Tag Archives: Launches

WHISKYdotcoza live

Almost a year after the initiation of the project, and after many months of increasingly intense preparation WHISKYdotcoza is now up and running.  Phew!  Even as I’m breathing this sigh of relief I know that this is actually only the start of the journey.  It’s a milestone nonetheless.

Live and dangerous!

It all began back in 2002 when I secured the domain whisky.co.za, with what was then the very vague intention of creating a whisky e-tailer.  The market simply wasn’t ready at the time (neither was I), but the dynamics have changed dramatically since.  Firstly whisky consumption has grown steadily – in 2010 South Africa was effectively the 4th largest export market for Scotch whisky worldwide (Singapore was actually 4th but I reckon it’s just a thoroughfare, so doesn’t really count) buying £168 million worth.   In 2005, never mind 2002, SA wasn’t even in the top 10.  Secondly internet usage and the incidence of online shopping are in an exponential growth phase.  An estimated 6 million South Africans have access, of which 51% are believed to be shopping online.  We’re still well behind the first world, 10-15% of our population is online compared to 90%+ in a country like Denmark, but we’re catching up quickly.  The e-commerce era has arrived, and I believe whisky is the type of product that’s ideally poised to get on board.  It’s popular, it’s credibly branded, there are no sizing/fit issues, and it’s high value and compact so delivery is cost-effective.

Having said that, it’s going to be a slow burn.  Although there are other online whisky shops operating in the local market, it’s by and large an unfamiliar format; people here are unaccustomed to using this channel to purchase their whisky.  However, I’m confident that the benefits will speak for themselves, and that conversion will follow awareness.

There are two primary reasons why people are increasingly turning to e-commerce in general – because they can shop whenever they want (i.e. it’s convenient), and because they can make purchase decisions that are better thought-out than they would be in the bricks and mortar world.   On the internet, you have an endless amount of information at your fingertips.  You can quickly and easily compare pricing and specifications, and dig into product details – in short ensure that you get exactly what you want for the best possible price.  Time is a valuable.  Why would busy professionals want to spend 2 hours of their Saturday schlepping to Makro and back, when they can buy from us at similar prices, get some decent advice to guide their purchases, and have 3-4 bottles delivered for between R42 and R50 (in the major cities), the cost of their petrol alone?  Well, that’s the theory anyhow.

The many advantages of convenience

We’ve set out to create an e-tailer that will be a benchmark not only locally but internationally.  We can’t offer the same variety as international e-tailers such as Whisky Exchange and Master of Malt, that’s simply not possible here, but in aspects of functionality, usability, and relevance, we think we’ve on our way to matching, and in certain aspects exceeding, these titans.

Thanks for indulging my sales pitch.  I’m not going to make a habit of it on this blog.   As I recently mentioned to fellow local whisky blogger I’m 100% committed to offering an independent and impartial viewpoint on all things whisky, but when it comes to the retail aspect, well, I’m going to have to make an exception, declared upfront.

One last thing – I have a favour to ask.  The site is complex, and despite the talent of our incredibly hardworking and dedicated web designers (Milk), it’s inevitable that there will be issues.  I’d be grateful if you could give us your thoughts, feedback and suggestions.

Thanks again, enjoy the weekend, and may the dram be with you.

Respect for elders

Apologies, this post is a bit late.  Between SA’s opening World Cup match and work, time got away from me.  So, cutting to the chase: wednesday’s BBR launch was, as the post title suggested, interesting indeed.  There were the usual canapés, chit-chat and networking that are to be expected from these types of functions, but there was also more substance to it than the standard.  We were treated to a selection of carefully considered cocktails and drinks from their range of spirits, and a presentation with greater depth than the usual marketing veneer;  Mike Harrison, the presenter, and one of the company’s directors, clearly knows his stuff.  This is a blog about whisky, so I don’t intend to dwell on other liquor, but I’ll make a quick exception for Pink Pigeon, an infused Mauritian rum, because I’m a big fan of both rum and Mauritius.  I fear it’ll be too expensive to make a significant impact locally – but it’s delicious and exquisitely crafted.  Don’t hold back if someone else is buying.

Onto the real deal.  We were offered a dram of Glenrothes Select Reserve, which to my nose and palate was big on vanilla, underlaid with a full maltiness, and with detectable hints of citrus, dried fruit, and aniseed.  The Select Reserve, which has no age statement, although I’ve seen a Joburg liquor store boldly advertising it as a 12yo, is the entry-level variant of Glenrothes.  The guys at Kreate Brands, who are the new SA distributors for BBR, have promised me a tasting of their more premium bottlings next week.  There, it’s in print, so they can’t back out.

