Nov 262015
 

Very few in the published whisky world speak with such a balance of knowledge and conviction as Dominic_RoskrowDominic Roskrow.  It most often tends to be an either/or scenario of very informed individuals who elect not to question the status quo, or those that speak out with vitriol but lack the logic and reasoning to table bulletproof arguments.  And unfortunately when one does find someone that manages to straddle both tendencies they almost always have their initial say, then refrain from subsequent commentary.  In short; making a case and refusing to support the argument.  We’ve seen this time and again in this age of internet access.

I think maybe that’s why I find Dominic so refreshing.  He wears his heart on his sleeve, has years and years of experience from which he’s drawn his own conclusions and he isn’t afraid to ‘go to the mattresses’ when the situation dictates.  He’s built a bedrock of knowledge throughout the years and uses his spheres of influence to wield words that actually have staying power and heft.  His will be a voice that leaves a mark on the scene for years to come.

A journalist by trade, Dom’s always shown a flinty edge.  His candor shone through in our email exchanges even before he had the following questions in hand, by way of his response when I suggested there would be heavy-hitting questions thrown his way.  His reply?  “I like tough questions and won’t duck.  I’m a journalist after all, and hope to answer as people would answer me.”  Love it.  This is exactly what the big whisky machine needs more of.  As he’s said before, his definition of journalism is “someone writing something that someone somewhere doesn’t want written or someone else to read”.  I think you’ll find below he definitely lives this credo.

Chances are if you’re a whisky lover your bookshelves already boast titles with Dom’s name on the spine, and if they don’t let me suggest that “The World’s Best Whiskies” is a ‘must own’.

Dom BookWith no further preamble, let’s pour a dram and settle in for a bit of discussion…

 

All Things Whisky:  You’re a bit of a maverick – recognized for wearing your heart on your sleeve – so we’re going to pull no punches and tackle a lot of tough industry questions.  Hope you’re ok with rolling up the sleeves and wading in…

Whisky is hot right now.  It has been for years and hasn’t really shown a decline in demand yet.  In spite of global economics suggesting that this should be a time of belt-cinching, whisky seems to be just as feverishly sought out as at any time over the last couple of years.  Distilleries have increased production, altered maturation times and most importantly changed their marketing trajectory away from ‘older is better’ and more toward ‘let your palate decide and forget the numbers’.  In short, it seems a move towards younger whisky, while the brands push to fill warehouses with maturing stocks.  Do you think there’s a possibility we’re building up to another bust as we speak?

Dominic Roskrow:  The short answer to that is yes, I think it’s possible. I was talking to someone the other day who was ominously talking about a glut of unwanted 10 year old Scottish single malt a decade or so from now.

Firstly I would take issue with your statement that whisky ‘hasn’t really shown a decline in demand yet.’ Some of the figures for Scotch whisky haven’t been too clever recently, and some of the territories that were meant to have the greatest potential for whisky have stalled. But the picture is a confusing one. The bigger producers are introducing new markets to quality blended whisky rather than single malts and there are still big opportunities for them in South America, parts of Asia, and Eastern Europe. And who knows about Africa? There is a rapidly emerging middle class across the continent, and oil, so the potential is huge.

My view is there will be no general bust, but there will be a big squeeze, and the victims of it will be those who are compromising on quality and are no longer offering a value for money product. The likes of Diageo and Pernod Ricard will be fine, because in my view they haven’t dumbed down when it comes to quality. And at the other end of the scale we have only seen the tip of the iceberg when it comes to small ‘New World’ producers, and many of them will thrive at a more modest level. but there will inevitably be a fall out. Companies putting out Scottish single malts that are just not good enough will struggle, because whisky drinkers are noticing that some of the whisky they’re drinking isn’t fit for purpose – unless that purpose is to provide an over-packaged under-firing malt as a gift in travel retail. I was doing some research in to a distillery the other day and one book was saying that the output was well below capacity because the distillery insisted on a  lengthy fermentation time. But this year’s Malt Yearbook reports that the same distillery is now producing at capacity. There is only one way that could have been achieved – and it’s not good news. There will also be scores of victims among the so-called craft distillers, too, especially in America, because many of them are producing appalling spirit. This isn’t subjective – it’s not a case of some like roast chicken, some like deep fried chicken. It’s about serving up raw chicken and it’s just wrong.

 

ATW:  There is no greater hot button topic for the current ‘whisky generation’ than the discussions surrounding No Age-Statement whiskies.  This is firmly tied to the perceived ‘value for outlay’ debate and how our quest for information helps determine our buying habits.  Quite telling is the fact that there seems to be no middle ground on this one.  How do you feel about the concept of NAS whisky as it now stands and what is your prediction on the path forward for the industry?

DR:  I have absolutely no problems with Non Age Statement whisky per se. In fact, as someone who specialises in what I call ‘New World Whisky’ I find that Non Age Statement whisky depends to be the norm. I’ll come back to this in a bit. What you’re really asking about is the move in Scotland towards NAS. It’s not that new and some of my favourites whiskies don’t have age statements – various Ardbegs, Ardmores, Glen Gariochs and Highland Parks, Talisker 58 North, Glenmorangie Signet, Dewar’s Signature… I could go on. I think what is upsetting people  is the way some Scotch producers are clearly putting under-cooked and reedy spirit aged considerably less than the 10 or 12 years old and asking drinkers to pay more for it. And they don’t like being asked to swallow a lot of PR crap about improved casks and whisky makers having the freedom of no age constraint to make special malts for Travel Retail exclusives and the like. Go and listen to the absolute drivel the people in airports are telling overseas tourists about some over-packaged 40% seven year old malt priced £70 or £80.

The problem here is that there is no consistent message or story. You can’t tell people that it takes 12 years to make a quality Scottish single malt one minute, and then tell them that age doesn’t matter the next. My view is that very few whiskies can live with Scottish single malts above 10 years of age, but all bets are off at younger ages. The Swedes, Australians, Taiwanese, Indians and English to name but a few can trounce young Scotch whisky, and are doing so in awards across the world. This isn’t a conspiracy and it’s no good Scotland’s whisky industry burying its collective head and trying to shoot the messengers who raise such issues. Other countries are rightly drawing attention to different maturation times in their territories, and the role of climate, temperature extremes, type of oak and even wood used for maturation, the size of cask,  and so on. There are fabulous NAS statements being launched from Hobart to Helsinki, and I don’t think young Scottish whiskies can match them.

 

ATW:  That question sort of leads into asking if there is there still value (for money) to be found in whisky.  Which brands or expressions do you have no qualms about standing behind unequivocally, if there is such a thing?

DR:  There are scores of world whiskies that I would stand by. The whiskies of Zuidam, Distillerie Warenghem, St Georges, Penderyn, Mackmyra, Amrut, Kavalan. A lot of standard bourbons. I’d like to be unequivocal about a lot of Irish whiskey but it has become very expensive, and so has Australian whisky, due to demand and distance.

But I guess you’re really talking about Scotch. I think Diageo do a  good job with NAS whiskies – Talisker Storm and Cardhu Amber Rock are good. Ardmore Port Wood Finish. I don’t mind Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve either.

 

ATW:  In tying this back to a piece here on this site (“Sins of Omission”) wherein I changed tacks on approaching the fight against NAS, do you think it’s more effective for individuals who are in opposition to outright boycott or blacklist them, or is it more effective to speak out about them and use all social media platforms as means to express discontent?

DR:  As I said, I’m not at war with NAS whiskies, and think each should be judged individually and on its merit, or lack of it. What I believe we should be fighting is the utter nonsense about young whisky being best suited as an entry level malt for an untrained palate so the view of experienced malt drinkers is irrelevant. Raw chicken is raw chicken, and over-priced raw chicken is even more indefensible – end of story. At the risk of sounding arrogant, I think we should also challenge those who claim to be offering an objective defence of bad whiskies but are merely acting as an extended arm of the company’s marketing department and are regurgitating PR waffle either because they don’t know what they’re talking about or because they want to continue to get free supplies of whisky. Actually, the irony is that I’m not sure many people are listening anyway. I’d love to know how many bottles of whisky are sold on the back of a glowing review by someone no-one’s ever heard of.

 

ATW:  Whisky writer Ian Buxton alluded to a problem that is tacitly tied to the NAS trend when he spoke of the rising costs of Scotch whisky.  In his words:   “The dirty little secret of the Scotch industry is they’ve become addicted to high prices, but they’ve run out of old whisky”.  Do you see a time when older whiskies will once again be more widely available and affordable?  From what you’ve seen is the industry taking the right steps to avoid putting themselves in this compromised position again?

DR:  Ian’s right, though, he’s being a little bit melodramatic.  I’m not so sure it’s a secret or an addiction.

What it is is the economics of capitalism in action. Demand is outstripping supply and it would be a poor and unsustainable business model not to adjust price accordingly. As a Socialist, I am always amused by people who are surprised and angered when capitalists take advantage of economics to make profit. Greed is good, and all that. Let’s go back to the NAS argument. when Bowmore released its Mizunara cask malt at £650 there were those who argued that this was ‘the NAS rip off in full flow.’ But that was an amazing whisky and it barely touched the shelf such was the demand for it. If anything it was under-priced. So normal folk like us can’t afford it. I can’t afford a Ferrari either. Get over it.

To your question. Available, yes, affordable no. It’s highly unlikely that prices will fall for super premium whisky. And at the other extreme, you could argue that the rise in standard Scottish malts is long overdue and they’re actually where they should be. Single malts take years to make and shouldn’t be trying to compete with standard vodka. It is ridiculous economics to discount single malt whisky aat this time of the year, when the demand is at its highest, and it’s quite wrong that a quality blend such as Famous Grouse is on sale for £15 – the same price as Smirnoff.

As for the last bit of your question, is the industry really compromised? it’s selling lots of whisky at higher prices, and has put up the price of its rarest stock by eye-watering amounts. I imagine a lot of producers are quite happy right now. The real question is whether they will get too greedy and lose the many drinkers who currently treat a bottle of single malt as an affordable luxury.

Business Dom

ATW:  The shelves at our favorite spirit sellers have groaned under the weight of seemingly endless malts branded with clever ideas and graphics, Gaelic names and questionable historical ties.  There is a growing cynicism in the more outspoken contingent of the ‘whisky geek’ community to this approach.  In your opinion how does the industry make it original again?  How do they win back the disillusioned who may have jumped ship to other brands and styles?

DR:  Firstly the ‘whisky geek’ community is vociferous but tiny. As with so much of social media, the noisiest and nastiest like to think they’re leading from the front and bravely reflecting the views of the everyday drinker, but they’re not. I have no time for people who set themselves up as in some way superior to the rest of us. You can’t argue that demand is outstripping supply, prices are rising exponentially and old whisky is hard to find and then talk of any mass movement to jump ship to other brands and styles. Also I’m not sure where they would jump to. Let’s put this in perspective – most Scottish single malt whisky aged to a sufficient age is excellent, is superior to most other spirits categories, has a unique provenance and heritage that few other alcoholic drinks can match, and comes from a country that exudes friendliness, hospitality and beauty – and therefore continues to push the right consumer buttons.

