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A journo's view...

General chat and talk about whisky.

A journo's view...

Postby mr_a_non » Sun Aug 28, 2005 12:14 am

For those of you that live outside of the UK, read on regardless. The (London) Times has a Saturday column on alcoholic drinks every week. It is normally wine based but often goes further afield. Jane Macquitty is responsible for the column and I can rarely agree with anything she says about wine (except the fact she loathes white zinfandel); today she opines on whisky.

The full article is below in italics, but basically she reckons the industry ought not follow the current path of appealing to youthful drinkers by fancy marketing and products. My view, as per normal where Macquitty is concerned, is that she is plain wrong. The whisky industry will ALWAYS hold onto its sterotypical clientel: they already like the product and do not require too much marketing. Money, which the industry needs, is going to come from younger drinkers and to get into that market means altering brands' images and portfolios. Whilst J&B -6 might not appeal to me, I think that if it gets young people involved then it can only be a good thing.

I would be interested to hear other people's views, but to me it seems simple: keep the core of your business there - these fans will remain loyal if you treat them well, BUT you must expand if you want to stay solvent and hold the market share that you now have.



Scotch and Coke? Scotch and tonic? I don’t think so. Call me old-fashioned, but descending to inappropriate Mickey-Mouse mixers in a clumsy attempt to pep up sales is no way to treat our greatest spirit. For decades, whisky, perceived as an old-fashioned brown spirit by younger vodka-loving drinkers, has been haemorrhaging sales. Fifteen years ago, we drank more than 12 million cases, today we knock back just 9.5 million, and sales are still falling – particularly gloomy news as Britian is the third most important world market for Scotch after France and the US.

All of this scares the living daylights out of the whisky boys, who have fought back over the years with all manner of newfangled make-whisky-hip-notions. These have included new blends, limited-edition and vintage single malts, plus a plethora of new liveries and serving ideas. Yet trying to pass off whisky as an entirely different spirit, hoping to woo a new young audience, as two of our biggest producers have done recently, is a daft idea and bound to end in tears.

One look at the J&B -6C bottle (£17.75, Gerry’s; 020-7734 4215) and the faintly yellow-green liquid within, and it’s easy to see which spirit this “blended Scotch whisky” is aping: vodka. Obviously aimed at twentysomething drinkers, who J&B no doubt hope will rate the clear, bulbous -6C bottle as cool, it looked to me like a
laboratory specimen and a none too healthy one at that. Chill filtered down to -6 degrees, hence the name, J&B’s “classic for a new generation” smells like a floral, albeit fiery, varnishy whisky, but one sweet, vaguely zesty sip, and it turns into a bland non-event. If this is whisky, I’m the Pope.

Monkey Shoulder, meanwhile, a blend of three Speyside malts, is a bourbon imposter. Made by William Grant & Sons, better known as the producers of Glenfiddich, and named after the crook shoulder that Scottish distillery workers got from turning the malted barley by hand, it comes with a bourbonesque bottle and label, and is aimed again at younger drinkers. Sadly, its sweet, dull, raisiny, boring taste is not worth the £22 asked at Gerry’s and elsewhere.

Just as I was giving up hope that any new whisky would hit the spot, up popped Johnnie Walker Green Label, a blend of four different malts and a fine, smoky, gingery whisky, with a lovely, long Fisherman’s Friend finish (£24.99, Tesco). Anyone hoping to while away the Bank Holiday weekend with a proper whisky mixed drink might like to try this dram in a whisky sour (one measure whisky, juice of half a lemon, dash of egg white and sugar syrup to taste, shaken briskly before serving over ice), or a whisky lime (one measure whisky, topped up with ginger ale and given a squirt of fresh lime juice and a wedge of lime before serving with lots of ice).

Scotch on the rocks? Not just yet.


- Jane Macquitty, The Time, 27th August 2005
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Postby Deactivated Member » Sun Aug 28, 2005 3:12 am

Sorry, mr a, I'm with Jane. Whisky is an adult beverage for adults. I suppose that vodka, tequila, and beer are properly so, also, but it's too late to save them. As our culture becomes more and more infantilized (ironically, as our populations become increasingly older), something should be reserved for the reasonably mature. No, not necessarily older consumers, but more discerning and responsible ones (who just happen generally to be older). I don't really hold out much hope, as money speaks louder than anything, and culture seems to become more and more youth-oriented and more and more commercial. Somewhere back in the sixties, someone noticed that rebellion and irresponsibility sell, and the kids see no irony in buying them from Pernod Ricard, Adolph Coors, Daimler Chrysler, or AOL/Time/Warner. They think they are independent, free-thinking rebels, and they are bought and sold every day.

I want no part of it, and I wish whisky would want no part of it. Let the kids grow up and come to quality products, or not. Selling them cartoon whisky isn't going to lead fools to the good stuff, and it isn't going to lead the smarter ones to think of whisky as what it really is, or ought to be. Look, I know I'm whistling in the dark, but if I owned a distillery or a drinks company, I would much rather that it weren't a bottle of my stuff found in the back of a car wrapped around a tree. And I'd rather not market to people who think that Coors Light, for example, is cool because of their raucous TV ads. You don't have to be snobby and posh to say "This is a quality product, appreciated by discerning adults." You just have to care about something more than maximizing profit. But I guess I'm naive in thinking that way. Obviously, I'm talking about an industry which must periodically fight for survival. But I don't see how trying to be trendy does anything other than condemn you to living and dying with trends.
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Postby mr_a_non » Sun Aug 28, 2005 10:38 am

Mr T, I think, if I have understood you right, that I am in full agreement that the heart of the whisky industry is to produce a quality product to be discernably enjoyed (to a large extent by forum-users).

