(Un)Social Media.

Social media – what does it mean to you?

In these dark days of lockdown, more and more people are relying on social media to fill in their spare time. I resisted social media until 2009 when a long standing offshore contract came to an end and I joined Facebook to keep in contact with the people that I worked with. I’d been avoiding it for so long as I’ve got a mildly addictive personality, and being hooked on social media wasn’t on my life plan but I signed up anyway once a plausible excuse to myself turned up. And that was the beginning of the end really, as social media can be anything but social.

You don’t have to wander far to see that social media is pretty much like nuclear energy, as in it can be used for good or evil purposes and when things go bang, they often go bang in a big way. This is especially true when people use the media to push their own objectives or opinions. I have to say, that in the past that I have been guilty of this in the past regards political matters and that was the prime reason for starting my blog to give myself something creative to do, rather than something that was leading nowhere.

The advantages of social media is that you can keep in contact with people that you may not ordinarily see, ‘meet’ new people and exchange ideas. Different social media platforms have their own uses – I used to use Instagram as a photo editor for the filters. I joined Twitter in 2010, for a similar reason to joining Facebook but never saw the need for really contributing, and Facebook is fine for reaching out to people you know but is a very limiting tool for reaching new people without using paid promotions. The curse of the algorithm strikes again. There are other social media outlets and messaging services which I am sure we all know about, each one being more appropriate for different things.

Then, of course as in many things, the good side is counteracted with a negative side. And this to me often outweighs the good things. First of all, it has to be said that the poor thing about social media is the amount of time that people spend on their mobile devices. How many times have you been in a pub and people seem to be having conversations with other people on social media and not engaging with people that are there with them. Or more to the point, how many times have you been sitting at home on your phone and your spouse may be a bit fed up that you pay more attention to that than your family? This is a pitfall that many, including myself have fallen into in the past.

Getting sucked in?

It is easy to forget that unless you set filters, everything you post can be seen by anybody else. And it’s also easy to forget that nothing in life comes for free, and the price of free social media is our digital identities being used for marketing purposes. As social media consumers or even just internet users, we are targets for those looking to separate us from our money in exchange for their goods. How often have you maybe searched for something online, then minutes later, any targeted ads are suggesting what you’ve just looked for? It is constant and for me it is starting to get draining. It’s bad enough having my boss and wife look over my shoulder without retailers doing the same thing.

I’ve deliberately kept my social pages with regards whisky and family life separate. I personally don’t want my wife to find out what I am spending on whisky, or more to the point what I have spent on whisky! I think it is a good idea to have a social disconnect between the two things, and this works for me, as I don’t particularly want to have my private family life displayed for all to see. But with the time between looking out for family, my work offshore and my other interests besides whisky, I’ve had to adapt my social media habits and now tend to use Twitter a lot more than I used to. One really good advantage to Twitter is that it is almost like an instant chat service, with the added advantage it only limited photos and text in a single post, meaning the information you get is bite sized. The other advantage is that it is easier for all to see what you are posting, therefore getting more attention if you use it as a communication tool for your hobby, which is what many of you reading this will do.

But again, as I Iike to say after working with some of the grumpiest people in the offshore industry, “every silver lining has its cloud” and Twitter is no different. While I predominantely use Twitter for my whisky hobby, I try to use it as a social tool rather than an information gathering exercise. However others do use it as a vehicle to gather followers and spread their marketing message. The spirits industry has long been using social media to promote their products, and while it is good to be able to maybe see what is new on the market, the endless trotting out of new products is starting to wear a little thin. Indeed it often starts to feel that your social media feeds aren’t for socialising, but a field for marketeers to do their harvesting. And to me, that’s starting to encroach too much on my social world.

Its time to reclaim the social in social media.

So, this week I decided to have a cull. I pay extra to ensure any of my blog readers aren’t exposed to advertising , so it was time to take steps to limit marketing for me. The list of whom I follow / like or who follows me was away to take a wee bit of natural selection.

Now that the fun of #WhiskySanta is over, Master of Malt were top of the list. So were TWE. Nothing personal, I do use both sites but I don’t appreciate the marketing. Next were a bunch of distilleries which to be honest, I’ve no real interest in their whisky. Sorry Jura, but I still haven’t forgiven you for Journey. The next on the line were the people who constantly post stuff that aren’t whisky related. Football is an exception, extra points being given if they are a fan of Aberdeen FC. Even then, if it’s excessive they get muted. Crypto-currencies and Elon Musk’s wittering; retweeting that nonsense instantly consigns you to a cull or if you do post whisky stuff as well, mute may applied.

Still not forgiven or finished.

My largest personal ire on social media is reserved for the shameless self-promoters or influencers. Those who just crave likes or follows. They are in a second place of my whisky dislikes behind flippers. You have to ask what their agenda is as it is often marketing again or personal enrichment. They shall begone from my list of followers, as these are snake-oil salesmen and should forthwith be consigned to the fires of Twitter or Instagram Hell. Indeed I had to deal with one recently, who’d become a bit spammy after suddenly coming onto the scene. Feel free to do what you want. I can happily sail past it.

Do you value your success in the amount of interaction you have or the quality of your interaction? I don’t really mind not having a massive following as it reduces any pressure to perform by continually having to output content. Decent articles often take a lot of time to write and require a lot of research. I’ve written articles on whisky topics for people in the industry, so you need to know you’ve got your facts spot on. You can bet your bottom dollar I prefer quality over quantity. As Robert Louis Stevenson said “Don’t judge each day by the harvest reaped, but by the seeds you plant.”

If I can say one thing; it isn’t how big your collection is, how large your knowledge or how amazing your palate is. The recent article about Whisky Community I wrote mentions how more appropriate it could be to think of what you can add to the community in order to build others up rather than taking for your own selfish means. If you have to beg for followers then something is suspicious or you are just an attention seeker. Desperation is never an attractive quality.

One of the Whisky Twitterati I spoke to during my research for this article mentioned that he’d rather only 100 followers he engaged with than 1000 he didn’t. Wise words indeed. What’s the point of that 900 cluttering up your feed if you have no real interest in what they say? There is no gold medal for the most followers unless you are promoting something.