 

ATW:  I’ve had some interesting conversations of late with very knowledgeable individuals who question the modern relevance of an organization like the Malt Maniacs.  The discussions ranged from whether or not ‘industry’ people should be allowed to partake as members, Ralfy’s short tenure and the long term viability of the organization that now seems devoid of all the enlightening e-pistles and such of the early days.  In your opinion do the Maniacs still hold sway?  Is there value in such a conclave of individuals, whether it’s them or others?

DR:  Haha, I was trying to avoid naming names! The Malt Maniacs have never embraced or courted me, or shown me any respect and I in turn have ignored them. I never read what they write and know virtually nothing about them. I heard something about a split because they accepted an invite to go to one of Diageo’s properties to enjoy the company’s hospitality. I didn’t even know you could join them, I thought you had to be appointed. I have no issue with them, but if they ever thought they were important or ‘held sway’ then they were deluded. I suspect they have got themselves in to the same naval-gazing mess that the Campaign for Real Ale did, getting involved with ultimately pointless arguments about what they stand for and what their values are.

As for whether there is any value in a group like that, no of course not. Why would we want a group of individuals acting like Roman gods, sitting up on high and passing down nuggets of wisdom to us grateful mortals, and advice on which elixir of the gods it’s okay to like? For me whisky is a leveller, it’s not about elitism. It is the people’s drink, to be shared, discussed and enjoyed.  I often say that people in a position like me are no more gifted than anyone else, we just get to practice more. Put me in a shed with a guitar for 10 years and I’d be a very good guitarist, but I wouldn’t be Jimi Hendrix. I don’t think the Malt Maniacs are Jimi Hendrix, it’s just that they may think they are.

 

ATW:  You’ve come out in defense of bloggers before, in one of the most spirited pieces I’ve ever read (here).  Not only in defence of bloggers, I might add, but directly critical of some of the ‘professional’ whisky writers.  Do you still feel the same way you did when that post was written?  How have bloggers’ roles, responsibilities and behaviours evolved over the years?

DR:  To a large extent, I do, yes. I think most whisky writers have no right to call rank over bloggers, and I think the pros and cons for both sets of commentators are the same.  As I’ve already said, I don’t think any of us have the general right to claim superiority over anyone else. That said, I believe that there should be transparency about the relationship between any commentator and the whisky companies. I have often said that as soon as we accept free whisky, free dinners, free accommodation and then write nice things about the whisky we drunk, we have lost all right to call ourselves journalists and are effectively an extension of the marketing division of the whisky company in question. There’s nothing wrong with that as long as everyone knows and accepts that relationship. But there has been some blurring of the divisions. you can’t work for a whisky company and then claim to blog independently. I think bloggers and writers should be honest about how they’re making their money. I once asked a blogger to write up 20 whiskies for a book project I was doing. He did eight of them. When I asked him for the rest, he said he couldn’t because he was employed by a whisky company who prevented him from writing about rivals. It turns out the eight whimsies he wrote about belonged to his new employer.  That’s just plain wrong.

 

ATW:  A lot of criticism has been leveled at ‘industry periphery’ folks (i.e. bloggers, tweeters, etc) with questionable motives.  Labels like ‘apologists’, ‘sycophants’ and ‘shills’ have been bandied about with frequency.  This argument has almost always rested on the assumption that these individuals were in it for some sort of tangible personal gain, such as free whisky or event invites.  Do you see this as the problem it was once made out to be?  Has irreparable damage been done, wherein the industry would take less stock of the words of the ‘little people’?

DR:  I think I’ve answered this. I think it’s worse now. Yes irreparable damage has been done but it’s been done by both bloggers and established whisky writers. The worst example of it is on line tasting events. I was taught to sip and savour malt whisky, slowly and considerately. Online tastings are the whisky equivalent to speed dating, populated by people sycophantically repeating the press release which arrived with the free samples. That and the tendency to write utter nonsense (‘like drinking a florists’, ‘with the taste of the worn carpet at my granny’s old people’s home – good golly).

 

ATW:  With Mark Reynier’s Waterford Distillery about to make waves in Ireland, much as he was able to do with Bruichladdich in Scotland, do you foresee a future where Ireland gains a little more of a competitive edge against Scotland’s whisky dominance?

DR:  Oh it’s not just Mark Reynier. There are new distilleries springing up all over Ireland, Alex Chasko at Teeling and The Irishman’s Bernard Walsh are making some fabulous whiskeys, Irish Distillers has given a new lease of life to Irish pot still whiskey, which at its very best is up there with even the finest Scotch. Ireland is well and truly back in the game, is exuding confidence, and will deliver scores of wonderful whiskeys within a decade.

 

ATW:  Which other distilleries, brands or styles are you excited about going forward?

DR:  I love what is coming out of Sweden – Spirit of Hven, Box and the moments series from Mackmyra and Australia – Lark, Overeem and the wonderfully wacky independent bottlings from Heartwood. All the New World ones mentioned earlier, too. The new Naarangi release from Amrut is a beauty and in contention to be World Single Malt of the Year in my Wizards of Whisky Awards, which we’re currently in the process of judging. Watch the Alpine region, too. These guys have a long history of distilling but have only just successfully adjusted to the demands of malt production. I’m tasting some great whisky often aged just four or five years. I still love my Islay whiskies, and think Bowmore has released some stunning whiskies in  the last couple of years. I’m a big fan of Balvenie at the moment, too. But it changes a lot.

 

ATW:  A recent run-in between Compass Box and the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) regarding acceptable and ‘legal’ degrees of transparency rankled a lot of whisky lovers around the world.  Assuming you’ve been abreast of the discussions, do you think enough is being done at the level of the SWA and higher (British government??) to adapt to current public opinion?  Or are the loudest dissenters still a small enough faction to warrant an approach such as ‘ignore them, they’ll go away’?

DR:  To be honest I know nothing about this. Nothing at all. That’s bad, isn’t it? But in my defence I have my hands full with a book project and my work elsewhere away from Scotch. And ever since my illness I’ve made a point of turning off and tuning out after a day’s work and am off the pace with a lot of what is going on in Scotland  or with Scotch whisky. What i would say in general about the Scotch Whisky Association is that it was built as a fortress to defend Scotch whisky and it performs its role very well. The rules it has work for Scotch, and I believe it shouldn’t fix what’s not broken. I’m all for progress and innovation, but I don’t believe that the SWA should compromise on its standards or adapt to anyone.

 

ATW:  Another great and recent controversy has arisen with Jim Murray’s award to Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye of ‘World Whisky Of The Year’.  I believe you and Jim have a rather friendly relationship, so we’ll tread lightly here, but how do you weigh in on this?  Is it fair to question his integrity in awarding a whisky such as this with top honours?  And personally – whether you’ve tasted it or not – do you think the selection merits questioning?

DR:  We have a cordial relationship, and I am quoted on his Bible as saying that he is the best whisky writer in the world, and I think he is. Professionally I respect his honesty and frankness and I have stayed at his home for a few days and watched him work. He is extremely thorough and gifted. In my mind, he is a whisky Jimi Hendrix.

But Jim is highly opinionated, seemingly arrogant, blunt to the point of being rude, and he can be incredibly undiplomatic and insensitive, so he has made enemies.

Funnily enough, he contacted me over the integrity issue, and comments which appeared in the national press last week. I have a very clear view on this: to question a writer’s integrity and suggest that award selections were made for anything but altruistic reasons is bordering on libellous and is utterly and totally indefensible. Such comments were designed to damage Jim’s reputation. I think there are many who resent and envy Jim’s revered status among many whisky drinkers.

Okay, so once again Jim has produced a top five list with no Scotch on it. What exactly is the criticism of this list? Which one of the whiskies he has chosen isn’t excellent, including the Crown Royal one? And please name the Scotch whisky that should have made that top five but didn’t.

Of course the Scotch whisky industry is going to be affronted, particularly after all the criticism made against it this year as outlined throughout this interview. But Jim is entitled to his view, he knows more about the subject than virtually anyone I know, and he has a reputation to maintain. He’s hardly going to sacrifice it by compromising his integrity, is he? I think the people suggesting otherwise are gutless and contemptible.

 

ATW:  As a follow-up, is this a matter of ‘the ends justifying the means’ if Jim’s goal is to elevate Canadian whisky to the level of the public’s eye?  If so, is this an approach that you can support?

DR:  Jim has championed whisky from every part of the world for years. I rarely go to a distillery anywhere in the world that he hasn’t visited first. t have every copy of his Whisky Bible and he was scoring Canadian whisky in the mid 90s from the start. More than that, Canada has one of the most insular whisky industries on the planet and shows very little interest in growing its reputation worldwide. I think Jim tasted a great whisky, scored it highest, and made it his whisky of the year. That’s it. I doubt it even crossed his mind that it was Canadian and that the award would help boost Canadian whisky in general. Canada can make great whisky is hardly a news story is it?

 

ATW:  I recall hearing/reading not too long ago that you had a couple of ventures on the horizon, be they books or whatnot.  Can you share what comes next for Dom Roskrow?

DR:  I am three quarters the way through writing a book for publication in America and Asia next September, and the publishers hope to get a European and Australasian distributor in early 2016. I also heard last night that contracts are being drawn up for another book project with Gavin Smith for January, but that’s not confirmed. And there is another big project in the pipeline that will mean major changes for me. It’s very much under wraps right now but it’s big and if it goes ahead it will mean me returning to full time employment. Sorry to be so vague but it’s out of my control.

 

ATW:  And finally…given an open platform (right here and now), what message would you most like to see taken to heart by 1) whisky lovers and 2) the industry as a whole?

DR:  All I’d like to say is that all of us are part of a very big family and we have lots of different interests. there are millions of whisky drinkers who drink standard blends and adore them. And at the other end we are seeing regionalised whiskies adapted for the palates of the drinkers in the country that produces them. Whisky is a wonderful and varied spirit which most of the time hits the mark. We should be careful not to over-focus on the bits of it which are not as good as we might like. There may be issues within the world of whisky, but we are still enjoying the most exciting, dynamic and diverse spirit on the planet. Not only that, wherever I go I meet great people. Perhaps we pay too much attention to the internet and online commentary, and not enough time to the people who make it and the folk we meet when we share it. There’s a lot of wonderful whisky out there. Let’s celebrate that.

Golly that sounds glib. You can tell that the All Blacks are world champions and Leicester City are top of the league, can’t you?

Thanks, Dom.  Appreciate your taking the time out to answer these.

 

 – ATW

 Posted by at 1:42 pm

  78 Responses to “An Interview With Dominic Roskrow”

  1. Interesting and thought-provoking. Excellent questions, Curt, most of which were answered, some which were slightly skirted. I agree that blends are being given a higher profile by distillers these days. Many offer a good, affordable alternative to single malts. I’ll just cite Cutty Sark Prohibition as an example. At 50%ABV, non-chill filtered and cheap by comparison to the lowliest NAS malt, it stands up well to many single malts at double the price.

    I think I could, however, come up with quite a number of Scotch singe malt whiskies that could very easily knock the Crown Royal off Murray’s top five list. I have one before me right now: Bowmore Tempest 10 YO release #6. Very tasty.

  2. Interesting interview. Some moments of contradiction. Not everyone can afford a Ferrari, so people should back off being critical of high priced whiskies…at the same time he sees whiskey as people’s drink. Which is it? High priced luxury (esp for NAS malts) or the drink of the Everyman?
    He was also hugely critical of people who were critical of Murray’s choice for whiskey of the year. I’m curious to know your reaction to his calling people who were critical, or suggested that Murray wasn’t entirely on the level with his choice, gutless.

