Tag Archives: Diageo

Blade and Bow

Blade and Bow Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
45.5% ABV
What the Bottler Says:
A homage to the legendary Stitzel-Weller distillery, Blade and Bow Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey uses a unique Solera System aging process to preserve some of the distillery’s oldest whiskey stocks, including some of the last bourbon produced there before it closed in 1992.

The solera liquid is mingled with other fine whiskies aged and bottled at Stitzel-Weller. Aged in new charred American white oak barrels, this bourbon has a subtle aroma of fresh fruit and a taste that includes hints of dried apricot, ripe pear and a sweet roasted grain. The finish has notes of charred oak and warm winter spices.

Blade and Bow Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey received a GOLD MEDAL at the 2015 San Francisco World Spirits Competition.

Collect the five distinct keys – some rarer than others – that adorn every bottle.

What Gary Says:
Nose: Subtle butterscotch and vanilla, with a hint of corn bread.
Palate: Floral, nice silky mouthfeel, well balanced with the spice kicking up near the end.
Finish: Medium length and peppery.
Comments: The words “subtle” and “muted” resonate. On the nose, it reminds me of dusty bourbon (which is a compliment; if you haven’t had dusty bourbon – my sympathies), but on the palate it is less impressive. Quite easy to drink, but unless the price fell substantially – I’d pass it at retail.
Rating: Average

What Richard Says:
Nose: A little bland with just an alcohol tinged hint of Werther’s Originals.
Palate: Surprisingly sweet but a little thin. The sweetness is fruity like poached pears with a herbal, grassy, and spiced wood back layer.
Finish: Dry and woody.
Comments: This is a fine serviceable bourbon. My main complaint besides the price (and that is a bit of a them lately) is the marketing affiliation with Stitzel-Weller. I find that disingenuous at best and deceitful at worst.
Rating: Average

We would like to thank Travis and the folks over at Taylor Strategy for sending over a review sample.

Are we at the tipping point?

As a lover of whiskey in all (well…most) of its forms I diligently follow whiskey related news, stories, books, blogs, and publications of all kinds. That works for and against me. With the growth in the popularity of whiskey there is no shortage of information available. Unfortunately, a lot of its either crap or true enough but just serves to piss me off. I have a lot to be pissed off about these days.

Recently, I saw this article in The Spirits Business and some of the commentary around the web and I had to take another long, deep sigh. When I saw the headline “Diageo Halts Scotch Expansion as Demand Dives” my first thought wasn’t “oh, no the proverbial sky is falling” but rather “It’s about damn time.” I’m not worried about a scotch whiskey bust. I’m not worried about more moth balled distilleries. I’m not really worried at all. I’m actually kind of excited because maybe we are finally at the tipping point.

I’ve been a scotch drinker for about fifteen years now. That doesn’t sound like a long time but for an industry that has had as much change as scotch has in the last decade and a half it feels like a lifetime. More to the point of my excitement, the way scotch prices have soared in the last 15 years is ridiculous to me. When I say “soared” I am not being hyperbolic. In 1999 I could walk into my local liquor store, at the time it was Capital City Liquor and grab Macallan 18 (Gran Reserva at the time) for around $65. Now if you can get it for less than three times as much you’ve found a deal! That kind of price inflation should be left to third world countries with tanking currencies.

Yes, I know times change and prices of consumer consumables go up but scotch as an industry and particularly single malts are an egregious perpetrator of this farce. It does not cost three times more to make a bottle of 18 year old scotch compared to 1999. What has happened is that the companies making scotch have taken advantage of the interest in their products and wrung it for every damn dime they can get. I’m not just picking on Edrington for Macallan. Pernod Ricard, Diageo, and most of the rest are just as guilty. Macallan is just the easiest to pick on. They aren’t making any better whiskey than they used to. They aren’t making less whiskey than they used to. What they are doing is riding a marketing wave that should be the capstone of someone’s marketing MBA course work. That wave tells you that their product is awesome and you should buy it. More of you have bought it. That drives up demand, which drives up price. Also, through advertising and other great public relations work they have convinced you to pay more for their whiskey than anybody else’s. Is it better? Not necessarily. It’s good, sometimes really good but there is a lot of good whiskey out there.