Though let’s not forget that there is nothing wrong with a bit of recommendation in my eyes. A recent review I wrote and a couple of discreet recommendations saw around 10 sales of an independently bottled single cask whisky from an independent bottler / retailer. Given the massive drop in his trade due to the pandemic, he was very grateful for the extra sales and exposure his business got. Hopefully those who bought the recommended bottle will see the quality in the bottling and will look to this retailer in the future. Word of mouth is a powerful weapon to create a social media buzz and has a positive uplift to it rather than the slick words of a marketing dept. And there is always the pleasant, if not slightly smug feeling of making a difference.

I come on social media to relax, and have some banter. I’m even happier if I learn something new. I have made plenty of sincere friendships since I started using social media as part of my whisky hobby and that had been a bonus. I don’t welcome retailers, companies or individuals pushing themselves into my online space. Of course there are brands and brand ambassadors I do follow, as they are good craic and certainly not overbearing. Often you’d forget they actually represent brands. The skill of these people is to communicate in a way you want to look at their product or even try it. Being too forwards or not properly interacting with your followers just encourages people to switch off.

The weeding out of the items that aren’t focused on my interests have been a long time coming. Indeed I have found this social media cull quite cathartic and will allow me more space for the people and opinions I do value.

Being unsocial on social media often has its benefits

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

p.s By the way, if you liked this article, feel free to share, retweet, like or follow. I’m not that grumpy. I’m sure you’ll get the irony.

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


Scotty’s Drams encourages responsible drinking. To find out the facts about drink, and where to find help if you need it visit Drinkaware.co.uk by clicking on the link.

The beginning of the end?

Could Brexit hammer on-line auctioneers?

It has always been my intention to keep this blog entirely non-political. I’ll try to keep it this way, however there is an elephant in the room. Usually when I hear this cliche I get up to leave but it isn’t me this time.

Brexit. The gift that keeps giving ‘Benefits’ that nobody wants, and that has fallen firmly on our lap as people are now discovering they have to pay extra fees to import whisky from the UK, although this is happening both ways for UK citizens using European auction sites.

What alerted me to this was a tweet, in which a bidder from the Irish Republic won goods at an auction to the tune of £79. Plus fees, that’s going to be around €105. He now has to pay €94.25 in taxes and shipping charges, almost as much as the cost of the produce he won.


Not a happy camper

The evidence.

Sadly this isn’t the only case. Another WhiskyTwitter user from France had a similar had a similar surprise in an event that will no doubt have been repeated several times over.

You don’t have to be a genius to realise that quite simply people within Europe are going to stop using UK auction sites. While I do not believe that this will cause a big problem for the bigger auction sites, it may certainly cause issues for the smaller ones. But there are a couple of greater implications for UK auction users.

  1. Less people bidding in the auction could mean less demand for bottles. Less demand could mean falling prices. Ok for buyers, but poorer for sellers. Your little nest egg of bottles if they aren’t in demand may probably lose value.
  2. Less EU people using UK auction sites will potentially mean less chance of seeing rarer bottles.

I use a European auction site, whiskyauction.com. I’ve been very happy with the service and to be honest I’ll still use them as there is one or two bottles I still seek. But what is in the back of my mind is that I cannot bid as high as I might for a UK auction as the spectre of shipping charges is going to be always present at the back of my mind.

Brexit has been proven to have been a self inflicted shotgun blast to both feet as the realist so called ‘Remoaners’ have been sadly proved right. With US tariffs of 25% still hanging over the UK whisky industry, now is not a happy time. If lockdowns continue and the economy stutters, people are not going to have the money to invest or buy luxury goods such as whisky, compounding the problem. If there is a rush to sell to realise cash but no buyers, then there is a problem. However this could be the reset the secondary market needs. There is a glass lake creaking on shelves throughout the UK; will Brexit be the dam-busting bomb that deluges the market?

Time will tell.

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


Scotty’s Drams encourages responsible drinking. To find out the facts about drink, and where to find help if you need it visit Drinkaware.co.uk by clicking on the link.

Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own

Insane In The Membrane?

How Black Friday Causes Specialist Suffering.

I have to apologise from the very start of this article. Of course that is not like me at all, no Sir-ee! Mainly because the title of this article is from the a song on the Cypress Hill Album ‘Black Sunday’. Ok, wrong day I suppose for what I had in mind for this article. And while it is NOT like me, I actually own this album and listen to it on a rare occasion and enjoy it. You can’t listen to shoegaze all the time (apparently). What is at least accurate to some degree in my opinion is the topic today does have a slight whiff of insanity about it, although probably of a type we may not be aware of and suffer from in varying degrees. It’s about how we allow ourselves to become blind to the obvious.


The pin is out of the grenade. Time to get heads down. Incoming!

Once again my conscience has been pricked to write an article in defence of a body of people that have been undera silent attack for quite some time and since March 2020 this has been intensified. Unfortunately it is whisky drinkers that seem to be the people who allow it to happen, albeit not doing the attacking themselves. Given how friendly the whisky community is, I’m surprised that there seems to be little promotion and concern to people that are vital to our hobby, passion, or more to the point – obsession.

Independent whisky shops have had a tough time of it for some time now. This is something I raised on my blog Facebook page back in March of this year, going as far to break my anonymity and release a couple of videos. Use the Facebook links below to navigate to the page if you want to see the videos. In most cases these smaller retailers cannot compete with online retailers such as Amazon and don’t have the collective buying power of chains like The Whisky Shop, Oddbins or Majestic to name one or two. And you can forget any hope of being able to complete with any of the supermarkets.

What triggered this was the amount of people who seemed to be upset that there seemed to be not very many Black Friday deals on Amazon this year. I’m not having a go – in full disclosure I’ve bought booze from Amazon when I’ve seen a bargain, but usually it is when I cannot get a bottle anywhere else at that time. An Old Pultney 17 was my first bottle that I did this with just after it was discontinued and latterly when Glengoyne 18 was slashed to £70, though that was just before the change of packaging and it was bought for stash. Maybe for later of course…


Some independent retailers like a laugh on Amazon. Only £80 – £120 including fees at auction.

