WHO’S LOOKING OUT FOR YOU?

A schism in the whisky community is showing. It’s a play on the same battle that has been waging since Sumerians first haggled over goats… sellers vs. buyers, and the gloves are coming off.  On the seller side are the distillers, importers, auction houses, and yes book and magazine publishers.  On the buyer side are the millions of novices, experts, and investors who spend time at jobs they don’t like to be able to spend hard earned money on whisky that they do.
My clarified vision leads us back to our problem with Bonhams and a rather sad defense of their latest foibles in Whisky Advocate, Spring 2013 edition, page 26.   < Go read it and come on back>

Last summer blogs such as this one castigated Bonham’s for misleading and wrong descriptions in their whisky catalog.  As Adam Herz’s (LA Whisk(e)y Society) latest article suggests after thorough research, all mistakes were rather curiously in favor of Bonhams.  Where it gets worse is that not only is Bonham’s remorseless, but that their tool of defense was a sweetheart article by a magazine that many consumers mistakenly assume advocates for them.

A few of the weak excuses for Bonhams’ mistakes in the article, with my retort.

1. Sure we may have thrown out some dates for bottles that were inaccurate, but since the prospective buyers could have done their own research with the bottle photos and didn’t, it’s their fault.
If these details were so easy to spot then why didn’t you spot them?  Either you knew and were dishonest, or you didn’t and you should no longer bill yourselves as a world authority on whisky.  Many of the bidders are not experts and trusted Bonham’s over their own knowledge due to reputation.

2. “If this was an attempt at deliberate deception, it appears relatively motiveless, and would have been a colossal gamble on their reputation and clients’ trust, not to mention clumsily naïve…”
The motive is money.  Money can be a motive.  For reference see police records, any of them.  It was clumsily naïve and you have been called out.  At least have the decency to admit it and offer refunds.

3. “A single large consignment of bottles… arrived late at the warehouse, very close to the catalog print deadline.”  “Bonhams regret some lots were entered into the catalog using meager information gathered from initial discussions with the vendor prior to the physical receipt of the bottles.”

Mistakes were made because we were in a hurry?  I tried this on a cop once. Didn’t work.  Still illegal.  I lost.  The difference is my speeding was victimless but the auction buyers got screwed.  To save time this reputable agency asked the owner to provide the published information.  It would appear that the world class appraisals were often from a non-expert seller with the most motivation in the world to be biased or exaggerate.  Most respected auction house indeed.

THE BIGGER PICTURE

I only illustrate this one situation to illustrate the broader point:  Anyone in the whisky industry or anyone receiving financial support from the whisky industry should not be assumed to be completely forthcoming.  This isn’t part of a “grand conspiracy”, it’s not black helicopters, it’s a fact of life… follow the money.  Magazines, books, and other media who are paid by the industry through ads or with free whisky samples are going to naturally favor the hand that pays the rent.  Whisky prices are shooting up, and those on the sellers’ end of the sellers’ market want to ensure that momentum continues.  Big whisky can’t sell their new offerings at inflated auction prices if auction prices are stagnating, now can they?

ONE BIG HAPPY FAMILY?

The first scratch in my own naiveté came years ago during a phone conversation with an importer.  In our discussion I brought up the opinions of some well known whisky collectors and quite a bit of venom entered my earpiece.  I came to learn later that they had publicly disagreed on pricing and quality of the whisky being imported and had put a sour note on the importer’s storyline.  Truth was an unwelcome player.
Some of the kindest, politest, and most respectable folks on Earth hail from the whisk(e)y regions of Scotland and Kentucky.  When we read reviews we can almost hear a friendly drawl or brogue easing our hand toward a wallet.  The days of yokel whisky is over.  These are big multi-national businesses and their true voice is through strategic marketing.
We’ve grown up in a commercialized age.  We’ve seen ads on tv for years and have bullshit filters for everything we see there.  However, when we read glowing reviews and big ratings on a bottle, it’s easy to consider that the ridiculous price is justified because it’s from a respected whisky publication or institution, and not just some catchy jingle and graphic.  Don’t fall for the siren songs, know your malts!