The whole industry participates in the push to drive demand and premium pricing and collectively prices have risen dramatically. Again, I’m not just picking on Macallan/Edrington. Whyte and Mackay tried it a few years ago when they relauched Dalmore. While the regular line prices has fallen more in line with the market their special releases command astronomical prices in the tens of thousands of dollars at retail. The latest to try to rebrand as super premium is Mortlach. Diageo’s pricing for these 500ml bottles is laughable. But somebody is buying it….or at least they were.

Let’s shift back over to Diageo now. They were the focus of the article that started this rant, they are the latest super premium rebranders with Mortlach, and they are the largest spirits company in the world. Of their portfolio of spirits, a significant amount is whiskey. So even though they don’t release enough detail for me to dive deep down into their whiskey portfolios, their corporate numbers tell the story better than most. From 2009 to 2014 their sales have grown by about 10%. However, in Asia it is 48% growth over the same period of time. By contrast, North America grew by less than 5%. However, from 2013 to 2014 sales in Asia dropped twice as fast as North America as a result of the economic factors mentioned in the Spirits Business article. Although, it is also true that the sales numbers have dropped across the board for Diageo over the last year. I find it interesting though that even though sales declined in North America by 7.5% the profit margins went up. In fact, those margins have steadily increased year over year since 2009.

I don’t want to get too into the weeds on this point because even though my day job is in finance, most of you come here to read about whiskey and may not care about the difference between an operating margin and margarine. Bear with me for a minute. What the margin increases mean is that for every dollar of product they sell they are keeping more of that money as profit for the company. How do they do that? Well really in one of two ways. They can lower their costs which include materials (barley, water, barrels, etc.), logistics (delivery, transportation, etc.), marketing dollars, and other expenses or they can charge more for their products. Said another way, if you make 40 cents on the dollar you can make it 45 by either cutting 5 cents of cost or charging $1.05. When looking at Diageo’s cost of goods sold it only went up 3.5% over the five years from 2009 to 2014. That means that they are either charging more (they are) or are shifting to a different mix of products that they make more money on (they also are).

In getting back to my original “It’s about damn time” comment it’s only so long a company or industry can keep doing this before the market’s demand for its products will no longer bear the prices they are trying to charge. So in looking at Diageo’s financial results in light of their halt of further expansion it looks like they got the double whammy. The new markets they are pushing look to be pulling back a bit and their old markets (Western Europe’s numbers look similar to North America) may just be tired of continuing to pay more every time they go buy another bottle.

It’s not just Diageo. Pernod Ricard’s trends are similar. It’s not just scotch. Bourbon has seen large increases and marketing driven price increases too. It’s all got a bit out of whack. In “proselytizing the way of malt” I’m not supposed to root against whiskey but as the international fascination and fad dies down a bit maybe we can come a little closer to a healthy normalized industry. One with good give and take between consumer and suppliers instead of the crazy race to the top we’ve seen in the last few years. Prices have gotten ridiculous and it pisses me off. Hopefully, I’ve vented enough that I don’t start a regular series of “Things About Whiskey That Piss Me Off” on Whisk(e)y Apostle. Now I’m going to go take another deep breath and have a drink.

Chivas v. Johnnie

The Apostles got an interesting Christmas present this year. Pernod Ricard asked us to review their Chivas Regal 18 year old blend up against Diageo’s Johnnie Walker Blue Label and they sent us samples of each. In this age of global economic crisis, the good folks at Pernod are trying to offer an alternative to the “super premium” options this holiday season. They believe that Chivas Regal 18 is on par with the much more expensive Johnnie Walker Blue Label (maybe not as super premium as Bowmore Gold, but still out of our usual price range) and should be considered when you head out to buy your holiday dram. In the interest of full disclosure we must point out that Matt has always believed Blue Label overpriced and a product of good marketing more than good blending. He’s more a fan of the Gold Label. Richard is a fan of both even before putting them head to head. Now, let’s see how this goes.
(We are foregoing the usual “Comments” sections for a comparative conclusion)

Chivas Regal Gold Signature Scotch Whisky, Aged 18 Years
40% ABV/80 Proof
$55 – $70
Widely Available

What the Distillery Says:
From Master Blender Colin Scott – A welcoming, rewarding whisky. Exceptional richness with multi-layered aromas of buttery toffee, dark chocolate and dried fruits. Hints of spices and smoke. The voluptuous, velvety palate develops into an extremely long, warm finish.