In a quick moment of research, certainly here in the UK are a myriad of places that do online only retailing. Drink Supermarket, Master Of Malt, Drinks Direct, 31 Dover, and Spirit Store are just a handful and I’d be sure that this would be replicated overseas where specialist whisky retailers may be thin on the ground. Even Whisky Exchange which does have a couple of shops probably makes the vast majority of its profits from online trading.

Look. I’m not trying to make anybody feel bad about seeking a bargain. It’s been a tough year for everybody with many people locked down for long periods of time; people losing their freedom, contact with family and friends, their jobs; people possibly losing a lot more. And I can hardly hold the moral high ground as I have made the occasional purchases from some of these retailers, especially Master Of Malt as the Drinks By The Dram give me a chance to taste older or more expensive whiskies without having to cough up for a full bottle. However let’s look at this from a slightly different perspective.

While online shopping may be very convenient and cheap (as an Aberdonian I can assure you this is very close to my heart!), let’s look at some very plain to see facts that often get ignored and I see no evidence to the contrary that we seem to be suffering selective blindness to these issues. Amazon does not need your money. Tesco, Asda, Waitrose and Sainsbury’s do not need your booze money. Let’s face it, despite the fun of #WhiskySanta, a company giving away £250,000 of drink does not need your booze money. However the hypocrite in me is very happy to promote the company by making my #WhiskySanta wishes. If they are generous enough to ‘pay’ quarter of a million quid for over a month of free social media advertising I’m taking my chance. You can bet your bottom dollar that an independent retailer of Whisk(e)y would probably wet themselves if they thought they could make £250,000 of profit, let alone be able to afford to give it away. And they certainly do need your custom.


A Facebook post by a local retailer. If you live close to Inverurie, Aberdeenshire I’m told it’s a great place for the ‘over the shoulder Boulder holders’. It’s not just whisky retailers that struggle against Amazon.

Speaking of local experience here in the Highlands, I can think of at least 4 local-ish (50 miles away still counts as local!) independent whisky retailers that have suffered the double whammy COVID has delivered. Not only were they forced to close their businesses when COVID first took hold, the businesses concerned were also in tourist areas, so once they’ve been allowed to open, there’s a lack of the normal crowds to sell to. I’m thinking of shops in Aberlour, Dufftown, Tomintoul, Pitlochry, Tyndrum, Inverary and Skye to name a few. The cancellation of the Spirit Of Speyside festival this year hit our region hard and without the same footfall, the whisky retailers in the area have had to rely on online sales to generate income. It doesn’t mean independent whisky retailers in large towns and cities aren’t suffering too – at least they have more chance of local footfall than one in the middle of the Cairngorms.


A brilliant Discovery from an independent shop and bottler in the tourist area of Highland Perthshire.

The majority of independent retailers have not got the same profit margins to reduce stock prices and remain viable. Some are forced to deal with wholesalers as they cannot buy directly with the distilleries or bottlers, further reducing competitiveness with online only businesses. To be fair to Amazon, there is plenty of independent traders use Amazon market place, but this is still not perfect as this still involves selling fees that further reduce margins. And therein could be the reason that there wasn’t so many Black Friday deals – perhaps the majority of them in the past have been supplied not from Amazon but small traders. They certainly cannot afford to be giving massive discounts at the moment.


Independents have greater overheads that the online only businesses don’t. And unlike Amazon they don’t have methods of avoiding a fair tax bill

The greatest benefit to dealing directly with an independent trader is that you’ll receive something that you’ll never get online – by buying over the phone or in person you’ll receive a personal service. Think about this when you next shop with an independent whisky retailer. They can tell you what is new. They usually have a great knowledge of the whiskies they sell. If you can visit one, you may get to try before you buy; something that has often seen me buy more than expecting to. You can build a relationship where the retailer may be privy to information that maybe of interest to you and they may tell you first, or at least keep a hard to find bottle back for you. At least one Whisky Twitterer has said he enjoys this type of situation and I have also found myself in this pleasant position too.


Never has a Twitter sponsored advert been so appropriate on the day of publishing.

This whole subject brings me back to a similar situation in a different retail environment; music. As I alluded to at the start of this article, I’m heavily into music, especially indie / shoegaze / post rock. There used to be a shop in Aberdeen called One-Up, of which I was a very regular customer. I always used them as the chances of finding something new, exciting and possibly undiscovered was high. But the ultimate draw was the service. The staff were excellent and one in particular, the well known shoegazer in local circles, Yogi Duncan used to recommend bands and albums to me so I could listen to it before making a decision. This was music I’d never have heard otherwise and would not be likely to see the suggestion on iTunes. You just don’t get that specialist service online and are at the mercy of an algorithm to suggest what you might like in the future. Just because some tracking cookie sees I’ve bought one album, doesn’t mean I’ll like the whole genre though it’s certainly cheaper to take a risk on a £10 CD than a £70 bottle of whisky.

It came to pass that CD buying fell out of fashion. People turned to downloads and with large overheads compared to online sales and a desire of one of the business partners to retire meant on the 18th of January 2013, One-Up closed for good. Since that store has gone, I’ve gradually fallen out of buying music. Perhaps it’s my age having an influence as well, but in the past 2 years I’ve found myself downloading more and more; my once proud music CD collection all but stagnated. For me nearly 8 years on, I and many others from the North East of Scotland still mourn the loss of One-Up


Gone yet not forgotten. And sorely missed by many. Thanks for the memories Yogi.

Regardless of my feeling, while digital retailing doesn’t mean we’ll fall out of love with whisky (goodness no!) it does mean we risk slowly falling out of touch with a more intimate way of connecting with the industry. If we only see what is advertised on line or by who we follow on social media, to me it just becomes a cacophony of marketing noise and other people’s opinion. The lack of personal contact within the whisky retail industry really means to me we are all perhaps following around on each other’s coat tails and are at the mercy of anonymous algorithms and advertising budgets which pigeon-hole us and see us getting targeted into purchasing blandness.

Let’s be clear however, as there is more we can do. It isn’t just spending our hard earned cash at independent whisky retailers that helps. Many of us on social media have our own blogs. Why not give one of the independent retailers a shout out on your blog? Review a bottle bought from them. Better still, if they bottle their own or have exclusive bottles to their shop, review one. I recently did, and the email that I received from the owner was one of pure gratitude. Not just because I genuinely enjoyed the whisky he had bottled, but because as an independent retailer in an area highly dependent on tourism it had been a tough year and he was over the moon to see his products promoted in such a way. 


