Tag Archives: submoronic

Bullshit And Beyond; Banff Bonus

WELL HOWDY! It sure has been a while. I’m glad you’re here and reading, even if I’ve been lax in writing. I’d give some long explanation about my slack in writing, but it would amount to bullshit.

Bullshit

Check that segue out. Masterfully executed.

This post is a grab bag of reactions and thoughts. I’m keeping it grab-bag style so I don’t get too long-winded on any one point, but rather long-winded on a collection of points.

Whiskey blogs and twitter dorks are all abuzz about Buffalo Trace’s latest back-slapping press release, which masquerades as information about the company, but is actually PR that would do Barnum proud. Proving the adage attributed to him, I’ve seen non-whiskey blogs lapping up Buffalo Trace’s dire warnings about a whiskey shortage and effectively acting like goldbugs or Jim Cramer, warning you to buy,  buy,  buy while you can, and hopefully, eventually, Buffalo Trace will make more.

This is no Schooner Tuna pitch. This is facts which may individually be true that have been woven into a tapestry of complete bullshit.

Let’s not forget, Sazerac et al were responsible for a vodka so completely gimmicky that you can still find it languishing on shelves years later. Had a similar tale been told about whiskey, that shit would have vanished in a heartbeat. Yes, whiskey lovers, the vodka fans we mock so readily have exercised better judgement and restraint.

There’s an undercurrent of worry, as if old whiskey will never be seen again, or perhaps no whiskey at all will exist in a few years. Let’s review some basic concepts.

Whiskey production is planned years in advance. Yes, the plan is subject to revision, but you’re fundamentally working with about a 4-year minimum window. If you forecast a downturn, you’ll start curtailing production years ahead. If you think your product will increase in popularity, you increase production. Generally that increase, plus a little price bump, will smooth things out.

Well, whiskey exploded about 3-4 years ago, and really in earnest in the last 18 months. We’ve seen products disappear for months at a time (how many times have you heard “there’s literally no [whiskey name] available in the state” from a retailer?). This is a supply shortfall, and in this case, it’s generally demand outstripping supply as opposed to yield problems (production errors – bad batches, etc) or channel inefficiencies (problem physically bringing product to retail shelves).

If you’re afraid that the distillers are losing their shirt, bear in mind that the current situation is that they are selling virtually everything they produce. This isn’t really a “go out of business” problem. This is a “best problem you could hope to have as a business owner”. Money is not being lost, it is merely being left on the table in the short term.

With full-sell through, buoyed by price increases and stretching supply (dropping age statements, lowering proof, repurposing bottom shelf booze to pad out your prize $35-50+ bottles), but faced with a large shortfall, expansion is the logical path. And this path is being taken.

Yes, you will see old whiskey on your shelves again – even sooner if people lose interest in seeing marketing hysteria around whiskeys they will literally never be able to taste. It may take a while, but it will happen.

The other thing to remember is that this affects a handful of producers. You can still find any number of mystery meat bottlings sourced from heaven only knows where. It’s not like some 1980s vision of Soviet market shelves: they’re not bare. They just might not have that bottle you really want.

And that bottle you really, really want that a bunch of other people want as bad as you? Well, good luck with that. Try finding some everyday choices so you don’t have to endure a lot of craziness.

Finally, and I’ve counseled this before with regards to the completely insane “Whiskey Investment” market: if someone has a vested financial interest in you making a purchase and is screaming that the sky is falling and you have to purchase now – you ought to consider opting-out (or at least not going all-in).

But I’ve never been to the distillery, so this could all be bullshit. What do I know? I’m just a dumb blogger.

Beyond

Around Christmastime, I didn’t care about writing a traditional gift guide with lavish praise for questionable booze. However, I had a lot of fun at the expense of an anonymous spirits PR person who offered me JPGs of their client’s product in exchange for favorable coverage.

Sorry, anonymous spirits PR person. No one wants to work with me because I’m not great at playing ball. You can ask Exposure, who seemed to have a successful run in 2012 getting blogs to cover some of their clients’ products. I expressed my dislike for Glenrothes and never heard back. All good!

