Monthly Archives: June 2012

Jill Daniel’s?

I was surprised this week by the arrival of a media pack for the launch of “Tennessee Honey”, a new whiskey liqueur – surprised because I wasn’t expecting the package and surprised because it’s an unexpected product. Actually I’m probably overstating the situation on both counts. I had heard about the global launch sometime last year, so I was aware of the product, and the marketing dude for this brand had informed me a few months ago that he’d be sending me a package. However there’s been a lot of whisky under the bridge since then so let’s just say that I was nonetheless mildly taken aback.

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The reason for my second source of surprise is that this drink bears the Jack Daniel’s name, and is packaged in the same square-jawed, iconic bottle. Jack is a masculine brand – a tobacco-chewing, chest pounding man’s brand. I wrote this sometime last year for my friends at Mojodojo:

“We struggle with availability of American whiskeys here in SA, but you can always count on Jack. It’s not going to blow you away with its complexity but it’s rugged and adaptable – sip it, shoot it, mix it, cocktail-ise it, it’s all good. A live fast, die young, rock star of a whiskey.”

You might also remember my review of Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel.

So how then did a liqueur that seems intended for women (and guys who like sweet drinks) get into this locker room? Al and Laura Reis (of “22 Immutable Laws of Branding” fame) were clearly not consulted. And this from a brand that has built its incredible strength on the back of a tightly focused consumer proposition. The temptation to stake a claim in new territories must be powerful indeed…but I’ll put my marketing strategy reservations to one side for now.  In terms of execution, if the pack is anything by which to go, these guys clearly don’t need any advice (or very little).

It’s high quality (without being excessive or overblown), and it’s relevant, evocative and informative. Check it out for yourselves.

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The only thing that rung false was a label declaring my bottle to be number 1 of 120. I’m not that special, so was this just the luck of the draw? Turns out everyone else also received bottle numero uno. Either this was a concession to practicality (it’s easier to print identical labels) or it was, certainly in this Twitter era, an ill-conceived PR gimmick. We’ll forgive them because the overall effort is outstanding.

Now, before I’m labelled a fraud, I need to make a confession: I haven’t yet tasted the drink. I only received my pack yesterday and I’m currently writing this somewhere above the Horn of Africa, so I didn’t get the opportunity to crack the seal. It’s probably going to be lost on me anyhow – I’m not a fan of liqueurs, and my Spiced Gold days are behind me. I have no doubt however that it’s damn good (although I’ll get my wife to verify). These guys don’t often create new products, a fact which they point out at great pains, so you can be sure that when they do it would have been expertly concocted.

Enjoy the week ahead. May the dram bee (☺) with you!

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A night of big sherry

Last week I scrounged a back-door invitation to a GlenDronach tasting.  It was hosted by the Bascule, and after I’d arrived it gradually dawned on me that I had kind-of gate-crashed a get-together of their whisky club.  I felt bad about it, but sometimes these things need to be done in pursuit of a higher purpose.

It turned out to be well worth the momentary embarrassment.  During a tasting that was expertly led by the amicable, Scottish-accented (which always lends a certain authenticity) David Wyllie, we were served a sextet of exquisite drams from a stable renowned for their sherried whiskies.   I’m a big fan of sherry-casked whisky – you could say that I’m the sherry equivalent of a peat-freak – so this was quite a treat, and also the motivation for my dubious presence at the event.

We tasted the 12, 15 and 18 YO’s from the core range, a 14YO finished in Sauternes casks, a 1992 Single Cask bottled exclusively for the South African market, and, last but not least, a whisky about which we were asked not to publicise details.  This was a special bottling, supposedly not authorised for public consumption.   It’s widely known that a whisky lover relishes nothing more than the opportunity to taste something exclusive and uncommon, so I’m pretty sure that the GlenDronach guys were blowing a bit of smoke up our arses – but I appreciated the sentiment and the whisky regardless.

