Mar 102021
 

A series of long-winded essays, or just a few lines to stir the pot and tiptoe back outta the kitchen before it gets too hot. Let’s go with the latter. Less words means less opportunity for me to stick my foot in my mouth. Though, I’m sure I’ll do so a few times anyway. Let’s see if we can’t blow up the comments section below…

First things first. Just a sort of “you heard it here first” bit for you. I am keeping eyes and ears open for the right ATW partner in crime. Finding an Angus (not in the literal sense, of course; I know one of them) is mighty tricksy. I’ve yet to come across someone who shares my stylistic leanings, literary trappings, palate preferences, etc. If and when this happens, these jottings will become a bit more frequent. I struggle more and more to extricate myself enough from life to be able to do this as regularly as I’d like. So…’ATW Angus’…if you’re out there…come claim your place.

So…about those undisclosed/undeclared malts. Sigh. What should we say here, other than stop…f*cking…doing it. Whatever happened to clever label workarounds, such as hints and clues (and insider secrets, oh my!)? I’ve seen enough $300ca bottles of ‘Undisclosed Speyside’ or ‘Unnamed Orkney’ or ‘An Islay Malt’ to last me a lifetime. If you expect me to pull out my coin purse (figuratively speaking; I don’t actually own a coin purse), I really do want some idea as to what I’m buying. How else are we justifying the price tag on just one more unproven asset?

We get it. The world is watching Campbeltown. Yes, Springbank is brilliant, and yes…Glengyle is really starting to show its pedigree. And absolutely, some Glen Scotia can really shine too. Just, y’know…slow down, folks. Share the wealth. Seeing FB or Instagram posts showing ten bottles of the new 12 year Cask Strength land on one person’s shelf really pisses me off. Especially now, when I can see behind the curtain and know how many others are missing out despite intense passion for the brand.

The ‘drinkers’, the ‘collectors’, and the ‘accidental accumulators’ I can deal with. The ‘flippers’ however…fuck ’em! I keep getting asked for advice as to which bottles are going to go up in value by people I know are looking to make profit off of them. Please don’t ask me anymore. This may be something we now have to deal with indefinitely, but don’t expect me to like it or play along. Start querying me about this and I guarantee I’ll extricate myself from the vicinity in a real big hurry. I wish a plague of medieval genital diseases to befall flippers. Bah. Humbug.

Cadenhead’s recent dumbing down. How we went from the generally exciting Small Batch range to this new dumbed down range is beyond me. Farewell cask strength. So long transparency. Adios to even the tasting notes. They’re not even telling us cask type anymore. Shame, Cadenhead. This is a true regression.

Is Elixir Distillers the future? I continue to be amazed at the depth and breadth of Sukhinder’s amassed stash of casks. Hopefully the well is deep and we’re not simply skimming the best off the top before seeing a stagnant puddle of young Caol Ila and such below. I have a feeling Mr. Singh is much smarter than that. As it stands, Elixir is as exciting as it gets right now. I’m loving where they’re taking us.

Gordon & MacPhail still really needs to loosen the purse strings a bit, and that includes anything to do with Benromach. Seriously. These 40% and 43% malts need to go. The days of Scrooge McDucking it are over, guys. Get with the times. 46 is the new 40. This has always been a problem with this company (or companies). They may have the best warehouses in Scotland, and a wood management policy that shames all others, but this incessant dilution is killing the reputation. Even the new Benromach 21 is at 43%. Why?

No…a revived Port Ellen or Brora will not be the same. And even if it somehow miraculously ends within spitting distance of the old distillate…let’s face it…it will be another 30 years yet before it reminds us of our beloved lost icons. And even ignoring changes to yeast, barley, etc, any chance of a recognizable DNA rests on what happens in a contemporary wood program. Don’t expect prices to get better on extant stock either. Ever. Not gonna happen.

