It’s nearing Burns Night – 25th January – so I thought a bit of Scotch would be in order.
You could say Rabbie Burns is one of the first ‘celebrity’ endorsements of whisky – and he’s still going strong today.
My choice of whisky is one I rarely encounter – but the vivid yellow label & green bottle always stands out from the crowd & draws me in.
Cutty Sark has dual meaning.
Rabbie Burns poem Tam o’ Shanter – a tale about drinking & chasing cutty sark or ‘short skirts’ in modern terms – still resonates today.
There was also a famous tea clipper – Cutty Sark – which just happened to be docked in London back in 1923. Berry Bros & Rudd decided to name & launch their new Cutty Sark Blended Scots Whisky on the back of this.
Marketing – when you get it right – it works.
And it’s still working today.
I picked up this miniature in a local off-licence when I spotted it.
The colour is reassuringly pale. There is added caramel – common practice for entry level blends – but not too much.
The nose is rather soft & light – with just a hint of sooty smoke & sweet grainy vanilla.
A very easy entry on tasting.
Nothing very much in the middle – before that gorgeous smoke influence wafts in and just makes this blend sail!
It’s simple yet well balanced.
None of the up to 40 different – and ever changing – single malt & grain ingredients dominate.
The particular bottle I sampled is from Berry Bros & Rudd and presented at 43%.
The brand has since passed through the Edrington Group & subsequently been acquired by French group La Martiniquaise-Bardinet.
It’s a lovely easy drinking yet suitably smoky blend that certainly floats my boat!
One emerging market everyone is keen to get in on is Africa – Nigeria in particular.
With a population estimated at 200 million – making it the 7th most populous nation in the world – and an alcohol sales figure of 2.84 billion dollars in 2014 – who wouldn’t want to have a slice of that cake?
Indian whisky is to the forefront here – at least until Nigeria develops it’s own distilling industry.
India produces mass market blends usually consisting of imported bulk malt from Scotland – augmented with Indian grain – plus a dash of added caramel.
All the big players – Diageo, Pernod-Ricard, United Spirits & others all have their own particular brands in this category. I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying a few here, here & here.
They retail – in Lagos at least – for about €5 per 750ml bottle of Nigerian strength – 43% – whisky.
My latest acquisition – via my Nigerian correspondent – is Black & Blue Premium Whisky.
The name is entertaining.
A play on the successful Black & White Scotch mixed in with the premiumisation associated with Blue (a la Johnnie Walker Blue) – and the unfortunate association attached to ‘battered black & blue.
It’s not clear as to the origins of this brand.
The label has a London address – a rather drab office in Kingsbury NW9 – and oddly a phone number – which rang out when I called.
Oh – I think ROI in this instance means Republic Of India.
I’ve not yet encountered any Irish whiskey in this segment of the market.
So what does ‘the finest oak aged matured malt blended with Indian grain spirit’ taste like?
Well – there is a burnt quality to the nose. I couldn’t describe it as smoky or peaty – yet it’s rather attractive. Mainly as it dampened down the sweet caramel influence.
This followed through into the taste – which didn’t offer much regards depth of flavour or complexity – but it was smooth & approachable.
The burnt note returned on the finish – which along with the 43% strength left a decent degree of heat & warm feeling on the palate.
It certainly didn’t leave my insides black & blue.
Just pleasantly intoxicated.
Sure at only a fiver – what can you complain about!
If anything – Irish Whiskey is late to this social media led personality trend – and I’d be more worried if there wasn’t an Irish celebrity wanting to get involved.
Right from the beginning however – even before it’s release – I posted a piece with the headline ‘We need to talk about Conor’ and got the following response;
“No we don’t”
Kind of sets the tone for what followed when Proper Twelve was launched.
“It’s barely legal”
Well at 3 years old it is legal.
Funny though – that issue never came up when punters were outbidding each other to get hold of ‘barely legal’ Dingle or Teeling whiskey when it was first released.
Then comes the condemnation.
“Heavily adulterated with caramel”
Yes there is added caramel – it says so on the label. Caramel is a legally allowed additive both within Irish Whiskey and Scottish Whisky. The same criticism can be levelled at virtually every Jameson product, Bushmill bottle, Johnnie Walker whisky and many others as they all contain caramel. Why single out one offender?
Then you start to get to the heart of the matter.
“See, Bono’s doing it right….he’s supporting the build of an ACTUAL distillery!”
Since when did you need a distillery to build a brand?
