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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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German Grappa? Yes, There Is Such A Thing.

tresterGermany may not be regarded as highly as other countries when it comes to wine making which is a bit of a shame. But not only is there quite a diverse range of wine styles and regions in this country; Germany also has a long tradition of distilling wine, and there are a lot of distillers who also produce the equivalent of Italian Grappa or French marc.

The traditional name for this spirit is Trester which simply means pomace. But today some distillers also use Marc.

Trester brandy production in Germany is rather low key. Usually it is made by fruit eau de vie distillers who are located in wine regions to widen their product range. The great number of grape varieties grown in German vineyards also reflects in the marcs but there are also undisclosed or mixed grape spirits.

You can find tresters from all German wine regions. Currently I have two bottles from the Mosel and Nahe regions in Rheinland-Pfalz on my shelf:

1965 Vintage “Feinster Moselwein-Trester”, Josef Bölinger, Maring

Undisclosed grape – ABV: “40 to 42%”


My Tasting Notes:

Colour: Very pale straw
Nose: Fresh apples, whiffs of a musty wine cellar, lemon zest, hints of violets.
Palate: Sultanas, apples and lemon zest again, poached peach, hints of vanilla and cardamom.
Finish: Long, fruity and slightly musty.
Overall: The flavours and aromas are quite gentle, but there is quite a bit of complexity in this spirit. A very pleasant drinking experience. The colour hints to a short period of cask ageing.

Rating: 84/100

Marc vom Gelben Muskateller (L08), Korrell Johanneshof, Bad Kreuznach

“Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains” – ABV: 40%


My Tasting Notes:

Colour: Clear
Nose: Peach, apricot, hints of lemon, mixed flowers in a vase.
Palate: Peach, hints of pineapple, bergamote, violets and rose water.
Finish: Long, floral and fruity.
Overall: This isn’t one for everyone. The floral notes of the moscatel grape dominate nose and palate. If you take your time to tune into this unusual marc, you will find a lot of secondary aromas.

Rating: 87/100

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I am almost a bit embarrassed to review this calvados because this is quite an expensive bottling and somehow contradicts the “affordable alternative to whisky” philosphy that effectively made me start this blog. But anyway, when fellow blogger Sku gave a sample of this, I did not refuse.

In a way, this is an independent bottling of calvados. It is an 18 year old single cask distilled by Henri Bernard Beudin which was bottled by Eric Bordelet, a cidre producer who only rather recently also began to distill his own calvados. You can learn a bit more about this US exclusive bottling from the review at My Annoying Opinions.

calvados_bordelet_beudinABV: 53%


My Tasting Notes:

Colour: Bright copper
Nose: Sour apples, hints of grapefruit, polished wood, leather, cinnamon, cloves, a blend of light floral notes.
Palate: Baked apples, lemon zest, toasted nuts, green olives (!), cinnamon, cloves and black pepper.
Finish: Very long, dry and fruity.
Overall: It’s huge, it’s bold, it is a monster. In whisky terms this would be the Laphroaig of calvados. This is not not everybody’s darling for sure. If you are looking for a gentle sipper to enjoy on the front porch on a mild summer evening, this is not for you. This calvados demands your complete attention.

Rating: 89/100 – Price Tag: $115 for 0.375 l

Additional notes:

The tart element that is so crucial for good cidre and calvados is very pronounced here. This is achieved by using a high proportion of tart apples that would be virtually inedible raw. It even has an olive-like brininess to it that you can also find in some mezcals. So overall this is indeed a very unusual calvados.

 

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Top 7 Bullshit Booze Gadgets

Do you belong to the people who have more money than common sense? This list if for you.

whisky_bulletsWhisky Bullets

Because, let’s be honest, there is nothing quite like pointy stainless steel objects hitting your teeth and the rim of your glass.

And, of course, this is the only acceptable method for NRA members to cool down their whisky.

chilling-sip-stickThe Chilling Sip Stick

“Any alcohol aficionado will attest that ice cubes melting into your cup of 20-year-old Scotch will put a big frown on your face.”