What Richard Says:
Nose: Slightly vegetal with malty notes. Buttery with hints of orange.
Palate: Develops slowly in the mouth, like a lovely lady slowly undressing. Just a hint of sweetness and a palate that’s smokier than the nose would let on. Spice laden oak.
Finish: The finish is very clean. It’s like the same lady who was seducing you on the palate has left in the middle of the night and leaves you wanting.
Rating: Must Buy

What Matt Says:
Nose: Enchanting. Tart green apple, brown sugar, streusel, hints of pipe tobacco, dark chocolate and berries.
Palate: Dark chocolate, toffee, pipe smoke and dark fruits. Basically, all the notes from the nose are present in the palate. This dram has round and velvety mouth feel.
Finish: Long and luscious. Tastes like an apple tart with blackberries and chocolate.
Rating: Must Buy

Johnnie Walker Blue Label
40% ABV/ 80 Proof
$150 – $200
Widely Available

What The Distillery Says:
Johnnie Walker Blue Label Scotch whisky has been created by our master blender in the style pioneered by John and Alexander Walker to evoke the authentic, powerful character and flavour of a traditional 19th Century blend. It is an exclusive, hand crafted masterpiece that uses only the rarest and finest of our huge reserves of aged whisky. Produced in strictly limited quantities, it represents our greatest achievement in blending excellence.

What Richard Says:
Nose: Peatier and smokier than most blends. You can really smell the Islay in here. Fresh cut wood and non-orange citrus. Limes maybe?
Palate: An initial sweetness quickly shoved aside for a rich smokiness that settles to brine notes of the sea. Rich, complicated, and ever changing on the palate.
Finish: A very slow and long finish. It leaves you with a mellow smokiness more subtle than the robust smoke on the palate.
Rating: Must Try

What Matt Says:
Nose: Peat, chocolate, honey suckle and other sweet florals. Quite lovely.
Palate: Very smooth, but a little one-dimensional. There are some very light hints of peat, but mostly sweet and fruity.
Finish: Peaty and dry.
Rating: Stands Out

The Results

Richard’s Conclusions:
I find it very interesting that Pernod is putting up their 18 year old blend against Diago’s most premium product. I would have expected their 25 year old but their confidence is respectable. I have no predisposed grudge against JW Blue but knowing Matt I know where he’s coming from. JW Blue is a big robust blend possibly best suited to those who like big whiskies. If you grab a Lagavulin more often than a Glenrothes then this may be a blend for you. Both whiskies were exceptional in their own ways. I found JW Blue to be more interesting and with a little more depth but it didn’t get as high of a rating because of the price. The Chivas is more approachable and easy drinking. I think both are great and worth experiencing. They each offer something different. I’m calling this one a draw and will leave it up to you to decide. That said, I see Pernod’s point. If you can have one of two spectacular blends and one is a third the price of the other then that’s a very attractive value proposition.
Winner: Tie

Matt’s Conclusions:
As stated above, I have some prejudice with this one. To combat that prejudice, I also pulled out my bottle of Johnnie Walker Gold Label for comparison. The results were the same though. I prefer the Chivas (followed by the Gold Label). Chivas Regal 18 manages to be well balanced, smooth and complex. JW Blue has more alcoholic bite on the finish and less complexity. Ultimately, it is about personal preference with ingredients. Johnnie Walker tends to have Caol Ila at its core and the Blue Label is composed of very old whiskies. The Caol Ila imparts a peaty character, while the venerable whiskies provide an incredibly smooth base. Strathisla (a Highland malt) lies at the heart of Chivas. For this reason, Chivas offers less smoke and more fruit. While I have recently gained an appreciation for peat smoke, I still tend toward the fruitier whiskies. I like a complex dram too. When I can get peat smoke AND fruit, that really gets me going. For my money, I’d go with Chivas 18 for this holiday season. If you have some sort of brand loyalty to Johnnie Walker or Diageo, save some money and go for the Gold Label.
Winner: Chivas

New U.S. Releases – September ‘09

Here’s our monthly round up of new releases. There should be something for everyone this month. We’ve got prices from $23 to $15,000.

