket, entry-level offerings that give consumers the pride of a luxury brand without the price.

[Lovely marketing talk here. Quick translation: the Fine Oak is a downmarket version of The Macallan. Thanks for the newsflash. The writers goes on to say that the Macallan is nevertheless a pricey drink --no kidding.]

“We could've gone in the route of new flavor Coke,” Izatt says.

[Love the analogy Izatt! Seriously, I don't really know what this idiot brand manager is trying to say here. Was creating an entirely new Macallan, one part Sherry one part Fine Oak, with no alternative available to consumers a serious option? Considering the reaction of those who can't buy the Sherry Macallan anymore, Izatt's vision would have really been a disaster.]

After four years upholding the renowned Macallan taste profile, it was [Bob Dalgarno's] first opportunity to put his own imprint on a Macallan whiskey[sic].
The whiskey[sic] itself comes from batches that were either sherry-aged but didn't taste like traditional Macallan, or from bourbon-aged casks that otherwise would have been sold off to makers of blends, who prize the Macallan whiskey[sic] as an element in their Scotches. Presumably, Macallan figured it could make more money using its own whiskey[sic] in a new way than simply selling it off. And it should be noted that bourbon casks are less expensive than sherry.

[Ah, well, unlike the Sycophants at Malt Advocate Magazine, at least the folks at msn dot com say it like it is! In short: Macallan wanted to make more money, so Dalgarno, eager to make his mark apparently, decided to feed the public a variation of Macallan that either "didn't tast like Macallan"(!), or was only fit to be sold for blending in the past.]

Monday, April 11, 2005

For many, Fine Oak now only choice

In an interview with a malt aficionada, Bob Dalgarno Macallan's Whisky maker cum Marketer extraordinaire was quoted as saying:

"...the Fine Oak whiskies are merely being presented to the consumer as an alternative(...)"

However Macallan issued an e-mail to consumers, dated 02/24/2005, where they stated:

"In many markets Fine Oak will be the only [Macallan] available(...)"

So which is it, Mr. Dalgarno?

If one hoped that this little nugget would put an end to the fable that the "Fine Oak" range was introduced for anything else than increasing market shares, one would be sorely disapointed. The marketing machine that is the Whisky industry doesn't stop at a lie or two, or even at destroying the quality of their products if it means more short term profits.

Case in point, to celebrate the demise of rigor, stringent standards as well as tradition at the Macallan, the industry decided to crown the engineer of the downgrading of the Macallan as "Innovator of the Year." No, this is not a joke, and I've written more on this issue in previous posts.

What is fine oak, anyway?

The 'Fine Oak' malt, meaning Macallan spirit in Bourbon Casks was seen by Macallan (before Innovator Dalgarno & Edrington were running the show) as only fit for going into "no age statement" blends, and certainly not worthy of being bottled as a single....

My, how times have changed. Yesterday's plonk is marketed as today's grand cru. And all the "independent" tasters are along for the ride! Of course its just a coincidence that their books are advertised on Macallan's very own web site.
Who, you ask? Let the dishonor roll begin with Jim Murray (no surprise there) and end on a sad note, with Michael Jackson.

Back to the snake oil: they want us to believe that the fine oak range is composed of extraordinarily refined bottlings. They are not, of course.

For moral support I will quote the early Michael Jackson in a bit of praise, which I bet he now wishes he'd never written:

"Without the sherry, it is not The Macallan."

Though its author doesn't, I still agree with his thought. The real question however, is do you?

Single Malt Classification: A Proposal

A classification of distilleries has been considered and tried many times over. Always with less than satisfactory results. Why?

One reason is that the whisky industry is reluctant to issue a classification, as – sadly – most distilleries are one small part of the parent company’s extensive distillery portofolio. So why would Diaego, or Allied-Domecq for example, shoot themselves in the foot by promoting some of their malts over others? No reason. They actually profit by keeping us in the dark as to which malts are better than others.

Professional tasters have tried and failed resoundingly to establish a credible classification. Why? Because they are chronically incapable to grade malts --distilleries even less so-- on their merits (that, by the way, is the drama of the day).

You see, the tasters' problem is that they are “professionals;” i.e., they have to make a living. And I have come to the conclusion that these tasters are not able to make a living by just writing reviews and articles in the specialized whisky press. Maybe they are just greedy, but I'd rather stick to the first, more charitable, explanation --wouldn't you?
In any case, the sad truth is that some (all?) professional tasters supplement their income by hiring themselves out as ‘consultants’ with various distilleries. And then, they go on to write glowing reviews of the whiskies of their employer in Whisky Magazine or other publications, and --surprise!-- they write glowing reviews of these products! The tasters in question, virtually always fail to voluntarily disclose their tie to the distillery whose product they are reviewing of course. Jim Murray did this while working at Whisky Magazine (with the Balvenie to name only one), and we only know about this because of Murray's own arrogance... God knows how much this kind of corruption is going on right now. (This conflict of interst is one of the many secrets de polichinelle in the Whisky Industry; a subject on which any objective observer could fill a large book).