Anyone else missing Scotchwhisky.com? Not the editorializing, apologism, and opinion pieces (those were largely rubbish, anyway), but the data, news and one-stop-shopping aspect. The team that put this all together deserve their place in the whisky heavens. I miss my frequent visits, and am grateful that the site itself – dormant though it may be – still exists. It truly is a treasure trove of valuable whisky knowledge.

To the heads of the big ‘uns: your ‘brand’ is never going to be iconic if you keep rebranding to modern fonts, brighter colors and square-shouldered bottles. Hate to pick on these guys – two of my favorite distilleries – but Benromach and BenRiach…come on guys…you messed up with the new livery. It really is bad. You both had strong and recognizable images already.

Is Ardbeg clawing its way back to the top? Blaaack, Blaaack Committee, Wee Beastie, Supernova 2019, Traigh Bhan 1 and 2 were all good. Not just good, actually, but really good examples of what each was trying to be. Yes, even those pinot-casked Blaaacks. And yes, even that five year old. But more about that in a moment. In the meantime, can’t wait to try that 25 y.o.

Pandemic sample sharing and the rise of online tastings. I know, I know. It’s not the same as a pint and hug from your mates, but at least it’s something. Small victories these days, aye? And hey…drinking at home means no need to worry about safe travel arrangements afterwards. That’s a win, at least! Dunno about you, but I’m slowly coming ’round to these Zoom sessions.

Let’s get back to the idea of really low age statements. Quit nipping ’em in the bud! While at first I was impressed by the ballsy swagger of releasing 4 and 5 year old malts with age statements, we’re now seeing a couple too many 5 year old indies, etc. Sorry, guys. These are simply not ripe whiskies. A cask has work to do in both additive and subtractive capacities. And no matter how heavily peated your make, or how sloshy your wet-fill barrel is, nothing is hiding the fact that 5 year old whisky is just not ready. Good whisky shouldn’t be overly boozy or spirity.

Not all Clynelish or Ben Nevis is good. Period.

We’re starting to see a trend back to where color is king. Darker malts always draw the eye, but I’d argue shouldn’t always draw your wallet. I will concede, however, that most people falling into the color trap are doing so with the indies, which tend towards a more natural shading, at least. Just…caveat emptor.

The SMWS. Bless ’em. Love the Society, love the ethos (the original mission statement, anyway). But maybe it’s time to ask if the SMWS has abandoned its core principles. I mean, blended malts, cask finishes and $400ca bottles of 12 year old Ardbeg fly in the face of everything the Society once stood for. Namely, the purity of the single cask single malt. Read Pip Hills’s latest literary outing and you’ll see what I mean. Hopefully this new face is only a stopgap measure for dealing with depleted stocks, and one that the folks in charge abandon in short order. Otherwise…this is really, really frustratingly sellout-ish.

Anyone else missing the legitimate experience? Scotland is home away from home for me. I can’t lie…I’m about a month or two away from swimming across the Atlantic to experience the esoteric thrill of a proper warehouse jaunt at one of my beloved distilleries. Dear God, how I miss it all. The tours, my friends over there, the straight-from-the-barrel experiences. All of it.

So. About sherried malts. Man…empty those fucking barrels of their previous contents before filling ’em with malt! A five year old whisky should not be the color of coffee or Cherry Coke. And yes…one egregious example that just arrived in our neck of the woods is really setting me off here. Sherry itself is not that color, so tell me how a five year old from Glenwhozit ends up near opacity when it’s only spent a half decade in wood. I am being 100% honest when I tell you a couple distillery folks I’ve spoken to (and no…I won’t mention who, when or where) have explicitly conceded to wet-fill casking. (i.e. there is still stuff sloshing in the so-called empty barrels that are being filled). Not cool. You can’t hide underage malt behind wet casks.

Anyone else kinda miss the days of paxarette? Just how many of our beloved old sherry bombs were a direct result of the practice of paxing casks?