    • I guess you can count yourself among the “gutless and contemptible,” Curt. Welcome to the club.

      I’ll be very interested to see what Dom’s “return to full time employment” entails.

      • That’s fine, because Dom’s point is not wrong. It IS contemptible to smear someone based on speculation. Doesn’t mean many of us don’t do it from time to time, but unless there is anything tangible, it is a libelous path forward and people should tread lightly. Noone wants their name dragged through the mud based on hearsay and conjecture. Just saying.

        Do I question him? Absolutely. I have my own thoughts and disinclinations to much of what he does, but in terms of some of Jim’s views…I completely agree (i.e. sulphur IS a flaw*, reviewers should not add water when publishing reviews for the public*, etc).

        In case you haven’t noticed…I’m ok with being the bad guy too. I just try to do so with a mind to not taking it too personally. Think of it as two ultra-competitive fighters who get in a ring, try to pound the shit out of each other for twelve rounds, then shake hands with respect afterwards.

  3. A lot of good questions and a lot of slippery answers. “I like tough questions and won’t duck. I’m a journalist after all, and hope to answer as people would answer me.” – Dom’s achieved it here … just as if he was interviewing Nick Morgan.

    “The problem here (regarding NAS) is that there is no consistent message or story. You can’t tell people that it takes 12 years to make a quality Scottish single malt one minute, and then tell them that age doesn’t matter the next.”

    Roskrow COMPLETELY softballs the issue here, but at least he knows what it is. Gosh, Dom, I hate to break it to you, but you CAN tell people that it takes 12 years to make a quality Scottish single malt one minute, and then tell them that age doesn’t matter the next – it’s EXACTLY what IS being done by the industry ALL THE FUCKING TIME!!! – GODDAMN DAILY!!! – and the technical term for it is “a LIE” (did they teach you about those as a reporter?). Forget about “telling someone a consistent story”, how about telling them the truth: age matters to the character of whisky and its influence doesn’t, and can’t, depend on the label used or simply not discussing age?

    As much as he might be “a maverick” on some issues (or styles himself as one), on NAS, Dom’s an industry apologist: there’s a clear logic problem with NAS marketing, but Dom has “absolutely no problems with Non Age Statement whisky per se” and, of course, this or that is a “fabulous” NAS whisky, or someday will be. So, again, we worry about the industry’s supply and demand problems from an industry perspective while ignoring the lies the industry tells. Sorry, it’s all utter bullshit.

    “I think we should also challenge those who claim to be offering an objective defence of bad whiskies but are merely acting as an extended arm of the company’s marketing department”.

    How about challenging bad and deceptive marketing and those who defend it as an extended arm of the company’s marketing department? Not at all on Dom’s radar, which is exactly why I don’t trust Dom. Everybody who wants to help the industry on NAS always runs back to the quality argument because it is, at least, an argument of some type – and because NO ONE, Dom included, can argue that NAS makes sense in terms of what it says about age maturation. Not “ducking the issue”, just like Broom and Klimek… AND Nick Morgan? Tell me another one.

    “What I would say in general about the Scotch Whisky Association is that it was built as a fortress to defend Scotch whisky and it performs its role very well. The rules it has work for Scotch, and I believe it shouldn’t fix what’s not broken. I’m all for progress and innovation, but I don’t believe that the SWA should compromise on its standards or adapt to anyone.”

    What’s actually true is that the SWA was built as a fortress to defend the interests of leading Scotch whisky COMPANIES and it performs its role very well, largely forgetting consumers where their interests diverge from those of the industry itself. Looking for reform in the industry? Don’t look to Dom or the SWA for help. It’s precisely why consumers have to stand up for themselves.

    And… finally…

    Mizunara was, if anything, underpriced at £650?

    Jim Murray is a whisky Jimi Hendrix?

    At least Dom’s good for a laugh.

    I know: I was somehow way too tough on Dom… but everything I’ve said is true and I’m the bad cop anyway.

    • Jeff, when it comes to NAS, you are Harvey Keitel’s “Bad Lieutenant.” Now that’s a bad cop. 🙂

    • All valid points, of course, Jeff. I’d expect no less from you. Your dissective and analytical skills are second to none.

      As to the rest…I think I’ve responded to most points in all the other comments I’ve responded to in this thread. I’d just be rehashing to do so again here.

      Cheers.

  4. Ok. Here’s the deal, guys…

    I truly appreciate all of the passions and incredibly educated debate (some of what goes on here is second to nowhere else on the web) but it’s gonna be pretty fucking difficult to get people to come here and contribute – whether it’s via interviews, writings or comments – if they get nothing but contempt and insults in return.

    The simple fact of the matter is that Dom (or anyone else for that matter) didn’t have to do this. He spent a lot of his own time articulating responses that are by FAR more legit than almost anyone else will give you. There was no pay or incentive for this aside from a couple of guys willing to throw out a dialogue for debate. I’m sure that’s what we both want, but there has be a boundary as to how the discussion is handled from there. Dom has spent years developing his opinions, which he has given freely here – and more importantly, to which he is absolutely entitled, just as any of us are. Just because they may not completely align with some of our own does not invalidate them and merit the hostility.

    I’ll be the first to say that while Dom and I are lockstep in some things we are definitely out of sync in others, but at the end of the day…it’s a fucking drink, and not worth hurting someone who isn’t hurting me.

    In short…let’s all play nice. Points can be made and kept, but respectfully please.

    Cheers.

    Now back to our regularly scheduled drams… 🙂

    • I understand where you’re coming from and that people hopping on board to participate in an interview adds new layers to the site and the discussions one is able to partake in on it. I also understand that some of the answers given were objectively confusing given that he contradicted himself multiple times and was a bit of apologist re: NAS whiskey. Objectively, such things will largely garner a negative response.
      I had never heard of him before reading the interview, so my first impression was based solely upon that. If a person is unwilling to open themselves up to criticism based on the impression they’re giving then who cares if they want to participate in an interview in the first place? It is not as if the deck was stacked against him. The criticism is stemming from the answers he gave – which, once again, could be viewed objectively as somewhat questionable. This isn’t like a democrat on Fox News, who is destined to fail. This is a whiskey writer on a whiskey site who is defending high prices on young (albeit at times tasty) NAS whiskey. And he called anyone who would be critical of Mr. Murray gutless. Those are inflammatory statements.

      • Morning, Dave.

        I get where you’re coming from too, and I’m not interceding on behalf of Dom or to suggest anyone play ‘soft’ball. And point of fact, I’m not even really speaking to Dom’s interview at all. The point I’m trying to make is that if we want industry people (be they authors, producers, bloggers, vloggers, managers, whatever) to engage with us they need to be shown some level of decency and not simply denigrated.

        Someone debating contributing here – whom we’d like to hear from – may read some of this and say ‘forget it…I can’t win. Not gonna do it’ when they see what happens when others open up. Again…question the status quo – Dom LOVES that stuff – but do so in a manner that recognizes we’re not debating life-threatening shit here, but a drink of which we’re all enamoured.

        Criticism and questions are fine, but – not to pick on my mate Jeff here – something like ‘at least Dom’s good for a laugh’ is rather condescending. My two cents.

        Anyway…I like having these folks share their thoughts and experiences. It enriches the whole experience for all of us. I’ve learned incredible amounts over the years from Jim Murray, Dom, Charlie MacLean, Michael Jackson, Ralfy Mitchell, Ian Buxton, Serge Valentin, the Maniacs and many others, but that doesn’t mean I 100% agree with any of them. Like anything in life…take it all in, apply your own filters and move forward. Preferably positively.

        Great comments here so far, irrespective of the manner of delivery. Cheers, all.

        …and don’t worry, Jeff. You’re still my favorite here. 😉

        • Thank you very much and back atcha’. You can’t do this in other places; they turn off the mic.

          Fair enough on the above, but I don’t think anyone denies Dom his right to his opinion; it’s just that if Jim Murray is the Jimi Hendrix of whisky, then my buddy, the Scotch Guru, is at least the Chet Atkins of whisky, and I know of several candidates for Carlos Santana, Mark Knopfler and Les Paul – and if it’s about supposed low blows and the problems of condescension, someone should ask the Malt Maniacs what they now think of Roskrow, given his comments in the context that he admittedly knows “virtually nothing about them” (haha). The tone of Dom’s own comments was “gloves off”, and a “rough and ready” attitude was one of the virtues of the piece from the outset; I didn’t think that criticism of it had to be any more circumspect.

          It’s true that Dom didn’t have to do the interview, but I didn’t read much in it that helped me, or stood to help me, as a consumer either. We see bad whisky makers criticised in the abstract and good ones praised in the specific. The logical contradiction inherent in NAS is both identified and then inexplicably let drop, somehow leaving no problems with NAS. Issues with the power and intent of the SWA don’t need reform and people who question exorbitant pricing need to “get over it” – and part of the problem with the Mizunara touched on things that Dom brought up: claptrap about wood management/superiority in conjunction with the paradox that time IN cask is relatively, and selectively, unimportant. When Dom describes it as “under-priced”, is that as a collectible whisky or as a drinkable whisky, because there’s a large distinction.

          Put on top of the above the ideas that most people are somehow fucking up their criticism of the industry, either in their execution or their attitude, and that everybody should chill, appreciate Scotland, and just reflect on just how awesome whisky is, and I don’t see all that much that differs in tone, if not in specifics, from what Nick Morgan could have said (but I’d like to see an interview with him too, if only to compare).

          The questions were as tactfully put as any I’ve read and, unfortunately, I came away with less respect for Dom than I went in with, but my reaction was answer based. On the plus side, it WAS a good Q&A and, going forward, I think most people here stand for dealing with any notable guest’s ideas fairly, albeit directly.

          “For me whisky is a leveller, it’s not about elitism.”

          Damn straight.

          Sláinte!

          • I think Dom’s point about under-pricing the Bowmore Mizunara was as “a good for sale on the open market.”

            If all of your product sells out immediately at the price you set, then you set the price too low.

          • Then the answer, Jas, is that it doesn’t matter why it sold out, so long as it did, which, like many things currently said about whisky, is true as far as business is concerned, just as it’s true that a business perspective doesn’t tell you everything that’s true about whisky. Undervalued as a collectible as opposed to a drinkable are still two different things, but people don’t like to make the distinction because it kills the prestige whisky market (see The Paterson Collection).

        • “…and don’t worry, Jeff. You’re still my favorite here. ”

          I am SOOOOOOO HURT!