Just imagine the outraged reaction if people found out that Robert Parker was on the Payroll of the makers of Cheval Blanc. Sadly, in the Whisky World this type of conflict of interest is tolerated and the industry goes to great length to ensure that the general public is not aware of it.

I too have come to accept this coruption, in that I rarely take tasters' grades and comments seriously these days, and certainly their attempts at a classification is to be taken with a ‘massive’ pinch of salt.
Another problem with past classification attempts is that they often tried to imitate the categories of the great wines of Bordeaux. Sadly, this just does not work. Some distillers have a potentially great product which they cheapen for commercial reason: see for example, the bland malts the Macallan has been pawning off as ‘replicas.’ So if Macallan is a grand cru classe , this appelation would end up on some pretty bland bottles. That would defeat the purpose.

The Boxing Weight Categories Analogy

A possible answer is to classify the distillery, not qualitatively, but by the ‘size’ or 'weight' of their spirit. What do I mean by size, by weight? I suppose these are a combination of character, strength and individuality. A heavyweight malt is a spirit that is unmistakable. A heavier spirit can take on any type of wood maturation and still be recognizable. A lighter one is easily drowned in the wood.
Needless to say, a heavyweight fight is usually much more fun to watch (and more people pay more to see them), though this is far from being always true.

So the weight categories in boxing are the inspiration. Lets simplify the boxing categories for the sake of this exercise. Lets start with the lightest to the heaviest: bantam weight; lightweight; middleweight; welterweight; lightheavyweight; heavyweight.

Lets try this as applied to single malts:

Bantamweight: Deanston

Lightweight: Dalwhinnie; Glenfiddich; Bunnahabhain

Middleweight: Craganmore; Glenmorangie; Bowmore; Springbank

Welterweight: Balvenie; Aberlour

Lightheavyweight: Glenfarclas; Laphroaig; Macallan

Heavyweight: Ardbeg; Lagavulin

These are nominations of sorts, and are subject to change.
I plan to come up with a complete list and welcome any imput. Of course Malts, like Boxers, can move up or down a weight class. For example, the Macallan lost a weight class when it issued their ‘fINE oAK’ series. (Another Boxing Analogy: the indignity of the fINE oAK episode is the boxing equivalent of Mohamed Ali doing pro wrestling at the end of his career!)

As per usual, all your comments and suggestions are welcome. Cheers!

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Laphroaig Liar?

Just found out that one of my favourite malts of the moment is artificially coloured, presumably with caramel. Now, before I divulge the malt in question, please allow me to address a couple points argued by some consumers eager it seems to be fooled and lied to by the corporate parents of Malt Distilleries (it never ceases to amaze me, but yes, these people exist.)

Typical comment #1: "You can't taste the caramel, so who cares?"

Answer: I am not absolutely (well, I wasn't) sure about whether or not the caramel can be tasted of not. Some tasters say it can be discerned, others say no. I would argue that its presence surely influences other elements in the drink --even if it is not directly noticeable.

But the larger point is that we drinkers are being mislead. A darker malt leads the innocent consumer to expect an older whisky, perhaps even a more rich, sherryed one. But we now know it could just mean it is artificially coloured.

Typical comment #2: "The industry needs to present a consistent product. Colour consistency is part of that, and the consumer expects it."

Answer: The consumer of blends may expect colour consistency, but single malt consumers are willing to give up consistency and other asthetical aspect of whisky in favour of better taste and authenticity. The producer know that (they've probably test merketed this to death), which is why 'unchilfiltered' Single Malts have made their appearence, for example. Though of course most distillers probably still colour their malts, since most countries don't require them to disclose this dirty little secret (this by the way is a direct result of free markets: it really mean the freedom for corporations to lie to us). So, in a nutshell, we malt drinkers know that Single Malts are the product of a region (a terroir perhaps) and are not expecting McDonald like consistency --please don't insult us with that phony excuse any longer.

What made this particular piece of corporate treachery all the more galling was that the --coloured-- product in question was billed as "straight from the wood." This is obviously a falsehood since they had to have added caramel after decanting the whisky. Not to mention the false impression of purity the sentence give the consumer.

