Happy New Year, all.
Let’s close out 2014 in style. Or at least controversy.
It’s taken me a couple of days to pull together some words on this one, but I think we’re finally there. And just in time too. I see a few new comments by our more opinionated commenters have just been posted. Grab a fork and knife, friends. This post will be tasty fare for some of you.
As most of you are likely aware I spent a good part of this year drumming up some anti-NAS sentiment around the wider whisky world. Here on ATW, on Twitter, in posts I started on Connosr and Whiskywhiskywhisky, at my public speaking opportunities and via all sorts of private discussions and email. There were many a snarky comment inserted into various reviews and such before I finally stepped overtly onto a soapbox with this post here on ATW. This post alone has just shy of 100 comments beneath it. That doesn’t even speak to the dozens upon dozens beneath other reviews and features. I like to think that this place is sort of a hotbed of NAS discussion.
This year was particularly bad in the industry. The ongoing whisky bubble seems to have skewed relations between producer and consumer to a degree I’ve never seen in relation to our drink of choice. The brands want to capitalize on global interest, but unfortunately their stocks have not supported their ambitions. What happens? Well…when you need to feed platoons of hungry soldiers on a thin supply line, you simply water down the gruel a little bit, right? This is exactly what the big companies have done. Provide more of less.
Highland Park Dark Origins, Laphroaig Select, Macallan 1824 Series, Ardmore Legacy, Glenlivet Alpha, Mortlach Rare Old, Talisker Storm, etc are all among the guilty culprits who seem to exist due to the twisted logic of ‘hmmm…Ardbeg and Aberlour have gotten away with it’.
Additionally Glenfarclas is dropping the 10 year age statement from its classic 105 cask strength, Bruichladdich dropped the Laddie Ten and Port Charlotte 10 in favour of their provenance-based ‘Scottish Barley’ and ‘Islay Barley’ and Glenmorangie and Ardbeg continue to lambaste us with cleverly marketed (but ultimately young and non age-stated) malts based on linguistics and novelties.
This latter particularly bothers me, as I have been an unabashed Ardbeg fanboy for the better part of the last several years, and while the quality has remained high…it would be no less so with a number snazzily decaled on the black and green, if you know what I’m saying. And Bruichladdich…c’mon, guys. You’re a champion for the purity of the drink and the best interests of the malt. NAS is NOT beneficial to anyone but the bottom line in the producers ledgers. ‘Laddie folk…how ’bout you come back to Team Consumer?
What this NAS crap has done, of course, is taken the pressure off the distilleries’ maturing stocks, while simultaneously granting the brands an effective blank check in terms of pricing. And man…have we paid. The only real positive I see in all of this nonsense is that we’re seeing distilleries getting a little more creative with their releases and thinking outside the box.
So, where am I going with all this rambling blather? Trust me…there is a point. I’m not simply reiterating what we’ve been saying all along.
A few days ago our mate Ralfy Mitchell, whom most of you likely know, released one of his year end vlogs, weighing in on this contentious issue. Months back, when I first posted that piece on NAS whisky – wherein some industry folk weighed in with their own two cents – I contacted Ralfy hoping for his opinion, but never got a reply. That’s ok. He’s a busy guy. And I should conceded that I have nearly unlimited respect for the guy. He and I have had some wonderful email exchanges and interviews together. He’s articulate and informed. He’s also a shit ton of fun. I love that.
Ralfy just went on record as moving forth into 2015 with a boycott on NAS Single Malt Scotch. This is huge. For a humble guy in a remote bothy, Ralfy is a gent with actual influence in the industry. The ‘bigs’ are afraid of people like him. Ralfy’s word holds some weight. Even those whisky drinkers who’d not yet dug into the politics of the NAS debate will now have it thrust under their noses via Ralfy’s lastest video. The industry has to hate that. And the rest of us should love it. Well done, Ralf.
Our own inimitable Jeff here on ATW has been advocating for more of us to boycott for quite some time now. I’ve had a bit of a struggle with this. Not because I need to buy the stuff myself. Nor because I need to support the distilleries. It was only because I was trying to present all sides of the story, and give consumers as much information as possible in making their whisky buying decisions. The thing is…that’s wrong. I was wrong. I don’t want to help consumers support NAS whisky. It’s hurting all of us. And things are actually getting worse.
So let’s show Ralfy a little bit of support in his endeavours…and let’s take a stronger stance on the same issue we’ve been fighting throughout the year. In short…let’s make something happen.
As of now, I’ll not be posting any more reviews of NAS whiskies. Period. No qualifiers.
Jeff is right. This really is the only way. I’m not setting a term for this ‘boycott’ (if you wanna call it that). I’m also not saying it’s a permanent tack, but let’s just say that when we see some change (and I mean meaningful change), perhaps I’ll reconsider my approach.
This means that several of the reviews I have waiting in the wings may never be posted (including the Ardbeg Supernova 2014!). Don’t worry, though. There should be plenty of age-stated and vintage releases to keep us more than busy. And those distilleries plodding along with boring, standard 10, 12, 15, 18 year old malts will suddenly find themselves at the center of our attention.
Sorry to those who disagree with this stance (and were hoping for more a’bunadh reviews), but let’s see if we can’t force through some positive change.
My ultimate goal? Not to have the brands themselves be the catalysts for change, but the self-fellating SWA step in and mandate age statements, just as they’ve previously enforced agendas that suited their own needs. Now it’s our turn.
On that note…an Ardbeg Ten calls.
Respectfully yours, comrades.