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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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Ardbeg Dark Cove General Edition

46.5%


My Tasting Notes:

Colour: Medium amber
Nose: Peat smoke, vanilla, cherries, hints of chewing gum, cloves and black pepper.
Palate: Strong peat, liquorice, vanilla, lemon zest, pineapple, banana, cloves, nutmeg and pepper.
Finish: Long, fruity and smoky.
Overall: The nose is exactly as I remember it from the Committee Edition, but on the palate it seems to be fruitier. I do like this version more in spite of the lower strength.

Rating: 87/100 – Price Tag $$$$$ – Value for your Money $$$$$

Review sample provided by Moet Hennesy

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Don't Feed The Beast That Chokes You

“Whisky isn’t for an elite, it is for everyone.” – Dave Broom, “Whisky: The Manual”

The above quote has become a favourite of whisky bloggers and drinks writers, but as time moves on it more and more appears like wishful thinking.

I have been dreading the day when I would have to write an article titled “Whisky – The Drink For The One Percent”. In a way, this is that article, but I am going to wrap it up differently.

Let’s go back to the good old days for a moment. I am not talking about the days of White Horse Lagavulin, Laphroaig Green Stripe and the Cadenhead Dumpy Ardbegs. No, I mean the very recent good old days around 2010, when I began to blog about whisky and started to dig more seriously into the whisky universe.

My spending limit for a bottle has alwas been a “soft 100 euros” which would mean I’d buy the occasional bottle for around €120 or maybe even €150. Back in the days, this money would buy me a 27 yo St. Magdalene (note my “quite expensive” remark, oh dear…), a 28 year old Port Ellen, a 30 year old Strathisla or a little later still a 29 year old Caol Ila. You could also buy two bottles of the fabulous Highland Park 18 and still get some change in return. In short, it still was possible to buy “the good stuff” for acceptable prices.

Of course the prices for whisky from closed distilleries are bound to go up over time. But if you take Caol Ila for instance, today you can find a 15 year old single cask for £100 (~€130) and just recently The Whisky Agency released an 8 year old that sets you back €120+ [Side note: Yeah, I know “age is just a number”. But especially in the case of Caol Ila, it helps].

I have a friends and family background where spending over €30 on a bottle of booze is out of question. But I could always counter this with the argument that the liquid in a €100+ bottle is worth it because it (usually) is so much better than a €17.99 Kirschwasser from Schladerer.

But with today’s whisky prices I have a hard time justifying to myself to pay this much for a bottle of whisky because once you leave the safe territory of trusty standard bottlings such as Lagavulin 16 or Ardbeg 10, you get less and less for your money every year.

We all know what has led to this development. Even though the total whisky market has been more or less flat for a couple of years after a massive growth especially in Asia, the demand for aged single malt continues to outstrip the supply. The whisky industry tends to be caught in the pork cycle, there is an oversupply when nobody wants it and a shortage when demand is high.

I am sure you can see my frustration that has only increased over the years. For “the good stuff” I have to rely on samples or on the generosity of friends now. But to just take a bottle from the shelf and pour myself a stiff oldie has become next to impossible.

Of course whisky is not dead. It just smells funny, to paraphrase a Frank Zappa quote. It is still possible to find good or even very good whisky for decent prices, and this includes dusty hunting at auctions. And by no means this means I will turn away from whisky.

But with the current situation on the whisky market I am feeling choked by a beast with multiple tentacles: Investors, collectors and whisky geeks with deep pockets that are willing to pay any price for a bottle they fancy have been helping to drive up whisky prices to ever more ridiculous levels.

Just the other day I stumbled upon a new release from Glenlivet for America with 14 yo single cask whiskies for $350 a bottle. And this situation is not restricted to Scotch whisky. A $300 new release of Booker’s Rye has blogging heavyweight Steve Ury seriously asking himself pretty much the same existential question as myself.

Indeed I have been pondering for quite a while now about how to proceed with this blog in the light of such developments. You might have noticed a significant slowdown over the last months, and eventually I decided to put up the “Hibernation Mode” banner. And here is why:

Along with the recent whisky boom went the whisky blogging boom. Today there is a small army of a few hundred whisky bloggers spreading the gospel. They are joined by a number of professional writers who publish books and write for magazines; sometimes you can even watch them on television. Also some bloggers have turned professional or do paid writing gigs along their day jobs. Many also host whisky tastings, and overall this army is doing a great job to spread the love for whisky.

This is not necessarily a bad thing of course, and I don’t want to personally blame any writer or blogger of  pouring oil ino the fire. But with a whisky market like it is today it is only logical that the more people catch the whisky virus, the more the strain on the supply of aged single malt whisky increases. This in turn will ultimately lead to even higher prices as long as stocks in the warehouses continue to be low.

As long as your disposable income is high enough, all this doesn’t really matter. But for a whisky blogger on a budget the situation is becoming rather surreal. Now I have never been one of the most enthusiastically writing bloggers around, but I have been called influential by people whose opinions I value.