ScotchTrooper. This one touched me. I remained largely quiet on social media, as I didn’t know Brett personally, but what a devastating story of a man who seemed to have positive interactions with pretty much everyone he met. Hoping the family finds comfort and grace and healing.

Alright. Let’s save the rest for part two. Peace and love, mates. Do something kind for someone today.

 Posted by at 10:19 am
Jul 112020
 

Hey, whisky friends.

First things first…I appreciate the check-ins and continued interest. I really do. And I owe you. There is more to come. The continued evolution of whisky is simply too interesting to me to step away from.

However…

Many of you said it would be helpful for me to use social media to announce new posts. And you’re right of course. But another me – the one that still believes in this ‘thing’ we call humanity – has sort of hijacked my accounts for purposes that are much more important to me right now than simple malt musings.

If you are a Twitter follower, please consider this my apology. My account there has been co-opted as a platform for speaking out against anything this heinous excuse for a ‘president’ and his criminal cronies in Congress have been up to over the last four years. If this offends you…well…don’t follow me. I’d actually prefer you didn’t, as I really wouldn’t like you as a person.

I’m hoping that – come November – we can slip back into whisky chat. I want nothing more.

I don’t know what happens if by some horribly corrupt methods the current administration holds on to power. Either I wash my hands of America entirely, or double down on my efforts. Who knows?

I guess I just wanted to say that I miss doing this, and at some point I’ll be back at it.

Thanks for your support.

C

 Posted by at 11:50 am
Apr 162020
 

Hey, all.

Hope you’re keeping well, strong, safe, and healthy. These are interesting times, to say the least. After a couple weeks in quarantine (not just isolation), I was cleared to return to work. I spent about two weeks back at it before starting to deal with some more respiratory issues. So…back in lockdown, and awaiting the call to go for another test. Sigh. To be clear…the only real issue I am having is a pretty nasty shortness of breath that waxes and wanes a bit. Otherwise…I feel okay for now.

Staring down another couple weeks of this doc/boss-mandated isolation has obviously burdened me with a lot of free time. My sights turned to writing fiction or writing here for you. I can’t lie; I have the attention span of a gnat lately, so wee blog blurbs have a lot more appeal. However…

Readership is low these days. Not just here, where the updates are served up in fits and starts, but on other blogs as well. People nowadays, I think, are looking for soundbites and immediate gratification (social media); or they’re looking for video content which allows them to listen while doing other things. I fear for future generations and their ability to process the written word. 😉

So, the question is? Do we continue with whisky reviews and chat here? The comments have largely died; most of the usual suspects have moved on; and the per-day visits are like the foot traffic in most brick and mortar retailers these days. Is it worth continuing this little malt log?

Drop a line. Share an opinion.

Hope you’re all well.

 Posted by at 10:36 am
Nov 202019
 

More reviews coming ASAP. Cold is gone; senses are clear; and, most importantly, I’m keen to chat. So…next review? A private bottling of Kilchoman we had done just for the sinDicate (our local whisky club). Yes, yes, I do obviously have a bias here. Consider yourself forewarned.

In the meantime…let’s play ‘lists’. I love to hear about other folks’ whisky passions.

First list: What are your top five grail malts? The ones you’d consider selling a kid(ney) for.

Second list: What are the top five malts (or blends) you currently have tucked away in your stash? The ones that are nearest and dearest to your shriveled ol’ malt-soaked heart.

I’ll give’r first, just to get us going and (hopefully) stir up some chat.

Grails Malts (or blends) (at the moment, anyway…but this list changes all the time):

  • Black Bowmore (1964, 42 yo)
  • Ardbeg Double Barrel (1974s)
  • Brora 40 y.o.
  • Clynelish 12 y.o. (1960s)
  • Port Ellen 12 y.o. 1980 (Queen’s Visit)

Top Five Tucked in the Bunker:

  • Brora 35 y.o. (2013)
  • Port Ellen 12th Release
  • Springbank 21 (2005)
  • G&M Aberfeldy 1993 (24 y.o.)
  • Brora 30 y.o. (2005)
 Posted by at 11:08 pm
Jun 132018
 

Hey, all.

