Whisky Round Table: Is Age Wasted on the Old?
Welcome to the Whisky Round Table! Whisky Party is happy to have our second chance to host a conversation among our fellow bloggers. We hope you’ll join in the conversation!
The Parting of the Sensory: Scotch has long been thought of as a drink for rich old men. Although that’s changed over the last decade, scotch is still something of an older man’s drink. However, as humans get older our senses start to fade and our acuity decreases.
Is a 1959 Bunnahabhain wasted on a man whose taste buds are starting to forget the difference between green fruits and grapefruit? In other words, is well-aged whisky wasted on the old?
Is this the wrinkled old man in the convertible, or is it the much deserved reward for having achieved success in life? Can our palates retain sensitivity throughout middle age, or does experience more than make up for any loss?
The Rise of Single Malts, or Dramatic Price Inflation?
The Bruichladdich Blog has a post up about consolidation and slow volume growth in the whisky industry, and what it means for the whisky-related workforce in Scotland. The whole thing is worth a read, especially in light of the Johnnie Walker campaign, but I wanted to point out a subtext (and maybe silver lining?) for all us single malt fanatics:
Shockedby the gulf between the industry’s rhetoric and the reality of an iconic Scottish industry, the report sets out to find out why there are so few whisky jobs in Scotland. He discovered that the volume growth of the whisky has been stagnant for the last 25 years: a quarter of a century ago it was selling around 302.7 million LPA globally; today it sells around 306.2 million LPA. A mere 1.14% organic growth over a quarter of a century, the equivalent to a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of only 0.045%. Other global economic performance indicators have CAGRs in the range of 1.5% to 3.1% during the same period. Exports have increased while domestic consumption has fallen, though single malts have increased over this period - as has the value. “Generally, when the industry talks about “growth” it refers to sales revenues, not physical volumes. A simple example will clarify. If we compare exports in 1978 and 2005,(i.e. LPA) grew from 274 million LPA to 278 million LPA (an increase of 1.5%) whereas Value grew from £661 million to £2,370 million (an increase of 258%)! And, of course, jobs in Scotland are related to physical volumes, not financial revenues.”
If sales revenues are growing, but not volume of sales, doesn’t that point to an increase in interest in more expensive single malts over less expensive blended malts? Or does it just mean that the cost of whisky is going up across the board? If the former, that’s a good thing. We should all be happy if interest in single malts continues to rise (sympathy for those losing their jobs notwithstanding). If the latter, and it’s just about price inflation, that’s just a double kick the the gut.
Anyone with industry connections have any thoughts on what is actually happening?
Scotch on the Rocks - FTW or WTF?
The Wall Street Journal has a very interesting article posted this weekend about the evolution/heresy of “scotch on the rocks,” and how the whisky business has responded to this very “American” approach to whisky drinking: A Chill to Scotch Purists’ Hearts. Most drinkers of single malts will shudder at the thought of adding ice to their whisky:
The purists’ complaint is that whereas a small splash of spring water seems to open up a whisky, releasing its full bouquet and flavor, ice tends to do the opposite. The tongue is anesthetized by the cold, and the whisky itself acquires a smoothness that glosses over the deeper complexities of the dram.
Despite this, drinking scotch on the rocks is a fairly common practice here in America. I’d never given much thought to how that tradition evolved, but apparently, it has its history early in the 20th Century:
But that particular sort of frigid gloss is just what many, perhaps most, Americans are looking for in their whisky. And it’s worth noting that, in the U.S., the taste for drinking Scotch on the rocks was itself a move toward a more pure whisky experience. In the first half of the 20th century the standard way to drink Scotch in the States was in a Highball — a tall glass of whisky, ice and soda water. It was toward the end of the 1940s that the phrase “on the rocks” emerged to describe doing without the fizzy dilution of seltzer. By 1950 Whitney Bolton, a New York Morning Telegraph columnist, wrote that “in the last six months sales of sparkling water in all brands have dropped alarmingly.” Before long, Scotch brands such as the Famous Grouse were promoting their whiskies as being well suited for drinking with ice. Even now, after a couple of decades of emphasis on single-malt connoisseurship, Scotch ads in the U.S. still tend to feature ice in the glass.
It should also be pointed out that during this time frame, most scotch sales in the US focused on blends, which are perhaps more suited to drinking on the rocks. Since then, the popularity of single malts has risen, but drinking habits have not changed to keep pace. Bars that stock a decent range of scotches are multiplying (especially here in Brooklyn), but even in these bars adding ice is often the expectation (to be fair, it is really about how knowledgeable the bar staff are). Also interesting - and perhaps indicative of the power of the American market for scotch - is how the distilleries are grudgingly working to adapt to this situation:
But that doesn’t mean Scotch professionals are happy about the way Americans drink their product. The Islay single-malt distillery Bruichladdich nods to the durable U.S. preference by offering a “Rocks” version of its whisky specially selected to hold up to the icy onslaught. But Bruichladdich exec Mark Reynier still complains: “We go to all the lengths to provide hand-selected, natural whisky, unadulterated by additives, sweeteners or colorings,” he says, “only for the drinker to go and add chlorine and fluoride,” chemicals commonly found in frozen tap water. So there is a move to elevate Scotch on the rocks by improving the rocks. Most ice at home suffers from chlorine and/or the smelly taint of frozen foods. Ice at bars and restaurants tends to be in little chips or discs that melt too fast. The best bars have machines that produce big, square-sided cubes. The Macallan distillery is taking it one step further by encouraging bars to acquire its “ice ball” machine, which crafts a crystalline sphere of frozen water slightly smaller than a baseball, served one to a glass. At home, the best bet is to make fresh ice using spring water in a tray that makes big cubes.
It’s an interesting move on the part of the distilleries, but I wonder if it is necessary. The popularity of single malts is on the rise, at least in major metropolitan areas of the US. More and more whisky drinkers are educating themselves on the proper way to drink single malt scotch. I too started out drinking my whisky on the rocks and gradually moved over to drinking it neat. Eventually, more and more people like me - newbies in their 20s and 30s - will change their drinking habits. I wouldn’t be surprised if, 10 or 20 years from now, scotch on the rocks became a significantly less common drink order in major US markets like New York, Chicago, Boston, etc.