High West Bourye
Timeframe: This fall
ABV: 46%
Price: TBD
This is a new product from High West that is a blending of a 12 year old straight rye whiskey and a 10 year old bourbon. A post-aging mashbill? I can’t wait to try some.

Dearstalker 18 Year
Timeframe: This fall
ABV: 46%
Price: TBD
This is malt distilled at the Balmenach Distillery that hasn’t been available before. More expressions are scheduled for U.S. release next year.

Benromach 10 Year
Timeframe: This Fall
Price: TBD
A new addition to the Benromach line up. I’m sure Matt’s already got a bottle on hold.

The Spice Tree
Timeframe: This fall
Price: TBD
A great whisky makes its return! We loved the original incarnation and now that John Glaser has found a way around the SWA’s rules I can’t wait to taste the new expression.

Gold Bowmore
Timeframe: This Fall
ABV: 42.4%
Price: $6,250
This comes from the famed 1964 vintage that gave us Black Bowmore and White Bowmore. With those kind of siblings it’s hard to go wrong.

Slane Castle Irish Whiskey
Timeframe: July 2009
ABV: 40%
Price: $23
This one apparently slipped under our radar. Thankfully, more Irish Whiskey is never a bad thing.

The Macallan Lalique 57 Year Old
Timeframe: This fall
ABV: 48.5%
Price: $15,000
Wow! Fifteen grand for a bottle of whisky. Out of my price range but let us know what you think if you get the opportunity to try some.

Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel Birthday Edition
Timeframe: Now
ABV: 45%
Price: $29
The standard bottling is great and I can’t wait to toast Mr. Lee with a bottle of his special edition.

There’s also a bunch more that we didn’t get many details on. The annual release of the Buffalo Trace Antique collection will be out in October with the same line up as last year. Glen Garioch and Conemmara are both coming out with new bottlings.

Diageo also announced their 2009 Classic Malt limited editions. Here’s what I’ve got on those so far:
•Talisker 25-Year-Old ($199.99)
•Brora 30-Year-Old ($399.99)
•Caol Ila Unpeated 10-Year-Old ($59.99)
•Lagavulin 12-Year-Old ($74.99)
•Port Ellen 30-Year Old ($369.99)
•Royal Lochnagar Selected Reserve ($209.99)
•Talisker The Distillers Edition ($79.99)
•Oban The Distillers Edition ($99.99)
•Lagavulin The Distillers Edition ($109.99)
•Caol Ila The Distillers Edition ($79.99)
•Dalwhinnie The Distillers Edition ($74.99)

That’s it for September. If that’s not enough for you then we’ll have to wait and see what October brings!

Glenkinchie 12 Year Old

43% ABV/86 Proof
Available in the United States and Europe – $45 to $50

What the distillery says:

Subtly sophisticated Lowland is a superb pre-dinner drink; try it taken straight from teh freezer.  Pale gold in appearance.  It has a light sweet nose with barley-malt, green grass and wispos of autumn smoke.  The body is firm and light.  The palate is slightly sweet yet fresh, late summer fruits and harvest fields, young wood and malted barley.  A suprising dry finish with a smoky spiciness.

What Matt says:

Nose: Light, sweet (cereal and honey), fresh cut grass, with a trace of smoke.
Palate: Very floral, citrus, honey, over-ripe fruit
Finish: A little spice, some alcohol and sweetness.
Comments: More complex and interesting than your average lowland malt, this is an everyday kind of malt. While none of the flavors are terribly bold, this is a good dram. A great intro into single malt Scotch.
Rating: Stands Out (among Lowlands)

What Richard says:

Nose: Grassy with light hints of fruity sweetness.
Palate: Mellowed and muted flavor.  Slight hint of iodine on the rear of the palate.  As the flavor begins to clear it leave a malted barley after taste that’s very beer like.  Almost like an IPA.
Finish: Smooth, mellow, little about the finish stands out.
Comments: Glenkinchie is a lowland malt.  As such you expect the category to be mellowed with a less drastic flavor profile than malts from other areas of Scotland.  Glenkinchie holds true to this.  Nothing really stands out.  When you’re done with the dram it’s almost like it was never there.  Nothing offensive in this whisky but nothing to write home about either.  That being said, the 12 Year Old is Diageo’s replacement to the 10 Year Old in the Classic Malts range and I do note improvement from the additional years.
Rating: Average

Overall Rating: Average