How big this influence actually is is another question, but I have decided to restrict my blogging in a way that I can have the feeling not pour oil into the fire myself. Some of you might say that I have been largely publishing just rants anyway, but if things won’t change dramatically I would just be repeating myself.

I will not shut down the blog completely. There is still a small queue of review samples to work through (let’s see how this will develop…) and I will post the occasional tasting note for other whiskies I have tasted. One immediate change is that there won’t be any affiliate links in new tasting notes. If I find the time and energy, I might also delete the older ones. There will also be more blog articles should any interesting topics come around. But you can expect the blog to remain low-key until the grip of the beast has eased at least a bit.

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46%


My Tasting Notes:

Colour: Bright gold
Nose: Pineapple, banana, orange zest, ginger, hints of nutmeg and pepper.
Palate: Vanilla, lemon, white chocolate, hints of nutmeg and pepper
Finish: Rather short, slightly fruity and slightly spicy.
Overall: I hate to repeat myself, but time and time again there are whiskies with a great nose that dissapoint on the palate.

Rating: 80/100 – Price Tag $$$$$ – Value for your Money $$$$$

Review sample provided by Wemyss

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Hogshead – 46%


My Tasting Notes:

Colour: Straw
Nose: Tinned pineapple and tangerine, hints of bacon, lemon zest, vanilla, fresh ginger, hints of pepper.
Palate: Mild peat, banana, pineapple, vanilla, strong Earl Grey tea, ginger, hints of nutmeg and white pepper.
Finish: Long, fruity, dry and smoky.
Overall: A typical midle-aged Bowmore of solid quality. This was bottled just in time before the wood influence became too powerful.

Rating: 86/100 – Price Tag $$$$$ – Value for your Money $$$$$

Buy Bowmore “Shellfish Plattter” at Master of Malt

Review sample provided by Wemyss

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Aberlour 16 yo Cask 4738 for TWE

First fill sherry – 53.5%


My Tasting Notes:

Colour: Copper
Nose: Amarena cherries, cassis, milk chocolate, cinnamon, hints of cardamom and pepper.
Palate: Mixed berry compote, dates, tobacco, strong cappuccino, cardamon, hints of nutmeg and pepper.
Finish: Long, fruity and spicy.
Overall: This is quite dry when enjoyed neat, but with a splash of water the full gamut of sherry flavours begins to resonate. Excellent.

Rating: 89/100 – Price Tag $$$$$ – Value for your Money $$$$$

Buy Aberlour 16 cask 4738  at The Whisky Exchange

Review sample provided by The Whisky Exchange

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46.5%


My Tasting Notes:

Colour: Copper
Nose: Strong orange zest, dried apricots, leather, polished wood, hints of tobacco, allspice and pepper.
Palate: Orange marmalade, dates, strong coffee, dark chocolate, allspice, hints of cinnamon and pepper.
Finish: Medium long, dry and spicy.
Overall: Some very plesant sherry and spice notes feature in this oldie. The finish could be a bit longer but overall this is a very well composed blend.

Rating: 87/100 – Price Tag $$$$$ – Value for your Money $$$$$

Buy Blended Whisky #1 35 yo at Master of Malt

Review sample provided by Master of Malt

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Sherry casks – 58.5%


My Tasting Notes:

Colour: Dark amber
Nose: Strawberry jam, raisins, dusty wood, toffee, hints of nutmeg.
Palate: Strawberries and raisins again as well as light toffee, a hint of prunes and quite a bit of pepper blend in.
Finish: Medium long, slightly fruity and spicy.
Overall: Nice nose, weak palate and finish. As it happens all too often.

Rating: 81/100 – Price Tag $$$$$ – Value for your Money $$$$$

Comment

I bought a full bottle of this whisky and I have given it a fair chance to breathe for a couple of weeks. But it improved only marginally. With just a notch above 80 points you can not really call it bad, but I do expect more from a whisky that says “Cask Strength Premium Edition” on the label.

This is the third non-core-range Glenfarclas in a row that has disappointed me, and also the 2011 Premium Edition I tasted in 2012 was not really convincing. Springs and Heritage are at the lower end of the price spectrum, so you cannot really expect top quality whisky. But this is anything else but “premium”.

I just may have had bad luck with my selection, but I can not help but taking this as a sign that in the “young to medium” age range also Glenfarclas is struggling to keep up with the quality level that this distillery has always been associated with.

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An interesting article about an upcoming new release of Haig Club was published on the media and marketing website The Drum yesterday. It is said that the new whisky would be cheaper than the current bottling which has an RRP of £45.

The Drum suspects that Haig Club is not selling overly well, so Diageo is trying to get the brand back on track with a downward brand extension. I am not really surprised here; I already expressed my doubts about the potential for Haig Club on the whisky market in my review of Haig Club back in 2014.