KNOW, KNOW, KNOW YOUR WHISKY

Folks who get compensated to push a cause aren’t advocates, they’re lobbyists.  Everyone knows that a lobbyist’s purpose is to spin for money, so next time you hear or read anything about whisky, consider the source… and how they pay for lunch.

Of course there’s no need to punish yourself over this.  If you like whisky, buy whisky!  Buy from the big companies and buy from the little ones. Enjoy the magazines, enjoy the books, but know what you like.  Don’t let “them” tell you what to buy.  Trust YOUR palate.  Trust YOUR friends.  Trust respectable bloggers that earn it (not me, RESPECTABLE bloggers.)  If you love whisky, drink it.  Learn it.  Love it.  Then share that knowledge with your friends.  That’s our advantage.

WHISKY REVIEWS

I still have a sour flavor in my mouth, so I’m going to move on to a sweeter one.  Here’s some whisky reviews from bottlers I like.  Malt Trust is an American company run out of Florida.  They’ve got fair prices on good stuff. K&L is a well respected wine and spirits shop in Los Angeles.  They’ve begun a very serious program to personally select casks and sell them as shop exclusives. Single Cask Nation based in New York is also sourcing their own casks but are operating more on the SMWS model as a private club. Full disclosure, K&L and Single Cask Nation are friends, as are the Kilchoman folks in America and Scotland.  Still, I honestly think these are great.

Glen Grant 1975/2007 Malt Trust, Cask 3131 – Known

Price: $190

• Nose: Plum cake and hint of gasoline.  More of a dry sherry profile.  Not great but makes you really think there is something special to taste.
• Palate:  Yep, dry sherry.  Mulling spices and wintergreen minus the sweetness.  There’s some citrus in there but it doesn’t hit the forefront until the finish which is like that bit of a candy orange wedge lingering in your mouth 10 minutes after you ate it.
I’ll B+ this due to my soft spot for sherry, but if you don’t like sherry bombs, I’d shy away.

 

Glen Grant 1979/2008 Malt Trust, Cask 3136 – Known

Price: $180

• Nose:   Wow, pungent.  Leather being tanned.
• Palate:  Toasted oats and shoe leather.  Spinach leaves with a hint of sugar glaze.  Not for the timid.  Glen Grant just ages better in sherry casks.

 

Kilchoman 2007/2012 Single Cask Nation, Cask 378/07 – Known

Price: $95 (private)

• Nose:   Asphalt and rubber eraser. Muscled peat.
• Palate:  The color black.  Charcoal, tar, asphalt, Darth Vader.  Ashes on the finish.  However, there is a twist of lemon oil in there too. Does lemon oil exist? Somehow makes me think of coal mining.  This is for the peatophile.

Kilchoman 2008/2012 100% Islay, K&L Exclusive, Cask – Known

Price: $120

• Nose: Red hots meet red oak.
• Palate: Lacquer and more red hots.  A punchy sweet and sour finish.  Unique and fun.  Perhaps my fave from Kilchoman thus far.
B+/A-

Ardbeg Galileo – Space Meets Whisky

The Ardbeg Galileo release is a celebration Ardbeg’s ‘space maturation’ joint experiment with an American space research company . They say that anyhow. This whisky is a marriage of marsala and bourbon casks to keep up the theme of experimentation. Ardbeg admits the research isn’t directly related to the spirit, and marsala also has a pretty tenuous association with Galileo (both are from Italy, so expect an Ardbeg Mussolini soon.) It bears the words ‘Space 1999’ seemingly (and I’m not kidding here) because 1999 sounded cool and someone remembered the old sci-fi show Space: 1999. Technically, of course, it does now have to be at least 1999 or older.

Cynicism or not, the marketers have waved their magic wands and we want it, we want it, we want it.

I got it, I got it, I got it. For an Ardbeg comparison, see the Ardbeg Day article.