  5. Interesting and thought provoking, thanks to both of you for the Q&A.

    I’ll cast myself as being somewhat disappointed in some of the answers but that’s a subjective view from my perspective. Mostly its the NAS issue that disappointed with respect to Scotch whisky. While he may well enjoy some of the current bottlings such as Founder’s Reserve, I think Jeff has repeatedly pointed out the danger of falling for that aspect of the industry. Initial bottlings may well be quite good, the same could likely be said for Macallan Amber which seems to have replaced the 12 sherry. But how will the product taste two years down the line when Macallan continues to have a degree of success and is able to tweak the recipe just enough so that most won’t notice when they pick up a new bottle, but the difference is actually stunning if you still have the old bottle around. The likely change is a further reduction in age of the whisky, more than likely with an oddly coincidental price increase. Why? Because the marketing team is driving it and wants more profit to be squeezed out of the process for share holders.
    It’s a lack of a consistent message from the Distiller’s that is the issue. Either age matters or it doesn’t. If indeed it does not, explain both the pricing discrepancy (sure it’s more “rare” but it may not taste better just because it’s older – I’d dearly love to see a distillery put out that tidbit) and why so many of the companies that are shifting to NAS have curiously retained their older age statement whiskies. Please also elucidate why it mattered for the past 25 years that I’m aware of directly but now it doesn’t. I grew up on whisky reading advertisements from the single malt side of things that indicated age matters. A ten is better than an eight but a twelve outperforms that ten. You’d best have a good salary for the fifteen or your wife will have your Scotch rocks. So were ya lying to us then, or are ya lying to us now?

    • Exactly. As has been said many times. You’ve articulated it well.

      Here’s the thing…I think most of us would be ok with the brands having an NAS expression or two in their stable provided that 1) it wasn’t a replacement for the age-stated line, but a supplement 2) it was priced as an entry level malt, as we can only assume it is built on youth 3) quality was to remain consistent and 4) we weren’t fed some bullshit marketing spiel to go with it, suggesting that age doesn’t matter.

      If that were the case I could simply dismiss these ones, as someone who would rather buy the products that I have the means for which to weigh value and make educated purchasing decisions, and move on with my life. The reality is that these criteria will never be met. These ARE being released (with increasing consistency) as replacements for age-stated malts; the pricing is far from entry level and in many cases well-outstripping their age-stated stablemates; there is no guarantee of consistency, as there is no standards of measure for what goes into the bottlings; and we will ALWAYS be fed shit by marketing departments for any purchase (not limited to whisky). Ergo…we fight on against he NAS bullshit that is plaguing the industry. At some point we reflect back on this as a ‘dark age’.

      • This I agree with. As I’ve said before, don’t replace AS whisky that is good with much younger NAS AND charge more (Nadurra!!!!). I will buy Ardbeg and Glenmorangie as they don’t do that AND their special NAS releases are pretty good.

        Mr. Roskow is entitled to his view and can say (or mainly avoid) what he wishes, but it’s not necessary to come off as a prick. I generally don’t go by the opinions of anyone but a few that seem to have similar palates, and he’s not in that group,
        so I didn’t even read all his comments.

      • “1) it wasn’t a replacement for the age-stated line, but a supplement 2) it was priced as an entry level malt, as we can only assume it is built on youth 3) quality was to remain consistent and 4) we weren’t fed some bullshit marketing spiel to go with it, suggesting that age doesn’t matter.”

        Yep, that nails it. I remain open to Aberlour A’bunadh because to me it preceded the NAS stampede, it seemed to be introduced as a product that was understood to have inherent variability in the batches (or least was understood after a few batches passed) and it doesn’t/didn’t replace anything in the lineup that has an AS that I’m aware of. It also seems to have remained most stable in price, though it seems batch 50 may signal a switch, otherwise why am I still able to buy #49 in Manitoba for $80 while Alberta is paying $100+ for #50. Don’t know if that signals anything significant though.

        • That may have nothing to do with Aberlour. LCBO has raised the price by 10 cents since 2011, now $95. May be pricing province wide or the new tax increase on liquor in Alberta

      • I think Curt’s comment is pretty interesting because it illustrates two points. The first, and it is a point of division between consumers, is that NAS marketing has flaws that bother people to very different degrees (age-statement product replacement, questionable pricing, product consistency and silly justifications). The second point is that these things are part of a single whole and, to me, the entire thing hinges on the logic problem at NAS’ centre: “age only matters where the industry says it does”. Once you (the consumer) swallow that key lie about the product you’re buying, all else follows in terms of it being both permissible and justified. You’ve already agreed that age doesn’t matter – not to you (sorry that’s largely immaterial anyway, because cask maturation doesn’t happen TO you), but to the whisky you’re buying – so the loss of AS expressions, price vs. cost of holding time, composition in terms of age and the illogical shit you’ve already acquiesced to can’t matter either; hell, you’ve said so with every NAS bottle you’ve bought, so producers acting ON what YOU’VE already told them is hardly unfair. People play up the consequences of the choices they make while playing down their responsibility for the choices themselves. NAS isn’t working out like many consumers hoped? They only have themselves to blame and only they can remedy the situation.

        Consumers may differ on the degree to which the consequences of NAS have come to roost with different products and brands, but where is the right to complain about the consequences where there isn’t opposition to the source of the problem? You get the market you support and, if you’re a frog knowingly being boiled, how can complain about the temperature of the water?

        • Fair comment.

          Question: If I’ve purchased 24 bottles of whisky in the calendar year and three of them are batch 49 of A’bunadh (the only three NAS bottles I own), am I driving the problem?

          Consider it what you will. You’re pretty absolute on this (well, take away the “pretty” part) and I definitely see your point. In an odd turnabout, I’m seeing the grey areas and that there are some decent NAS products. It’s a turnabout because I’m usually a black and white kind of guy. But in this instance I see a little more of the grey because there are products/distilleries that were doing the NAS thing before it became a way to compensate for popularity of product and the marketing teams went “look, we can put lipstick on the pig and the suckers will still buy it”. Your position is none of that matters (as I interpret it) and none of us should buy any NAS whisky, regardless of rationalization.

          So where’s the right to complain? Well 87.5% of the whisky I bought this year was age statement whisky. Batch 50 of A’bunadh seems to be both more expensive and less tasty than 49. So once we’ve sold out locally of 49 I’ll likely be 100% on age statement whisky again (and it’s unlikely I’ll actually buy another bottle of whisky before A’bunadh 49 runs out given it is Christmas season). But an insidious trend doesn’t mean batch 49 is necessarily evil to me. I’m in a limited market with some of the worst pricing in the country. I’m Scottish by descent, Winnipegger by birth and there’s probably some Dutch thrown in the mix back down the line – you don’t get any tighter than that. So the 49 is an exception to the rule IMO and right now a very good whisky that after adding water to my taste gives me 1+1/3 bottles for a lower price than I can buy other comparable stuff for. That’s good value. And I’m all about value purchases with respect to whisky. If I’m contributing to the rise of NAS on that basis, well, all I can say is the percentage will dwindle ever more over time (unless batch 51 turns out to be both good and cheaper – highly unlikely on the latter point) and that’s all I have to offer you. I dearly wish I was in a market where I had greater choices and if I could wander into a Liquor Barn or the like and find a single cask, 12 year old BenRiach on sale for $55 I’d never even consider NAS whisky because my choices would be vast. As it is I have access to generic products (5 sizes of Glenfiddich 12!) and grossly overpriced product that might well be good, but my budget doesn’t support purchases like that.

          I disagree that I’ve swallowed the NAS lie. While I’m not as adamant about it with particular exceptions, I definitely see where it is driving the industry. Perhaps in my case it is nothing more than a rationalization. Unfortunately I think those of us that are to greater or lesser degrees adamantly opposed to the NAS trend (rest assured if the price of bringing back age statement whiskies en masse to the industry was me smashing my three measly bottle of A’bunadh on the sidewalk, I’m all in) form a vast minority. I’m stuck with a provincially run liquor commission that is a monopoly. And any time I walk into one of those stores and spend more than a minute in the whisky section I can watch a lot of people come in and buy on the basis of price, because mostly they are gift purchases it seems and they look at it and go “well the Storm must be better than the 10 because it costs more”. People are, in the vast majority of cases on the vast majority of subjects, ignorant. I don’t say it to be mean or crass, it just is what it is. We spend our time reading about whisky. Way, way, WAY more people watch dancing with the stars. But the majority simply isn’t interested in NAS whiskies and whether they are good, bad or indifferent so long as Uncle Bob gets a “nice” whisky for Christmas. That’s who’s driving the market, them and the guys that fall for the new packaging and the guys who are lapping up the Macallan color spectrum because they are “Macallan” guys through and through. And again, there are more of them than there are of you and I. I was and to a lesser degree am a Macallan guy, that’s the whisky I “grew up on” but you’re more likely to shoot me than see me buying an amber or gold or chartreuse or whatever.

          That’s the beauty of blogs like this, edumacation, in the words of the truly great Homer. But again, in spite of a million plus hits, it’s still a minority that are even aware of the issue.

          • This is the problem in terms of fighting NAS: I see your points as well. There are good expressions, and good values out there despite the fact that they are NAS. NAS IS still a lie as it applies to these bottles – they are no less influenced by their age by having it concealed than any other whisky – but they are still good whiskies, so it is a grey area in terms of the damage NAS has done to those specific expressions so far, yet still an example of the same damage in terms of people swallowing, and becoming acclimatized to, a lie. There are many NAS current whiskies that I would buy, if someone would put an age statement on them – and I’m definitely running out of new whisky to buy as well as NAS spreads and helps drive the price of age statements up.

            Just as, in practical terms, the concealment of age doesn’t make some great NAS whiskies any less great, NAS was still a lie from the very outset, and it was as true of the first Glenfiddich NAS as it is of the copy/homage marketed today – and if the great ones are used to justify the NAS marketing of other whisky and TO acclimatize people to that marketing, they aren’t necessarily harmless overall.

            In practical terms of fighting NAS, it’s true that it may not be possible to defeat it, only oppose it, but we’ll never find out about the former without doing the latter. Another issue is that, like global warming, people contribute to the NAS problem in the aggregate, but their individual opposition won’t, by itself, result in change. The only real hope is to raise enough of a stink to put it on the radar of some decision makers, and this is why we need more people speaking out on more forums and in more venues. The three main arguments for not fighting NAS: there are some good ones, I /we can’t change things alone, and I’m running out of other affordable options to buy, are all true as far as they go, but they don’t address the issue of the impossibility of suspending the physics of age maturation, or assigning to producers the right to decide when this occurs and, as many acknowledge, NAS is resulting in the reality of worse whisky overall. Things may just have not reached the tipping point yet.

        • Interesting points. I’ve been thinking about this.

          Age (well, TIME) DOES matter (when other variables are controlled for) in the maturation of whisky. But does KNOWING the age matter to the quality of the whisky? No, absolutely not.

          We don’t need to know what is in the stuff we consume for it to taste good. The only exception is home-made stuff that we want to learn to replicate to pass doen the generations.

          So, I don’t care how long my neighbour fermented her Kim-Chi. But I do want more information on how my whisky was produced.

          The big issue with NAS is that for people who WANT to know, the info isn’t there, and we have seen the industry “abuse” the consumer as has been mentioned quite a bit in the past.

          • True, knowing the age doesn’t matter in terms of the whisky once bottled; it’s still the same whisky and will be even if I buy a Glenfiddich 12, bring it home and rip the label off. But if removing the age metric results in abuse (or if that WAS the reason TO remove it in the first place), and the denial of the influence of age is simply nonsensical from the outset in terms of logic and physics, NAS isn’t harmless. No one would currently accept the same reasoning with ABV as with NAS – “it only matters where we producers say it does anyway and so changing it without notice is OK” – but largely because consumers haven’t been acclimatized to it.

            People don’t just “want to know” age for the sake of knowing it – they’re not asking for the shoe size of the still operator – age has a proven impact on the product and is legitimate product information. It ain’t trivia just because people often live in ignorance of it. If your neighbours cooked you something and you got food poisoning from it, you might well want to know how things were prepared before sitting down to supper with them again.

