ARE YOU BEING FOOLED BY SCOTCH WHISKY ?
Hello people !
I do not know who all will be reading this article, from what backgrounds and countries and having what amount of knowledge of the alcoholic beverages that they consume. One thing I am sure of though, you all will learn at least a thing or two from this article.
I have been in the Alcobev trade from the day I graduated from college and there is little or nothing that I have not done in this business, be it distillation, bottling, blending, retail, wholesale, sales or marketing. Other than my own entrepreneurial ventures, I have worked for small, medium and very big companies but now I am no longer interested in working for any big or giant companies and that’s the reason I dare to write this article. I have made an attempt to write this article in the simplest English with the least amount of technical terms and jargons so as to be understood by a wide array of people.
WHAT IS A SCOTCH WHISKY ?
Simply put a Scotch Whisky is an alcohol distilled from grain (wheat, rye or barley) or malt (treated barley) and aged for at least 3 years in used Oak barrels. The distillation and the complete ageing has to be in Scotland so as the resultant alcohol to be called Scotch Whisky or just Scotch. The oak barrels in which the ageing is done have to be used before for the ageing of other alcohol other than scotch like American Whisky (say Bourbon) or wines (say sherry). No additives like flavors, colors, essences whether natural or artificial are allowed to be added to scotch with the exception of sugar caramel which may be added for color consistency. Scotch whiskies maybe single grain (from a single grain distillate), blended grain (by blending of different grain distillates), blended (mixing of grain and malt distillates), blended / pure malt (mixing of different malt distillates) and Single Malts (from a single Malt Distillate). Of course there are various other types of Scotch like Single Cask but which are beyond most consumers reach and as well being just variations of those mentioned above. To sum it up, all scotches are whiskies but all whiskies are not scotches.
AGE OF A SCOTCH WHISKY
A whisky to be called Scotch has to be aged in Oak Barrels for minimum 3 years. This aging gives the whisky a natural color from the wood, flavors and properties of the wood as well as of the other alcohols which were previously aged in them (like Bourbon or Sherry) thus giving the whisky its character without any artificial flavoring. When the whisky sits in the barrel for 3 or more years, a portion of it is lost due to evaporation. This loss is termed as the ‘Angel’s share’ which indicates that the angel has made your whisky smooth and characteristic (it has turned your whisky into scotch) so it has taken its share for the good work. The more the age of the whisky the more characteristic it becomes and the more the loss due to the ‘Angel’s Share’ resulting in a better quality albeit at a higher price as also a higher profit for the producer. The higher price of older whiskies are also because of significant investments in real estate, barrels and the liquid lying within without any immediate returns. The age of the whisky can be mentioned only if it is that many years old. Like say the whisky in a bottle of Glenfiddich 12 year old has to be aged for a minimum 12 years and 1 day to mention 12 YO on the labels. For a blended whisky like say JW Black Label which is a 12 YO, each whisky used in the blending has to be 12 years and 1 day old or more. Thus the years mentioned on the bottle has to be the age of the youngest whisky in the blend and cannot be an average of the ages.
CHALLENGES TO THE SCOTCH INDUSTRY
The Consumption of Scotch is increasing at a very rapid pace but the facilities that age the Scotch into higher age, higher priced and more profitable whiskies is not keeping pace. There is also an ever increasing hunger to increase the bottom lines. Each producer wants to sell more Scotch volumes without waiting for more time to age the whisky further. The Mantra is distill more, age for the minimum period of 3 years (so that it can be called scotch) and sell. This way the turnaround for the whisky distilled today will be say 3 and a half years, the barrels get empty to age new whisky and less real estate is taken up. BUT THE PROBLEM IS …… less aged whisky simply give lesser profits, hence lesser money for marketing, no innovation and hence difficulty in selling. THEN ONE COMPANY DECIDED TO FOOL YOU CONSUMERS by selling a less aged whisky at a price more expensive than even its own more aged whisky with a simple innovation that ‘PLAYS WITH THE MIND OF AN IGNORANT CONSUMER’. Seeing the success of this company, all others followed suit and all of you today are fooled. Want to know how ? Read on !
HOW IS THE CONSUMER FOOLED
Ever heard of a whisky called ‘JW DOUBLE BLACK’ ? Comes in a beautiful blackish grey bottle, with a label bigger than JW black label. The word mentioned are ‘aged in deep charred oak casks’. The perception is that it double the quality and it is actually JW Black Label which is further ‘aged in deep charred oak casks’. The great quality of the bottle and the marketing hype (especially in the Duty Free) around it projects the whisky to be double the price of JW Black Label and when you find that Double Black is only one and a half times the price of the bottle, you buy it with a good feeling that you are buying the double the quality at one and a half times the price. FOOLED ! You probably did not see that the age ‘12’ is missing on the Double Black bottle which is distinct on the Black Label bottle, Black label is a much more aged hence better quality and more expensive whisky than Double Black but you bought Double Black at a more expensive price. The additional profit goes into the bank account of the producer with the remarks ‘EARNED FROM YET ANOTHER FOOL’ You will see many such whiskies on the shelves now, Laphroaig Triple Wood / Select / Lore / Brodir, Glenlivet Nadura / Founder’s Reserve / Distiller’s Reserve / Small Batch, The Macallan Gold / Fine Oak / Sienna, Chivas Regal Extra, Talisker Storm / Dark Storm / Skye, JW Explorer Club and the list is endless. The producers have more margins hence do better marketing through better packaging, hiring eye level shelf space and paying better margins to retailers. Everyone in the chain benefits except the poor consumer who drinks an inferior liquid at a higher price. FOOLED !
DON’T BE FOOLED
Get educated. Don’t look at the fancy bottle or the label or the bigger carton box. Look at the age. Most blended scotch whiskies start writing the age on the label when whisky is 12 years or more. Most Single Malts do 10 year onwards. Look or ask for the age and then decide. The producer in their advertising material or through the retailer may claim that the whisky has a unique blend achieved through pain staking master distillation, blending or maturation in various woods, REMEMBER about the ‘Angel’s Share’, if the angel has not taken its FAIR SHARE (more ageing) the whisky will only be ranked FAIR. After all when it comes to Scotch whisky, there can be no human good enough to come even close to THE ANGEL.
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