The guys from BBR - Mike (left) and Peter (right)

Even more interesting than the tasting was the insight we gained into the philosophy of Glenrothes… and for me one of the broader questions that it raises.  Mike explained to us that Glenrothes is all about natural flavour.  They steer clear of spirit caramel and chill filtration (which is commendable), and also finishing (why I don’t know, perhaps they feel it overcomplicates or unbalances whisky).     Most pertinently however, as I alluded to earlier, they don’t make age claims, preferring instead to focus on releasing vintage* whiskies.    Their rationale is that they don’t want to be dictated to by an arbitrary time-frame, they’d rather let the whisky mature at its own pace and “tell” them when it’s ready.  It all sounds very sensible, and I’m not by any means suggesting that the guys from Glenrothes don’t mean what they say (especially because many of their vintages are very old, and identifiably so), but such intentions are becoming almost commonplace in the industry now, and for a good reason: it’s expensive to keep whisky in wood.  It also presents certain logistical difficulties.  If your brand takes off and you don’t have enough stock…well, you just have to wait, or change the product from a single malt to a pure/blended malt (like Cardhu did a few years ago, a questionable move if ever I saw one).  Basically it’s a marketer’s wet dream to foist upon us a super-premium whisky with no age statement.  Johnnie Walker has done so quite successfully with Blue Label, and a few years ago (last year in SA) Glenmorangie launched Signet, a whisky of indeterminate age which sells for circa R2000 per bottle.  I must admit that it is a stupendously good whisky, uniquely constituted with a proportion of “chocolate” (overmalted) malt and partly aged in virgin casks to accelerate the effect of the wood without overpowering the whisky.  Nonetheless it makes me uncomfortable that I don’t know its age.  Full disclosure has not been made.  The producers are treating me like a child, thinking that the age, which would obviously be far too young for the price tag, would distract me from appreciating the merits of the whisky and valuing it accordingly.  I take a Jake White view on this – age in whisky, like size in rugby,does matter (up to a certain threshold, after which it becomes detrimental).   Pieter de Villiers, not typically known for his eloquence, summed it up quite nicely: “A small talented guy will always be better than a big untalented guy, and a big talented guy is better than a small talented guy”.

Age statement or not Glenrothes is a fine single malt offering decent value.  It currently sells in the R300 odd bracket.  I don’t think that they intend to make the vintages widely available in the local market in the short-term, but I’ll post my impressions next week regardless.  Have a great weekend and may the dram be with you!

*A whisky, even a single malt, is usually a “blend” of products of different ages.  This is done to maintain flavour consistency from bottling to bottling.  A whisky claiming vintage status was all distilled and put in wood in the same year – the one specified in the label – and then later also bottled at the same time.  In theory it is individually good enough to be offered as a stand-alone bottling, and would usually have a distinct flavour profile to the standard bottling.

Interesting spirits launch

This evening I’m off to attend the local launch of the Berry Bros & Rudd (BBR) spirits portfolio, which includes the Glenrothes single malt.  The name is pronounced Glen-roth-this (this as in thistle, not as in this gaelic pronunciation is a bugger).   I’m excited, not only because it’s an opportunity to savour a great whisky, but also because of the historical interest value.

Glenrothes comes in a cool sample-type bottle with a hand-written label

BBR is Britain’s oldest wine and spirits merchant, having been established in 1698, and it has since cemented a world-leading position as a supplier of fine wines and super-premium spirits.  Its most famous creation was Cutty Sark, the blended whisky named after the Scots-made tea clipper, at one time the world’s fastest ship.  Cutty Sark claims to be the first light-coloured blended whisky ever made, having originally (not sure if it’s still the case today) shunned the use of spirit caramel, which many whisky makers use to darken their products and ensure colour consistency, but which is also thought to mask more subtle flavours.  It was formulated by Charles Julian, who went on to create J&B in its image, as well as having a hand in putting together the Chivas Regal that we drink today.  From its origins in the early 1920’s Cutty Sark went on to become a prohibition-era success story and eventually the best-selling Scotch whisky in the US (at one time).  The brand, I guess because of its stature in American society, has featured repeatedly in popular culture.  Its epic name and distinctive bottle and label really made it stand out; I remember seeing it in movies such as Caddyshack and Goodfellas, marvelling at how much Chevy, Bob and others seemed to like the stuff, and wondering why I’d never come across it locally.

Glenrothes is the signature malt in Cutty Sark, and a significant contributor to other blends such as Famous Grouse and Chivas Regal.  BBR no longer owns Cutty Sark – in a contorted-sounding deal it recently sold the brand to the Edrington Group (owners of the Macallan, Famous Grouse, and Highland Park), in return acquiring the rights to the Glenrothes brand.  The Glenrothes distillery remains in Edrington’s hands, ostensibly to ensure control of supply for Cutty Sark et al.  The good news coming out of all of this for whisky lovers is that there should now be an increased focus on Glenrothes as a single malt, compared to past years where it served primarily as an ingredient for blends.  I’ll report back tomorrow on what we can expect from Glenrothes in SA.

Incidentally one of Cutty Sark’s first “distributors” was the smuggler Captain Bill McCoy, who had a reputation for supplying uncut, unadulterated spirits at a time (prohibition) when this was more exception than rule…hence the expression “the real McCoy”.

Bill and crew