          • Now Jeff,

            There’s a big difference between food poisoning and knowing how long the Kim-chi has been fermenting. The pro-NAS argument isn’t “who cares as long as it is bad”, it’s “who cares as long as it is good.”

            Unless you want to make it yourself you don’t NEED the details in order to enjoy something.

            And Veritas has a point. Age is not a factor in whisky maturation. The factors are wood, environment, initial spirit and TIME.

            I mean look at the difference between Glenfiddich 12 YO and Bladnoch 11 YO. 1 year different but the Bladnoch far, far superior.

            So I would say that the industry is correct when they say that age in and of itself doesn’t matter. What they don’t say is that maturation matters and they ought to tell us how they mature the spirit and include the amount of time.

            Remember Springbank Claret wood? They told us how much time in each type of barrel. That’s what I’d like to see.

          • Now Athena,

            There’s a big difference in how sick it makes you, but not in the principle involved: how things are prepared matters. How good or how bad something is still on the same continuum.

            Unless I want to make something myself, I don’t need the details to enjoy it (I enjoy a blind tasting like the next guy) but the details of how it was prepared still matter to the final product, which is the point (I don’t like blind purchasing just because it makes producers happy). These factors contributing to whisky character, including age, have a reality of their own, independent of people’s opinions and/or knowledge of them: tribes that have never had a theory of gravity still can’t fly and still have tribe members die from falling – and a Brora 23 is still the whisky it is, in part, because it’s 23 years old, whether the label has been removed or not.

            “Age is not a factor in whisky maturation. The factors are wood, environment, initial spirit and TIME.” – you’re just talking semantics here, trying to look clever. Keep trying. Telling you about a whisky “including the time” is to tell you its age, and the process of “time in cask” has been referred to as “age maturation” for quite some… time.

            “So I would say that the industry is correct when they say that age in and of itself doesn’t matter.” – so what whiskies do you know of that could be aged for twice or half as long and, with all other factors held constant, would still be the same whiskies? The industry, and people like Dave Broom, will tell you EXACTLY that maturation matters; what they often omit is that age is a factor in maturation, and so age matters too.

          • Jeff, I don’t think Athena was trying to be clever.

            I think Athena IS clever, correctly pointing out that time is only one factor in the maturation process.

            As correctly pointed out, there is a tremendous difference in quality between Bladnoch 11 and fiddich. 12, for that matter, Talisker 10 beats it as well, and all are approximately the same age. At the same time, Amrut churns out great stuff at less than 5 years (I am talking about age stated stuff).

            So clearly, telling us the age is not enough.

          • Jeff, I hope you’re not suggesting Kim-Chi makes you sick. I’ve seen evidence quite to the contrary, and in fact growing evidence of the benefits of pro-biotics to the microbiome.

            Athena is not trying to be be clever, Athena is correct in pointing out that age itself is not a helpful metric. If you look at the time it takes to mature Kavalan and Amrut and compare it to ‘Livet, a bottle of Scotch at the same age as the other two might be undrinkable (unless it’s Octomore).

            I think The “purist” in me thinks that transparency is good, but ALL the information should be there. I tried an age stated 13 YO G&M Mortlach that was supposedly matured in a sherry cask but if I had known the sherry cask was more tired than a surgical resident after a year of 1 in 2 call, I might not have plunked down $100 for the bottle.

            So I agree, age s\doesn’t matter, degree of maturation matters, and does that give distillers more leeway in choosing casks based on quality? YES!

            That said, not telling us what those casks are, how many times they were used, etc… is still wrong.

            So you’re both correct.

          • Well, if she is being clever, it’s only a demonstration that clever is a very relative term – I’m well aware that age is only one aspect of maturation, and I’ve said so numerous times. What? A single piece of information doesn’t tell you everything and no piece of information tells you anything out of context? Very good, and I’ve retyped the point yet again because I couldn’t be bothered to look it up where I’ve typed it before to copy and paste it, but I’ve taken the point itself as read for quite some time. The age of Kavalan and Amrut tells me just as much in the context of those two whiskies as the age of Glenlivet tells me in the context of that whisky; what’s often missing with Kavalan and Amrut (and increasingly with Glenlivet) are product age statements to provide context.

            And if maturation matters and age is one aspect of maturation, then age matters; people playing word/emphasis games with this fact won’t ever make it less true. The entire “leeway/flexibility” argument for NAS, however, is pure bollocks; the industry has always bottled exactly what it wanted to and age statements never prevented that, it’s just that if you elect to use younger whisky you should use younger age statements to reflect it. The current issue around NAS isn’t one of flexibility, it’s one of subterfuge.

  6. Great interview I thought. The questions certainly were uncompromising and I appreciate that. Dom seemed candid enough in his responses, though, I would like to see a stronger stance on calling a spade a spade (re NAS whiskies).

    Yes, we all know some are good and fabulous and that’s never been the issue. It’s the greedy profiteering on the back of them that is the bone of contention for many whisky lovers such as you and I and this almost always comes back to the issue of transparency. Which is why it would have been interesting to see what his views on the whole Compass Box vs SWA debacle would have been.

    I guess there would be at least one person in the world who likes Jim Murray and if Dom happens to be the one then more power to him. I agree that it’s not fair to accuse someone of bribe taking just because you don’t agree with their opinion. I have been guilty of doing that too through a passing remark in one of my reviews and totally regret it. The fact that he’s an over-pompous loon doesn’t automatically make him a cheat. Unless proven otherwise it’s only fair to assume his innocence. Still don’t like him, though.

    I don’t know much about the Maniacs other than Serge who’s writings I regularly read. I like him a fair bit and interact with him on the MMF FB page. He comes across as straight forward and no-nonsense. Don’t know if as a collective they are something else but atleast they encourage regular debate on a range of whisky issues on social media at least. And that’s always a good thing.

    Dom mentioned Online Tastings to be the equivalent of speed-dating. Just out of curiosity how long should one ideally spend with a glass of whisky when reviewing it? From personal experience I feel anything less than 20 minutes is doing the spirit disservice and anything over an hour is probably starting to take it a bit far. Sure, I’ve left whiskies to breathe for hours on end just to see what happens. Then added a drop of water and left it again for a few more and come back to it. Sure. But those are the exception and not the norm. Online or Tweet Tastings as they are called allow you to sit with a whisky for about an hour and take in views from different folks from around the world. I have participated in a few and didn’t feel rushed or pressured to praise it because it came from a distillery/PR firm. On the contrary there was one instance (won’t name the whisky here) which got absolutely slagged and rightly so. Because it was shit. And to be fair if I honestly taste ‘worn carpet at my granny’s old people’s home’ then so be it. I for one am always looking to describe my whiskies as honestly and as accurately as possible. Do I sometimes skirt the boundaries of douche-baggery? Sure. But am I always honest? 100% of the time.

    I know you didn’t ask for my opinion but you’ve got it anyway. Great interview. Loved reading it. I’m up early on the weekend and couldn’t have thought of a better way of spending it. Cheers!

    • PS – Your Talisker is not on the right latitude 😉

    • Hi, Tab. Good to hear from you, mate.

      Agreed. I question Murray’s ethics on a lot of things. My reasons aren’t simply tied to what malts he elects to award top marks to, but based on a number of issues, many of which are not appropriate for a public forum (though others are airing that kind of crap elsewhere). But the fact of the matter is, as you point out, innocent until proven guilty. Jim does his thing and it happens to be controversial. I have read good debates for and against what he does. My two cents: He’s obsolete. His marks are senseless to the point of being useless (as Jeff has pointed out), as there is simply no consistent frame of reference. His tasting event rules are ludicrous and nonsensical. His agenda is transparent (to me, anyway) and not necessarily coming from a place of good intent, though it does lead to good things in many ways. Etc etc. On the other hand, I do believe he is the most talented whisky WRITER out there. He handles words like a master and makes the rest of us look like we should be jotting grocery lists instead.

      Anyway…I could write novels here in response, but we’ll stop there for now.

      Cheers!

  7. Dom Roskrow, like many other whisky “journalists”, is very knowledgeable but chooses his words/causes carefully. His recent projects happen to revolve around world whiskies so it is not surprising he skirts around the NAS issue (vast majority of world whisky comes from warmer climes and “age” quicker than Scotch, so come mostly without age statements).

    The way he answered Curt’s questions suggests (to me) the project he’s working on for full-time employment is WITHIN the whisky industry. Sooooooooo, he can’t afford to burn too many bridges (only a fool would do such a thing). If he were planning to exit the industry completely (to start up a heavy equipment rental company, an accounting firm, a car dealership, etc) I can assure you he would be more candid and hold no punches.

    As I’ve said before, the closer one is to an industry, the less likely one will be critical of it. Dom, although considered a renegade compared to others in the industry, IS part of the whisky industry. Therefore, much of what he says must be taken with a grain of salt. I put as much value in Dom talking about Hven/Lark/Overeem/etc as I do Davin deKergommeaux talking about Canadian Whisky, or Jim Murray’s WWOTY – I’m not suggesting they take bribes for recommendations, but they certainly have an interest in the economic success of the industry they write about.

    I understand Curt’s desire to have industry people answer his questions, and for his readers not to be too critical in order not to drive them away. Content is valuable, after all. But, to think ANY of them will offer anything but the industry narrative is naive.

    • Your comment brings into sharp focus my main issue with Roskrow: he prides himself on a brash “truth-telling” style, but he’s very selective about whose ox he’s goring – and it’s not a case of his not being aware of the issues, just which ones he won’t pursue. He can be a very effective whisky critic, but he’s only a whisky critic when he’s not being a whisky promoter, and he can switch hats so quickly that it’s not always easy to catch.

  8. Hi there,

    as everybody has their concerns and interests it is refreshing to read something like the following on a highly problematic issue.

    “‘Not going along’ NAS route
    “Age statements make it clearer to consumers exactly what they are buying and remain important, but on occasions like with the Tun 1401 and 1509, where the whisky in those bottlings ranged from anywhere between 21- and 40-years-old, there was a compelling proposition where we really didn’t want to put an age on and for good reason,” he argues. “Balvenie is not going along that route because we’ve got stocks. For me, age makes it clear and certainly for Balvenie remains important.”

    http://www.thespiritsbusiness.com/2015/12/stewart-balvenie-will-not-go-down-nas-route/2/

    It is this kind of clearness that I miss in much of the published expertise of experts.

    Greetings
    kallaskander

    • I’d like to be optimistic, but I was optimistic after Ian Millar said the same thing. Not long after we were lambasted with Glenfiddich sans age statement, and more reliant on cask names and such. AND the Glenfiddich ‘Original’ (whatever that means).

    • The road to NAS was always paved with good intentions – which demonstrates the value of good intentions alone. With Balvenie, it would be nice to see the cup as more than half full rather than less than half empty but, as per the “out” that Stewart grants himself and his brand, there’s always a “compelling proposition” to use NAS where one has the motivation to look for it. Throwing around age ranges like 21-40 years with Tun 1401 and 1509 is a little paradoxical: age clearly matters in composition and as a selling point (where that age is significant), but no one “can” talk about percentage composition or put minimum age on a label, so we really haven’t come all that far from JW Blue Label in terms of what the consumer “should know”: “hey, trust us, it’s good”.