It’s understandable we all have a budget but try to spend wisely whilst maximising your whisky purchasing power and remember the small guys

My blog is tiny and insignificant. However due to my review of his whisky, I know of 7 confirmed bottle sales as a direct result of what I said. Maybe only 1.13% of the bottling run, but that is sales that put money into a local business and a local economy; not into the bottomless pockets of CEO’s who don’t care a jot about whisky but just want your cash. If you don’t spend your whisky money at Amazon or get a Black Friday deal from an online only retailer, they aren’t that likely to go bust. Of course not everybody has the funds to avoid being frugal when it comes to whisky purchases, this year especially. The Mr Grumpy in me understands the situation and there is nothing wrong with that. Note: I’ve seen some whisky cheaper in an independent shop than on Amazon. Some retailers do promotions on free shipping if spending over a threshold amount. Shop wisely.


For Goodness Sakes! He’s gone off on one again. Don’t worry. Almost finished.

2020 has a lot of negative things to look back on. Don’t let it be the beginning of the end for a friendly independent whisky shop. Perhaps make an effort to reduce or let go of our building dependence on cheap online only sales. Once lockdown is finished, be sure to pop into one of the independent spirit retailers close to you. They’ll thank you for it. 

Feedback is welcome on this subject. My aim isn’t to offend but highlight the smaller businesses that struggling on an already uneven playing field. What’s your opinion?

Postscript

After One Up closed, Yogi Duncan was working in an Oddbins in Aberdeen. He could have become my shoegaze, wine and whisky guru, but sadly I left Aberdeen the same year as the lights went out at One Up forever. Then the nearest independent music shop was Imperial Records in Inverness, but sadly this closed the following year in 2014. Another store with a stunning customer service lost to the digital shopping paradigm, a service made more special due to the owner Mark and I having some great conversations based on initially realising a shared love of the music of Galaxie 500.

Yours in Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


Scotty’s Drams encourages responsible drinking. To find out the facts about drink, and where to find help if you need it visit Drinkaware.co.uk by clicking on the link.

Photo Credits

One Up, Allt Dour; – Authors Own

Old Pulteney 17 – Amazon

Katsize Lingerie – Facebook.

All others – Shutterstock

What’s The Score?

a personal view on whisky scoring

Being an Aberdonian comes with some hardships. It’s a grey city with often grey humoured people. Many of my work colleagues know Aberdeen as “Aberdoom”, perhaps because they have to hang around the city while waiting to go offshore. It’s not that bad really. Often it’s worse. Only joking, it’s a fantastic small city which is much misunderstood and is on the doorstep of some of Scotland’s most beautiful scenery and attractions. Visit the castles, especially Dunnottar and you’ll soon get what I mean. Plus, going to Dunnottar puts you close to the Carron Chipper, birthplace of the legendary Deep Fried Mars Bar – two historical superlatives in one day! Aberdeen and Shire are rocking!


Dunnottar Castle. Setting for Mel Gibson’s Hamlet. Hiding place of Scotland’s Crown Jewels and a fantastic afternoon out. It’s a stunning setting

The local football team have been successful in the past with two European trophies in 1983, the most European Cup success of any Scottish football club so far. Take note Rangers and Celtic fans. Two stars on the breast. Things haven’t been so successful since the departure of Alex Ferguson, but as a local lad I have to say I keep an eye on their progress, despite leaving the city some years ago.


Look at those two sparklers above the badge

To be fair, I don’t follow football that closely. Once upon a time when I was a student with an obligatory long fringe in my eyes and walking through the St Nicholas Centre I was pounced upon by a local reporter asking my opinion on who would win the Scottish Cup. I didn’t care who was playing in the 1991 Scottish Cup as it was only Dundee United and Motherwell. Aberdeen had won it the previous year, so I brushed him off by saying I was a Clachnacuddin supporter, an Inverness based Highland league team that is probably the lowest professional level in Scottish football. Little did I realise my photo had already been snapped. Wished I had known as it had been raining, I was sodden in my student camouflage jacket and my hair was a mess. The next day I had my moment in infamy when my quote and photo appeared in the local newspaper. Since then I’ve followed Clachnacuddin out of sympathy after the extensive ribbing I received after the publication of my comment. They join Aberdeen as a team that often gives me cause to wince when I see the scores from their latest games, though I always wish them well.


not the best copy but I found the infamous article!

Scoring may be important when it comes to sports competition, but what about for whisky? We often see reviews of whisky giving a score out of a hundred, but what does it mean or even matter to us whisky geeks? 

What seems to be the most popular way of allocating a score is analysing the different stages of whisky tasting, namely nose (aroma), palate (taste), body (weight – is the whisky light and watery or thick and heavy), mouthfeel (Is it oily, waxy? How does it coat your mouth? For me this ties into body), finish (sensations after swallowing) and balance (do any of the flavours or sensations overpower the others?).

Unlike sport where scoring follows well defined criteria, tasting doesn’t and I’d propose that can’t ever do so because it depends on too many factors, some physiological and some subjective. As we are all unique, each one of us will have a different ability to taste due to our unique set of tastebuds, our experience of taste and smell sensations, our medical history and current state of health. A drinkers preference can be influenced by what they’ve recently consumed, altitude, their mood and their perceptions of the whisky that can subconsciously creep in from the appearance of the liquid, hence why many blind tastings are done with coloured glasses. 


Whisky Scoring – can be as complicated as Cricket

For instance, I like sherried and peaty whiskies, though not necessarily both at the same time. In theory I might not take to a more delicate Lowlander from a bourbon cask and mark it down accordingly. Or, I might sample a whisky after a curry earlier on in the day and thus miss the subtle notes. 

There is a fact that you can’t identify a smell or taste if you haven’t experienced it before. By all means you will be able to explain what a sensation reminds you of, but you have to wonder what has gone into the mouths of whisky tasters that describe the tastes of the more weird and wonderful taste descriptors. 