Wiser words have never been spoken. I very much prefer to sip my 20-year-old Scotch from a straw with a built-in cooling panel. And it’s even self-rechargeable, whatever that may mean.

sonic_foamerThe Sonic Foamer

Any beer drinker will know this problem. The beer in your glass just doesn’t go stale quickly enough.

But now you can speed up the process by letting it foam up again for any sip you take. The wonders of ultrasonic sound waves working their magic… And the sleek design will grace your table with an aura of sophistication .

fizzicsThe Fizzics Beer Pourer

Too lazy to pour yourself a beer from a bottle or a can? Let the Fizzics Revolutionary Beer System do the job for only $164.99.

The machine uses the same ultrasonic technology as the Sonic Foamer to help you get rid of that pesky carbon dioxide, and it even does it with oscillations. Works best with Hefeweizen.

451e8c_89594a3251444b458ec97c60970ec482.jpg_srz_p_780_520_75_22_0.5_1.2_0_jpg_srzThe Deluxe Whisky Travel Kit

Should you be in a position to have C$230 burning a hole into your pocket, you may just as well spend them on 6 sample bottles, 2 Glencairn glasses, 2 water droppers, a leather bag, a pourer, a pencil and a notebook.

levitating_cupThe Levitating Cup

Nothing says that you’re too cool for this planet like having your drink hovering in front of you.

You don’t care that this is only a cheap magnet trick instead of superconductive quantum locking. After all the cup is so classy that it’s made from ultra-lightweight faux-glass. And isn’t it stuff like this that Kickstarter was invented for?

somabarThe Somabar Robotic Bartender

Wifi-connected and app-controlled, the internet of things finally has conquered the world of cocktails.

By spending $429 on this contraption you can make sure that your drinks will never be mixed over ice again. As a bonus you will be able to enjoy the first sugar-free old-fashioned.

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Many – some might argue too many – articles and blog posts have already discussed the definition of “craft beer”. I don’t want to add to that, but I also don’t want this article to be misunderstood. So for the sake of the argument I will stick to the classic “small startup breweries wanting to offer more variety than the ‘macrobrews’ ” definition.

As we know, the American craft beer movement was sparked by homebrewers who were frustrated about the ever-diminishing variety on the American beer market and the dominance of a handful of industry giants focussing on bland lagers and light beers.

The wave of innovation has been sweeping over large parts of the world, and with a few years of delay it has also reached Germany. Other than America, Germany is one the motherlands of beer culture, so the situation on the Germen beer market has alway been very different.

Traditional German breweries come in all sizes, from globally distributed Beck’s over the “TV pilsners” omnipresent in supermarkets nationwide to tiny village breweries with only a handful of employees. And even the larger ones are not really a match output-wise for Bud, Miller or the likes.

Furthermore German beer has traditionally been of fairly high quality. Of course there are also many breweries whose beers are not exactly splendid, but the overall level of quality certainly is higher than that of your typical US macrobrew. It would be tempting to philosophize about the influence of the German beer purity law (the Reinheitsgebot) here, but I’ll refrain from that.

But even so, there have been a lot of German craft breweries launching their businesses in recent years. The reason for their success (so far) certainly lies in the increased variety of beer types they are offering. While German beer does have quite a variety of traditional types like Schwarzbier, Kölsch or even Gose, German beer culture is largely centered around lagers. Pilsner and “export”/helles dominate the market with the strong help of Weissbier.

So German beer geeks understandably were more than happy to finally be able to also enjoy stouts, tripels or all kinds of ales without having to source them abroad.

And then something very interesting happened.

Among traditional German brewers there is a strong “We have always been craft brewers” sentiment. Which brings us back to the definition of “craft beer” because for them traditional small scale production equals “craft”.

