Category Archives: Spirits marketing and PR

Sipping Scotch in Sophistication

Ever had a whisky older than you? Opportunities such as this don’t come along very often, especially as “you” get older and older and older. When I was in my 20s, for example, finding 30-year-old scotches was relatively easy and only relatively expensive. Now that I’m 45, though, finding a 50-year-old scotch is not just logistically difficult; it’s expensive by nearly anyone terms.

Case in point: the inaugural release of the Glenlivet Winchester Collection, barreled in 1964 and bottled for release this year. Want one? Sell your children; only 100 bottles are available worldwide, and each bottle will run you $25,000.

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But what a bottle. Each bottle is hand-blown glass, capped with a silver stopper, and accented with gold. The bottle sits in a cabinet with a lock and a hidden key, just in case you don’t sell the kids and one of them tries to sneak a sip.

I had a chance to sample one of the 100 bottles this past Wednesday, at a dinner at Le Bernadin. Along with about 30 other journalists, I had a fantastic multi-course meal with wine pairings, punctuated by samples from the Glenlivet range: the 18, XXV (25), and 50.

All three scotches are typical of the Glenlivet style–honeyed, lightly fruity, tasting of toffee and a hint of barley malt, and only the barest, lightest hint of smoke. The 1964 was barreled in used bourbon casks, and for the age it has on it, it didn’t taste woody at all. I found that, all told, it had lighter, more subtle flavors than the 18 or XXV, though I was enjoying it after rounds of seafood and wine, and so my palate may have been a bit dulled.

All in all, this is clearly a whisky for collectors. Scotch, after all, is a luxury good, and all luxury markets have to cater to the collector segment. Glenlivet has put together a beautiful package and a tasty dram. If only I had the $25,000. Anyone in the market for kids?

New! Shiny! Age-verification comes to Twitter

If you’re reading this blog, I generally assume that you’re a drinker, or at least unopposed to the concept of drinking. Which means I assume that you have, from time to time, checked out other websites related to alcohol. Some of them were probably brand pages — official websites for whisk(e)y, gin, rum, and other spirits brands.

If so, you know the hoops you have to jump through, entering your date of birth to demonstrate that you’re of legal age to consume spirits. Perhaps you’ve even wondered why anyone’s so stupid as to believe that everyone who visits such pages are telling the truth. I mean, I personally have been of drinking age for well over 20 years, and even I don’t always tell the truth about my age, simply because the older I get, the less patience I have for scrolling down, down, down, down, down, down to finally alight on 1968. So I hit the drop-down box, and if my cursor lands on 1985 or 1979 or whatever, who cares?

So today, word comes that some alcohol brands have signed on to a plan to allow Twitter to age-screen Twitter followers. The procedure works like this:

  1. You click a link to follow Miller Lite on Twitter. (Why? Presumably because you don’t like actual beer.)
  2. You get a DM asking you to verify your age at age.twitter.com within 24 hours.
  3. If you pass the age muster for your country, Twitter lets you follow Miller Lite.

I can’t say I understand the hoopla. Liquor companies and breweries advertise outside all the time and all over the place. I’ve never yet seen someone clamp a hand over the eyes of a youngster to keep the poor innocent from seeing Sean Combs’ mug on a Ciroc ad.

But just in case the prospect of a Belieber visiting ciroc.com is something that gives you the night sweats, rest easy. Twitter’s on it.

Zacapa Tasting Kit

Prior to the move, a PR rep for Zacapa rum contacted me, asking whether I’d like to receive a new tasting kit they were offering. I agreed, but the kit went out to my old address the very day we left. It bounced around Rhode Island and Massachusetts (appropriate for rum, perhaps), before finally reaching me here in Brooklyn.

The tasting kit was pretty simple: four mini-bottles of Zacapa, in various stages of aging. (I’d take pictures, but our cameras wound up in storage, somehow).

The first mini contains rum aged in American whiskey barrels. The second is from sherry barrels, and the third from barrels previously used for Pedro Ximenez wine. The fourth mini contains Zacapa 23.

But let me digress for a moment to discuss Zacapa’s aging process. Zacapa uses a solera system, in which new rum is blended with rum from older barrels. This process helps to ensure consistency from batch to batch. But the system is a bit more complicated than taking raw distillate and mixing it with old stuff.