Tasting the 'Lying' Laphroaig Cask Strength

All the more upseting is that I love the bottling in question, the Laphroaig Cask Strength 10 years old (OB). It is a Laphroaig concentrate, the parfum of Laphroaig so to speak.
On the nose it has an emphatic medicinal quality, and behind that perhaps a hiterto little noticed hint of sweetness. The whole olfactory experience is shrouded in a pleasent mustiness, the way London is sometimes covered in Fog or New Orleans in humidity.
The palate is undistiguishable from the mouth feel, because it so viscous. What I find so great about this Laphroig is its remarkable texture, even more than its taste. One fells young wood, stange for such a young makt --but perhaps older ones were added. Also the alcohol provides a little sunshine, a little lemony light that breaks through the mustiness. And it goes on for a while. It leaves a long and pleasent aftertaste, which most tasters call "finish." 92.

So what about the caramel, one might ask, and so here it is. After discovering of the alteration --my hearty thanks to the german governement, by the way-- I verbalized some unformulated notion that had come to my mind during previous 'innocent' experiences with the Laphroaig. Just like little indications, clues if you will, that you remember only after you discovered that someone has been unfaithfull to you... I remember wondering why this 10 year old CS bottling felt more sweet like the similarly dark Laproaig 15 year old, sweet like the lighter and dryer 10 year old regular strength... I supsect that the 15 also is coloured, more so even then the CS, which gives it this sweetness that is, come to think of it, oddly un-islay like. Could it be perhaps... the undisclosed addition of caramel? Well, one thing is for sure, we'll never know, unless you are willing to trust the people at Allied Distillers who lied to you about the content of their product in the first place.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Innovator or Hatchet Man?

After a brief Hiatus, we are back with a recommended site (something to read during the next hiatus) and, of course, a small drama.

Recommended Site
I recently came across Serge Valentin’s whiskyfun, and it is a lot of fun. To be honest, I was at first a little taken aback by the sheer opulence of the man’s lifestyle. I mean an average week reads: "Tuesday, vertical 30+ year old Springbanks tasting; Friday: 1970's bottlings of Highland Park; Saturday: 1960 Macallan crystal decanter series", etc....

Ok, maybe I am exaggerating a tad, but surely this is not a working class connaisseur to say the least (but then again, how many are there?). Add to that, the guy goes out every other night to trendy concerts (and/or restaurants) and travels (mainly to Scotland of course)... But hell, I decided that yes, he obviously has dough, but at least he's enjoying and sharing it to some extent, so all the power to him.

And it is a cool site. Every other day it seems, there’s a new entry and his comments are clever and never pompous. Also his playful tone does not mean that he is devoid of critical faculties when it comes to the whisky marketing --au contraire! He also posts old adverts for booze which are always interesting if you’re in to that sort of thing.

Drama of the Year(!)

Just found out that Bob Dalgarno, the Macallan whisky maker, was named the "innovator of the year 2004" by Whisky Magazine. I don’t know whether to laugh or throw up yesterday night's dram...

Bobby D. may be a real nice guy on a personal level (don’t know the fellow), but lets take a quick, hard look at what 2004 meant for the Macallan. Well, besides its annual 15% price hike, it took one more major step down by giving up their time-honoured tradition of maturing their malt exclusively in sherry casks, and are now selling their bourbon casked whisky – hitherto reserved for blending – as ‘fINE oAK.’

The reason for this development is clearly not a love for innovation –as the good folks of Whisky Magazine would have us swallow –, but is motivated by the Edrington Group’s unrelenting desire for increased market shares whatever the costs.

Concretely, this means -- besides a worse product -- that some markets will no longer be able to purchase the Sherry Macallan (dixit Macallan on their own website), instead they can buy their overpriced ersatz in a fancy bottle. Let's be honest just this once: Bob Dalgarno is not an innovator – everybody knows it – he is a hatchet man for the Edrington Group. The victims? The Macallan, and you and me, the consumers that care.

I suppose this is fitting for our time, after all, (and on a much more tragic level) this reminded me that the head of the CIA – Tenet was his name – who presided over the Weapons of Mass Destruction Misinformation campaign (i.e. lies) was recently given a Congressional Medal of Freedom. [Little political interlude --a la Groucho Marx in Animal Crackers: This must be the American version of Freedom: you know, the freedom of the superstrong, the freedom of the rich to buy, buy, buy; the freedom to lie officialy , to get caught and not care; the freedom to invade other countries and the freedom to make up reasons for it. And last, but not least, the freedom to kill in the name of freedom, of course. Clever! Ah, freedom!]

So, in that world, I suppose I should not be surprised at all that Booby D. is named an innovator, I am just waiting for Jim Murray to be named the ‘most learned and impartial taster of the decade' and everything will fit perfectly!