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Scotch Whisky’s Identity Crisis

I have already written extensively about the perpetual effort of the Scotch whisky industry to “demystify” the category and attract younger people two years ago in the second part of this article. Not very surprisingly this quest has still not ended. The latest reiteration is Diageo’s Haig Club campagin with David Beckham in polka dot trousers.

haig_club_clubman_beckham

In a Spirits Business article we find this all too familiar sounding gem:

“Our first advert for Haig Club Clubman aims to disrupt people’s pre-conceived notions around whisky,” said Ronan Beirne, global marketing director for Haig Club.

“With Haig Club Clubman, we are purposefully and assertively inviting consumers to make their own rules on how to enjoy this versatile Scotch whisky.

“This progressive approach aligns with our long term ambition to recruit new whisky drinkers by breaking down the barriers for entry, continuing to drive the vibrancy and relevancy of the category.”

While the Scotch whisky industry is desperately trying to modernise its image by embracing millenial hipster bargoers its members are celebrating themselves as Keepers of the Quaich at Blair Castle in front of stag heads, historic weapons and paintings of Highland nobility, an exclusive invitation-only circle with a visual apperance somewhere between freemasons and a folkloristic costume group.

Distillery managers and brand ambassadors proudly wear kilts at whisky shows and other events while the marketing departments try to overcome the dusty “kilt and bagpipe” image of Scotch whisky. And only last year Diageo reinforced the dreaded “old man in a comfy chair in front of a fireplace” stereotype by having Nick Offerman sipping Lagavulin for 44 minutes straight on a promotional “Yule Log” video.

I could cite more examples of this schizophrenia but I think you get the picture.

The attempts to “demystify” Scotch whisky are certainly not helped by the recent trend of releasing no age statement bottlings with fancy names, preferably Gaelic, that very often leave the potential buyer without any clue about the content of the bottle, let alone how the name is pronounced.

Instead, the current trend of post-factual politics finds its analogy in whisky advertising that lulls people into a world of fairy tales about mysterious beasts and myths about the heritage of a brand in order to sell completely interchangeable products. Whiskies of entry level quality are stylised to luxury items with the hope that fancy packaging and outrageous pricing might fool the palates of the buyers.

Oh, the pricing, everybody’s favourite topic. I’ve ranted more than enough about it myself. But it is also another symptom of the disease that Scotch whisky is suffering from. Whisky is supposed to become more approachable, but at the same time it is becoming less and less affordable.

The industry wants to introduce new audiences to Scotch, but the affordable introductory bottlings are becoming less and less an advertisment for “the good stuff”. Both because their quality is often mediocre and because most of the good stuff is now priced beyond the financial capabilities of people with a modest income. Can Scotch whisky really be approachable, if anything but the cheap stuff of is out of reach?

And finally, mere mortals are told that age is nothing but a number. Meanwhile, precious liquid from the oldest casks is filled into crystal decanters, put on a pedestal, and producers, investors and oligarchs dance around the 50 year old golden calves.

The whisky industry is doing the splits. I just hope they don’t strain their legs.

 

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Three New Ten Year Olds From Bruichladdich

bruichladdich_10_2016Bruichladdich just released three 10 yo bottlings of their different whisky brands and sent me a set of samples to taste.

Probably the most important bottling is the reborn Laddie Ten. There were many sad voices when the old one was discontinued, and rightly so because it was excellent.

Then there is a new PC10 from Port Charlotte and a new bottling of Octomore 10.

Bruichladdich Laddie Ten Second Edition

“Bourbon, Sherry, French wine” – 50%


My Tasting Notes:

Colour: Dark gold
Nose: Stewed apples, toasted hazelnuts, vanilla, hints of liquorice and nutmeg.
Palate: Stewed apples, orange zest, honey, vanilla, hints of Earl Grey tea, nutmeg and white pepper.
Finish: Long, fruity and slightly spicy.
Overall: The ABV has been increased to a generous 50% but even more so has the price, so this is not the bargain anymore it used to be. But the Laddie Ten remains a very good whisky with lots of flavours to explore without being too complicated.

Rating: 87/100 – Price tag: ~£50

Port Charlotte PC 10 Second Edition

“Sherry, Tempranillo, French wine” – 40 ppm – 50%


My Tasting Notes:

Colour: Medium gold
Nose: Light maritime smoke, the faintest hint of banana, vanilla, cloves, hints of mace.
Palate: Medium peat, stewed apples, banana, vanilla, hints of cloves, cardamom and pepper.
Finish: Long, smoky and slightly spicy.
Overall: This is less thick, oily and spicy but more “civilised” and fruity than other Port Charlottes I have tasted. Which is bit of a pity because I loved that style. The new bottling feels much more like a peated version of the Laddie Ten than like something completely different. The quality is still very high, though, only the character has changed.

