Malt Resistance

Narrating the Rise and Fall of Single Malt Scotch.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

The Lowering of Standards at the House of Macallan (I)

Well, I just received news that as feared (some would say predicted) in earlier posts, the Macallan Exclusively Matured in Sherry Casks will no longer be available in certain markets!

Here's the quote found between obscenely self-congratulatory paragraphs from a mass mailing send to me and inumerable others:

"In many markets Fine Oak will be the only available Macallan"

Yeah, this is true. The remedy? Cross your fingers, close your eyes and hope, hope, that your country is not the part of the "markets" who'se consumer will only be able to get the new, "no-longer-exclusively-matured-in sherry-casks" Macallan!

If you are part of the unlucky millions to see your Sherry Macallan confiscated as it were, I am sure that Whisky-Whore Jim Murray's opinion (as quoted by the Macallan) that the aforementioned release is the best in years, will be real comforting! Oh, and incredibly, there is an add for Jim Murray's new book in that very mass mailing by the Macallan. I guess they have no shame: thanks for plugging our lower quality offering, how about some free advertising? Its high time that this ethically challenged reviewer lost some credibility!

Announcing the upcoming Chronicle of Edrington's lowering of standards at the Macallan

This is the latest instalement of the sad tale of misdeeds, mistakes, and downright incompetent actions commited by the bean counters at the Edrington Group. Motivated by greed, increased world market sales in other words, the corporate officers at the Edrington Group have drastically lowered the standards and sullyed the name of their star product: The Macallan. This is a nasty tale where both the consumer and the quality of the product lose out, but it must and will be told. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Today's 'Best Bet'

Herewith a quick entry, today’s Best Bet for taste and value: The Balvenie Single Cask 15 years old.

First off, when buying this whisky you realize that 15 year old whiskies are not really 15 years old. On the bottle this Balvenie the dates of distillation and of bottling are featured prominently. And you will notice if you look at various bottles on the shelves of your favorite store that some contain whisky that is 16, 17, sometimes 18 years old! That’s it for the educational fringe benefit.

Another advantage of buying the Balvenie Single Cask 15, is that you are not paying premium dollars for a Single Cask or Single Barrel, Cask Strength Single Malt. This is perhaps explained because this Balvenie was marketed in the early 1990’s when what was considered the main factor for price was age, not whether it was a vatting or a single cask bottling.

Look around the store: very few other single cask bottling are around, and those that are will be more expensive that the Balvenie Single Cask. Now that the fashion has turned, expect this bottling to either go away, or its price to be substantially increased… You've been warned!

Sunday, February 20, 2005

How to Build a Cellar On the Cheap!


Well, the Drama today is that after perusing a number of Single Malt Websites and Discussion Groups, I’ve come to realize that most single malt amateurs are people of substantial means. You know, wealthy, rich, well-to do, etc… Just read the posts on the whisky discusion sites ("did you try the Macallan 30 years old?") or check out the pictures of the “small collections” people post on the web: tens upon tens of unopened, expensive, bottles that you know are not all going to get opened! What a waste.

What follows is my modest attempt at democratizing Single Malt connoisseurship, since the days when all excess wealth will be confiscated, and larger collections reduced for the common good, are sadly far off. So in the meantime, I have decided to share -- for the benefit of my readers -- a few tips on how to build a respectable cellar on the cheap.

It all began when I "once uponed" 6 or 7 bottles of Springbank 21 at a Supermarket in the outskirts of New Orleans a couple of years ago. As I was staring at the proud, if dusty, boxed bottles I remembered reading in Pip Hill’s excellent book “Appreciating Whisky” that Springbank would not be produced in the years to come. While normally I would never consider spending more than $85 on a bottle (I can hear the moneyed amateurs chuckling in the background) I decided to buy the lot at $90 a piece, which somewhat startled the cashier, but delighted the ignorant liquor manager! I sold them for more later, needless to say.