Ardbeg Galileo – Semi-blind/known
Price: $95 US, £75 UK/Europe

• Nose: Compared to other Ardbegs (which I have done extensively now), this one has less of the classic earthy and rich nose and leans more toward dark fruits and mustiness. I don’t think I’d pick this as an Ardbeg completely blind. It’s not bad, but its cousins are better.

• Palate: For a second or so it’s Ardbeg again (yay!), but then it veers off course (boo!) The word dank springs to mind. It conjures an image of something that has sat in the dark for a long time and gone stale. Sure there’s a splash of sweet peppery Ardbeg at first, but from the 1 second mark to the end it’s just, well, annoying.

As for the ‘special releases’, this is my least favorite and comfortably so. The makers and pushers of this are claiming that it’s ‘well rounded’. If dank and stale are somehow circular in shape then they are correct. Kudos for trying (seriously), but this one failed and should be on the shelf with the other so-so $50 bottles. Better luck next time!

For information:
Bill Lumsden interview
Ardbeg Galileo article
Galileo Galilei (did he drink whisky?)
Space 1999 (great campy show!)

Ardbeg Day

Ardbeg is having a bit of an event on June 2 that they are calling ‘Ardbeg Day’. It’s big and worldwide, although the distillery itself will be the epicenter of the party. Little satellite parties such as the 16 spread throughout the United States will surely be awash in peated spirit. To celebrate the occasion, Ardbeg is releasing a new single malt, as they have tended to do annually.  This year’s release: Ardbeg ‘Day”.   I’m not sure this idea was brilliant or a flop.  I for one missed the distinction between the malt and the event until I stumbled across the bottle itself.  This Ardbeg is a limited Committee Release so jump on it if you see it.   Here’s what the bottle notes have to say about it:

“A spectacular fusion of two different styles of Ardbeg, the first being sweet and spicy (vanilla fudge, chocolate limes, cloves, aniseed balls); the second a powerful, deep, botanical Ardbeg.  When brought together for six months in re-fill sherry bitts, they have combined beautifully.”

And here are my tasting notes:

Ardbeg Day:
Nose: Burnt toffee, tar, paraffin, and pumpkin pie.

Palate: A bit waxy in taste and feel.  Fresh hay dipped in iodine and a little bit of butterscotch.  Waxy cashews. Hot, put a little water saves the day without dampening the flavors.  Vegetal finish is decent. B/B+.

A bit waxy in taste and feel.  Fresh hay dipped in iodine and a little bit of butterscotch.  Waxy cashews.  Hot, put a little water saves the day without dampening the flavors.  Vegetal finish is decent.

Is it good?  Sure, I’d drink it all day.   I wouldn’t call it hype-worthy however.  The Gator and Corry releases were better (although pricier.)  I’ve included some informal notes I dug up for some of the more recent Ardbeg releases, just for comparison.

Rollercoaster:
Nose: Grassy and fresh tar. Decently strong

Palate: Very thin mouthfeel, moldy grass and mint. Asphalt and coat leather. Altogether just a simple young Ardbeg, very much like Ardbeg Still Young released a few years ago. The finish is fleeting although I’m not sure I’d want it to linger. Disregarding the collectability, I’d call it a good $25 peater for when you’re in the mood. C+/B-

Supernova:
Nose: Strong. Superbubble bubblegum, lemon pine sol and briney air. Taste is, wow, aggressive. Reminds me of a PC6. The peat is there, but the 100ppm isn’t the big player here (i.e., 60 ppm would be similar). The pine-sol sticks to the back of the palate and stays until you wash your mouth out. The sweetness is fleeting, which is a drawback for me. Water only makes the bitter-leafiness more prominent.

Corryvreckan
Nose: Red hots and fruitcake. Strong and sharp.

Palate: Christmas! Evergreen (noble fir) and Christmas spice all lingering over this smoky base that reminds me of a fireplace whose flames just died out. This is exactly what I’m going to tell my son to leave out for Santa. B+/A-

Alligator:
Nose: Water sealant on a new wooden deck. Nice

Palate: This is a great hard-hitter. Carpentry chemicals and charcoal at Christmas. The finish REALLY sticks to you. Bites, but in the good way.