The Spot whiskeys started out from a grocers. So too did the best selling Johnnie Walker. Many a big brand of today began as non distillery producers – it’s a well trodden path.
And then you get plain old bias.
“I have no intention of ever trying it.”
Which is probably just as well – as blogger after blogger lined up to do a hatchet job on the liquid. The best described the whiskey as;
Now in all probability Proper Twelve was distilled at Bushmills for the malt content and Midleton for the grain. There is no law in either Irish or Scottish rules stating you must name the distillery which made the blend.
So effectively the same teams that make all Bushmills product – from the White Bush blend to the lauded 21 Year Old Single Malt – as well as the folks that make all the Jameson, Powers, Paddy’s & Midleton products have somehow dropped their standards to allow ‘toilet cleaner’ to be made in their stills, stored in their barrels and blended in their tanks?
I don’t think so.
What I found on tasting was a very easy going, approachable blend with a slight charred cask influence and a hint of spice.
It sits very well among the other Irish whiskey blends out there.
But then what is getting people irate – from what I can see – is not really the whiskey – it’s the man behind it – Conor McGregor.
The idea that a somewhat colourful & controversial kid from Crumlin can just swan in with his millions and release a whiskey that has the whole world talking – buying – and drinking – is obviously too much to bear .
It upsets the cosy consensus that assumed ‘premiumisation’ was the way to go – or that ‘transparency’ is key.
For a whiskey that sold out 6 months worth of stock within a matter of weeks – I think it just proved there was a vast untapped market out there waiting to be filled. It’s a marketing master stroke and something of a social media phenomenon.
But of course – when all else fails – slag off the customer.
“There are just enough rednecks and hooligans out there that will actually make this crap a success.”
I find it ironic that those who criticize Mr McGregor the loudest seem to descend to his level of pre-fight ritual lambasting.
Which is a pity.
As Mr McGregor and his Proper Twelve brand have just pulled off a massive publicity stunt that is getting Irish Whiskey instant worldwide recognition and potential sales far beyond anything that has gone before.
It is without doubt my Irish Whiskey of the year 2018.
All quotes in italics are from social media posts by various whiskey fans. They are by no means the only ones. I have chosen the milder variety.
Whiskey Live Dublin always throws up a surprise or two.
This years was the safely guarded release of Whiskey 21C.
This is a unique historical bottling of all the Irish Whiskey Distilleries that currently have stocks of matured whiskey in their possession.
The Celtic Whiskey Shop – not content with being the hard working organisers behind Whiskey Live Dublin – contacted all the distilleries with matured whiskey – asked for a donation of some of that precious liquid – proceeded to blend it – bottle it – sell it at the show on a strictly limited never to be repeated release – all for the Downs Syndrome Ireland charity!
Now that WAS a surprise indeed!
The 12 Irish Whiskey Distilleries who kindly donated to this project are – in the order they appear on the back label;
Bushmills Distillery – Producers of the Bushmills range + other brands.
Cooley Distillery – Producers of the Tyrconnell, Connemara, Locke’s & Kilbeggan ranges – as well as numerous other brands.
Echlinville Distillery – All current releases under the Dunvilles brand are sourced – yet Echlinville are sitting on 5 year old whiskey of their own making which has not yet been deemed ready for it’s public debut.
Kilbeggan Distillery – Producers of Kilbeggan Rye – the 1st Irish Whiskey containing rye for many a year and the 1st whiskey to be wholly produced at Kilbeggan since the micro distillery was commissioned there in 2010.
Pearse Lyons Distillery – Producers of Pearse 5 Year Old Single Malt. Some of the Pearse blends also contain malt made on the stills sited at the Pearse Lyons Distillery in Dublin.
Teeling Whiskey Co – Producers of Teeling Single Pot Still. All other current releases are sourced.
The Shed Distillery – Producers of Gunpowder Gin & Sausage Tree Vodka – yet clearly have whiskey waiting to be released.
Tullamore DEW – All current Tullamore DEW is sourced – yet they are obviously sitting on whiskey which has been produced at the new Tullamore Distillery.
West Cork Distillers – Producers of the Glengarriff range. Some of the WCD range is sourced + they supply other brands too.
Camera Shy Cork Distillery – The only whiskey producer not mentioned is Midleton. Could this be them?
A small sample of Whiskey 21C was also offered to Whiskey Live Dublin attendees!
I found it a young, fresh & fruity blend. Approachable & easy despite it’s 54.2% strength. There was no mention if it was either a blended malt or a malt & grain mix – nor the percentages of the distilleries involved in the project. I was just extremely pleased to get a chance to taste the future of Irish Whiskey!