But instead of arguing over semantics, more and more well-established German breweries are actively embracing the modern craft beer concept by expanding their product ranges to include all those “new” beer types that have never been part of German brewing tradition.

A very good example is Riegele from Augsburg, This brewery can trace back its history until 1386, and until not very long ago they foussed entirely on the traditional Bavarian beer styles. But now they have included a well-made craft beer range with IPA, imperial stout and others.

During a recent trip to my hometown Mannheim I visited the local Eichbaum brewery that was founded in 1679. When I was still living there Eichbaum had the reputation of a decent but fairly boring middle-of-the-road brewery. Now I was suprised to find that they have launched a small range of  “crafty” brews as well.

There are many more examples like these. And I think this is very good news for the consumer because the variety on the German beer market has never been so large before.

But logically this also means that the “proper” craft breweries in the sense of the definition above have to face some very serious competition. German brewers know how to make good beer. A degree in brewing from Weihenstephan is one of the greatest assets any aspiring brewer can have. And with their stronger position on the beer market, established breweries have a definite economical advantage over small startups.

Of course this move must also be seen in the light of the continuing decline of the traditional German brewing industry in terms of numbers of breweries. There has been a strong concentration process for many years that has been going along with a fierce competition about shelf space in supermarkets and specialised drink stores.  Many small breweries had to close and many others were bought by competitors.

It is very understandable that many German breweries see the current craft beer trend as an opportunity to fight against this development, and one can only hope that the cut-throat competition will not just shift to another level.

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four_roses_small_bach_limited_2014_2015I was lucky enough to get samples from the last two releases. These annual bottlings are highly sought after. Will they live up to their reputation?

Four Roses Small Batch Limited Edition 2014

ABV: 55.9%


My Tasting Notes:

Colour: Bright copper
Nose: Vanilla, cinnamon, fudge, hints of bee’s wax, wood polish, hints of cardamom.
Palate: Creme caramel, orange and lemon zest, hints of raisins and cardamom.
Finish: Long, sweet and slightly spicy.
Overall: Very much on the sweet and gentle side, especially with a splash of water. It’s a pleasant bourbon but it seems to be missing something.

Rating: 84/100 – Price Tag: originally around €100, now considerably more expensive

Four Roses Small Batch Limited Edition 2015

ABV: 54.25%


My Tasting Notes:

Colour: Bright copper
Nose: Orange zest, leather, vanilla, hints of freshly cut pine wood, cloves, hints of pepper, water brings out minty notes.
Palate: Orange zest, dark caramel, hints of tobacco and mint, cinnamon, cardamom and pepper.
Finish: Long, dry and spicy.
Overall: Quite a robust expression that benefits from added water. The palate is dominated by aromatic spices.

Rating: 87/100 – Price Tag: originally around €100, now considerably more expensive

Summary

While the 2014 version feels a bit shy, the 2015 release has a much richer but also a more rounded character overall. I found it quite interesting that adding a little water did the 2015 well whereas the 2014 suffered a bit.

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slyrs_mm1

Brown spirits have one major drawback: maturation takes time. It takes years until a cask of whisky, rum or brandy has become mature enough to be bottled. So it is no wonder that people try to think of ways to make this process go faster.

What is spirit maturation?

First we need to have an understanding of what actually happens during the maturation period. Cask ageing is a very complex thing. In any brown spirit you can find hundreds of different molecules that shape the character of the liquid. Some of them are already present after distillation, some are formed within the cask, and others are extracted from the wood. There are three main influences on the raw spirit:

  • Wood extraction
  • Air interaction
  • Recombination and breakdown within the liquid

Wood extraction is responsible for the colour of the spirit and also donates aromatic components such as vanilla or nutty flavours and aromatic spices. When casks are used that previously held other liquids, as is common for Scotch whisky, their residues in the wood pores will also contribute.

The air in the warehouse can penetrate the casks and interact with the spirit. It is mainly the oxygen that changes the spirit over time by oxidising many different compounds. And finally the various molecules within the liquid are reacting with each other to form new substances.