Those sounds that have been keeping you up at night?  Yeah…probably me.  Sniffles, coughing, throat clearing.  My bad.  I’ve battled one cold after another for weeks now.  I imagine it has something to do with the fact that my wife works in a virtual petri dish of kid germs and somehow manages to smuggle home enough to share with me.  Lovely lass, ain’t she?

Anyway…lest ye think I’ve turned tail and run for the hills, I do have a couple of partially written reviews coming in the next wee while (as soon as I feel my senses are back where they need to be).  Look for some Elements of Islay (as requested), some more Cadenhead releases (again…just cause you asked) and a few peated gems to share the word on.

In other news, I’ve been shopping around my second novel and am 30k words deep into my third.  Blogging’s fun and all, but fiction is where my heart is.

But let’s not wait for reviews to trigger dialogue here.  I’m curious as to which distilleries – in this age of delusion and nearly unfathomable prices – you feel are still worth the investment of loyalty and income.  Share your thoughts.  Don’t be shy.

 Posted by at 9:30 am
Oct 122017
 

So…Port Ellen, Brora and Rosebank.  Wow.  I’m in shock.

I knew Port Ellen was coming at some point.  Brora and PE announced the same day?  And Rosebank right after?  This is the second coming of the holy trinity.  I’m stunned.  Almost speechless.

I have some pretty strong opinions about this, but I’m not quite ready to articulate.  Suffice it to say I am tickled pink and not sharing the cynicism others are.  How ’bout you skeptical buggers that keep me on my toes?  Thoughts?

 

– C

 Posted by at 8:44 pm
Apr 042016
 

Less than two years ago I was buying Aberlour a’bunadh for about $75 a bottle. Now…no less than $107.  Lagavulin 12 sold for about $120 back then.  I can’t grab it for less than $160 in most places now.  Highland Park 18?  Give or take a $30-$40 a bottle increase of late.  Talisker 25 landed here about a year and a half ago at $225 or so.  That same edition has been jacked up to over $400 in most local shops.  Perhaps the most egregious example though is Glenfarclas 40 year old.  Bottles here were retailing between $400 and $500.  Now?  $1,100.  Same malt.  Same packaging.  And not even an attempt to convince consumers that there is a rationale behind the 220% increase during this time period.

Ok. The dollar is weak, some say.  Not that weak.  Barrels are in short supply and costing waaaaaay more.  Nuh uh.  Many from within the industry have spoken and written about this.  Especially in regard to bourbon barrels.  Rubbish.  Producers can’t keep up to demand.  Nope.  Not even remotely true.  I’ve spoken to many folk in production roles who say they are producing in surplus right now to ensure no future shortage of mature stocks.  Ah, but mature casks have been decimated, right.  Yes, probably.  I’ll concede that.  So it could be fairly assumed we’d see a bit of an uptick in prices for older malts.  After all, scarcity often determines market, aye?  But how does this explain the soaring price of young malts and non-age stated expressions?  If you’ve been drinking whisky for a while – and know your stuff – your senses will absolutely and unquestionably attest to the fact that the malt in the bottle is young, young, young.  You can’t hide that.  The sticker prices we’re seeing though, are not out of line for what would have graced whiskies reaching the two decade mark just a couple dozen months back.  Boiled down, this effectively means that many drinkers are priced out of older malts that were previously affordable to them, and are now being stretched even for what were, generally speaking, ‘entry level’ expressions.

