Friday, July 3, 2015

Clueless Marketing of Alcohol

Story time...

I went to a local liquor store today to buy some brews and a few wines for an event tomorrow. There was a lady pouring La Marca prosecco and she asked if I'd like to try a sample - of course I obliged :) She asked if I was familiar with prosecco and I said I knew it was a sparkling wine from Italy, but that's about it. She said, "Yes, well, this one is made in Italy." That was my first clue that something was amiss.

Then she said it was a more balanced prosecco than a lot of others, which tend to be sweeter. So I decided to probe a bit and asked her why it was balanced as compared to sweet. She stumbled on her words a bit and ended up coming out with "It's due to the different kinds of fruit they add to the wine." Ok, now the game is afoot. "What kinds of fruits do they add to this one?" "Oh, well, they don't really tell you, but the bottle says it's fruity."

So I knew I had her at this point. I decided to give her a hand. "It might have something to do with how long they let the fermentation go." Her reply: "Oh, yeah, there are a lot of things that go into it."

I asked her if she was from a marketing company and she replied in the affirmative. Then I said I had some friends who worked at MKTG and wondered if she might know them. She hadn't heard of MKTG so I said it's the company that markets Diageo's products. "What's Diageo?"

After letting her know it's the largest spirits company in the world, she disclosed that she does this marketing only for money and that she actually doesn't drink alcohol at all! Then she asked me for the name of "that marketing company" again (MKTG) so she could inquire about a position there.

This was kind of a sad event. This liquor store has, to me at least, a great reputation for putting on high-quality events with staff who know their liquors inside and out. So having this absolutely clueless woman try to make up nonsense on the spot was kind of like running into a pile of dog poop on an otherwise-pristine white carpet.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

anCnoc Single Malt Scotch Seminar Review

This was another great (and free) scotch tasting seminar held at Gordon's in Waltham, MA. The presenter was the ever-entertaining Brian Johnson, the same gentleman who presented at the Balblair scotch tasting a few weeks ago at Gordon's.

anCnoc (pronounced AH-nock, and yes, it's really spelled that way) is produced at a Highland distillery named Knockdhu (meaning Black Hill in Gaelic). So why isn't the whisky called Knockdhu? The story is that the distillers decided to call their single malt by a different name because they wanted to avoid confusion with the spirit from the similarly-named distillery Knockando.

Here are my brief tasting notes from the evening:

anCnoc 12 Year (43% ABV, matured solely in Buffalo Trace bourbon casks): Peppery nose and palate. Spicy and hot. Overall rating: 81.

anCnoc 18 Year (46% ABV, matured 14-15 years in bourbon casks and 3-4 years in sherry casks): Deeper fruit, getting the typical spice from the sherry but rough on the finish. Seems kind of thin. Overall rating: 84.

anCnoc 24 Year (46% ABV, matured 21 years in bourbon casks and 3 years in sherry casks): Pretty straightforward, moderate sherry on the palate, nice lingering balanced bourbon/sherry on finish. Overall rating: 85.

anCnoc 1975 39 Year (44.2% ABV, matured in an unknown mix of bourbon and sherry casks): Holy...this is much better than the first three. I was starting to think my palate was off with those because I was just not excited by them. Rich fruit, super smooth. Nice cooking spices and that deep wood flavor you get from well-aged older single malts. Definitely the star of the evening. Overall rating: 93.

anCnoc Flaughter (46% ABV, matured 7-9 years in bourbon casks, peated at 14.8 ppm phenol): Peat is stronger on the nose than on the palate. Very soft on the palate, nice peat, not overwhelming. Good sweetness behind the peat. A winner. Overall rating: 89.

anCnoc Cutter (46% ABV, matured 7-9 years in bourbon casks, peated at 20.5 ppm phenol): Seems less peaty than Flaughter, despite the higher phenol level. Also super smooth, but less body than Flaughter and a little bitter. Overall rating: 83.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Balblair Single Malt Scotch Seminar Review

This past Monday, May 4th, I was casually strolling through the "Promotions" tab in my Gmail inbox when I noticed a message from Gordon's, a local liquor store chain, about a Balblair single malt scotch tasting.

Balblair is a single malt that's fairly dear to my heart, being in the same stable with Old Pulteney and AnCnoc single malts, all handled by the inimitable Brian Johnson of International Beverage for the New England region. (Brian and I did some events together many years ago, including a scotch whisky dinner you can read about here.)

The body of the email said the tasting was being held that evening, May 4th, in about an hour. "Whoa!" I shouted, causing my wife to ask what was going on. It wasn't just that it was a Balblair tasting - it was also that the tasting was to include a spectacular lineup: the 2003, 1999, 1991, 1990, 1983, and 1975 vintages! My birth year is 1983 and I had my eye on this whisky since it was introduced a few months ago, so I really wanted to go.

I'll save you the marital negotiation details and skip right to the part where I finally went to the tasting.

It turned out the tasting was being handled by none other than Mr. Brian Johnson himself, and he actually recognized me after all these years. Brian gave some generous pours and regaled us with many stories of the distillery and the whisky, including some great details about how the whiskies are matured.

So here are my brief tasting notes, in case you're interested in trying this lineup.

Balblair 2003 (46% ABV, matured solely in Buffalo Trace bourbon casks, bottled in 2014): Sharp fruits, charcoal backbone. Full but not too complex. Overall rating: 85.

Balblair 1999 (46% ABV, matured primarily in bourbon casks and then finished for 4 years in oloroso sherry casks, bottled in 2013): Cognac-like initial flavors, then medium cooking spices. Overall rating: 87.

Balblair 1991 (43% ABV, matured solely in bourbon casks, bottled in 2009): Oh so smooth. Thick fruits, juicy finish. Overall rating: 91.

Balblair 1990 (46% ABV, matured 20 years in bourbon and 4 years in oloroso sherry): Like the 1999 but smoother. Overall rating: 90.

Balblair 1983 (46% ABV, matured solely in bourbon casks, bottled in 2015): Nose is ripe fruit, palate is super deep with ripe fruit. A hint of smoke. Wow...what a whisky! Overall rating: 95.

Balblair 1975 (46% ABV, matured solely in oloroso sherry casks, 5% peated malt, bottled in 2012): Deep woods nose, heavy burnt rubber on the palate, and a bit of peat. Lots of old wood - a little too much for my taste. Overall rating: 90.

The 1983 was my favorite by far, but even for the evening's sale price of $292.49 a bottle, I just can't bring myself to buy it. I would still take the Old Pulteney 17 and pocket the remaining ~$200.