Speeding up things

There are quite a few distillers who are using special methods to speed up maturation. Also there are wooden gadgets sold that are supposed to “enhance” already bottled spirits.

To the best of my knowledge all these methods focus on the wood extraction part of maturation entirely. Many distilleries use smaller casks to benefit from the increased surface to volume ratio. If a higher proportion of spirit is in contact with wood, then more wood components can dissolve in the spirit in a given period. One of the pioneers has been Laphroaig who use quarter casks to finish some of their whisky to great acclaim. It has become popular for newly founded small “craft” distilleries to completely mature their spirit in small casks.

But some producers go even farther. Tuthilltown for example subjects their casks to low-frequency sound that is supposed to agitate the liquid and promote better extraction. The Cleveland Whiskey Company takes young bourbon and puts it into a pressurized tank together with the cask wood. Others use wood chips to increase wood contact of the spirit.

Wood extraction does not equal maturation

Such speed aged products are often described as having undergone years worth of maturation in only a few months. But as we can see above, such statements are misleading. It is indeed possible to extract a lot of wood flavours in a very short time. But all the other maturation processes are not accelerated at all. Young whisky for example typically has a somewhat rough cereal character that is generally regarded as not very pleasant. This will only mellow out in the cask over the years. Strong wood flavours can mask this youthful character but they can not make it disappear.

This does not mean that it is impossible to produce a good tasting spirit with accelerated wood extraction. I have tasted some very good ones, but also some that are frankly lousy. You just should not make the mistake to call such a product “mature” because it is not.

There is only one way to speed up everything, and even this is not perfect.

Cask maturation of a spirit is the effect of innumerable chemical reactions. Any reaction has a specific speed or reaction rate to be more exact. This is governed by the laws of chemical kinetics. All the wood extraction speed-ups don’t actually change the kinetics by making individual molecues react faster, they just increase the number of molecules that can react with each other in a given time.

The one factor that indeed alters the reaction rate is temperature. This is a universal law for chemical reactions. So the higher the temperature in the warehouse, the faster the maturation happens overall.

A very good example for this phenomenon is the whisky from Amrut in Bangalore, India. It takes only three to four years until their whisky has reached a degree of maturity that is comparable to 12 year old Scotch.

But before you jubilate, there are two tricky things to consider. Firstly higher temperatures mean higher evaporation. The annual loss is significantly higher in a tropical climate.

But even if you ignore the angel’s share, the final spirit will be markedly different when matured at higher temperatures. The reason for this is that every chemical reaction rate has a different dependency on the temperature. As a rule of thumb, an increase of 10 degrees Kelvin/Celsius increases the rate by a factor of 2 to 4. As a result, the balance between the various flavour compounds in a matured spirit will be different at different maturation temperatures.

So we can see that due to the laws of chemical kinetics it is indeed impossible to create the exact same spirit in a shorter time by any method of acceleration.

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Grappa Nardini Riserva 60%

grappa_nardini_riserva_60Founded in 1779, Nardini is the oldest working distillery in Italy. It is safe to say that they pretty much invented modern grappa. The distillery is located in the aptly named town of Bassano del Grappa in the Veneto region, although that name has no relation to the spirit.

The most common products of Nardini are the clear Aquavite with white label and the cask aged Riserva with yellow label, bottled at 50% ABV. I have been a fan of Nardini for many years, but it was only recently when I found out that they also produce a 60% version of the Riserva.

ABV: 60%


My Tasting Notes:

Colour: Straw
Nose: Sweet grapes, tinned pineapple, hints of vanilla, a light alcohol sting.
Palate: Sweet sultanas, pineapple, hints of banana, custard, hints of white pepper.
Finish: Long, fruity and rather sweet.
Overall: This is quite an unusual grappa in a way that the palate is very much dominated by sweet fruit. The typical mustiness of grappa is entirely missing and despite the high bottling strength there are no rough edges whatsovever. The overall character is a bit shy, though, even with added water.

