Mini-Rant #2 – Pointless waste of cardboard

A whisky tasting set from The Whisky Tasting Company

A whisky tasting set from The Whisky Tasting Company

Really sorry for the short post today, GrandMasterJohn got swamped with work and asked me to fill in last minute. With that I thought I would go off on a random rant at a pet peeve of mine…

The birthday before last my wife lovingly purchased a set of whiskies from dead distilleries. She got it from The Whisky Tasting Company. It was all bottled and packaged rather nicely in a black box. Each one was interesting and had a rightful place in the history of the drink we love.

Each drink in turn came with its own informative card explaining the flavours I should expect to experience, where the drink was made and the year it was distilled. Overall it was a pretty fine set. However, included with it was something I find one of the most pointless things in the world:- A tasting mat.

I find it hard to imagine a situation when I would use or encourage the use of a tasting mat, but at a real push I will accept that in an ‘official’ whisky tasting event they are considered a good idea for the sake of novelty if nothing else.

‘Supporters’ if they do exist, would say they might be needed for blind taste tests in an a scenario where you match the location on the board with the whisky being tasted, but sadly their website does not even mention that:-

The perfect accompaniment to Scotch whisky, each set comes with a Whisky Tasting Mat, a place where you can set out your whiskies and record your notes in a most civilised manner.[…]
is sure compliment your sense of enjoyment from each whisky, providing a special record of your whisky tasting experience.

So I am to believe that either the true connoisseur keeps her notes on what resembles many large game boards or that someone who does not have a great love of whisky has ordered (or been gifted) a whisky tasting kit, has decided whisky is not for them and yet has kept the board as a memento.

I wouldn’t care, but you know the prices are higher because they have at least one member of staff working on designing the damn things…

How many whiskies does your local pub stock

The usual whiskies at H & P

The usual whiskies at Horse & Plough (one of the local joints)

How many whiskies does your local pub stock? If you’re lucky your local might be the sort of pub that keeps a small selection of mid-priced whiskies on a dusty shelf, neatly arranged and mostly unopened. If you’re not as lucky they may only stock the well-known brands (at a guess Jack Daniel’s and Bells), which are mainly there to be mixed with Coke.

I would say that the majority of pubs I’ve been to seem to fall into the ‘essentials-with-something-unusual’ category. The Jack Daniel’s will be hanging upside down behind the bar with the vodka and the gin, and a bottle of something such as Talisker will stand to the side on display as if to say “yep, we’re a whisky bar”.

Most of the time this type of pub tend to stock the same few extra whiskies as each other, so once you’ve been to one you tend not to get anything too unexpected.

Then you get to the actual whisky based bars. In my experience these tend to come in two forms:

The first is the dedicated whisky bar, sometimes a themed bar where the stocking of whiskies fits the theme. A popular example seems the be the American-themed bar, usually serving burgers/hot dogs and stocking a selection of more unusual American whiskies than the standard Jim Beam.

One of my local(ish) bars has gone in this direction. They stock a large, and wide ranging selection of American whiskies, and rather than just the standard Bourbons, there is a selection of Rye and Corn whiskies to choose from, many of which you don’t often see in the UK. I have to say, it makes a refreshing change to be able to walk into a bar and having a whole wall of new and interesting whiskies to try.

The second type of whisky bar/pub I have run into is the “accidental whisky pub”. These are the pubs that have somehow accumulated a great number of whiskies through the years but they have been put on dusty shelves and neglected to 5, 10, maybe 15 years or more. These pubs are rare and the whiskies are usually not set on the usual eye level, and so have to be sought out. And even when you’ve found the elusive dusty bottles you are likely to hear the line “let me just ask the Landlord”. This can sometimes result in being informed that the whisky is for display only and not for sale.

Another of my local(ish) pubs is one of these pubs. Around the top of the bar, at a level that would require a step ladder to reach, there are what must be around 100-150 bottles covered in a thick layer of dust. All of these are for sale.

That’s right; all of these dusty, forgotten, old whiskies can be bought and drunk. And they are usually sold at the price of your run-of-the-mill dram. As you can imagine, it makes for one of the most interesting and adventurous nights out this side of slipping on the PVC.

The bars and pubs which proudly display their wide selection of diverse and unusual whiskies is always something to be savoured but sometimes the cramped, dark, dusty local you neglected at a younger age as being ‘just a bit too local’ might be hiding a wonderful treasure trove of their own.

Mini-Rant #1 – As bad the horse meat scandal

Whiskey Selection at Tesco

Whiskey Selection at Tesco

I understand that the average person would have a limited whisky vocabulary but I have always been of the belief that if you are tasked with selling a product you should at least know what it is and with that knowledge be able to refer to it correctly. When it comes to this box, the only truly correct statement is that it is a selection.

For those of you who were not instantly outraged, I will point out that none of the items in the box would be called whiskey. You have 1 bottle of bourbon and 3 bottles of Scottish whisky. I know you are going to say that they have to refer to the product as something but when you have 1 bottle of bourbon and 3 bottles of whisky there is very little reason at all to refer to it as a whiskey selection.

The other big issue we have here is referring to the product as ‘blends’. Though they are at least getting closer to the truth with this statement, only 3 out of the 4 bottles in the pack can be called blends. If they had asked head office or googled it I am sure they would have been told that Jim Beam White Label is a straight bourbon, and the Beam Inc marketing department would probably not be too happy with it being called otherwise:-

Bourbon that is labeled blended (or as ‘a blend’) may contain added coloring, flavoring, and other spirits (such as un-aged neutral grain spirits) – Wikipedia

Lastly and probably most importantly, did you see the packaging? Is that really what they think whisky should be sold in? Does it fit in with any of the corporate images these brands try and portray? It makes me wonder if they had the boxes already and just needed to fill them with something…

Update (Aug 2013) – we won (mostly)!

Whisky Selection

Whisky Selection