Rating: 87/100 – Price tag: ~£55

Octomore 10 Second Edition

“Bourbon, Grenache Blanc” – 167 ppm – 57.3%


My Tasting Notes:

Colour: Dark gold
Nose: Not very strong actually with surprisingly little smoke, liquorice, vanilla, hints od mixed spices. Water adds some maritime freshness.
Palate: Strong but not very strong peat, sweet apples, orange zest, honey, cloves, allspice, black pepper.
Finish: Long, smoky and slightly spicy.
Overall: Again, the Laddie DNA is well visible here, only the peat level has been ramped up a few more notches. I can imagine that some hardcore peatheads will be disappointed by its relative mildness; it is an execptionally well rounded expression. This is probably my favourite Octomore, but I haven’t tasted them all.

Rating: 90/100 – Price tag: ~£150

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Wemyss – 3 New Scotch Whisky Bottlings

Earlier ths week I received a set of three samples from independent bottler Weymss. Here are my findings:

Glenrothes 1997/2016 “Blossom Nectar

Hogshead – 50.8%


My Tasting Notes:

Colour: Straw
Nose: Fresh lemon, green apples, vanilla, hints of roses and white pepper.
Palate: Apples, vanilla, porridge, hints of nuts and pepper.
Finish: Medium long, slightly fruity and slightly spicy.
Overall: It is difficult to believe that his whisky is already 19 years old, it tastes much more youthful. It’s a nice enough dram but there is not much noteworthy about it.

Rating: 82/100

Longmorn 1992/2016 “Persian Anise”

Hogshead – 46%


My Tasting Notes:

Colour: Bright gold
Nose: Honey, orange zest, ripe banana, vanilla, hints uf nutmeg and allspice.
Palate: Fizzy banana and pineapple, vanilla, lemon zest, nutmeg, hints of pepper.
Finish: Long, fruity and slightly spicy.
Overall: A very nice fruity whisky with a rich and creamy mouthfeel.

Rating: 86/100

Bunnahabhain 1990/2016 “Haven Trail”

Hogshead – 46%


My Tasting Notes:

Colour: Dark straw
Nose: Stewed apples, nuts, vanilla, hints of banana, black pepper.
Palate: Toasted nuts, apples, hints of peach, vanilla, hints of cinnamon and nutmeg.
Finish: Long, fruity and slightly spicy.
Overall: Another pleasantly fruity and creamy expression, this time with added nuts.

Rating: 85/100

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2809006820_ceae1244b8_zWhen asked to name the signature spirit of Germany, most people from other countries would probably say “Jägermeister”. But while Jägermeister may be the most popular German booze internationally it can hardly be called traditional because it has only been around since the 1930s. And its recent international success is mostly due to clever marketing as a party drink and cocktail ingredient.

Looking at German spirits with a bit more of a history we find a rather distinct north/south divde between distilled grain and fruit spirits. Northern Germany is Korn country where for many centuries rye and wheat have been made into what is essentially vodka distilled to a lower proof. Korn would also qualify as unaged grain whisky under Scottish law as long as also some malted barley is used, which in fact is done in most cases in order to provide the necessary enzymes for sugar formation.

The milder climate in south Germany makes it possible to grow grapes and other fruit to a much larger extent than in the north. This has led to the distillation of a large number of fruit and wine brandies in this region.

But there is another distinctively German spirit that usd to be hugely popular in the past but has become a niche product today: Kartoffelschnaps. Kartoffel means potato, so in principle Kartoffelschnaps is indeed nothing else than potato vodka.

You might think that potato vodka is an eastern European thing, but historically this is not strictly true. The distillation of potatoes in Germany began in the 17th century.

Potatoes as a food crop were introducd in Germany in the 17th century. But it was not until the  mid-18th century that potatoes were grown on a larger scale. King Frederic II of Prussia in particular encouraged the cultivation of potatoes by demanding farmers to devote a tenth of their fields to them. At first acceptance was poor, but eventually the farmers learned about the nutritional benefits of the potato, and Prussia – and subsequently all of Germany – became a major potato producer.