Rating: 85/100 – Price Tag: ~€40 for the 1 litre bottle

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Pour Me Another One

Evolution

Pour Me Another One is a blog about alcoholic drinks. It evolved from dramming.com which I used to maintain from 2010 to mid-2016. Over these years, Dramming has grown into one of the major whisky blogs with more than 1200 tasting notes and 450 articles, almost entirely about whisky.

In recent years the whisky market has seen a development that made me feel less and less enthusiasctic to write about whisky only. Prices for whisky beyond trusty standard bottlings have risen to a level that can only be called prohibitive for someone like me who does not earn a truckload of money, so I found myself switching to more affordable “malternatives” more and more often. I also realised that as a whisky blogger I had some amount of responsiblilty in fuelling the demand for whisky.

This development has led to my decision to no longer maintain Dramming and to broaden the scope of my blogging activity to alcoholic drinks in general. I decided against a restructuring of the old blog and for starting a completely new one.

The question was only what to do with the old blog content. There is a lot of information in there and also some writing that I am actually a bit proud of. So it would be a shame to just delete it. I did not like the idea to turn dramming.com into a zombie website that is no longer updated. So I decided to transfer the complete content to this blog and place it in a dedicated “Archive” section. This means that everything I have written in the last six years is still available for your perusal. There are only two restrictions: I did not update internal cross links because that would have been too much work, and I did not transfer any pictures because of the same reason.

What to expect

I have no intention to set limitations to the blog content apart from that there has to be a connection to alcoholic drinks. Neither will there be a fixed publishing schedule. So in a way you can expect anything “booze” anytime. But there is one notable exception that will not surprise regular readers of Dramming: you will not find regurgitated PR fluff here. My blogs have never been and will never be platforms for free advertising of the drinks industry. Or paraphrased: all PR material you send me may be used against you.

Despite the open concept there will be a few fixed categories. I will continue to publish tasting notes, and I will continune use the 100 point scoring system. There will be a place for “dusties”, and there will definitely be a “Booze Bullshit” section. Other than that, let’s see how this will develop.

[This text will also be used for the “About” page.]

PS: Not very surprisingly there is still some work to do, both under the hood and on the layout. So there may be abrupt changes in design or occasional errors or outages in the following weeks.

For the time being this site will be a classic chronological blog. I may add a Dramming-esque front page later.

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Per Nausea Ad Astra

This will likely be the last proper blog post on dramming.com.

Four weeks ago I explained why the blog has switched to Hibernation Mode. Response was overwhelmingly positive, but many readers stated that they would like me to continue blogging.

I said I would not quit completely anyway, but over the past weeks I have been making up my mind about the future of this blog. Frankly, I don’t have much hope that the situation on the whisky market will change substantially in the near future. It will change in the long run, though, I am stronlgy convinced of this.

My situation as a blogger is pretty much like it was back in 2010 when I transformed “whisky-rating.com” into “dramming.com”. I felt like the focus on scoring whisky was putting me into a straitjacket, so decided to widen the scope of the blog to “everything whisky”.

Right now I am having that straitjacket feeling again. This blog is about whisky, but blogging about whisky is not as fun anymore for me as it used to be. I have noticed myself branching out to other, more affordale spirits, and at the moment whisky probably makes up less than half of the high-octane booze I drink.

So I have decided that another revamp is necessary in order to regain the joy of blogging. I don’t intend to do a big surprise relaunch or to keep dropping cryptic hints on social media, so I am telling you this ahead of time.

It’s early stages yet, but I will take my time to work out a concept for the new blog. There is already a name and a domain for it that is sufficiently generic to allow a truly wide-angle view on the world of drinks. It may take a few weeks, or even months, though. We’ll see.

Of course it would be a shame if the content of this blog did not survive. I will find a way to transfer all old articles at the very least and probably also the tasting notes.

I’ll keep you informed.

 

 

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