And therein lies the first lesson: read all you can on single Malts! Go to the bookstore and read every book (you don't have to buy them!), and then go to a public or University library and check out any books on Whisky. Same for the web, look for any decent outfit like Loch Fines, and even the Magazines, and last not least, learn to read between the lines. I.e., when a "new" bottling is issued to great fanfare go buy the old one in its original box and put it in a dark dry cupboard and forget about it. If you hear that a distillery was closed, or burned down, buy a bottle. It doesn't always work of course: one might have decided that buying one of those silly Macallan Replicas would have been a smart move since the likelihood of them being pulled off the market increased when it was discovered they were based on fakes. That was based on the assumption that the powers that be at the Macallan had a sense of shame -- a mistake.

Another bit of advice is to normally avoid buying a "limited" edition release: everybody buys them, hoards them, and tries to sell them eventually. Its hard to manufacture rarity and collectability that you can invest in from the get go, and the distillers know this but still issue their "limited editions" Anyway. "Limited to how many we can sell you," Seinfeld said, how right he is. Better to search out of the way stores for recently discontinued issuing of popular brands. I got a nice tubed bottle of the water color 10 year old Edradour that way (with a poster inside) for $28 and Whisky Magazine valued it at around $200. Which means I will never drink it. But will sell it, and use the cash to buy something I like and re-invest it if possible.

I am anticipating howls of protest (and you can comment anonymously now by the way) to the effect that collectors are evil and that whisky is meant to be drunk. Well, here collecting is only a means to an end. So please, have a drink, take a deep breath, chill!

The next step involves selling the stuff and you can do that mainly via Ebay. (Keep in mind that I am not suggesting that you quit your day job to go rummaging around your town’s supermarkets or liquor stores, but it might be a good way for you to finance your passion hobby as well as bring a little extra cash.). Of course, your luck will be enhanced the farther you live from the capital of you country --this is perhaps the only comfort I take from living in a political and cultural wasteland disguised a Mecca of Jazz to attract unsuspecting tourist.

I do hope this was somewhat useful and allows some of you to make wise purchases and enable you to afford this passion, if not profit from it .

A new rubric is announced today: the "Best Bet" malt, which either presents a good investment value and/or a great value for money. The first one up here is the American Market Cask Strength Macallan (no age statement) “old” issue: buy them off the shelves quick before the horrid perfume bottle version arrives. This is an especially good move since retailers have been discounting the last old style bottles to get them off the shelves and this great undiluted malt becomes a better value than usual, notwithstanding the fact that one day the older label and the fact that it came from Sherry casks will increase its value. The same applies for the Standard Macallan Cask Strength 10 years old. It is a vastly superior drink by the way, and is a better Macallan than even the 18 year old, not least because its undiluted straight from the Sherry cask Macallan at a great price point. I forecast an increase in price in all of the cask strength offering that becoming more and more trendy. You’ve been warned.

One last word to encourage you all to post comments which can now be posted anonymously!

Cheers!

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Dram of the Day

Glenfarclas, Single Cask, First Fill Distilled 1990, Bottled 2002.


A sumptuous malt from one of the few remaining family-run and owned Single Malt distilleries in Scotland. Talk about Malt Resistance, these fellows embody it!

The Glenfarclas is one of the very best Speyside SMS, but you might not know it because of the modest size of their advertising budget. But a less deserving distillery, such as Aberlour for example, is very well known and constantly advertised and praised in the whisky glossies. This is due in no small part to the tremendous financial punch of the parent company of Aberlour --French Liquor industry powerhouse Pernod Ricard. Regardless of their financially enhanced reputation, I don’t think either Aberlour or the Glenmorangie could produce a first fill single Port cask vintage bottling: it is my contention that their respective spirit would lose themselves completely in the Port.

The Glenfarclas’ spirit has broader shoulders however, and carries the Port well. Both the traditional whisky and Port flavours flow harmoniously in the nose and the mouth. One experiences a flurry of red fruits with a hint of wine at the finish which make this a winner. 94.