1280px-coupe_de_lalambic_allemand_pour_la_distillation_des_vins_appareil_de_pistoriusIn principle potatoes are distilled the same way as fruit. Until the early 19th century the distillation of potatoes was not very popular because the process is not very efficient when done in traditional pot stills. But in 1817 Johann Heinrich Leberecht Pistorius patented a special still that made the distillation of potato mash much easier and cheaper.

The Pistorius still consisted of two connected pot stills and a small rectifier that allowed a distillation to 60% to 80% ABV. It can be regarded as a predecessor of the column still that revolutionised the distillation of whisky. And it was only after Pistorius’ invention that potato distillation came to eastern Europe for making vodka as we know it today.

The introduction of the Pistorius still made the cultivation of potatoes even more popular because farmers could use the pomace as cattle feed and fertiliser. In consequence Kartoffelschnaps experienced a huge boom in Germany that lasted many decades.

In the 19th century thousands of distilleries made Kartoffelschnaps which in consequence became cheaper and cheaper. Farms and also factories even paid a part of the worker’s wages in Kartoffelschnaps. Of course this was not without effect. Alcoholism became rampant to an extent that people spoke of a “Branntweinpest” (brandy plague). Unemployment and poverty were often the consequence, not to speak of the health aspects. For example in Berlin there was one “watering hole” for every 109 inhabitants in 1844. Very much the same development happened in Switzerland.,

As a consequence both Germany and Switzerland introduced an alcohol tax in 1887 (the Swiss tax was uniquely for Kartoffelschnaps). Before that, alcohol was not consequently taxed and often only on a local basis. So the introduction of the alcohol tax was not simply a way of  improving the budget but also a measure to fight social and health problems in the society as well as to control agriculture.

The measure proved to be successful. Kartoffelschnaps became significantly more expensive, and alcohol consumption decreased again. But this does not mean that potato distillation came out of fashion. More and more potato distillers switched from making Kartoffelschnaps to industrial alcohol. The turn of the century saw a massive industrial boom, and alcohol was needed for many purposes. Also industrial customers were better prepared to pay the higher prices.

This process went along with a major concentration of the distilling industry, and on top of that alcohol production was heavily regulated during World War One. This resulted in monopoly-like structures of the alcohol industry which eventually led to Germany establishing a state monopoly on alcohol in 1919.

This monopoly is still partially in place today, but it will be abolished completely by 2017 because EU law has largely overridden it. As a result of this it has had to be subsidised instead of generating income. It should be noted that the German alcohol monoply never included prohibitve elements like in Scandinavia or North America where alcohol sales are restricted by government control. In its core the monopoly was about giving the state access to industrial alcohol because it is a very important resource. Potato distillers have actually been quite happy about the monopoly because the government has to buy any alcohol they produce for a fixed price.

To the present day, potatato distillation has been going on on a large scale in Germany, but almost entirely for industrial alcohol. Kartoffelschnaps is still being made in small volumes, it even has enjoyed a bit of a renaissance in the past years because of its recognition as a product with a long tradition. But it has almost disappeared from the shelves, and apart from some online retailers it is not easy to find.

If you exepct a tasting note for Kartoffelschnaps now, I have to disappoint you. I have never been a fan of vodka or korn, and Kartoffelschnaps is in the same realm. It tends to a bit sweeter and richer than grain-based spirits, but it still is not a drink I’d enjoy.

I do think the story is fascinating, though. It is amazing how an almost forgotten invention such as the Pistorius still can still have an impact on the present.

Picture references: Potatoes: flickr (Nick Saltmarsh) – Pistorius still: Wikipedia

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C & S Dram – 3 New Single Malt Bottlings

Last week I received three review samples from the German independent bottler C & S. Here are my findings:

Little Piggy (Ballindalloch) 6 yo C & S Dram Collection

Sherry puncheon #900078 – 65.5%


My Tasting Notes:

Colour: Straw
Nose: Bircher muesli with grated apples, oats and raisins, white pepper.
Palate: A strong alcoholic punch is followed by apples, porridge, grapefruit, hints of raisins, nutmeg and pepper .
Finish: Rather short, alcoholic and slightly fruity.
Overall: This bottle is not an example for the “young whisky can be great too” statement you often hear from NAS supporters. It was frankly bottled too young. Youthful cereal and stinging ethanol dominate this whisky that should have been left in the cask a few years longer.

Rating: 74/100

Ballindalloch is the pseudonym of a famous Speyside distillery that does not like its name to be used for independent bottlings.