I’m a bit guilty of this – I do believe that I described the TBWC Invergordon 42 year old as reminding me of polished wood. I’ve got a memory of standing idle in the older part of my primary school with my head against a varnished and heavily polished old door frame. I can’t remember if the smell was so strong the vapours were also landing on the back of my tongue as I breathed in, or if I licked it – both are possible but in my defence I was no older than 9 years old at the time. However it is a taste / smell sensation that has stuck in my head for close to 40 years. I can still picture that part of my old school in my minds eye as I type, and this illustrates a way we build up our memory bank of taste profiles as we move through our lives and taste whisky. 

Getting back to scoring, we can see that there is not really a fool proof method to decide a score for whisky. If you can’t determine flavours, it can be harder to accurately assess a whisky. And with each of us being biologically different and with different outlooks, it is potentially less possible to get a reliable score based on so many variables across so many opinions. Plus, how do we set each criteria? We’d need a point of calibration to decide what was bad and good in each situation. I guess most people will describe the level of pleasure in each stage of their experience of a dram and that is the most reliable yet still subjective point we have.


Sadly discredited for the wrong or right reasons (depending on what issue you are thinking of), the scoring system and methodology Jim Murray used often generated controversy

A National Geographic article that I read in the past while waiting in a doctor’s surgery suggested that if you can taste more than six flavours in your drink at any one time, then you are perhaps not being honest with yourself based on the ability of the human body to experience flavours. However a lot of reviews are given based on experience over several drams while the bottle lasts. Even in my reviews where I often use miniatures, I’ll drink it in two distinct sittings to get a better idea of the dram. Adding water changes the spirit again and can unlock hidden gems of taste explosions within a single sitting so we have to look at a dram over a period of time to get more accurate knowledge to be able to give a score. 

In the journey towards a summary before I meander more than the River Spey, whatever score you give it, that is just your score and your opinion. The person that it will be most useful to is you. Using your scores over the life of a bottle, or each time you buy the same whisky again, you can track your experience. The trouble is that it is all relative. You need to establish a baseline of what you find a competent whisky of that style, as there is no point of comparing a heavily peated Islay against a delicate triple distilled Lowlander. By setting a baseline for each style, you can perhaps score relative to that. Problem is that your baseline preference could also change over the years. 

Any baseline has to be middle of the road. If you pick one too high, then other whiskies may unfairly not compare favourably. Same goes for picking too low a benchmark. Most other whiskies will taste brilliant after that. 

And this is why I personally don’t like scoring whiskies, as it’s one more thing to concentrate on when we should be just enjoying a drink. I prefer to comment on value for money, whether I liked the whisky or not, whether I’d buy it again or recommend it. This should be enough, though that is just my opinion. 

If you want help picking a new and tasty dram, scores can be helpful if you look across a broad range of opinions. That will give you a general idea of whether it’s good or not. Consistently high scores are a good indicator that the whisky isn’t rubbish. Even then, I’ve bought and enjoyed a whisky that regularly scores in the low 70’s. The recent official release of Allt-a-Bhainne is the one that sticks in my mind. I’ve recommended it to others who have also enjoyed it, but also one or two that haven’t. It’s opinion, not fact. For further guidance then look at the cask type, the peat level, ABV, not to mention price when considering a purchase based on review scores. 

Above all else, this is YOUR whisky journey and nobody else’s. If you want to score whiskies, please do. Just remember a highly scored whisky by others doesn’t mean that you’ll like it. In my opinion scoring doesn’t have to be that important in the bigger scheme of things. Unless it’s for Aberdeen or Clachnacuddin football team.

postscript 

Since my impromptu declaration of support of Clachnacuddin, I’ve gone as far to buy a replica Clach football shirt. They’ve even managed to win the Highland League since my impromptu declaration of support. Ironically, they’ve won the Highland League more times than any other club – 18 times. Since I’ve moved to the Highlands they’ve seemed to have resumed their position at the lower ends of the league table. But I will still support them. C’mon the Lillywhites!


Clachnacuddin FC @ Grant Street Park. Field of Dreams. Mostly broken ones at the moment, but never give up!

As an aside and still within a whisky relevance, prior to 1993 there used to be three football clubs in Inverness – Inverness Caledonian, Caledonian Thistle and Clachnacuddin. Caledonian Thistle played at Telford Street Park, which backed onto the Glen Mhor distillery. After a merger of Caledonian and Caledonian Thistle, the new team Inverness Caledonian Thistle moved to Caledonian Stadium, beside the Kessock Bridge. In 1996, Caledonian Stadium was demolished and joined Glen Mhor and the adjacent Glen Albyn distilleries in becoming a retail park.

Aberdeen are one of the most frustrating Scottish teams to follow. However you need to support the team from your city of birth. I still have my 7” single from the successful 1983 Cup Winners Cup campaign. You can relive the classic song and reminisce on YouTube by clicking here Plus like those who remember where they were when JFK was shot, I remember what I was doing on 11th of May 1983. Watching a victorious Aberdeen side beat Real Madrid on the television. For many Aberdonians this was probably a more important point in their life timeline.

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


Scotty’s Drams encourages responsible drinking. To find out the facts about drink, and where to find help if you need it visit Drinkaware.co.uk by clicking on the link.

Photo Credits

Dunnottar Castle – Herbert Frank (CC-BY 2.0) image cropped

Evening Express 14/05/91 – British Newspaper Archive / DC Thomson

Cricket Scoreboard – Networldsports.co.uk

AFC Replica Shirt – afc.co.uk

Whisky Bible – shop4whisky.com

Grant St. Park – @clachfc (Twitter.com)

Burn The Witch

The Online Trial Of Jim Murray

How the mighty have fallen or may fall. Certainly there is a large fall from grace in the case of whisky writer Jim Murray, author of the Whisky Bible. This tome has been released on an annual basis since 2003 and many look to it as a guide to what’s good to drink in the wide world of whisky. The 2021 release has become a bit controversial, thanks to fellow whisky writer Becky Paskin calling out some of what can be considered lewd or sexual comments. Apparently comments like this have been made throughout the past 25 years, but according to Becky this edition she managed to count 34 questionable sexual statements. She made a post on social media saying how she felt it was unacceptable and now was the time to call time on it.


