Myths and a lack of transparency in the Scotch Whisky Industry
Before I publish my review of the Compass Box Peat Monster, I’d like to say a few words about the magazine and Internet site “ScotchWhisky.com”, dedicated to all things Scotch Whisky.
The first strange thing I noticed about this site was that there is no mechanism for leaving comments at the bottom of their articles. The reason might well be to prevent people commenting on what a load of untrustworthy nonsense they publish. As you read the articles it becomes increasingly clear that they seem to be 100% in the pockets of brand ambassadors of all the big whisky corporations.
Take this classic article:
What are whisky’s worst myths and clichés?, 07 August 2017 by Sean Baxter
The article sounds as if it could be really entertaining as well as very educational, right?. It’s true that there are a lot of myths and deceptions out there in Whisklyland which need to be exposed. For Example:
Just off the top of my head, examples:
- being that peaty taste comes from peated water.
- that smoked whisky comes from smoked barrels.
- that stating age and cask information simply confuses people.
- that adding artificial colour reassures the purchaser that they are buying a quality, well matured product.
- that that fruity sherry flavour in the whisky comes from the European oak casks and has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that the casks are seasoned with actual sherry so that the wood is totally saturated and dripping wet before they pour the new spirit into it……
At 2:56 the following conversation is heard:
“A gorgeous colour to it.”
“A sort of a deep golden colour..”
“Yer, it’s stunning!”
What the whisky ambassador hasn’t told you though is that Cardhu single malt contains a large dose of E150a caramel colouring so admiring the colour of the whisky is hypocritical, misleading at best and dishonest at worst.
Unfortunately, not only does this ScotchWhisky.com article not expose any of these myths, it actually perpetrates them!
(So called) Myth1: That blended whisky is just as good a malt whisky.
Really? It’s true that there are some malt whiskies that are pretty awful and some blended whiskies which are really tasty but when you consider what blended whisky is, i.e. that it is majority cheap industrial grain spirit (usually wheat, barley or corn) which is mashed and distilled and comes out pretty much tasteless but is then “blended”, (that’s why they are called “Blends” folks!) with single malt whisky to give it a flavour, then the question becomes disingenuous! Obviously malted barley distilled spirit will have greater potential for making a fuller and more flavoural whisky.
(So called) Myth 2: That “whisky nerds” are bad for the industry as they cause Whisky ambassadors to spend too much times talking about irrelevant technical details about whisky production which scares off the majority of whisky drinkers.
Wrong! When Whisky ambassadors sit in front of an audience, lift up their glass of whisky and tell everyone to admire the rich golden colour which they then tell you (with a straight face), this shows you what a quality product their whisky is, they are lying to the customer.
All it needs is one “whisky nerd” in the audience to point out that that colour is artificial caramel colouring called E150a and its use actually hides the natural colour of the whisky which would give you an indication of cask maturation quality as well as the type of cask used, in order to bust these dodgy salespersons (for that, for the most part, is who these Brand Ambassadors really are), and expose the sales pitch bare faced lie.
When they swirl the whisky around in the glass and tell everyone that the transparent clean look comes from the purity of the special magical water stream they use and don’t bother mentioning (because it’s too technical) that in fact the liquid is crystal clear even when water or ice is added because they have chill-filtered the life out the whisky, this is disingenuous.
(So called) Myth 3. That “terroir” in whisky, or importance of “regionality” is a complete myth. The ambassador goes on to say “I think we like to mystify whisky quite a lot and talk about it like an agricultural product, where in fact it’s very much industrial”
There are two issues here.
1. It is true that despite many big distilleries being effectively spirit factories, marketing puts an “Oldy Worldy“, traditional cottage industry fascia onto their whisky product which is not really true.
2. The place where the spirit is distilled as well as the place where the casks are matured have little if no influence on the flavour of the whisky.
Firstly, yes, I agree, the big whisky companies have been guilty of a certain amount of poetic license when it comes to whisky production but I don’t think that’s a terrible thing. It’s all part of the aura and mystique of Scotch whisky which customers come to expect. However, the reason why this guy is suddenly complaining about it and saying we ought to change is because the big players are being seriously threatened by the rapidly growing segment of the Scotch Malt whisky industry which are really craft and large boutique distilleries using traditional methods and locally sourced raw materials to produce a higher quality product.
Customers like the idea of a whisky produced using only fresh barley from local farms, local spring water, distilling spirit, filling and maturing casks all on site and some even bottling on site. These true farm distilleries claim obviously that their unique flavour profile is as a result of their location, and the climate. The big whisky producers don’t like this marketing edge and therefore all of a sudden, want to tell everyone that terroir is nonsense! Again, very dishonest approach and one which the author of the article is all too willing to propagate.
(So called) Myth 4. Lastly, I want to talk about this ambassador’s opinion as to which myth to bust next. He says ‘My favourite is definitely age versus no age,’ s. He states:
‘Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, whisky marketing departments embarked globally on the mission to convince the general public that older was better, and therefore more expensive. Guess what? Now it’s our job to illustrate that that may not always be the case.’
Deary me. Are we supposed to pat you on the back for admitting that for years the big whisky producers ripped off the wealthy punters by releasing very old whisky which they knew had been matured in low quality tired casks which had not matured the whisky well, but nevertheless, had gone ahead and released it in some fancy shmancy bottle and sold it for a premium price!? Now, in order to readdress the balance, they say, they want to dispense with age statements all together and produce “No Age Statement” whiskies with elaborate names.
They claim a new honesty but in reality give you less transparency and are now not tired down to a minimum quality of cask and minimum maturation year. Great for them but very bad for us!
|Turkey mince or Beef mince|
That’s like a restaurant admitting that after years of charging you premium prices for the choice of real 100% beef burgers instead of the standard turkey burgers, now admit that in fact the beef burgers were produced from cheap inferior cow’s meat. Technically still beef but total rubbish. Well, the solution they tell you is to serve you “The Ranch Burger”, a great fancy name but without giving you any indication whatsoever as to the type or quality of meat. Kol HaKavod! How does that help? Well, it simply gives the restaurant the flexibility to produce its “Ranch Burger” year after year but make it from whatever meat they can find. No one will ever know!
The truth about stating the age of whisky (and other useful information)
The more a whisky matures in quality casks, the greater potential there is for complexity, depth of flavours and lengthy finish. Therefore, informing the consumer what type casks the whisky was matured in and for how many years it has matured in those casks will give the buyer an indication of quality and what to expect from their purchase. Moreover, letting you know if the whisky is natural colour allows you to look at the whisky and assess the maturation. Telling you that the whisky has been non-chill filtered allows you to experience the maximum range of flavours from the malt, for good or for bad.
Just like detailed nutritional values printed on the side of all processed food, you can choose to ignore it but for those who are interested in the information provided, it can actually encourage sales of a quality product and expose an inferior one. I have never heard of anyone saying that they did not buy that yogurt because all that technobabble of nutritional information about Bio, sugar and fat content scared them off!
Their argument about “Too much information” confusing the customer is condescending, insulting and does their brand no favours. What’s more, I’m not sure I believe that they actually believe what they have been told to say by their marketing departments.
Despite the fancy titles, tartan tie and waistcoat, these so called respected whisky experts, (which they may well be), have been reduced in status to simply being big corporation salespersons. ScotchWhisk.com seem to be promoting this deceptive marketing.