The whisky was purchased for a moderate price at the Maison du Whisky in Paris, which it is believed, regularly bottles delightful expressions of Glenfarclas exclusively. Check them out on the web or in person if you can.

By the way, this great sensory experience was almost announced by the information given on the bottle: dates of distillation and bottling, type and age of cask used, and no verbiage! When did you last get so much information on a moderately priced bottle of SMS.? Its been a while I know, which leads us straight to...

The Drama of the Day. When will the distillery owners understand that pertinent information on the bottle can only enhance the prestige and value of their product? The Macallan used to do it on their standard 18 year old (Last one to sport the bottling date was the 1983 vintage). Now only their limited editions bottling --reserved for the very wealthy collectors, or even wealthier drinkers--disclose these essential facts.

Will there one day be an accurate voluntary description of the type of cask used? (whether it is from a first, second of third fill cask; the date of disilling and bottling) I doubt it, for this would obligate the distillery owners to forego practises inherited from their experience as whisky blenders.

For example, a 12 year old is rarely composed of only 12 year old whisky. They may have a bunch of 16 year old 3rd fill cask that they want to get rid of, so the guys plonk it in the vat, and the stuff is still legally a 12 year old... The fine print says it has to be at least 12 years old...

Those practises are common in most every Single Malt distillery: and this explains why we are not going to get full disclosure. This is the curse of Single Malt, for it inherited the legal standards and business practises of a lesser, more widely produced drink, which depended on heavy advertising rather than quality to drive its sales. You guessed it, I am reffering to blended whisky. That's why the folks at the Macallan are killing their product, because they want it to take the place of Chivas or Johnny Walker in terms of sales on the world market. Make no mistake about it, fellow amateur, their eventual succes is predicated on the death of the Macallan as we know it.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Welcome!

This is a commercial-free venue for those who are interested and enjoy Single Malt Scotch and abhor the marketing and corporate robots who threaten the integrity and eventually, the very existence of this product.

The views on Single Malts expressed here are based on my opinions only; note that these will never be influenced by financial imperatives, advertising hype, or the sense that the corporate heads of the whisky industry should be defended at all costs whatever their actions.

Unlike other commentators or whisky web site, I do not get or ask for free bottles in exchange for awarding phony medals, nor do I have any ties with anyone in the industry. I pull no punches because I am passionate about Single Malt Scotch and the people who make it --for that, I make no excuses.


A very brief summary of recent events seen through a non-commercial lens

Single Malt Scotch, with the exception of Glenfiddich, a precursor, became widely distributed only in the late 1980's. Those were the days of the Classic Malt collection, when Michael Jackson's complete guide to Single Malt Scotch first came out, the days when you could get an 18 year old Macallan with inscribed on the bottle, not only the 'distilled by' date, but the year in which it was bottled too.

Like most forms of progress, the emergence of Single Malt Scotch on a large scale was due to a disaster. In the late 1980's blended scotch (that ersatz mostly made of grain whisky and only some malt) had suffered a solid decade of massive sales decline in the world markets. Vodka was taking over, and the luminaries in the corporate offices which owned whisky distilleries were flailing wildly, willing to dredge up any old crazy idea to try and increase their sales and get rid of their massive stocks of blended scotch. Anything obviously included promoting the essence of whisky, that which is at the core of every famous blend there is: Malt Whisky! We are talking here of the heart of Johnny walker, of Chivas, of Justerini and Brooks, even of the Famous Grouse. Though this would eventually (read: now) lead to some problems, at the time the promotion of single malt scotch was a stroke of genius: sales went through the roof, though keep in mind they represented only a fraction of the larger and still declining blended whisky sales.

So in the late 1980's SMS injected life into the scotch whisky industry, but at the expense of their main bussiness some thought. To use an image, Blended Scotch was seen as a large rotting carcass, and the wide array of Single Malt Scotch brands were the larvae eating away at it frantically.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves here. This unfinished tale begins even earlier, in the 19th Century , when under the pressure of rancid businessmen (and increased demands) Whisky officially became blended with grain alcohol rather then the Single Malt it once was. It is a tale of profits versus quality, tradition, terroir and the people that make the whisky. It was first the tale of Blended whisky against Malt whisky, and has become the tale of the owners of Blends against Single Malt Whisky as an authentic drink. Which makes Scotch Whisky is a fascinating beverage: its history reflects the economical and (to a certain extent) the political struggles of its times.