A big thank you to all the hard work of the team behind Whiskey Live Dublin AND Whiskey 21C.
2nd on the list was any locally based Irish whiskey brands – but there weren’t any – as I found out in my recent blog here.
3rd on the list and last pickings were locally based Scotch brands – there were LOADS of them!
Have you ever wondered why only half of the 130 or so Scottish Whisky Distilleries have visitors centres?
The others are so busy pumping out liquid to 3rd party blenders, bottlers & spirits wholesalers throughout the world to bother with tourists.
Liquid like what I found in The Charles House Blended Scotch Whisky.
Now I must admit most of this market is entry level stuff. It usually means they are blends augmented with added caramel – which I can detect & dislike – as well as being chill filtered. There is no pretence to provenance or terroir – in fact there is very little to go on even on the label.
But I don’t drink whisky based on what the label does or doesn’t say.
I drink whisky because I enjoy it.
And I certainly enjoyed Charles House.
When poured into the glass the colour was relatively light – there was caramel on the nose – but not overpowering – and a lovely burnt note which drew me in.
Soft, smooth & slightly sweet grain on the palate – mellow enough as befits an entry level blend – but what’s this coming through?
My mouth began to dry out leaving a prickly tingling on the tongue with a lovely soft ashiness.
Aha! I detect a bit of peat influence in this.
The peat adds a bit of bite – some lovely smoky flavours – and just raises the tasting experience up a notch or two.
It brought a smile to my face.
Sorry Run – I’d much rather go back to Charles House.
I received a Press Release today from none other than Proper No Twelve Irish Whiskey.
Conor McGregor issues apology – Proper No. Twelve Irish Whiskey out-of-stock situation soon to be remedied.
Proper No. Twelve sold more cases in less than one month than many whiskey brands sell in a full year. This amounted to hundreds of thousands of bottles. Prior to unveiling the new whiskey blend on 17 September, the distillery bottled what was estimated to be enough product for six months of sales in Ireland and the United States. Thanks to consumer demand, this forecast was far short of the mark. Today, the team is working feverishly to bring new product to market, and first wave solutions are in place for early December in Ireland and the United States.
“I told everyone as the company Founder that I was going to give it my all and take the whiskey market by storm”, said McGregor. “I am energized by the incredible reaction and am looking forward to being back in stock in the next few weeks. The Irish whiskey market has been dominated by one brand, but people want choice. People want brands that have true meaning to them, that give back to the community and that taste great. Proper No. Twelve checks all of those boxes”.
McGregor continued, “Over the past weeks, I have had the honour to visit many of our key distributors, customers, bartenders and consumers in Ireland and the United States. The feedback on our liquid and brand is outstanding and the support from people around the world has blown me away. I was thanking many and apologising at the same time for running out. I don’t usually see reason to apologise but in this case I want to take this chance to apologise to absolutely everyone for our out-of-stock situation. You have shown great support for Proper No. Twelve. I was at the distillery last week and we have plans in place to be back in stock in Ireland and the United States in early December and onward. We are producing many hundreds of thousands of bottles now. We will ship via air instead of by sea to deliver in time for the holidays for the many loyal customers who are asking for Proper No. Twelve for celebrations and gifting”. McGregor added, “We are also planning to launch in more countries in 2019 including the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, Canada and others. We will continue to expand as quickly as possible to meet the global demand. We are also working on additional expressions for the future and will launch them when they are proper ready for release”.
It seems sales of this whiskey far exceeded expectations and 6 months of stock sold out in a matter of weeks.This is nothing short of a whiskey marketing phenomenon.
John Quinn – Global Brand Ambassador for Tullamore DEW – told an amusing story at the recent Irish Whiskey Awards 2018.
Out marketing Irish Whiskey in Japan back in the 1980’s when Irish Whiskey was virtually hanging on by a thread – the then Brand Ambassador pulled a stunt which made the whole audience pick up and take notice.
Well Conor McGregor has certainly pulled off an even bigger stunt and made the whole world take notice of his Proper No Twelve Irish Whiskey.
He’s gaining new customers – opening new revenue streams and pushing the Irish Whiskey category forward in ways that could only have been thought of in the industry’s wildest dreams back in the 80’s.
I raise a glass to Conor and all the team behind Proper No Twelve Irish Whiskey who are busily engaged in trying to re-stock the whiskey so that all those who wish to enjoy it can do so in time for the festive season.
Press Release & header photo care of Hunter Communications