Last years Whisky Bible. My last one.

Indeed, it seems this is the time to call time on questionable behaviour. This summer has seen protests about Black Lives Matter in response to police brutality in the United States though in the UK this has mutated to also question the reverence paid to people who were involved in the slave trade of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. This was followed by protests and vandalism throughout the UK, with the statue of slave trader Edward Colston being thrown into Bristol Harbour.

Lets look at some of Jim’s quotes in the whisky bible by looking at this thread of Becky’s Twitter Feed. Click on this link Becky Paskin’s Initial Tweet to see the full thread.

While none of this is particularly dirty, there seems to be a general sexualisation of whisky, which to be honest I have to say is becoming more and more unacceptable as time goes on. It is juvenile humour at best and venturing into creepy old man territory at the other end of the scale. As a male, even I find it a bit distasteful. I don’t want to have images of a man in his mid sixties speaking about sex come into my mind when I am having a dram.

Jim himself, from what I have read on social media feeds almost seems dismissive in his defence of his comments, going as far to accuse the subject being pushed by those jealous of his writing and talent. But in my mind, this dismissal could well be Jim’s downfall.

Becky Paskin is not just another run of the mill whiskyphile or blogger such as myself. She was the editor of a great website scotchwhisky.com, a great resource for those researching whisky and industry news. She’s also a whisky journalist, consultant, presenter and currently is a co-founder of OurWhisky which aims to provide education about the industry while recognising the modern face of the drink. Becky is also a Keeper of the Quaich, so you can safely say that she would seem to have an excellent grasp of the industry. You can almost feel that Jim Murray’s accusation of jealousy may have been founded by the fact the person calling him out is a woman. Would have been any different if the whistle blower was male?

I don’t know either person, but to read what has been said by both of them, it would seem that Jim has become a dinosaur from a previous age. I think the fact that 50% of potential readers of his books would be female should give enough motivation to be careful in what he may be saying; many women wouldn’t be particularly happy in reading the various smutty comments that are in his latest publication. It may also have passed him by that a growing proportion of talent in the industry have XX chromosomes, with many distillers, blenders, brand ambassadors, distillery guides being of the fairer sex. I learnt something from this debacle that Penderyn Welsh Whisky is made by an all female distilling team. Just goes to show that what is between your legs doesn’t and shouldn’t affect how you progress in the industry.


What Glenfarclas gives Jim the horn?

What is more enlightening is the amount of female responses to Becky’s post, applauding her stand and letting their own struggles being known. Jim’s response to saying in the previous 20 odd years that he had not received a single complaint. Dismissal like this does not excuse any ill considered comments. Most people will just read, move on and get on with their day, but when it is consistent and throughout a publication then one has to ask what is the mindset to the author, especially when it adds nothing to the primary content which in this case is whisky. Have we forgot that many people don’t report sexual crime because they don’t want the fuss but once others start, then they feel encouraged and enabled to speak about their experiences. It may be unfortunate that Jim might also be facing the wrath of people affected by the actions of others and not just what has been written in his publications. He isn’t the first person to make questionable comments offensive to women in the industry, but he’s certainly being made the poster boy for the whisky world equivalent of #MeToo.

Continue reading “Burn The Witch”

All things come to an end

A summary of a successful summer

It’s Wednesday and you may be wondering where this week’s whisky review has gone. Well, I’m amazed to tell you that I’ve run out of whisky to review. I’ve been at work since 24th April (that is not a typo!) and while I’d built a considerable backlog of whisky reviews, this has now run out. I guess I didn’t realise that I’d still be offshore in August. By time I got off this vessel, I’ve done 110 days away from home and 105 without touching dry land.


Over 100 days of nightshift saw some pretty decent sunrises

I think this gives me a good excuse for running out of reviews.

And now, I realise after such an abstinence that probably drinking one dram will leave me in a state that will leave me unable to write a review. So there may be a small hiatus before the reviews start again. Don’t worry, they will start again as soon as possible.

Just because I’ve been at sea doesn’t mean that I haven’t been able to advance my whisky journey. I’ve been keeping an eye on the whisky world and have thought through a couple of articles that should be of interest. I have also been continuing to gather more whisky for tasting and sharing, including my first Scotch Malt Whisky Society full size bottlings which were purchased at auction for reasonable money.


My distillery reserve collection has had a Glentauchers added to it for little cost

I’ve also bought a couple of historical drams from Cheaper By The Dram, which includes the first Highland Park edition that was released as a single malt and a dram from the long deceased Glenury Royal distillery. This has led me on to thinking about the theory of older whisky being superior than contemporary whiskies. This I think needs investigating and I may require some volunteers to either prove or disprove this concept.


Some more old whiskies to compare

As you may have seen on my Facebook page, Scotty’s drams has also been listed in whisky broker Mark Littler’s blog as one of the Whisky Blogs to keep track of, as well as my Instagram page. I’m grateful to Mark for his recognition, so I must be doing something right. You can see the entries by clicking on these links – Scotty’s Drams Instagram Page Review and Scotty’s Drams Page Review


Previous Cheaper By The Dram tastings this year have revealed interesting results

All in all, despite being a busy summer for me work wise, it still has been successful in several ways.

Lastly, I cannot end this article without hoping that all of you had a good summer under the current circumstances the global community finds itself. The Coronavirus pandemic has caused great disruption to life as we know it and I hope you have all kept safe. It was my intention to have a Scotty’s Drams meet up at the tail end of the year but I do not think that this will be possible but keep 3 days free for sometime in the next year.

****STOP PRESS****

As you may have seen on my other social media channels, the storage locker that I keep the majority of my collection in suffered flooding to knee level on 11/08/2020. Unfortunately the facility flood prevention barrier was overcome. I have not been able to get access to the site but needless to say it is not looking good for some of my rarer drams. While I did have shelving, some of my boxes were on pallets.

It may be some time before I am able to review again, but will try and keep things going on Scotty’s Drams.

As one door closes, another opens and this may give me the opportunity to start with a new focus.

Just remember – check you have insurance!!

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


This is written as a hobby, and I appreciate your likes and shares, either on WordPress, or why not visit one of my other social media channels. Lets spread the whisky love!