But it planted a seed in my head. Several weeks ago, almost a year to the day of my constructive criticism of noted wine critic Robert Parker, David Driscoll of K&L lightheartedly called me out in an email about a gin they were selling which Parker hailed as the best he’s ever tried. David set some aside for me to take the Pepsi challenge with; it seemed ridiculous enough to be fun. This is unfortunately not the entry where a series of gins are reviewed; that will be coming soon. (Seriously). Keep an eye out.

And yes, Beefeater will be covered.

Banff Bonus

So let’s wrap this thing up with an old whiskey that you won’t ever find. Maybe this seems unfair; pretend for a minute that I’m a better writer and have a more discerning palate and my name is Serge, and you’ll be able to accept this coverage of a long-since-gone bottle. Alternatively, you can just imagine that this is some coverage of Slappy van Oceanaged’s latest thirty-aught-six year old wheated bourbon from a typhoon-damaged warehouse housing nothing but lost and orphaned casks which serendipitously got a mixture of rye and hydraulic fracturing fluid in them.

Feel better? Let’s continue, then.

This Banff is part of a longer series of reviews of whisky from the closed Banff distillery. Why Banff? Banff was my first drink-your-age whisky; I really enjoyed it and it has a bizarre story.

Why not.

Anyway, this Banff was distilled in November 1966 and bottled in June 2004, aged 37 years and coming from cask 3440. It’s at a whisky-enthusiast-galling 43%, but let’s be fair: it’s 37 years old and was bottled in ’04. It’s a MacKillop’s Choice Single Cask bottle.

The nose on this has some faint buttercream vanilla and a bit of light grassiness; there’s some white pepper and a little tobacco. The tobacco gives a little bit of dimension, but the nose is primarily vanilla and a touch of malt.

The palate is initially bland, with some general sweet and malty notes; honey and vanilla follow. There’s some white pepper and again, some light grassiness.

The finish perks up with a little spiciness – white pepper and cinnamon, some oak, and it’s all got a honeyed side to it as well.

It’s not a particularly complex one, but it does open up and give a pleasant, if not particularly challenging whisky. Interestingly, this is a whisky where the age seems more felt in a spicy wood flavor than a heavy oaken note. In some ways it’s not unlike Powers John’s Lane.

Today this whiskey would cost nine zillion dollars.

And that’s everything from the clown squad here at Scotch and Ice Cream. Stay tuned for the next post when we investigate if angry tweets and blog posts make whiskey taste better, we determine if Glenrothes is even suitable to use as an engine degreaser, and we react passive-aggressively to retailer blogs.

At a glance:

Banff 1966 Mackillop’s Choice #3440 D: 11-1966 B: 06-2004 43% ABV
Nose:
  An initial faint buttercream vanilla flavor with faint grassiness behind it; a little white pepper. A little tobacco in the background, but a stronger vanilla note above.
Palate:  Kind of bland upfront, a little general sweetness and maltiness, some light honey and vanilla, a bit of white pepper and tobacco and a touch of grassiness. 
Finish:  A little spice! Some honey and white pepper, a faint dab of cinnamon, some oak. 
Comment:  The palate isn’t too interesting, but the ages come through more as spice than oak. Agreeable and easygoing; not too aggressive.
Rating: B

Shaking Frustration With Discipline

It’s been pretty clear here and elsewhere that there are rumblings of discontent in the whisky blog nerd space (a whopping 100 or so people, truly a horde indicative of broader societal change). We’re in a time with embarrassing riches: companies are listening; sometimes they even release things that reveal proof of it. There’s any number of whiskies available at any number of ages from virtually any distillery out there; in any number of cask pedigrees. Want something finished in a high-end Bordeaux? No problem. Barolo? Done. Dessert wine? Sure. Herring finish? Been done.

Despite all this choice, there’s any number of negative reactions. For those who think the industry does no wrong, there’s the fear of missing out on something. This gets even harder when there’s some oddball one-off or batched releases or overseas/travel exclusives.