      Yes, there are a lot of industry people (maybe even Nick Morgan) who, in private conversation and/or on condition of anonymity, would probably agree that NAS isn’t “the way to go” – and who also understand that, even if the wider use of younger whisky is necessary, concealing/denying the importance of age only discredits those who do so – but, as with consumers themselves, it isn’t theoretical sympathy with an anti-NAS stance that’s needed; it’s tangible action upon it.

      It’s an unpopular thing to say, not only because it removes endless debate about NAS as somehow being the perceived point OF talking about NAS – “it’s a very debateable topic; not that I’m taking action myself or recommending that action be taken, but here’s what I think because NAS has become whisky’s new parlour room conversation and everybody should write/say something… blah, blah, blah” – but also because it shifts a lot of the blame to the consumer, but if NAS damages whisky, either because of consumer lack of knowledge, or indifference, or misplaced concern about the industry’s supply problems, consumers have only themselves to blame. As has been pointed out on numerous occasions, NAS “makes sense” in terms of its business goals, so it’s currently a no-brainer for bean counters; there’s no downside because consumers haven’t supplied it. If, in the long run, NAS doesn’t help consumers, well, it was never designed to, and NAS only ever took over because people didn’t stand up against it.

      • I disagree. The road to NAS was not paved with good intentions, unless you consider profit to be a good intention, as that is likely the primary motive.

        I distinguish between the accidental tourist on that road (Amruts, A’Bunadh) that happened to appear when no one really thought about whether removing age statements was an issue, and those who set upon the road (Glenfarclas 105 for example) deliberately.

        • Yeah, in using that turn of phrase, I was thinking a little more about the road’s destination than the composition of its brickwork – although, to hear the industry tell it, it WAS all about good intentions: all the things that NAS “allowed” producers to do with the “shackles” of age statements removed that were, of course, somehow impossible otherwise (though no one could ever say exactly how or why these things were impossible, including simultaneously proving that a lot of whisky was both young and good).

          Yet, as you’ve already identified the profit motive of this brand of marketing, I’m surprised that you cling to the idea that the NAS road as any “accidental tourists” on it, as if someone meant to put age statements on the products you mention and, as bad luck would have it, just forgot to do so (for quite some time now). I don’t draw any distinction between whisky that has lost its age statement and that which never had any; both have completely unnecessary, and nonsensical, stances on the impact of age, and I don’t understand the contrary position because, to me, it’s literally a distinction without a difference (unless it’s forthrightness about dishonesty). If you don’t think that NAS is deliberate wherever and whenever it appears, I have some bridges that I’d like to sell you.

          • I think the point is best made with a medical example.

            There was a time when we did things we didn’t know we’re wrong. No one blames people for using bicarbonate in cardiac arrest for vfib. Now they could be prosecuted.

            There was no “evil” intent when A’Bunadh was created. Traditionally malts and blends carried no age statement until the last 20 or so years.

            No one really paid much attention to whether these occasional expressions had an age statement.

            You can make one of 2 statements.

            1. They were there before the recent trend so they can be allowed to keep doing their thing.

            2. They should get with the times.

            But we should not blame them for the past.

          • Evil’s in the eye of the beholder; what there wasn’t with A’Bunadh was any intent to be honest with consumers about what they were buying, and marketers knew that from the start. Now, as then, there was never any mystery (or certainly any recent “discovery”) at any distillery about whether age matters to whisky; everyone has always willingly accepted, pursued and then tracked a process that they know through long experience costs them at least 2% annually in volume because they know it matters to the final product. Many companies don’t pay attention to sharing age information with the public because they aren’t forced to, yet everyone pays close attention to age in their own warehouses. We still have NAS, yet part of the supposed mandate of producers is to educate customers about whisky? Tell me another one. I’d love to sit in on the vatting production meeting as well as the marketing meeting for A’Bunadh just to see the difference in subterfuge, and to see if any employees do actually attend both meetings.

            I’ll take your word on the bicarbonate, but a more fitting analogy might be that, no matter how many people ever thought the world was flat, it was always round, and the situation with NAS is that the equivalent idea of a flat earth is still being actively propagated by those who always knew it was round but who like to sell both tablet-shaped and spherical globes just because it helps their cash flow.

            I could get past the past if it was in the past, but NAS is still very much in the present; it’s spreading quickly, and I don’t think that’s because of my lack of forgiveness. I’m as magnanimous as the next guy, but I just don’t see any signs of contrition on anyone’s part and the majority of “experts” still won’t even admit that the foundations of NAS transcend physics. In the meantime, I can make this statement: producers should stop blatantly lying about the nature of age maturation and provide the information at point of sale that consumers should have by right of purchase, and people who want to be taken seriously on whisky should stop acquiescing to industry positions which neither they nor the industry can logically defend.

          • Jeff,

            Them’s some strong fightin’ words!

          • Go get em!

            파이팅 !

          • Yeah, too bad more people weren’t fighting NAS but, again, consumers will get the market that they settle for – and if they aren’t part of the solution, they’re part of the problem or part of the landscape.

          • I think that I read somewhere in a Dan Brown novel that the lowest ring of hell is reserved for those who stand by and remain neutral….

            건배 !

  9. I think Jeff was being a bit ironic in his opening line. You make a good point, though, regarding the pre-NAS era high end NAS offerings like A’Bunadh and Amrut and the odd Ardbeg etc.

  10. Hi there,

    yes I know, Men’s Journal but it is so nice to contrast this

    http://www.mensjournal.com/food-drink/collection/end-times-for-aged-whisky-20151210

    with that

    http://scotchnoob.com/2015/12/07/the-macallan-gold-1824-series/

    What is true is that there are only so many fish in a pond and if you are angling them one by one as a single malt or even single cask or use a net to haul them up in bulk to use them in blends – not only for your own but for the whole blending industry – you have to take care in time that there are enough little fish to grow up and to be ready for when you need them.
    That is not easy with the whisky fish as they grow and mature slowly.

    But there would be no harm if you just would tell your customers that in former years you overfished your pond and that now and for some time you just have to catch younger fish to satisfy demand. And tell them how young thes fish are.

    Instead they muddle the water and obfuscate the facts. After a while they find it convenient to be obscure as it opens lots of possibilities to earn more money quicker.
    At the point where turbidity becomes principle we will read more and more articles like the one in Men’s Journal.

    I would like to see more transparency instead of ever more obfuscation, stances like Tomatin took in the wake of the Compass Box “This is Not a Luxury Whisky and Flaming Heart” affair.

    http://www.tomatin.com/blog/2015/11/20/greater-transparency-required

    Bravo Tomatin and more power to you.

    Greetings
    kallaskander

    • Unfortunately, just like Balvenie’s Stewart, above, producers and consumers like to make exceptions for their pet projects (say, Tomatin’s Legacy)… because they like to (or have to) make exceptions for their pet bottles/distilleries/whatever, but it still doesn’t amount to a defense of the marketing (much less an attack on it) – except only, as we know, in that “the good ones” are then used to help justify the rest. The best peated Glenfiddich ever made still wouldn’t justify saying that the distillery was located on Islay, and the people who won’t deal with the fact, not the opinion, that NAS is just as big a lie about whisky as putting Glenfiddich due west of Laphroaig are simply in denial. The impact of age on whisky not only isn’t, but literally can’t be, in any way label dependent; age either matters to all whisky or to none of it, and there’s absolutely no evidence for the latter.

      There’s just a huge number of people producing, marketing, buying, consuming and commenting on whisky who either know very little about it or who are so personally compromised on the subject so as to make their opinions misleading on the topic at best, and NAS is one of the clearest acid tests for that I know of. What Dave Broom, for example, doesn’t know about whisky (particularly in comparison to many others) could probably fit comfortably on a Post-It note, but that’s exactly what makes his views on NAS all the more troubling; it’s not a case of what he doesn’t know, but what he won’t say, in terms of whether NAS actually makes any sense in its message about age maturation that’s the problem.

      On that note, Whisky Advocate came out with a story in its recent Winter Issue called “Does Age Matter” and here are some highlights:

      – Whisky (like publishing magazines) is a business, which seems to account for a lot of sins right there.

      – NAS does have something to do with depleted aged stocks, but this only provided the “opportunity” to see what distillers could do with younger stuff (even if most of what they “did” amounted to concealing its age and/or combining it with older stuff, the age of which supposedly never mattered).

      – Needlessly withholding age information is still to be endlessly confused with multivintaging; the two simply can’t, and somehow don’t, exist separately (see above).

      – The writer, Gavin Smith, and the magazine take no position on whether age matters.

      – Most tellingly of all, no one asks, much less answers, the question of DOES actually age matter, not to the industry, or collectors, or even consumers, but to the character of whisky itself (you know, the item actually being aged), which keeps the whole thing endlessly debatable in the interests of NOT coming to the conclusion that NAS is a lie about the nature of age maturation.

      But what do you expect when the majority of the people you interview for the story are industry talking heads? Highland Park’s Jason Craig takes a cheap shot at other companies by “having” to say that “some (travel retail) NAS single malts offered by our competition are not as good as their domestic counterparts” (as if the Warrior Series is somehow world renown). Predictably, the closest thing to criticism of NAS comes from someone not actually producing and marketing NAS (Andy Simpson from Rare Whisky 101):

      “Negatively, we have seen many drinkers, collectors and investors turning away from buying new NAS releases. No matter what marketing departments say or do, the simple fact is that NAS is opaque… The risk is that consumers experience what they see as a sub-optimal product (especially noting some of the recent NAS prices) and turn their back on the category full stop”.

      If only. Although one has to question the quotable legitimacy rendered by Whisky Advocate to Simpson if it in no way serves an industry agenda, the focus is still on WHO does or doesn’t care about age instead of the far more important question of “does it matter to whisky itself?” – but maybe that’s exactly the point: if the most that can supposedly be said against NAS is that some people don’t like it or won’t accept it, rather than the truth that it simply doesn’t make sense on its very face, everything remains in the comfortable realm of debate and personal opinion and preference. To borrow a point from Noam Chomsky, if one controls the parameters of debate, one controls the possible outcomes of it as well: “the smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.”

      Like everyone else in the piece, Gavin Smith never challenges the paradoxical nature of the NAS message itself (age matters here, but not over there, depending only on the label), but he does come dangerously close to acknowledging that recent “experimental” hype about NAS is really just about making the best of a direction the industry decided to go in for far more practical reasons anyway:

      “Many NAS expressions have therefore been born out of pragmatism and necessity, no matter how producers dress it up, but it can be argued that the growth of NAS whiskies, whatever the imperative, has actually led to greater variety, particularly within the single malt category.”

      Yet, working backwards, the “imperative” does matter: if NAS is only the pragmatic line of best fit through remaining, and ever-younger stocks, doesn’t that mean that, given their druthers, producers would rather be putting out older whisky (and what does that mean in itself as well)? So when DOES age supposedly become irrelevant to whisky? I guess, according to the industry, when there’s none to talk about. If, on the other hand, we’re seeing more and more younger stuff marketed under NAS just because young whisky is suddenly now of such high quality regardless of its age, then why hide the age from many people who, evidently, don’t care about it anyway? If young whisky’s so good, why not prove it by proving that it’s both good AND young? Because the proof of high quality just often isn’t found in the glass and, lacking that proof, a low age statement can’t justify a relatively high price even in terms of the producer investment involved, so better to leave age a mystery and then talk vaguely (and in a non-binding way) about “all the old whisky that’s in there”? Yep.

