School’s in Session: It’s the Season for Whiskey EducationBy Jake Emen
September means that school is back in session. Even if you’re well past your classroom days, there’s always a need for ongoing education. In this case, whiskey education. This need hits home now after recent news came to light of some perhaps changing priorities in the whiskey world. Without digging too far into the nitty-gritty of the matter, Diageo, brand owner of such labels as Johnnie Walker, Lagavulin, and Crown Royal among many many others, received much public backlash for basically ditching an education-driven ambassador program in favor of a showier, luxury lifestyle driven strategy.
Yet, for the consumer, whiskey education has never been of greater need. The industry is evolving, as are the products being offered. Just think about some of the murky situations unfolding right now across the whiskey-sphere.
The Unending No-Age-Statement Debate
When a brand introduces a new no-age-statement (NAS) whiskey, is it really due to the cold and hard facts of supply issues? Or does it truly provide the oft-touted benefit of more flexibility for blenders to create better expressions? How does it compare in both flavor and price to what it’s replacing? If it’s not directly replacing a different expression today, is the plan to phase it out in the future?
There’s no immediate end in sight or quick and easy answer to the NAS whiskey issue. As such, it’s essential that brands are forthright about what they’re putting in the bottle, and why.
All Things Sourcing
Speaking of being forthright, there’s still a great deal of uncertainty about who’s actually making some of the whiskey you’re drinking. Where are all of these new brands getting their juice from? Who’s actually operating a full distillery, versus having just an aging facility or a bottling plant? Luckily, the past couple of years has seen a strong shift in the direction of increased openness. As long as brands are honest about their practices, there’s no problem (as long as the juice is good, that is). For example, the Scotch world doesn’t have “sourcing.” It, instead, has a long, reputable tradition of quality independent bottlers and blending houses, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
There is a similar issue unfolding with Scotch though. It’s the transparency debate which bubbled up recently with Compass Box. They wanted to clearly indicate the full spectrum of ages and percentage of its components of their blends. The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA), however, notified Compass Box that they were breaking EU regulations in their detailed listing of ages and proportions of its blend. This left whiskey drinkers in the lurch because of outdated regulations.
Another area where there’s a great need for whiskey education is with the categorization of certain whiskeys. Look no further than the burgeoning field of American single malt whiskey. Not yet a legal, regulated category, the hope is that this will change soon. This fall, the US. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) opens up their rule books for commenting on the subject.
At the same time, there is also hope that improved regulations are put in place to deal with regards to sourcing. The goal is for clear mandates of “distilled by” and “bottled by” to be on all whiskey labels in the future.
There’s been a great proliferation of whiskeys in the past five to ten years, and more consumer interest in whiskey than ever before. However, it is easy to feel out of the loop and even offended when you find out that what you’re actually drinking is very different from what was advertised.
So, this September, take a pledge to continue your ongoing whiskey education, to be a well-informed consumer. Demand forthrightness from the brands getting your dram dollars. We’ll vow to do our part, too, and continue offering a helping hand in your journey towards whiskey wisdom.
Ready to start your whiskey journey?