There’s the contrary view: quality is declining, price is increasing, and times aren’t what they were. This speaks for itself: a sense of loss compared to a perceived time of plenty – really, missing that time before things got more popular, and the attendant shifts that come out of necessity for physical goods when popularity arrives.

There’s all kinds of other things to complain about: Packaging; wooden corks; screw caps (though you’d be wrong in this case); various personalities; breathless retailers; jerkface bloggers; secret clubs; not so secret clubs; exotic tastings; blogs covering the same shit as everyone else; blogs talking about irrelevant shit like pancakes or carnitas; Europeans; Americans; Serge’s connections; etc. etc. etc.

There’s really no shortage of stuff to be pissed off about. So what the heck do you do to counteract that? Find new avenues to appreciate, advocate, and then fall out of love with? It seems like that cycle has burned through most of the facets that exist in whisky appreciation. You’re forced to ask yourself at some point, “Do I still enjoy this? Do I enjoy this in the same way as I did a while ago?”

A while back I started looking for things to replace the holes in my blog reading after I stopped following the majority of the whisky writing out there. It’s way too easy to become hyper-insular when all you do is read, digest and discuss the same content as everyone else in a small subculture. It’s even worse if you’re prone to obsession or geekdom. Suddenly, references, thoughts, and ideas outside  the narrowly constructed box become a point of contention. “Why does Sku write about stupid Los Angeles restaurants? Why does Driscoll always talk about pro wrestling? Why does Serge always have some aside about music?”

The obsessed mind loses context. A picture, generally speaking, needs a frame. It sets the contents apart from the gallery walls that surround it, but tacitly acknowledges the space the picture is displayed in. It provides the boundaries for the work which invite you in further to ask questions – for instance, in the photography of Garry Winogrand or Henri Cartier-Bresson: what was just out of frame? What was happening around what I see? What happened just before and just after?

At a minimum, these things help provide context and information about the person writing. You can’t hardly throw a stone without reading a review of Buffalo Trace bourbon, for instance, but it’s just tasting notes and a score. There’s no sense of the who or what of the review. Is the person a bottom-shelf drinker? Are they attracted to flashy labels or packaging? Do they thrive on novelty? Do they have the underdeveloped palate of a two year old? If I have an objection to scores, it’s this. I don’t know anything about who’s writing, their experiences, or where it comes from.

But context is important than that. It’s  a speed bump to keep you from going too far in. They help remind you that there’s more to life than some controversy about whatever the latest scuttlebutt is about Pappy or what some tour guide at a Diageo distillery said. It’s a reminder that, hey, maybe you should get out. Live life. Give yourself the space necessary to determine what is worthy of your time, because not everything is worth it.

I spent a lot of time away from whiskey. I’m unplugged and clueless about the latest news, aside from the occasional smartass quip on twitter. I lost myself in other interests I’d set aside and cultivated new ones. And it’s brought a lot of perspective.

One of my ongoing projects I’ve discussed here is paring down my possessions. Initially, this was a response to a feeling of wastefulness and overconsumption. Then there was a self-reinforcing sense of accomplishment as things started to dwindle. Now it’s reached a new and very interesting thing: as some of these sub-projects wind to their logical conclusion, there are new perceived gaps and purchases. It’s not a need to re-buy everything in the closet after throwing 70% of it out, it’s realizing there’s a missing middle-ground in shoes, for instance. It’s not buying another snare drum because, hey, a cool one came out, it’s the one you’ve been chasing for years on end has finally surfaced and it’s exactly what you were looking for. And perhaps there’s an element of understanding that even this moment of need will pass and the “need” will no longer exist. And you’ll get rid of the thing: either by selling it, tossing it, consuming it, or wearing it out.

I learned about a great idea/practice in my non-whisky-blog reading of the last few months and I think it’s applicable back to this long winter of discontent in some whisky circles, especially if you’re in the “everything is great” camp or the “everything sucks” camp.

The French Wardrobe

What in the hell? What’s this got to do with anything?

Read enough about clothing, wardrobe selection, etc. and this will pop up sooner or later. It’s a really great idea and one I’ve been trying to apply to my interests in particular but my life in general.