My disagreement is over the peripherals. IF whisky sales had been rising, I would bat for your side: leave other industries to do their own job because we are experiencing economic growth. However, a slump to sales figures means a decrease in money available. That, as you pointed out, is the all important factor. The industry needs cash to keep working: if you take away money made from fancy new marketing and products then there is less cash about to keep churning out the quality spirit that we enjoy.

I don't, romantically, like the idea of branching out (in the same way as I didn't like Jaguar scrapping a prototype sports car to invest the money in diesel engines) but think it is an unfortunate necessity in the current climate.
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Postby Mr Fjeld » Sun Aug 28, 2005 10:58 am

Mr_a_non, I thoroughly enjoyed your Jaguar example being almost as obsessed with cars as I am with whisky. However, there's a flaw in the way Jaguar has embraced the new "model policy" and the problem lies not so much in the investment in diesels but rather the downbranding with the horrible S-type and to a greater extent the X-Type!
The example is fitting because it could very well happen to whisky too! The moment you throw aboard all your hard earned and traditional cultural position with over hyped cheapo "wannabe" cool Jaguars and whisky for the masses and the plebs instead of the usual suspects you also loose out the prestige of your more luxurious and top of the line segment. If anyone wonders why Jaguar has problem selling it's quite fantastic XJ wich is technically way ahead of their competitors versions then look no further than the downbranding caused by the X- and S-Type!

Now everyone can own a Jaguar if they put in a few extra hours. Noone is bothered by the fact that the car is infact only a measly Ford Mondeo with a Jaguar body. Not exactly what the boardroom people whant's to be seen with is it. This is hopefully not the fate of whisky but you never know!

The irony of it all is that the X-type doesn't sell well and will be discontinued in the near future!

Skål!
Christian
Last edited by Mr Fjeld on Sun Aug 28, 2005 4:19 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Deactivated Member » Sun Aug 28, 2005 2:23 pm

Mr non, I cannot fault your logic (or Christian's, either, for that matter). My feeling about this lies outside the economics. I will certainly not say that you are wrong, but all of this, as you may have noticed, has touched on something I feel pretty strongly about. A cultural commentator once called it "the rock-'n'-rollization of everything", in which the naturally rebellious attitude of youth has been co-opted by the corporate world and made into a commodity. Concurrent with this has been a curious reversal of aspirations; it used to be that the young aspired to become sophisticated adults, but now adults aspire to remain adolescent in their tastes and attitudes their whole lives long. And Christian may have a point--if whisky rebrands itself to appeal to this culture, what is its future?

Would I prefer that whisky stay "pure" to the point that it inevitably shrinks as an industry? I can't answer that--I want it to be a healthy industry, but "health" can be measured in terms other than economic.

All I know is that every time I hear the Red Sox' radio announcer repeat the Dodge motto, "If you're not living life on the edge, you're taking up way too much space", I want to throw the radio out the window.
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Postby Iain » Sun Aug 28, 2005 5:49 pm

Mr T, I suspect that when you meet someone living life on the edge, you are tempted to give the fellow a little nudge :D

I enjoyed Jane M's piece. She clearly feels no need to ingratiate herself with the producers of these new whiskies. But then, I don't imagine they made those whiskies for folks like her (nor for most of the folks who post here?), and they're probably quite happy to attract disapproving comment from "traditionalists".
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Postby ppz » Thu Sep 01, 2005 12:09 am

Yeah, I've read this too... I partially agreed with her in that it does look kind of awkward and pathetic how the "whisky boys" are trying to market those new "cool" whiskies (well, blends) to the younger generation, however I am not sure that there is any point in just stating that - at least not enough to justify a newspaper article. Well maybe it was a slow day in the wine world.

So they are trying to penetrate a different market - so what?? Can you blame the people who are doing that, who are in this business to sell their product? Will it harm your appetite for whisky? I hope that their attempts to sell to the iPod generation are not going to screw up the rest of the industry in any way - beyond that I simply don't care.

She did have something good to say about Johnnie Green Label though, which I think is a lovely blend...

Cheers all :D
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Postby Deactivated Member » Thu Sep 01, 2005 3:12 am

ppz wrote:So they are trying to penetrate a different market - so what?? Can you blame the people who are doing that, who are in this business to sell their product?


No, not really (although I stand by my remarks on trendiness). I am, odd as it may seem to some of you, just an old crank! 8)
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Postby ppz » Thu Sep 01, 2005 9:10 am

Amen!! :mrgreen:
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Postby Mr Fjeld » Thu Sep 01, 2005 12:45 pm

....another point which isn't to the benefit of the strategy towards the young and hip is that the "incrowd" never stays loyal. I don't really think that people which start to drink colourless and tasteless whisky are inclined to explore the single malts. My highly uneducated guess is that they'll abandon the colourless/tasteless whisky as soon as a new "cool lifestyle" product appears. Guess which distilleries will be left with large stocks of "colourless/tasteless" whisky for the wannabe jetset!

Skål!
Christian
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