Scotty’s Drams encourages responsible drinking. To find out the facts about drink, and where to find help if you need it visit Drinkaware.co.uk by clicking on the link.

Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own

All content and photos are subject to copyright and may not be used or reproduced without permission.

Come On And Celebrate!

Whisky to mark an occasion

We all know that whisky is an excellent drink to use for a celebration and in Scotland it is very commonly used as such. Events such as the birth of a child have a social celebration known as a ‘Head Wetting’ which is where the birth is celebrated by the father going out with friends for a night out to commemorate the new born. I wonder how many heads are sore the next day when a crying baby may be the last thing that you’d appreciate with a hangover!

An alternative route to celebrate an occasion is to perhaps seek out a special whisky and open the bottle and have a more restrained night (in or out). This was the route I initially took when my daughter was born. 10 years prior I had paid a visit to Glenmorangie distillery and bought two of the Truffle Oak finishes for £150 each. The partner I had at the time and myself were considering the possibility of a child and I thought one of the bottles would be appropriate for a head wetting. However, it was not to be, and the bottles went into the back of my drinks cabinet waiting for that special occasion.

Fast forward 10 years, and my wife and I were blessed with a beautiful baby daughter and the subject of a head wetting came up. I thought about the Truffle Oak Glenmorangie bottles, and how I would love to try one. This was also about the time I had decided to start collecting bottles more seriously so I could perhaps have a little nest egg for the little one when she was older. A quick look on the internet for retail and auction prices for these bottles showed that I was not going to be opening the Glenmorangie, but instead picked a Bruichladdich Yellow Submarine instead. These were the days when you could pick up a retail one for under £200 and auction prices were even lower. It was my first time tasting this bottling, and I suppose the fact that I used it as my head wetting whisky makes it that little bit more special, and not just the fact that it has a tie in with my day job.

Now that we are thinking of picking a whisky to celebrate a pivotal moment in our lives such as a childbirth or a similar occasion, I have been looking for a decent bottle that marked my date or year of birth. I do have a couple from my year of birth, but the vintage bottlings for me just aren’t the same, so I am constantly on the look out for a whisky that was distilled or bottled on my actual day of birth, but this is like looking for a needle in a haystack. So, I have to make do with bottles that were either distilled or bottled on one of my birthdays, and I have been a little more successful in this endeavour.

It was a visit to the GlenDronach distillery in early summer last year that achieved my first bottle – I was driving and couldn’t drink, so had to sit out the end of the tour tasting, but the guide then pointed out that their hand filled bottle was distilled on what I quickly worked out to be my 19th Birthday. This 26 year old bottle was quickly snapped up and I even got a wee sample to try. Driving away from the distillery I had calculated that I had shot my bolt a bit early. My birthday was in 4 days time, the date the whisky turned 27 years old. I managed to sneak away to get another bottle which was bottled and distilled on my birthday. I would imagine there are very few bottles like that available and it joins the Glenmorangie Truffle Oaks in my remote storage where I can’t be tempted to open it.


Guess which one was bottled at 27 years old to the day? The same day that I turned 21 again too!

It was a Facebook messenger conversation a couple of months ago that made me think of this once more. One of my former work colleagues had asked me about the possibility of getting a bottle of whisky that had the date of his son’s birthday on it. Now, I made him aware that the chances of me being able to find one were as likely as trying to find a drop of wine in the North Sea (not quite what I said, but a lot more acceptable for public consumption!) but I’d have a go. An initial search on the internet was unsuccessful, but I told him to leave it with me and I’d have a go. Challenge accepted!

I’m now going to be writing this article so you can see what I tried and how I was eventually successful. Just to warn you, it took a month and while I did achieve my aim, it was not without it’s frustrations.

A simple Google search will just throw up too many random results. You will easily find the vintage year, and you might even be lucky enough to get the correct month, but if this is going to be a momento of a birth, it isn’t close enough. The vast majority of vintage whisky just has a year on it, so to achieve the correct date we will have to look at three main types of bottlings to secure a victory – Hand Fills, Single Casks and Special Editions. Because most bottles are filled with whisky that is the result of a marriage of casks, you will never be able to achieve a date of distillation. I think that this is important, as the date of the birth will coincide with the date of the whisky creation, which for me gives a more powerful symbolism to the bottle.

To find hand fill bottles with a specific date, the easiest way to achieve this if you ever want to have a bottle of whisky bottled on the date of your offspring’s birth is to get a friend to visit a distillery and purchase a handfilled bottle on the day that your child is born. I would suggest it may not be polite for you to do this when your significant other is going through labour and may create considerable friction in your relationship. There is no way that I would try that, although I was close enough to a distillery on the date of my daughter’s birth!

With hand filled bottles, I would suggest that there is a slight drawback to know that somebody else bottled it, so loses it’s personal touch to the special event that you are trying to commemorate, but that all depends on how special you want this to be. By far the easiest bottles to find are those from single casks, where it is easier to find a larger availability of dates, and certainly easier to search for.

If you think a single cask bottle would be appropriate, then you have to ask yourself will it be drunk? Of course, it depends on whether or not you are giving it to somebody or keeping it for yourself. But to help you search I found it is easier to look at distilleries that are consistently producing good single cask produce. What you may find that if you can get a date that is within a couple of days of your requirements, it is a case of being patient. Sometimes distilleries go through a run of bottling single casks. I found this to be true of GlenAllachie as one of my early targets to source a bottle for my colleague, but could only get within 2 or three days and not the actual date – close but no cigar.


Distillery releases at visitor centres are good bets as they often list both distilling dates and bottling dates. They also include distilleries long lost or without visitor facilities

Since these bottles were unlikely to be found at retail, I decided to hit the auctions. The simplest way to search was to look for a particular vintage year. If there was too many results, I found I got mixed returns by using different date formats in the search boxes of the auctioneers. You have to be persistent in trying everything. You also need to be smart about filtering your search results – being Aberdonian I always search for the low prices first as why would you want to pay more than you had to?

To cut a long story short, eventually I got a hit on a bottle from the Arran Distillery. This took me about 3 weeks searching every now and again when I had a spare moment. Initially I found a bottling from the day before the required date, but when I realised the date I needed was a Friday, then I found other bottles of the same whisky from the following week so then I was certain there would likely be similar bottling on the date required. Some further persistence paid off and within a couple of hours found the bottle I needed.

