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An interesting article - and my response to it. (Read 5328 times)
JaRiMi
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An interesting article - and my response to it.
10. Nov 2008 at 15:55
 
This was posted previously in US, and then at another website dedicated more to rums - I thought I'd repost it here as it may be of interest to readers of this excellent whisky forum.

"Scottish distillers are getting more playful with what they add to their whiskies and how long they leave them in the cask

By David Kiley

Bill Lumsden, the head of distilling and whiskey creation for Moët-Hennessy Louis Vuitton's (LVMH.PA) Glenmorangie and Ardbeg single-malt whiskies is a character. Not that the whisky business isn't full of creative, irascible, intriguing folks in charge of keeping our glasses filled. But having played a preposterous party game with Lumsden and others until 3 a.m. one night last May and drank from the spring that supplies Glenmorangie, I feel confident that Lumsden will have no problem getting his portion of the angel's share of whisky when he is in heaven.

Like any good distiller, Lumsden loves to play with aging his whiskies in different kinds of woods and fooling about with the mash mix. He is relentlessly curious about flavor in his whisky expressions without resorting to simple aging in oak. "I refuse to be slave to long aging when it comes to creating premium, exciting products," Lumsden told me during my recent trip to Glenmorangie in Tain, a breathtaking spot on the east coast of Scotland where poets and lovers of the sea and honey-like whisky will think they had died and gone to heaven

He has a point. Blended whiskies get along without putting an age statement on their highest volume products. The consistency of taste of, say, Pernod Ricard's (PERP.PA) Chivas Regal or Diageo's (DEO) Johnnie Walker is what makes them great and successful. That consistency is achieved by blending sometimes up to 50 single malt and grain whiskeys from as many distilleries. Single-malt distilleries like Glenmorangie blend only their own whiskies to achieve their expressions.

Glenmorangie has just released Signet from Lumsden's laboratory, a non-age stated audacious expression that will run you $185 for a 750 ml bottle. No age statement? The nerve! Is it worth it? I'd have to say, yes."

................

My somewhat sour response to this article is below:

It must be a dream of every businessman working in the whisky business to be able to charge extraordinary sums for their product, no matter how much - or indeed, little - it has cost them to make.

In recent times, despite of an exceptional boom in whisky consumption, the distillery-owning companies have been complaining loudly of increased production costs due to rise in cost of raw materials, lack of capability of increasing production (due to their old batch-process methods) and also costs of transport. All this combined with more & more unashamed marketing schemes often drawing on the exclusivity of a particular bottling has sent the prices of whiskies soaring - regardless of their age.

At the same time, I am not alone in the feeling that when the whisky industry is doing well, it is the whisky quality that suffers. Why? Because in the old days before the boom distillers making say a 12-year old standard bottling single malt for example would easily put into the mix (remember, even a standard single malt bottling is a vatting of dozens of casks per release batch) much older (or better) casks in order to improve flavour, or to keep the style as they wanted. These days I am pressed to believe that this is getting rarer and rarer, because quite simply the distillery-owning companies have realized that they can sell these "special" or older casks as "limited editions" - for far more money.

Everyone understands that apart from the cost of raw materials, energy & labour that goes into making the new distillate, storing whisky in warehouses has a cost of its own. Lets not also forget the angels that tax the casks every day of the year, causing them to contain less & less spirit with an ever-declining alcohol volume over a period of time. All these factors alone, even without exclusivity, supported the reasoning behind asking a higher price for an older whisky. Some other factors could be added to this, i.e. what type of wood the cask was made of: Sherry butts cost significantly more than ex-bourbon hogsheads.

What Lumsden and his like, however, are trying to say to us today, is that regardless of the age, they wish to charge exorbitant amounts of money for their whisky creations - and that they are also shying away from giving us facts about the contents of their bottles (such as the actual age of whiskies used). How very convenient.

If whisky industry takes this path, I feel they might as well then start lobbying for changing of UK laws and going the Cognac way with intentionally broad and unclear rules of classifications that shy away from age statements. For example, an X.O. cognac - a term that most of us associate with long maturation - may contain a significant portion of very young distillate, because by law & rule the youngest distillate can be only 6 years old. This to me at least does not exactly match the image conjured up by the statement "XO", but no doubt comes in handy for many cognac producers who would never tell us exactly what their particular cognac blend contains.

Already the industry has changed its age-old standard methods in an attempt of making the most money: A good example of this is the current standard of lowering the distillate's alcohol percentage down to about 63,5% before putting the new make into a cask. In the old days, all new make went into casks at its original strength. Clearly the idea here is that they never intend to age whisky for very long, because if they do, the alcohol percentage may just drop below 40% (and the product can no longer be sold as whisky - at lest unless they change the laws on this matter..).

Recently I was totally put off from the current whisky industry attitude of "get as much as you can, or hopefully a little more - for your product" by two cases: On was when I noticed a rather nice-looking bottle of 21-year old Laphroaig on the shelf of a store at Heathrow airport. This "limited release" (how many limited releases has Laphroaig had in recent times?!) drawn from several casks, bottled at cask strength came with a price tag of £ 299 per bottle. TWO HUNDRED AND NINETY NINE POUNDS FOR A 21-YEAR OLD WHISKY?!?!? Oh my. By comparison, last year's Lagavulin 21yo priced around £ 100 - 120 was ridiculously cheap (even if people felt justly it was pricey as is). Lagavulin guys must be crying blood now, realizing they could have upped the price..

Another example was the price of the latest Port Ellen annual release: Previous ones have been rather dear, carrying a pricetag of about £ 120 - 130. The latest one, release eight, is £ 180. Holy pricejump, Batman! "Liquid gold" is no longer just a metaphore..

I for one am glad I enjoy rum as well as whisky. [Sadly same giant companies have started to realize the potential of the rum market as well..] Greed knows no bundaries sadly.
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« Last Edit: 11. Nov 2008 at 00:59 by JaRiMi »  

Humalat ja maltaat, humalat ja maltaat...
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Re: An interesting article - and my response to it.
Reply #1 - 10. Nov 2008 at 22:06
 
This is my open letter to late whisky...

Oh dear.
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JaRiMi
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Re: An interesting article - and my response to it.
Reply #2 - 11. Nov 2008 at 00:58
 
C'est la vie...
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Re: An interesting article - and my response to it.
Reply #3 - 11. Nov 2008 at 23:10
 
Great reply JaRiMi! I enjoyed reading it - you really make a point there...!
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JaRiMi
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Re: An interesting article - and my response to it.
Reply #4 - 11. Nov 2008 at 23:40
 
Thanks - it is, of course, just one hobbyist's viewpoint, but I do feel that things in whisky industry are not going to a direction which would benefit consumers in any or nor create trust in the product.
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Re: An interesting article - and my response to it.
Reply #5 - 12. Nov 2008 at 00:24
 
Well, if they all want just to make the most money they can it's a one way street, and the street will end as soon as there's more people thinking at least a bit like you. But if people are willing to go for a £299 21yo Laphroaig, it will be a loooong street... Hopefully the recession will hit the whisky markets too, as a price lowering way I mean.
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