It seems that in my capacity as a writer I may need thicker skin.
I came across the post below whilst I was doing some web research for an upcoming piece.
Whisky Bloggers: an underutilized resource
Posted: October 24th, 2012 | By Neil Pendock
Apart from the obvious pleasures of eating Garth Schnier’s amazing food and sipping a wee dram of 50 year old Balvenie, the highlight of yesterday’s Sandton Sun tasting was meeting a brace of bloggers: Marc from Whisky Brother and Mark from Whisky Tasting Fellowship. While it is well known that most people in wine are called Thys, seems that Marc/k is the whisky world equivalent. Which reminds me of how a single malt column for late, lamented Wine magazine had me enthusing about a fabulous single malt from Mark Alan (Macallan, geddit?)
Well SA whisky writing really needs a whole barrel full or Marc/k’s if the double page spread on what to drink at Whisky Live in the BA in-flight magazine High Life, is any indication.
Five whiskies are recommended:
Johnnie Red (I kid you not);
Jameson (served in poverty class on BA, so that one’s a no-brainer);
Michel Couvreur (imported by “whisky whiz” Patrick Leclezio who wrote the story, so that one’s a no-brainer too, although a disclosure would have been nice, if not essential);
Ardbeg, claimed to be the most peaty malt at “an eye-watering 55 ppm” of phenol even though the Ardbeg site claims only 50 ppm;
60 year old Macallan in Lalique crystal decanter. The third edition is recommended and the second went for R139K. A decade older than the Balvenie and half the price, it sounds like a deal to me.
This is worse than that old fraud Mr. Min alliterating all over the place in Sawubona. Come on, BA, pull up y’re socks! I bumped into an old friend on the 7:45pm BA flight to Cape Town who told me that if you export SA brandy to France and keep it there for six months, it miraculously becomes French brandy. As the Chinese word for luxury is “French”, this sounds like a plan for Distell. How about it, Dr. Caroline Snyman, queen of brandy?
I was the author of that High Life spread (as the post explicitly points out) so I feel that I have no choice but to respond.
A selection of this kind is of course subjective by its very nature – any number of whiskies could have been justifiably chosen. Given the parameters of the brief (each whisky had to be most something), and the publication and its audience, I stand by my particular selection; the mix ranged from the accessible and popular for the novice, and the voyeuristic and iconic for the initiated, to the obscure for the aficionado.
Neil Pendock’s scathing denunciation – of something that at the time seemed like an innocuous exercise – takes exception with each and every whisky in the selection. So, point-by-point then:
– A good measure of his disdain is reserved for the presence of Johnnie Walker Red Label. One would think that someone who professes “healthy disregard for the anoraks, bowties and Emperors of drink and their new clothes” would champion the novice, but it seems not. Too dumbed-down? I don’t agree. Johnnie Red is a definitive Scotch. I maintain that if you’re starting out in whisky you should try it as a priority. Its variety of flavours – smoke, salt, spice, and sweetness (oops, is that too alliterative?) – are beautifully representative of the broader character of Scotch whisky.
– The implication that Jameson was selected because it’s served on BA is ludicrous. It’s not only blatantly untrue, but also mildly paranoid. There’s no low-level, high altitude conspiracy at play here. The selection was left entirely to me. Jameson is on my list because it’s the whiskey that I most recommend to people who are unsure about or hesitant to try whisky. Its flavours are interesting but understated, and it doesn’t have the overpowering whisky taste that can sometimes put off the unaccustomed.
– I am indeed one of the importers of Michel Couvreur whisky. This information is readily available to anybody to whom it’s of interest. I’m sure that Neil was able to learn of it with ease by either doing a Google search or by speaking to anyone within the whisky fraternity who knows me. It’s worth noting that I retail each of the whiskies in the selection – and that it was clearly disclosed that I’m the owner of an online whisky shop. I suppose one could make the case that I should have further disclosed that I don’t just sell but also import the Michel Couvreur. It just didn’t occur to me at the time. It certainly hasn’t been my intention to conceal the information, either in High Life or anywhere else. My sincere apologies then to those who felt conned or misled by the inadequate extent of my disclosure. Regardless though I think the merit of this whisky within the (important) context in which it was selected is difficult to dispute. I would challenge anyone to identify a whisky easily available in this country that’s clearly more unusual than those from Michel Couvreur.
– The issue of whether or not Michel Couvreur can be legitimately referred to as a French whisky is tenuous, but I don’t think that I’m stepping out of reasonable bounds by doing so. It certainly can’t be called a Scotch whisky, and it’s only fair to give it some sort of an identity. I’m sure that many products that are assembled in a particular country and claim to be made in that country don’t necessarily source all their components from the self-same country. But that’s just an observation – this isn’t my fight.
– I’m not sure to which Ardbeg site Neil is referring. The official site doesn’t seem to reference a specific ppm value under its product information for the 10YO: http://www.ardbeg.com/ardbeg/whisky/ten-years-old, although I can’t discount that this may be shown elsewhere on the site. I sourced my information directly from the local representatives of Ardbeg, and I then had it confirmed by Marsh Middleton, one of this country’s leading whisky presenters. There are also a multitude of web references to 55 ppm. I understand (and I entirely endorse) that factual accuracy is important, but if there’s an error here, which I highly doubt, it’s one that was made in good faith, and not through any lack of application.
– Admittedly not too many people will get to try the Macallan but it inspires me as I’m sure it does others to know that it’s out there. The appreciation of whisky is a journey, and aspirational destinations are part of what makes it so special.
Some might dispute my selection, absolutely, as it’s clear that Neil does. It may not be optimal, depending on your point of view, but I ask myself: does it warrant public denigration? And not just of the selection itself but of someone’s entire worth as a whisky writer… The pointed reference to whisky whiz in inverted commas seems unnecessarily harsh; to label me worse than a fraud even more so. Neil has never met me and has never had anything to do with me, and he’d presumably only read one of my articles (he doesn’t mention anything else). It seems astounding then (at least to me) that he’s taken it upon himself, on the basis of dubious justification, to publicly humiliate me and cast aspersions on my abilities, without even the courtesy of courting a response.
I’m a big believer in camaraderie. The local drinks community is small, the drinks writing community even smaller. Neil, let’s have a dram together and clear the air. Perhaps I can convince you that I’m not quite as useless as you’re telling everyone.