Benrinnes 9 yo C & S Dram Collection

Hogshead #309916 – 57.2%


My Tasting Notes:

Colour: Pale straw
Nose: Walnuts, hints of apples, vanilla, freshly cut wood, hints of lemon zest and a tiny whiff of smoke.
Palate: Walnuts, breakfast cereals, vanilla, fresh apples, hints of banana and lemon, nutmeg and white pepper.
Finish: Medium long, slightly fruity and slightly spicy.
Overall: Again this is rather youthful but it feels more rounded than the Ballindalloch, which makes it much more pleasant to drink.

Rating: 83/100 – Price Tag: €49

Benrinnes 24 yo C & S Dram Senior

Hogshead #446 – 56.3%


My Tasting Notes:

Colour: Dark gold
Nose: Orange zest, toasted nuts, waxed leather, vanilla, mace, hints of cinnamon and pepper.
Palate: Orange zest, hints of banana and pineapple, honey, cinnamon, hints of cardamom and pepper.
Finish: Long, fruity and slightly spicy.
Overall: Now we’re talking. This is a delightful dram, and it proves that Benrinnes does not necessarily need a sherry cask to excel. And the pricing is very reasonable regarding today’s inflated whisky prices.

Rating: 88/100 – Price tag: €124

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Ardbeg Twenty One – Tasting Notes

ardbeg_twentyoneArbeg fans have long been waiting for an older expression from the distillery. But until now all bottlings from recent years were on the young side, and most didn’t carry any age statement at all. It has become rather obvious that the distillery has not put aside a significant number of casks to eventually use for bottlings of oder whisky. But earlier this year the label grahpics for a 21 year old showed up on the internet. This means that the spirit must have been distilled in the period when the distillery still was on life support with only minimal production before reopening in 1997.

This bottling will be available from 21st September to Ardbeg Committee members. Despite the high price of €370 there is little doubt that all bottles will be sold out quickly. I was fortunate enough to receive a review sample from Moët Hennessy. Here are my impressions:

Ardbeg Twenty One

46%


My Tasting Notes:

Colour: Straw
Nose: Peat smoke, banana, hints of pineapple, vanilla, liquorice, cloves, hints of nutmeg and white pepper.
Palate: Still rather strong peat, banana, green apples, lime, green tea, hints of cloves and white pepper.
Finish: Very long, smoky and slightly fruity.
Overall: Not very surprisingly this is an excellent whisky. The peat ist still surprisingly strong, but it is not a peat monster by any means. This is a very delicate whisky, contemplative even. There is a lot of complexity without any bold flavours. And furthermore this plain bourbon cask whisky is a very welcome break from all those wood experiments that have been domintating the Ardbeg release policy in recent years. The only drawback: It is bloody expensive, but this could be expected.

Rating: 91/100

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high_west_ryeHigh West from Park City in Utah is one of the distilleries who are honest about the source of their whiskies. They do also make their own, but a large part of what is bottled is sourced from MGP in Indiana.

High West specializes in rye whisky but the Campfire is a rather unique blend of Scotch, bourbon and rye. Let’s see how the two compare.

High West Rocky Mountain Rye 16 yo

Batch 15G07 – 46%


My Tasting Notes:

Colour: Bright copper
Nose: Spearmint, orange zest, leather, cinnamon, hints of cloves and cardamom.
Palate: Creme caramel, orange zest, hints of black tea, cinnamon, hints of mint and pepper.
Finish: Long, dry and spicy.
Overall: A bold rye that shows its age without the wood becoming too dominating. This is a delightful whisky to savour sip by sip

Rating: 87/100

High West Campfire

Batch 1 – 46%


My Tasting Notes:

Colour: Dark amber
Nose: Quite timid on first nosing, there really is not much more going on than a vague “yes, that’s whisky”. After a few minutes rye spices and hints of peat smoke can be detected, and the nose becomes rather pleasant
Palate: Gentle smoke, toffee, orange zest, hints of mint and white pepper.
Finish: Medium long, sweet and slightly smoky.
Overall: I wouldn’t go as far and call it flawed, this unusual blend is stil a decent whisky, even though it fails to fully convince me on palate and finish. But rather than creating a synergy of aromas, the blending ironed out too much of the individuality of the different components. The result is a whisky that does not seem to know in which direction it wants to go.