Haig club is quite expensive for a cocktail spirit that is sitting halfway between vodka and traditional blended whisky. And now there is also Absolut Oak from Diageo’s rival Pernod Ricard, a major brand oak aged vodka that is much cheaper and explores this category from the other side of the spectrum. We can watch how the line between whisky and vodka is becoming more and more blurred. I am convinced that the new Haig Club release is also a reaction to Absolut Oak.

Apart from the lower price, Absolut Oak also has a psychological advantage over Haig Club. It is “vodka plus” whereas Haig Club with its lack of traditional whisky character can only be described as “whisky minus”. And since this will be a new release and not just a rebranding of the old Haig Club – that of course would be like openly admitting a failure – the new, cheaper, liquid might be even more characterless than the original release.

A large portion of the Drum article focuses on David Beckham endorsing Haig Club. What the article does not mention is the fact that David Beckham was specifically chosen because he is very popular in China. In fact Haig Club was explicitly created for the Asian market where Diageo apparently saw an abundance of well-earning young people eagerly waiting to spend the equivalent of £45 on a bottle of young grain whisky. To quote Diageo CEO Ivan Menezes:

“The blend [sic] was created to match with food and seafood in China and our choice of David Beckham as the face of Haig Club was down to the extraordinary name recognition he has in China and across the world.”

Haig Club is symptomatic for the focus on Asia in general and on China in particular that has been guiding the actions of the whisky industry in the last years to an extent that entire distilleries were built from scratch because of booming demand there.

Whisky producers have been competing for the silliest marketing stunts with anything from from special bottlings for Chinese New Year to an obscenely priced “lucky number 8” cask at the newly opened Annandale distillery. Some of these make you wonder how stupid some whisky producers believe the rich Asians actually are. Motivations range from optimism in the growth potential of the Asian market to pure greed.

But Asia is a very volatile market and the boom has already reverted. So far only distillery expansions have been put on hold. But who knows what might happen if the whisky buisness gets even worse in Asia. It is obvious that this Asian rollercaoster ride is not without consequences for the rest of the market, and one wonders if it is really the right thing to put so much focus on exports to a region that still only earns the industry a fraction of the combined Western markets.

It takes a lot more than celebrity endorsements and bling bottles to implant such a quintessetially Western tradition as whisky into Asia beyond short-lived fads. The better way to do this is to make whisky on location, but this is a slow process.

In Japan it has taken decades to convince people that there is a world beyond sake and shochu, but now the Japanese whisky industry is thriving. In Taiwan and India this process has just started, but the success of particularly Kavalan and Amrut has shown that they are on a good path. Diageo’s acquisition of India’s United Spirits so far was entirely focused on the molasses-based rotgut that makes India the world’s biggest “whisky” producer. But establishing a serious whisky culture needs a different approach.

The great advantage of creating a whisky tradition from inside is that people can also see such a development with a dose of national pride. This has the potential to create a much stronger bond between producer and customer than selling the illusion of luxury by exporting overpriced liquid in fancy packaging.

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Kininvie 17 And 23 Compared

This weekend I had the opportunity to taste the Kininvie single malt for the first time. Together with my two whisky friends Klaus and Keith we tasted the 17 yo and the 23 yo bottlings that were released not too long ago.

kininvie17Kininvie 17 yo Batch 1

46.2%


My Tasting Notes:

Colour: Medium amber
Nose: Toasted hazelnuts, green apples, gooseberry, wood polish, toffee, ground coriander, mace, hints of nutmeg .
Palate: Stewed apples, nuts, hints of green tea, coriander, hints of white pepper.
Finish: Long, slightly fruity and slighty spicy .
Overall: The nose of this is quite pleasant, but this does not really show on the palate.

Rating: 81/100 – Price Tag $$$$$ – Value for your Money $$$$$

kininvie23Kininvie 23 yo Batch 2

46.2%


My Tasting Notes:

Colour: Medium amber
Nose: Less fruity than the 17 yo, somewhat musty, hints of camphor, apple in the background, a bit like opening an old cupboard drawer, difficult to pin down.
Palate: Again it is difficult to separate flavours, quite subdued  but with flashes of aromatic spices, the musty theme continues.
Finish: Medium long, mildy spicy .
Overall: Quite a complex whisky actually but hard to pin down at the same time. It felt a bit like trying to grasp fog.

Rating: 82/100 – Price Tag $$$$$ – Value for your Money $$$$$

Summary

All three of us were equally unimpressed by these bottles, and our scores did not vary very much. The general verdict was “daily dram” or “nice sipper”. And for this they are much too expensive.

It is not surprising at all to me that Kininvie has hardly ever been bottled in the 25 year old history of this distillery. This whisky was designed to be put into blends, and you can taste this. It has no distinct features that stand out but still has complexity, so it can tie the more distinctive malts in a blend together with the grain whisky base.

Whisky geeks have been begging Grant’s for years to bottle Kininvie, but up until recently they refused. But given the recent malt whisky boom it is no wonder that they finally gave in. The geek inside me can now tick off yet another distillery from the want list. But in all honesty, I can live perfectly fine without Kininvie.

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