Even so, the description I’m about to give is simplified; it’s not the full process that Zacapa employs. I’m extrapolating from a chart they sent, so any mistakes are mine, not theirs. If I can pick a nit here, I wish the materials that came with this kit were a little more thorough in describing the solera process.

The process starts with new-make rum, which ages for a certain amount of time in American whiskey barrels. The rum sample from these barrels tasted a little rough, woody, and raisiny, and it smelled a little smoky. The whiskey-barrel rum is then mixed, after aging, with a certain amount of older rum.

(When I say “certain amount,” take that as a cue that I have no idea what that amount is, and it’s one of the points at which I’m simplifying the process.)

That mixture of rum goes into charred barrels, which I presume (again: simplification) are new barrels and haven’t previously aged other spirits. It ages for however long it ages, and then gets mixed again with older rum.

That mixture goes into vats that previously held Oloroso sherry. The sherry-aged rum tastes a little smoother than the whiskey-aged. It should; it’s older. Even the newer stuff is older, and it’s been blended twice with older rum at this point, so everything in the sherry-barrel bottle is older than the whiskey-barrel bottle. The sherry-barrel bottle tastes of dried fruit and almonds.

Then, of course, it’s mixed again with older rum before aging in barrels previously used for Pedro Ximenez wine, from Spain. Here, it picks up notes of fig and coffee. Of the three, this bottle was by far the smoothest and roundest.

From here, the rum is blended once again with older rum, but then the solera process is largely over, at least for the 23. (Zacapa XO is altered once more, this time aged in cognac barrels.) After this step, the rum goes into the warehouse as is, for another certain amount of time before being diluted to 40% alcohol by volume and then bottled.

I might, as a novelty, sometimes drink the proto-Zacapa aged in whiskey barrels, perhaps if I wanted a rum old fashioned that reminded me somewhat of bourbon. But I wouldn’t sip it on its own. I would seldom ever turn to the sherry-aged proto-Z; drinking it is an interesting intellectual exercise, but not wholly pleasant on its own merits. The Jimenez is nicer because it tastes more like a well-aged rum; I could see myself enjoying this as a standalone bottling, although not in place of the Zacapa 23.

All this leads me to wonder whether the rum category has enough consumer interest to merit special bottlings of the sort that the Scotch market has grown so fond of. These days, you can buy Scotches aged in barrels made from wood scavenged from the remains of Noah’s ark. I could imagine Zacapa possibly releasing some of these, in limited-edition bottlings.

Disclaimer: As noted in the very first paragraph, this kit was sent to me for promotional purposes. I will add, though, that I enjoy Zacapa very much, have previously bought bottles of it with my own goddamn money, and am very likely to spend my own wages, such as they are, on it again.

Johnnie Walker Double Black Review

Man, it’s like I forgot there was a blog around here. I guess there’s something about a newborn baby that distracts a man from writing.

Some time ago, I received a package from Johnnie Walker, sent to me for review purposes. Inside was a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black, two rocks glasses, coasters, and a bottle of the walking man’s newest offering, Johnnie Walker Double Black. Released last year into the duty-free market, Double Black makes its U.S. debut in time for holiday entertaining and gift giving.

I’ve grown very fond of ol’ John over the last few years, so I was eager to try this. At first, I wasn’t impressed. You see, the idea behind Double Black is to bring more of the smoky smoothness of an Islay malt to the Walker mix, while still retaining the sweet but complex maltiness that makes Johnnie Johnnie. I have to admit, on my first sip, I thought the idea was better in theory than in execution. I love a smoky scotch and would go miles out of my way for Laphroaig or Compass Box’s Peat Monster.

And maybe that’s where I set up myself, and Double Black, to fail. At first I felt that John’s new dram was schizophrenic, smoothly sweet and smoky but in a way that failed to highlight the best aspects of both. But as I tried it again (and again), I came to a different conclusion. As I taste the new blend now, it reminds me on first sip of vanilla and toffee with light heather notes. The smoke now seems more integrated and–forgive me for using this word, but it’s accurate–holistic. Some whiskies just need some attention before you can appreciate them.

Ads of the Week: Paul Jones’s Busty Booze Ads

Don’t get too excited. We’re not talking about the Swedish Bikini Team here.

So, Paul Jones is proud of his giant bust:

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After many such ads throughout 1936 and 1937, the bust has reduction surgery:

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And then is almost easy to miss entirely:

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The bust disappears altogether at the end of 1937:

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To make a triumphant return in early 1938:

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Before disappearing again for the remainder of the year:

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