Rating: 82/100

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beefeater_tanquerayI was fortunate enough to get hold of old bottles of both Tanqueray and Beefeter gin. This cries for a cross comparison with the current bottlings, of course. Judging from the labels, the old Tanqueray was bottled the 1970s, the Beefeater is a bit older, probably from the late 1960s.

All gins were tasted neat at room temperature using nosing glasses.

1970s Tanqueray Gin

43%


My Tasting Notes:

Colour: Clear
Nose: Juniper, cloves, lemon zest, hints of rose water.
Palate: Juniper, vanilla, hints of lemon zest, cloves, hints of cardamom.
Finish: Long with aromatic spices.

Rating: 84/100

Current (2016) Tanqueray Gin

47.3%


My Tasting Notes:

Colour: Clear
Nose: Juniper, cloves, lemon zest, hints of rose water.
Palate: Juniper, vanilla, cloves, hints of lemon zest and wormwood.
Finish: Long and dry.

Rating: 83/100

Overall: Despite the lower bottling strength I like the old version a little bit better. It is rounder and I find the mix of aromatic spices more pleasant than the driness of the current Tanqueray. It has to be said that the two bottlings still are remarkably similar, the nose in particular is almost identical. The difference on the palate could be entirely a result of bottle ageing.

1960s Beefeater Gin

47%


My Tasting Notes:

Colour: Clear
Nose: Juniper, strong lemon zest, lime, bergamote, hints of cardamom.
Palate: Juniper, lemon zest, hints of orange, liquorice, hints of camphor, cardamom and coriander.
Finish: Long, fruity and slightly dry.
Rating: 87/100

Current (2016) Beefeater Gin

47%


My Tasting Notes:

Colour: Clear
Nose: Juniper, lemon zest, fresh apple, hints of vanilla and cardamom.
Palate: Juniper, vanilla, lemon zest, cardamom, coriander, hints of cloves.
Finish: Long, slightly fruity and rather sweet.

Rating: 82/100

Overall: Those two are indeed quite different but the common DNA is still noticeable. The old Beefeater is almost bursting with citrus aromas supported by aromatic spices and it wins the overall comparison hands down. Its modern counterpart appears almost dull in comparison even though it still is quite a decent gin.

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ellen05It is mainly in promotional writing about Scotland or Scotch whisky where you can read this sentence. Supposedly Scotland has the highest concentration of distilleries in the world. The main perpretrators are the Scotch Whisky Association, newspapers like the Scotsman and various tourism websites. Even the website of the Europan Climate Change Adaption Conference to be held in 2017 in Glasgow claims this. But I have to disappoint you.

Yes, Scotland has many distilleries, most of them making whisky, but it is far from having the highest concentration in the sense of distilleries per land area. Scotland’s land area is 77,900 square kilometres. Currently there are around 120 operating whisky distilleries, with rising tendency. Let’s be generous and assume a total of 200 distilleries which would also include tiny start-ups and gin-only distilleries.  This is equivalent to 2.6 distilleries per 1000 square kilometres.

But you don’t need to look far for an example that debunks this claim. Switzerland has 250 commercial distilleries [link in German] on a land area of 41,300 square kilometres or 6.1 distilleries per 1000 square kilometres.

Things don’t look very different in southern Germany.  It is difficult to find a total number, but for example the association of fruit distillers in the Baden region has 54 members on a land area of 15,000 square kilometers. That’s 3.6 per 1000 square kilometres, and only a part of the the distilleries are members of the association so the real concentration will be even greater.

And these figures don’t even take into account the number of small scale and part-time distillers: 8400 Swiss farmers have their own stills. And just as an example for Germany, the association of small distillers in the North Württemberg region has 2000 members. According to the German minstry of agriculture, the number of non-bonded small distilleries in Germany is 29,000, usually these are part-time businesses attached to farms. They have an annual  production limit of only 300 litres of alcohol.

France is said to have 2000 commercial distilleries on a land area of 544,000 square kilometres, or 3.6 per 1000 square kilometres. There is a lot of distilling going on in France: Armagnac, cognac, calvados, eau de vie and marc to name just some prominent examples. To this you have to add 800 ambulant stills that can be booked by anyone growing fruit for distillation. This is common practice in the Calvados and Armagnac regions. In the Cognac region alone, 1300 growers own a still on a land area that is only 7,500 square kilometres. This may well be a true contender for the greatest distillery concentration.

If you look overseas, there is Haiti (27,700 square kilometres) with 500 distilleries for clairin, the local white rum/cachaça variant.