Rest assured dear reader, that this is not meant to be a plodding history of Single Malt Scotch from start to finish. Rather, we will be exploring many aspects of the trade, all of which, we hope, will contribute in an unauthorized and therefore more authentic history of Single Malt Scotch.

We plan to examine without compassion but with a fair amount of sadness, the Rise and (coming) Fall of the House of Macallan, and we claim to be able to do it in a way impossible to replicate by the glossy magazine who cash the checks (and pocket the cash) of the Corporate Masters at the Macallan. You see, we plan to report the Decline of the Macallan honestly.

What else? A discussion, and then, the establishment of 3, 4 categories of Malt, like for a Chateau of Bordeaux (appelations should also be classified). Why can we do this and Malt Magazine, or Whisky Magazine cannot? Because they are too beholden to the powers that be in the Whisky world. They are afraid to upset their advertisers, their golfing buddies who send them samples by the case. We are not. Our pride is our lack of connections with the Marketers and Public Relations characters, it is also the guarantee of our independence.

We also plan to discuss the history of Single Malt Scotch through the travails of the people that make it, this might be called: SMS, a people's history.

Every entry will be preceded by the dram of the day and the drama of the day both followed by a short description. On this debut, they will conclude this lengthy introduction; may you enjoy the ride as much as we will. Sante!


Dram of the Day: Laphroaig 10 year old Cask Strength (OB): No extra water makes it immediately more authentic than Islay offerings twice its age and thrice its price. It also makes the mouth-feel visquous, almost slick. The usual sea elements apply, but what makes this one a standout is its uncommon synergy of texture and taste.

Drama(s) of the Day: Realizing that the Macallan is introducing its diluted, Bourbon wood bottling all over the world --not just as a duty free curiosity as it was first claimed. Realizing that this contradicts the Macallan's claim to fame: being the only distillery that used Sherry Wood Exclusively. And last not least, realizing, as the introduction of a 30 year old sadly demonstrates, that they had been planning this little marketing turnaround for ages...




The Macallan's Obituary: a preview.

None other than Malt Pioneer, Michael Jackson, muses on this topic in a very informative piece written by Johanna in her singleminded web-site (its in the archive, and its a great little piece that everyone interested in the Macallan should read). It includes a great quote from MJ who hints, in his typically understated fashion, that he is considering stocking up on the soon to be extinct "Macallan bottled exclusively from Sherry casks."

Michael Jackson's last words on stocking up with the "traditional" sherryied Macallan (in the piece referenced above) puts his tactful tone in perspective, and helps us realize the scope of the damage: the Macallan as we know it, is an endangered species, nothing less. It is being sacrificed on the altar of the quarterly revenue report, because constantly increasing growth is better than a continuous, steady tradition of quality, at least as far as the management at the Macallan is concerned.

The Macallan name and distillery which is in fact part of the Scottish patrimony, is in the hands of incompetent and greedy fools who, for example, rushed to create and market Replicas based on forgeries of old bottles they unthinkingly purchased without testing their authenticity! These are the same guys who phased out Golden Promise (the rich tasting but low-yelding organic barley) as well.

Their "crimes" will be described here clearly --no sugar coating-- for I have nothing to lose, no chats with Bob the distiller, or Rob the Manager, around a few free drams, no visits to the Distillery to look forward to. No, what I and other drinkers have to look forward to is the realization that the shelves of our liquor store, or supermarket, will soon be devoid of Macallan "exclusively bottled from Sherry casks." Then, it will be too late, and there will be nothing but bitterness towards the corporate types that have effectively made the Macallan exclusively aged in Sherry casks a thing of the past...