So, knowing this, as we do, why are we not speaking up more? Why are we not writing articles and sending in notes to whisky publications?  Why are we not asking questions of the ambassadors at the festivals or via social media?  Are we that afraid of questioning an authority that seems to have no qualms about totalitarian pricing schemes?  When we have questioned them in the past about other related issues such as NAS, we were haughtily put in our place or blacklisted.  Ok, so be it.  Dissent is never accepted with open arms.  But think of it this way:  a few months back the world went mad when the price of cauliflower jumped from $2.99 to $7.99 a head.  Same with celery.  The news reported it daily.  Facebook and other social media was a seething hotbed of indignation.  And now?  Hey…I had $2.99 cauliflower for dinner last night.  Not kidding.  If the furor hadn’t gained traction I’d bet we would still be paying those prices even if there were some sort of agricultural recovery from whatever shortage or plight there had been.

The reality is that the less that is said in the public sphere, the easier it is for the brands to continue policies of escalation. Malt lovers have become the epitome of ‘bloody, but unbowed’.  No matter what prices are thrown at us we seem to be unwilling to buckle and say ‘I can’t afford this’, or even more importantly in terms of making a case, ‘I won’t afford this’.  Why not?  Pride?  Are we trying to impress someone(s) by continuing in the face of outright gouging?  Or are we simply so enamoured and in love with either the spirit or the cool cache that comes with it that we refuse to knuckle under or bite the hand that feeds?

It’s been said before in the debate against NAS malts, the way to truly make a dent in this madness is to hit ‘em where it hurts. In the pocketbook.  Vote with your dollar, in other words.  I get it, but let’s be realistic.  That only goes so far when the bottles keep disappearing from the shelves irrespective of a devoted few boycotting or simply disengaging from the madness.  And why are they still selling?  As I hinted at above, I think there are some folks out there that are simply keeping up with the Joneses and overreaching their financial stations.  Hey, I’m guilty.  I’ve done it.  I also think there will always be non-whisky folk that ignorantly purchase bottles as gifts based on retailer’s suggestions or prestige name recognition.  And finally…there will probably now always be those out there who see a perceived opportunity to turn their whisky buying into some sort of investment.  They buy with an eye to the horizon for future values, not realizing (or willfully pretending otherwise) that they’re buying at the top of the bubble (or near it) and any profit made will be slim indeed.  Showing up too late to the party, in other words.

I don’t know. Perhaps I’m simply speculating.  I’ll be the first to admit that the logic of this current state eludes me.  Even more confusing is that it seems to escape the understanding of every knowledgeable whisky drinker I know, and yet it keeps getting worse and worse.  Anyone who has read Atlas Shrugged (Ayn Rand) should have some idea as to how I see this one playing out.  The takers keep taking ‘til the rest of us have nothing left to give.  Things only bend so far before they break.  At that point the whole ruddy thing collapses.  And then we’re back to mourning a new round of lost distilleries.

So what do we do? It’s simple, I think.  Unfortunately it won’t make you any friends.  The answer is that we start speaking up and asking questions.  With honesty and intent.  Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Youtube, forums, comment sections, direct emails, face to face conversations…whatever tools and platforms you have.  It’s time to start asking the tough questions of the owners and brands…’why are we paying the prices we’re paying?’  And when inevitably you get the infuriatingly condescending and dismissive response from some notorious reactionary such as Nick Morgan, be ready to walk away from the brand that can’t tell you why their pricing schemes are built to exclude you.  It seems they don’t want you anyway if the cost is beyond your means.  Let’s acknowledge it for what it is.  Hey, I recognize that a Ferrari is not in my budget, but I have to admit that I love the hell out of my F-150.  From the driver’s seat I can look down at the guy in his Ferrari that is racing to the next red light, where we’ll again be side by side.  Life is full of checks and balances.  Just sayin’.

So here I’m asking you to start throwing some questions around a bit. Start being a little bit louder.  Do it with respect, but do it.  You’re only going to make it better for all of us.

 

 – CurtVendetta

 Posted by at 10:26 am
Dec 312015
 

Read this.  It may change your life (or at least your vantage of whisky).  As always, Serge nails it.  Whisky has no better spokesperson.

Thanks, O Alsatian One.  You lead, we follow.

 

 – Curt

 

 Posted by at 6:40 pm