All these examples demonstrate that the number of distilleries in Scotland is nothing really spectacular. The only thing you can safely say is that Scotland has the greatest concentration of whisky distilleries in the the world. But given the history of whisky, would anyone be surpised by this?

The one thing that indeed is impressive about the Scottish whisky distilleries is their output. In comparison to other countries most distilleries are can be described as industrial, even though some of the malt whisky distilleries look rather picturesque. Distilleries with an annual output of 1 million litres of alcohol are considered small in Scotland but they dwarf almost any other distilleries elsewhere apart from those making grain spirit on an industrial scale.

Scotland has a reason to be proud of its national drink, but there is no need to let it appear even more glorious than it already is.

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Brand Ambassadors – Redundant Or Not?

diageo-logo_sOnce again it was Diageo who attracted the bad press. Two days ago, scotchwhisky.com reported that the US-based Masters of Whisky brand ambassador programme is going to be “axed” at the end of September. 40 people in toal will lose their jobs including 24 brand ambassadors.

This was followed up by a more in-depth look at the decision and also by an unusually scathing rant by Dave Broom whose writing normally is much more moderate in tone. If you haven’t done so yet, please read the articles. I was their scoop and I don’t want to repeat everything here.

Just as a short summary, the Masters of Whisky programme has been run by an external agency named MKTG. Now ENTHUSE, a branch of the Inspira agency which has already been working with Diageo, will take over. The focus will be on the on-trade marketing for the Diageo “Reserve Portfolio” that bundles the higher end brands of the copmany. Ambassadors of the old scheme are given the possibility to apply for the new jobs created by Inspira. There is currently a whole bundle of job openings for “On-Premise Specialists”.

What this effectively means is that the whole marketing will be geared towards on-premise “expericences” in key venues with a focus on (perceived, not necessarily real) luxury.  Whisky will only be one drink among others.

The most important thing that is lost here is the educational work of brand ambassadors. Yes, brand ambassadors are also salesmen. They have to convice people that they should buy their products and not those of the competitors. And I have to admit that somtimes I bite my lips when brand ambassadors are overly enthusiastic in promoting their brands, and more than once I had to think by myself “They can’t honestly believe themselves what they just said.”

But brand ambassadors have also done a very good job in educating the public not only about the brands they represent but also about the category in general. Just take masterclasses at whisky shows as an example. Here you can learn a lot about whisky, and a good hosted whisky tasting is much more than just a show-off of the product range.

We don’t have to look far to find a reason for the decision to end the Masters of Whisky scheme. Diageo already announced that they are looking into their spending for external agencies.

Here is the official statment by DIageo’s US spokesperson Zsoka McDonald:

Diageo has hired ENTHUSE, the luxury division of Inspira agency to support our on-premise Reserve business.  MKTG remains a trusted partner and continues to work on our business including the Ketel One, Guinness, and Crown Royal Ambassador programs.

We made this decision to evolve our ambassador program – after a review that included feedback from distributors, the trade and brands – because we believe it will benefit our Reserve business, a big part of which is Scotch and North American whisky.  We remain committed to educating consumers about our brands and to supporting our whisky brands with the right resources and investment.

The key phrase here is “it will benefit our Reserve business”. By funneling everything through the Reserve portfolio channel Diageo obviously hopes to cut costs significantly.

An army of 24 ambassadors costs a lot of money to maintain. Salaries, travel, booking of event locations, catering, whisky freebies, you name it. If you let sink in that an annual 120,000 people have been “mentored” by the Masters of Whisky you can see that the yearly cost will easily run into seven-digit territory. I would not be surprised if the total costs eat up the profit of a small malt whisky distillery.

On-premise events will save on booking costs, a regionalised approach will save on travel expenses, and so on. I am sure the cost cutting will be noticeable soon.

What I am not so sure of is if the neglect of investment into consumer education will not eventually backfire in the long run. Your best customer is the one who is passionate about your product because he or she will most likely return. But can there be true passion without education? The bling effect of an event in a luxury setting can wear off quickly. A good brand ambassador can ignite that passion because a good brand ambassador already has a genuine passion for the category and does not only promote a fancy bottle with a fancy label.

So far I have only noticed bewilderment about this decision, especially from people working for Diageo’s competitors. The big question remains if this was a solitary move by Diageo due to the peculiarities of the American whisky market or if this is an experiment deisgned to find out if classic brand ambassadors are still necessary at all. But that would indeed send serious shock waves through the entire spirits business.

 

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