      Whether the use of younger whisky was ever in any sense inevitable, there’s simply no disputing that the clear choice of knowingly hiding its age via NAS has cost its proponents a great deal of credibility within whisky. Those who agree that the business ends of whisky justify its misleading marketing means simply can’t be trusted.

      • But Amrut Peated CS is so goooooood! Why should I suffer because “evil” Amrut won’t tell me it’s 4 years old?

        • Especially when the LCBO tanked the price of it by 30%….

          They need to make room for weed sales…

          • Don’t hold your breath on weed sales. I’m old enough to know Trudeau Sr. made the same promise about 40 odd years ago. I’m still waiting (for the tax dollars to start rolling in, I could give a damn about smoking the stuff, though I’m supportive of legalizing it).

            Y’know, I’ve been buying and drinking this 16 year old Glenlivet Nadurra of late and it’s quite enjoyable. The funny thing is it’s lighter in color than the Macallan Gold. That can’t be right though, because the color progression in Macallan tells all – darker is better. I should visit the eye doctor soon…

      • Hi there,

        ” …. a direction the industry decided to go in for far more practical reasons anyway:

        “Many NAS expressions have therefore been born out of pragmatism and necessity, no matter how producers dress it up, but it can be argued that the growth of NAS whiskies, whatever the imperative, has actually led to greater variety, particularly within the single malt category.”…

        If you have a standard OB bottling aged 12yo and half the maturation time in a replacement NAS-ty bottling to 6yo…. did you not just double your output capacity over a 12 year maturation period – in theory?
        Half the maturation time means double the amount of casks in the same period it usually took to have your 12yo ready. In theory.

        As you have to prep up your NAS-ty offering by adding more mature stuff like your former stand alone 12yo you just freed a lot of this more mature whisky to go a longer way as an additive to the NAS bottling.

        Could that be one of the more practical reasons you were talking about?

        Greetings
        kallaskander

        • Among those in the industry who will talk about it, sure, NAS is all about meeting (particularly low-end) demand by shortening maturation times and then putting out a lot of younger product without age statements – what’s missing, of course, is any argument that the age of a six is any less (if not actually more, year-for-year) important to the final product than that of a twelve in terms of spirit character. What’s also missing is any evidence that that’s ALL that’s driving NAS marketing; that some producers aren’t just claiming shortages to over market/overprice a lot of young stuff the age of which they just don’t want to discuss – and the fact that “the older stuff is in there” proves that “age doesn’t matter” is a lie anyway (if you’re actively and intentionally multivintaging, you sure as shit know that age matters to what you’re making… duh!).

          Then again, the average whisky drinker probably doesn’t realize that NAS isn’t a type of whisky or production process, and if the pros (and the great majority of bloggers) aren’t smart enough, or honest enough, to say that age matters to whisky, how can people get any smarter anyway? This IS a dark age for whisky, both in terms of its methods/obfuscation and in terms of overall trending in consumer whisky IQ: hipsters are having a generally negative effect on net whisky smarts but, again, the “brightest” among us aren’t really helping either… and so it goes.

          In the meantime, those who don’t want to contribute to the problem should be boycotting NAS. If the marketing’s the problem, then it’s the marketing that needs to be opposed.

          • Technically, no whisky is branded as NAS. I am not familiar with any labelling that says “Glenwhatever NAS single Malt…”.

            NAS is a description WE have given to whiskies that simply do not put their age on their sleeve (or box, or label).

            It isn’t new. I think there is a long history, especially with blends, of not putting the age on it. I think we notice it more because the number of single malts is increasing and the internet facilitates communication.

            Also, a few noted whiskies with age statements have been dropped (LADDIE 10, some Macallans, the Glenlivet Founder’s Fiasco).

            I am of 2 minds about the whole thing. If it tastes good and it’s a reasonable price I don’t care if they tell me how old it is. On the other hand, I agree with Jeff that not stationg the age allows them to put out younger whiskies at lower cost and make more profit.

            But it isn’t a dark age for whisky. The producers are certainly happy. And soon, when the bubble bursts, there will be lots of whisky that’s unsellable that will rest for years and years, and this will lead to a new golden age for aged Scotch at affordable prices…

            Or we’ll find something else to enjoy…

          • Hi there,

            here a (very American?) view on NAS.

            http://www.eater.com/drinks/2015/12/29/10659946/extinct-whiskies-2015

            Greetings
            kallaskander

          • Interesting kallaskander.

            The same tired old industry line spouted by toadying, eager to please bloggers looking for favours. Anyone who thinks Macallan Rare Cask at around US$300 will appease us for the loss of age statements is delusional. And the rest of the world is happily sloshing back Gold, Amber and the overpriced Sienna and Ruby? I think not. The rest of us, outside the US, haven’t seen an AS Macallan for a couple of years now. I’ve seen the 12 YO in the States for under $50. The Gold and Amber are weaklings compared to the old 12. The only drinkable option here is Sienna at around Can $175. That’s essentially why I no longer drink Macallan whisky.

          • Yes, it’s the same old song and dance: supposedly “empowering” consumers by falsely equating the issue of whether age statements matter to them (which IS a personal choice) with whether age matters to the character of whisky (which is a case of physics, and remains true whether anyone “chooses” to remain ignorant of this aspect of production or not). Everything the industry does, from knowingly, intentionally and repeatedly losing volume to Angel’s Share, to tracking the age of whisky once casked, to multivintaging the final products, demonstrates that age matters to the character of whisky, yet marketers (and very naive people) believe that they can erase that effect (no matter how later assessed in terms of relative quality) by simply omitting an age statement. Supposedly consumers can “choose” whether age matters to what they’re drinking… and maybe if physics textbooks omitted chapters on gravity, we could all then “choose” to fly. It’s the rational equivalent of “hiding” from someone in hide and seek by just closing your eyes: personal perception is equated with objective reality and if you can’t see them, they “obviously” can’t see you, and believing you’re hidden (or that age doesn’t matter to whisky if it doesn’t matter to you) must make it so.

            But, after all – as per Chomsky, above – it distracts from the real issue while making people feel important and in control: THEY somehow determine whether age matters to whisky when, in reality, all many are doing is just swallowing the paradoxical NAS line that allows marketers to determine where and when age matters to whisky at whim just to help producers with their inventory issues – so much for independent thinking and empowerment.

            And, yes, the behaviour of otherwise knowledgeable whisky people on this issue remains, in the main, inexcusably shameful.

          • Check out Serge on whiskyfun.com today. Validation for everything you, and many of us, have been saying, Jeff.

            Happy and healthy New Year all.

  11. Big Drinks loves to make money. They think this will make them lots of money. They don’t care about the quality as long as they pull in cash.

    If people keep buying it, they’ll keep doing it.

    I know this sounds like support for a boycott or something, but as we saw over the past year, there has been no ebb in NAS bottlings despite the vocal minority.

    We’ll just have to wait it out until people realize they are paying more money for diminished quality and when they tire of it, the bubble will burst.

    In the meantime, buy what you like. Choose carefully, buy quality, and don’t drink too much (not only because it’s bad for you but also because if you drink too much you’ll run out before the bubble bursts).

    • Mind you, some are stepping it up a notch…Ralfy has expanded from boycotting just NAS single malt scotch to NAS SM scotch plus AL NAS Irish whiskey.

  12. Just savouring the last sips of a dram from a 50 cc bottle of Bladnoch 9 YO bourbon cask matured lightly Peated. 46% no colour added and no filtration.

    I had given it to my brother in law a few years ago and we had tasted it over Skype (I also opened a mini bottle). We finished it tonight.

    As sad that it is to finish off a bottle of history given the new ownership is moving completely away from the Armstrong legacy, it is also proof that a whisky younger than 10 can be phenomenal, and kudos to Raymond for having the conviction to put it right on the label!

  13. Hi there,

    another interview and another fine attempt at re-education.

    http://whiskyadvocate.com/2016/02/03/an-interview-with-glenmorangies-dr-bill-lumsden/

    Greetings
    kallaskander

    • It would be funny except that these people are meant to be taken, not only seriously, but also as authorities on whisky.

      “I guess two things have really stood out throughout the length of my career. The first is the continuous rise in popularity of single malt Scotch whisky (now a much imitated drink throughout the world!). The second thing has been the re-emergence of fine non-aged whiskies, and a slow, sometimes grudging, acceptance of these products by some.”

      By non-aged, I hope he means whisky that producers just don’t bother to hold in cask for any real amount of time beyond legal minimum – and whether this is resulting in “fine” products is certainly in the eye of the beholder in most cases. There is no such thing as non-aged whisky, because that’s NEW MAKE, and not whisky, by definition.

      If Dr. Bill means that omitting age information somehow suddenly means that a whisky then doesn’t actually HAVE an age, albeit an unknown one, he’s simply stupid or thinks that I’m more stupid than he is. If he’s right, and you can make something irrelevant by simply omitting it, again, he should have chapters on gravity removed from physics textbooks so he can fly to work. Play with the ABV, you end up with a different whisky; play with the casks, and you end up with a different whisky; play with the age and you end up with a different whisky. It’s not rocket science, and it never was. NAS isn’t about flexibility; it’s just about the use/inclusion of whisky the age of which no one wants to discuss because it doesn’t help sales/price points.

      “A very interesting question, especially since the word craft is being very widely misused these days. In the eyes of many consumers, and unfortunately also many producers, if a facility is small then it automatically seems to be referred to as craft. All I will say on that is that small distilleries and breweries are capable of churning out poor products.”

      And so are the big ones, believe me, the difference largely being that big producers have big budgets to create more hype around their duds and, with enough money and pressure, actually start to change perceptions of what quality means (see “young is the new good”).

      “As far as we are concerned in The Glenmorangie Co. (and I know this view is shared with many of our fellow distillers in Scotland) craft is much more to do with taking care and attention as to how your product is made. We believe that every drop of Glenmorangie and Ardbeg is made in a truly crafted manner.”

      Glenmo and Ardbeg just became craft operations? I think the whole “craft” thing is just more hype – although I think smaller operations often have to be more attentive or they don’t survive (or live long enough to be bought out, like Bruichladdich) – but “misuse” of the word “craft” seems to boil down to how others use it to their own benefit but not to that of big producers.

      “As a huge fan of wine, a spell-creating wine in some interesting part of the world still holds a degree of intrigue for me. Somewhat more obscurely, I have always been totally fascinated by the weaving of fine cloth for the fashion industry!”

      It can only be hoped that he takes Jim Murray and Dr. Nick Morgan with him, because none of them are helping whisky.

    • No comment.

      • Because it’s all in Jeff’s post…

        • Usually, yes. Jeff often wraps these things up nicely for us.

          I’m simply offended by people like Nick Morgan, Ian Logan, Bill Lumsden, etc being dismissive and condescending. They obviously have personal corporate agendas, whereas we do not. WE are the ones who love the malts, want to protect them, and simply want the brands to justify their products and pricing through disclosure. Not unreasonable.

          It’s their own shitty attitudes toward those that question the status quo that cause us to speak with anger and vitriol. Respect is earned, not given blindly. They show a lack of respect with their misleading words and actions, then paint us as the bad guys. Ludicrous.

