Malt Resistance

Narrating the Rise and Fall of Single Malt Scotch.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Marketing Geniuses

Here’s a quote I came across more than a decade ago. Though not specifically on Single Malt, noir writer Lawrence Block illustrates rather well the mentality that’s behind the changes which are affecting our favored drink:

"I went over and picked up the bottle and read its label. It was eighty proof. All the popular-priced bourbons had been eighty six proof for years, and then some marketing genius had come up with the idea off cutting the proof to eighty and leaving the price unchanged. Since the federal excise tax is based in alcohol content, and since alcohol costs the manufacturer more than plain water. The distiller increased his profit while slightly boosting the demand at the same time (…)"

This is why the proof of SMS has gone from 86 to 80 in many countries, and explains bottles ‘mysteriously’ getting smaller (from 75 to 70cl) a few years back.
It is precisely because the Whisky industry is run by the above-mentioned “marketing genius” that we can forget about Single Malts improving or maintaining their current level of quality. Our time is the dawn of an accidental and short-lived golden age of single malt whisky which began in the late 1980’s.

Friday, March 04, 2005

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

A purposefully traditionalist distillery.” Those are the lofty words which Michael Jackson chose to describe the Macallan and its ownership in the first and second editions (1989-91) of his standard setting work (Complete Guide to Single Malt Scotch, Running Press). These words are no longer used in the later editions, and with good reason.

He was describing the Macallan of yore, a single malt which was exclusively made from “Golden Promise” barley (a low yielding barley which uniquely produces rich nutty flavours), and exclusively matured in Sherry Casks. Those two characteristic which many –including past owners of the place-- thought were inseparable from The Macallan have been done away with progressively, quietly. The fall started in earnest with Highland Distillers' acquisition of the Macallan, and accelerated when the Edrington group set its cash starved tentacles on the distillery. (I am not being fair to octopuses: these corporate groups buy up Distilleries like dictatorships when they take prisoners, some are put in virtual isolation [like Bunnahabhain], and others are publicly executed --that is what is happening to the Macallan.)

What will follow, in the next few months, is a brief review of how the costly tradition of distilling Macallan from Golden Promise Barley was abandoned –and how few journalists or magazines, which cover the industry actually clearly called the owners of the Macallan on it.