Interestingly the 14YO, which is sadly not available in SA, was made from a stock of virgin-casked whisky (European oak) which was then re-racked into a variety of casks for finishing.  I found this Saturnes version interesting if somewhat overly woody.  Taste can be suggestible though and I wonder if I would have come to this same conclusion had I not known its provenance.  I suggest that you try it if you get the chance.  Virgin casks are blended into bottlings occasionally, although perhaps with increasing regularity in recent years, but whisky which is made primarily from virgin casks is exceedingly rare.  In fact this style is probably limited to the few available organic whiskies.

Finished virgins.

Amongst the core range the 15YO stood out, at least for me – the signature sherry flavours were offset by the freshness and vibrancy of a pine forest.  It also has a spectacular nose which drew oohs and aahs from the audience, myself included.  The other whiskies were similarly impressive – only enhancing my affinity for this distillery and its creations.

Corker!

I was struck by a final observation before heading home, which reinforced to me why I’m passionate about whisky rather than other potential candidates – i.e. why I’m not spending my time writing about chocolates, or teas, or bicycles, or somesuch.  There is artistry and skill required for all of these and hundreds of others, but whisky has a certain uncommon magic.  The 1992 and the mystery bottle were both from Oloroso casks, probably sourced from the same bodega.  The latter was significantly older.  And yet the 1992 was considerably darker and its sherry flavours more pronounced.  In fact the mystery whisky has citrus notes, which are unusual in sherry casks.  This is the enigma of wood.  It contributes a visceral organicity to whisky which sets it apart from other industrial production, and gives it the constant ability to surprise and to astound.

Father’s Day 2012

The below went out to the WHISKYdotcoza database today.  Please feel free to partake if it’s of interest.

Father’s Day is nearly upon us.  This year it takes place on June 17.  It’s an annual opportunity to specially celebrate one of the most important people in our lives.  My own father kindled my love of whisky, and I can’t think of a better gift for whisky-loving dads than a fine bottle of the golden nectar.

This year, for a very limited time (the offer expires at 08h00 on the morning of Wednesday 13 June), WHISKYdotcoza is offering a complimentary set of six specialist glasses (see below) with every bottle of Michel Couvreur whisky.

Epic glasses!

These are the glasses that I use to drink my whisky – they’re epic glasses for epic whisky.  Note though that stocks are limited, and will be allocated on a first come, first served basis.  However, if you miss out on the glasses, we’ll provide you with a complimentary gift bag and card – there’ll be a little extra for all fathers on this special occasion.

Michel Couvreur is a French whisky craftsman of long-standing.  Read about him and his whiskies here.  We offer his Overaged Malt, and his Special Vatting on our site, but we’ve also secured highly limited quantities (because that’s all that was available) of his super-premium products, about which you can contact us directly (on info@whisky.co.za) .  The unique (and I mean unique) 1983 might be a great option for the more patient dads, who’re willing to wait whilst we arrange an individual, customised bottling.

We wish you and your dads a wonderful Father’s Day.  May the dram be with you!

12YO blended Scotch preview

Whisky – if you’ll excuse this statement of the obvious – has been premiumising steadily in recent years.  New, expensive, lavishly packaged variants are being introduced on a weekly basis.  Older, better, more!  It’s exciting but also a little bit intimidating.  The bar is being set higher and higher, with direct impact on our daily lives.  As an example – it no longer seems enough to offer one’s guests the regular stuff.  Perhaps this is just my peculiar point of view, but I suspect that it rings true for many of us.  A 12YO blend seems to be the new minimum standard.

For this reason I’m embarking on a review of the major 12YO blended Scotches available on the South African market.  If this is the new game then I reckon someone should be carefully checking out the players and sizing them up against each other.

I’m kicking off the review with a tasting – for which I’ve enlisted some of Cape Town’s whisky luminaries to assist.  Marsh Middleton, Bernard Gutman, and Hector MacBeth will be joining me at the Bascule tonight to sample the following whiskies:

Johnnie Walker Black Label

Chivas Regal

Ballantine’s 12YO

Dewar’s 12YO

J&B Jet

Grant’s 12YO

One of the whiskies we’ll be tasting.

If you happen to be in the area please join us for a dram and a chat.  There’s nothing better than whisky and good company – generally but particularly on a miserable, stormy day like this one.

The review will be published in the September issue of Prestige Magazine, and then on this blog later in September.

May the dram be with you!