          I’m sure they’re all great people personally, but like anything else, when it’s work sometimes there is a need to suspend your own views, toe the party line, spew the rhetoric and make the sale.

          I don’t know where we go from here, but I’m frustrated and cynical.

  14. Hi there,

    my fellow online fanatics – if I may call you that – we have it all wrong. Wrong perspective wrong preconceptions and wrong in general.

    “So do the negative commentators simply not like certain NAS whiskies because they are produced by a large company? Is this their issue with Founder’s Reserve? The Glenlivet is owned by Pernod Ricard and they, plus Diageo, seem to take constant flack from self-professed online whisky experts about the motives and quality of their NAS products.

    Why do smaller or independent whisky companies not invoke the same vitriol when they do likewise? This action, or lack of it, creates a hypocritical and flawed argument. Ironically, most online fanatics commentate on a whisky through their preconceived ideas, rather than what it is actually like. Many a comment on whisky forums or social media is made without having tasted the liquid.”

    http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/matt-chambers/no-age-statement-whiskies_b_6698962.html

    I wonder where the positive argument is to be found?

    Greetings
    kallaskander

    • “Many a comment on whisky forums or social media is made without having tasted the liquid.” – very true, certainly from my perspective, because it’s not the liquid that’s the issue; it’s the nonsense that the importance of age is somehow marketing/label dependent. Omit that, add silliness about flexibility (NAS is NOT the fucking same thing as multivintaging) and the brilliant observation that whisky is a business that’s about making money (as if anybody is in danger of going under in the present market), and you essentially have Matt Chambers’ “positive argument”. Given how carefully he avoids dealing with them, I think he’s more than aware of what the real issues, and counterarguments, are.

      “Surely NAS products are good for the whisky category? The more people that drink whisky, then the brighter the future”. Brighter for who? Producers certainly, but not necessarily for customers; smart consumers make for better products and a better market, but stupid consumers drag the rest of us down with them and, for all their enthusiasm, there are some very dumb people buying whisky today. I’m very grateful, for example, that the same people who will argue that producers should be the final arbiters on providing selective age information have been denied, by law, thank God, the ability to award a similar point to the industry on ABV, or we might not know what we’re drinking beyond “it’s whisky”. Tasting blind is fine, buying blind is ridiculous. Fighting NAS isn’t about hating the products; it’s about despising the marketing, simply because that marketing is a bold-faced lie in what it says about the nature of whisky.

    • You guys, we have it all wrong. We’ve been looking at it from the wrong viewpoint. It says so at the end of the opinion piece:

      ‘Surely NAS products are good for the whisky category? The more people that drink whisky, then the brighter the future. Maybe it is time for the malt fanatics to stop the negative commentary and look at the bigger industry picture, embrace ‘No Age Statement’ whiskies with a more open mind and realise that whisky is not an exclusive club designed purely for their enjoyment.”

      If more of us drink NAS< the brighter our future will be. I'll bet the new Prime Minister had this in mind when he declared "Sunny Ways" for Canada. Get me some Founder's reserve…maybe I'll win the lottery if I drink it!

      Jeff, for goodness sakes, look at the bigger picture. NAS is good for the industry. And that;'s what's important, not the enjoyment or benefit of the consumer.

      That said, Jeff, I think you and I need to get off this discussion and find some JW Red and drink it and love it, dammit, because that's what is good for the industry, and thus the world!

    • Hi there,

      Up in reply 14 I mentioned what some interested circles think about the likes of us.

      Do you know Nick Morgan of Diageo? The head of Diageo’s whisky outrage seems to be one of the sources for the names we are called by some.

      http://wordsofwhisky.com/deceptive-ways-caramel-colored-whisky/

      Greetings
      kallaskander

      • Yes, Dr. Nick’s job is to help Diageo (although it’s debatable if he’s doing this, even at a PR level) and not to help whisky. That there’s any difference between the two is at the heart of the problem in the modern market. For Dr. Nick, the sales ends justify the means, and if colour is one of the things people look for in whisky as a sign of integrity, authenticity and consistency, well then… artificially manipulating colour must be right if it’s desirable from a sales point of view. He then buttresses that piece of fluff with the “historical tradition” of cheating on colour, “a practice long enshrined in the Scotch Whisky Regulations”, then adds that Scotch producers are relatively virtuous compared to the “makers of Cognac, Armagnac and other spirits, including rum”.

        The world of whisky would be better off without Dr. Nick, but he’s only a symptom of the problem; to really change things, you’d have to change the thinking that makes Dr. Nick and his opinions a fair representation of Diageo’s philosophy in the first place. What pisses Nick off more than anything is that non-experts can raise questions he can’t answer (which gives some insight into current levels of whisky expertise).

  15. Ok, full disclosure here. I loathe 99% of what I see on HuffPo, it just doesn’t agree with my sensibilities.

    That out of the way, I don’t think I could willfully build so many strawman arguments even if I was completely hammered and being gifted dozens of bottles of Founder’s Reserve directly by Glenlivet. I actually like and enjoy many Glenlivet products. I’ve been stocking up on the 16 Nadurra of late before it disappears (no interest in the Nadurra NAS offering) and usually when someone buys me a scotch it’s a Glenlivet 12. I don’t go out of my way to buy it, but I never complain when I receive it and truthfully I’ve started to enjoy it. It’s not as complex as many whiskies I’ve tried or own, but you know what? I think it’s a damn fine introductory whisky.

    Maybe I’ve been reading too many of Jeff’s posts (damn man, I admire your dedication, anywhere I go and read about NAS, there you are – kudos) but I really don’t like the NAS movement. Now that I can’t get A’bunadh for cheap, I’m all over the NAS boycott. And this sort of shiite article has me terrified for the future.

    Now I’m not suggesting that Founder’s Reserve is necessarily bad (it is distinctly inferior to the 12 which has been for decades the introductory product) but like Jeff I see no real point in the offering of less information. I’ve argued to the contrary in that there are good NAS whiskies out there and I still believe that. Up until lately I’ve not been concerned with NAS offerings in any companies lineup so long as their age statement lineup continues. But we’re well beyond that point where NAS is just another expression “produced with greater freedom to blend different whiskies”. When the NAS cask strength expressions came out (Glendronach, Macallan, etc.) it didn’t bother me. But now with Founder’s Reserve, Little Bay, Macallan Amber/Gold (at this point I say are you fucking kidding me with that shit, ‘Livet 16 Nadurra is lighter than both and better by a wide margin) all replacing the core lineups it’s hit the point of absurdity. And no, I don’t begrudge companies making money. I do take issue with the issuing inferior product at the same price point. Oh sure, Founder’s Reserve is currently cheaper than the 12 but I’ll bet my entire collection that within two years of 12 disappearing the FR will be the exact same price as the 12 was when the last bottle was sold. Some of the NAS whiskies actually retail in some markets for more than the AS whiskies they’ll replace (Minneapolis Oban 14 cheaper ($55 at total wine) than Little Bay which was absurdly more than the 15 y/o Distiller’s Edition – that’s cray-cray).

    The biggest problem is I’m spending about 8% of my two week take home pay to get a bottle of Glendronach Revival @ $100. I make a good, not great salary. That’s a significant investment of disposable income on something that in the case of Founder’s Reserve (duly noting it is significantly cheaper than a Revival) for something that has information purposely retained and is an inferior product. And I’ve tasted Founder’s Reserve. Give it to me free, I’ll drink it. Ask me to pay for it and no thank you will be my response. Both now and when the 12 disappears. If you ask me my preference, it will be the 12 each and every time.

    After reading Mr. Chambers’ article, I can’t help but think he was invited to a free tasting and probably walked home with a couple of free bottles (probably not Founder’s Reserve) after chatting with the brand specialist from Glenlivet. The tone was condescending and arrogant.

    Companies are free to release whatever they want. I hope they remain profitable so that products I enjoy continue to be released. But I’ll support the companies that continue to release age statement whiskies. Those that release NAS whiskies to replace the core base range of their products won’t see another penny from me or at the very least, I’ll be buying up their range where there is still an age statement whisky to be had. I came back from Minneapolis with two bottles of Oban Distiller’s Edition. A 15 year old, age stated whisky that was cheaper than the NAS Little Bay. Only $64 each, an easy bargain and easier decision. Producing a lesser whisky to introduce individuals to Scotch whisky isn’t a wise strategy – you’ll get higher rejection rates from inferior products. This shouldn’t be a surprise. But it seems much as with Mr. Chambers, the industry has pulled the wool over it’s own eyes.

    • I don’t think there’s a direct link between labeling and quality, which is why I don’t oppose NAS on that basis; in theory, at least, one can remove age information from a label without changing the bottle’s contents or affecting their quality. Removing the age metric has, in practice, however, directly resulted in the admitted recent use of younger and younger product, and if what many are referring to in terms of inferior NAS products is a pronounced reduction in maturity and complexity compared to the products they may well replace, I fully understand and agree with the point. “Flavour-led” products in many cases is just code for “wood-led” products where cask flavours dominate pot still flavours, and tertiary flavours, resulting from a combination of the two, don’t get a chance to form at all because of early bottling. Perhaps more telling than the idea that “young is the new good” is the more disturbing idea that “the simple and non-complex is the new good”. In many cases, we’ve already moved from affordable three-dimensional whisky to not always affordable two-dimensional whisky and, whether that’s the inevitable way of the world or not (“we just have to bottle more crap to keep up with the demand for crap”), there’s no need for anyone being under any illusions as to what’s happening, or that anyone shouldn’t know what they’re buying as a result.

      A lot of people don’t like NAS, certainly in the sense that they somehow favour less information over more, but the issue becomes one of what are they going to do about it in the face of a trend that shows no signs of slowing down, let alone stopping or reversing. People need to be voting with their wallets, arguing for boycott and speaking up more in general. Regardless of the ultimate result, current trending does stand to create more dissatisfied consumers in the long run, because the “responsible” use of NAS – remove age information, but don’t then use that to make immature products, or products more immature without notice – is far more the exception than the rule. The question is whether these people will allow the trend to completely dominate whisky without speaking out and taking action.

      Just on the face of it, whisky consumers should feel pretty sheepish that they ever even entertained the idea that age doesn’t matter to whisky at the behest of any rep whose company owns even one dunnage warehouse or holds any product over legal minimum. I mean, what is all that constantly evaporating/cask absorbed product about anyway if NOBODY believes age maturation is actually doing anything, and where are the whiskies, not the mouthpieces, that prove it?

      That consumers were ever taken in by this is bad enough, but the so-called “whisky experts”, who flog the idea TO consumers to this very day when they know better? Completely inexcusable.

  16. Hi there,

    the power infusing of some flavour into too young whisky via un-mature wood has provoked at least one satirical comment that I find hilarious and disturbing at the same time.

    http://whiskysponge.com/2016/01/20/swa-unveil-new-whisky-flavour-map-of-scotland/

    And the final comment of whiskyfun’s Serge Valentin on the Glenmorangie Milsean takes this up:

    “Comments: some light bourbon from Scotland – a Scottish obsession these days, it seems. Drinks very well, for sure.”

    I wrote a lengthy piece on the growing uniformity of NAS-ty Scotch single malts because of the power infusion with too young wood for a German blog. In German unfortunately but Jeff would enjoy it for sure.

    Greetings
    kallaskander

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