The basic idea is that in any given fashion season (of which there are two: Fall/Winter and Spring/Summer), you limit yourself to five purchases maximum to keep your wardrobe fresh and current. Shoes count, accessories don’t (if they’re inexpensive), and basics (underwear, etc) are exempted as they’re assumed to be a necessary baseline. You’re encouraged to buy for quality and longer life than just the season as well. Some have even advocated taking this down to five purchases a year instead of per-season.

Certainly if you’re more or less set and you’re content to wear underwear until it turns into vapor, this won’t seem like a challenge. But the idea is applicable beyond clothes and towards your passions in general. What if you limited yourself to two nicer bottles in one year, during exclusive season? What would you do with that? Obviously you’ve got your existing stash to drink against, and let’s say you have a $30 per bottle limit the rest of the year. Is it uncomfortable? Suddenly you can get creative. What if you buy one bottle of, say, BTAC, and another friend buys another and you do an enjoyably social thing and have a tasting or sample swap with a few other like-minded friends?

What if you pick the dream bottle to celebrate a milestone?

What if you stopped worrying about keeping up with everything coming out because your consumption changed in such a way to tacitly acknowledge that you won’t even try, and you won’t get bent out of shape?

It’s a good balm for the fear of missing out. It also forces you to re-appraise what you’ve got, which for many people is more than they realize. I spent time going through my cabinet, giving bottles away and purging, and emerged with a much smaller subset of bottles I’m excited to open, enjoy and share. What do you get for the whisky enthusiast who has everything? You challenge them to focus and choose.

I think this was reinforced for me by my plan of avoiding the hunt for exclusives this last fall. I managed to find a bottle of the Four Roses exclusive just by sheer luck, but beyond that, no BTAC, no Woodford, nothing. And I didn’t mind a bit. I instead tried to find my “core” whiskies, as it were. And I’ve managed to find a few that I can happily return to and aren’t obscenely priced. Sure, there’s variety here and there, but I’m not feeling any pressure to get ever more exotic.

If you’re looking for something new to try, maybe restraint is the ticket, both in purchasing as well as content consumption. I’ve discovered blogs I love, but I’m finding it more fun when they go off-script and you see real passion shine through. Don’t lose sight of that!

 

Whisky Advocate; Diageo Tell Us It’s Raining

Whisky Advocate’s end of year awards are always a predictably silly affair, and like all awards, are really scarcely more than link bait. So for the second time this year, I’ll take the bait.

Whisky Advocate’s distiller of the year was a small craft operation you may never have heard of, Diageo. Diageo owns small distilleries like Lagavulin, Caol Ila Clynelish, Talisker, Oban, and so forth. Little operations you’ve never heard of. They also have the stocks for closed distilleries like Port Ellen and Brora.

The most interesting point in the writeup is when Whisky Advocate talked about the Special Releases. The Special Releases that set enthusiasts jaws on the floor and proved the point about escalating prices on whisky. Some may accuse me and others of being idealistic. Maybe it’s true. I tend to think I look at things dispassionately and I know if I was in the producers’ shoes I’d be looking to take some of the money on the table.

However, WA and Diageo (through the word processor of Jonny McCormick) have decided to piss down our backs and tell us it’s raining. Those massive price increases on the Special Releases? We’re no longer referring to them as “price increases” but they are now the latest salvo in “the war against flipping”.

So when you see those prices jump, just remember, that’s Diageo looking out for you and nothing more. Your best interest is at heart – even though it’s just business, they’re trying to keep it in the hands of people who care.  Er, sorry, that “purchasers are truly venerating the single malt whisky in the bottle.”

Really? I’d love to see consumers sharpen up to how much the industry thinks they’re saps, but I’d personally be hard pressed to buy less scotch than I have been of late.

In WA’s defense, the Scotch industry has been out of ideas for some time now so it’s not surprising that this went this way. You can only talk about “cask management” and “wood selection” at LVMH so many times. Kudos for not taking the expected path of citing Ealanta as an example of grand innovation.

Happy holidays!