Let’s just say I hadn’t found THE bottle, but only had identified the edition I needed to find in the auctions or rare whisky shops. But if you have been paying attention to what I write, you will know that if something has been in an auction once, then it will turn up eventually in the future. You hope that it is not an in-demand bottle or that you don’t get somebody else bidding against you which will possibly force the price up. And it is here you have to make a difficult decision – how much do you pay for the bottle you are searching for? How important is the significance of the date?

Well, I took the common sense approach – I looked closely at the bottle – it had condition warnings about the state of the outer packaging, and what wasn’t noted was slight damage to the front label. The next thing you have to consider is how many of them were produced?.l Because this was a wine cask finish in a single cask, just over three hundred were available on the date I required. Researching the prices of other auctions revealed a hammer price between £85 and £150, but I didn’t do a thorough search, as it was only to give me an idea. Using my usual auction strategies, I obtained the bottle for a hammer price of £65 which adding the usual fees and P&P came to £85.


Captured prey – the Arran bottle acquired.

Whilst this is not a whisky that was distilled on the date required, given that this was over 14 years ago and the amount of releases since then, it was going to be like searching the world for a specific grain of sand. We can choose to look at it from the sense that the bottled product was created on the same day, and hopefully that has enough significance for the recipient whether it gets opened or kept in a cupboard for a wee while longer.

Of course, when thinking of celebrating significant birthdays, if you are close enough to a distillery that does hand fill, I would suggest taking a trip there with the intended recipient to commemorate not only the day, but a proper day out making memories. In the case of my colleague, this is what I suggested happens for his child’s 18th and 21st birthdays. Will these bottles be worth anything financially? Only if somebody else wants the same date, Indeed my GlenDronach handfill is making about £60-£70 more than I paid for it at auction, but then factor in the fees, then no, it’s not making a lot more, but time will tell. There will be a demand for vintage whisky in the future, but whether or not sherried whiskies are popular in the future remains to be seen. Vintage GlenDronach frequently does well at auction so not too worried.

I haven’t mentioned much about the third type of bottle – special editions. These will be rarer and therefore harder to find, especially for a specific date. And we know what this is likely to do for prices but regardless we have to know what the prices are so we aren’t overpaying.

Lastly, sometimes it is just down to luck. You just need to keep your eyes open when looking around distilleries, especially for single cask releases. Independent bottlers are also often good for detailing dates such as Signatory vintage. It is just a case of looking around.

Of course, you could always have a cask filled on that very date, but that’s an entirely different kettle of fish, and I’d advise you to look at my articles on cask purchase before proceeding down a very expensive route if you hope to taste it.

I hope this has given you a few pointers. Funnily enough as I was writing this article, somebody contacted me about this very issue, although they were looking for vintage Macallan. Talk about good timing! Cone time I will be looking for a vintage whisky for my daughters birth date, but as she’s not even four yet, there may be some time to go yet before anything is released.

Slainte Mhath!

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


This is written as a hobby, and I appreciate your likes and shares, either on WordPress, or why not visit one of my other social media channels. Lets spread the whisky love!

Scotty’s Drams encourages responsible drinking. To find out the facts about drink, and where to find help if you need it visit Drinkaware.co.uk by clicking on the link.

Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own

All content and photos are subject to copyright and may not be used or reproduced without permission.

Technical Difficulties

Why normal service isn’t always possible.

In the United Kingdom, we are now into our third week of lockdown due to the Coronavirus. This has caused a mild difficulty for me writing Scotty’s Drams; some of it you may notice and some of it you may not. For those of you who follow my blog through WordPress and not the other social media channels I use will have noticed that sometimes I re-publish pages. There is a good reason for this – the majority of my blog has been written on my phone, but occasionally I choose to type it on a laptop. This is because I can publish an article a lot quicker. For some reason what was on my phone and on my laptop wasn’t matching up and was causing a bit of an issue. It has caused some of the previous blogs to disappear, and I’ve had to republish.

The other slight technical difficulty is trying to monitor the passage of time. Being on lockdown has very much been similar to working offshore where the only way you know the passage of time is either looking at the calendar or by the menu for the day. So this means I am writing my weekend article on a Friday again, as the week has blasted past without me realising I have to put some thoughts down.

Anyway, despite the boredom of lockdown, I have still found myself tied up with various things, and this has meant that I have not written a Saturday Article. I could, but I feel that this would be of lower than normal quality, which is a path that I do not want to go down. However, I have made my third video, which I will give a link below that teaches us how to drink whisky in a very rudimentary way, but covers all the basics – especially the last point! I will do a more serious video later. All I can say is that I am glad I was able to nail the video quickly, as it could have ended up a bit messy! For those on you who do not follow Scotty’s Drams on Facebook, the link to the video is here.

Moving away to something a bit more positive, I often quote from Winston Churchill. Of course, being Scottish I am not a big fan of Winston’s politics or his ideas of empire, but the man also knew how to speak with many famous quotes and orations. One of my favourites was the one he made about how a pessimist sees the difficulties in opportunities and how an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty. Using modern technology has been great to communicate our love of whisky along with being able to share it, with events on Twitter, YouTube and Facebook. Being a less than sociable person, I have shied away from these, as they are a bit too impersonal, and if I can’t meet or speak to people in person I’d often not bother joining in – I’d rather enjoy whisky in the immediate company of people. As is so many times the case in the whisky community it is each to their own preferences, and if you can get something out of this, I’d encourage you to take part.

Lastly, a couple of weeks ago I hinted that perhaps Scotty’s drams could have a gathering. Of course current events totally blow the chance of that happening right out of the water this year, but I am thinking of perhaps in early spring next year? Let me know your thoughts so I can get an idea of numbers and to what you’d find more beneficial – a city meet up for a night, or a couple of nights in Speyside region, perhaps taking in a distillery tour? Mull it over and let me know so I can formulate a loose plan,

Sorry for the low content of whisky thought this week, but next week will be better. Maybe.

Slainte Mhath!

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


This is written as a hobby, and I appreciate your likes and shares, either on WordPress, or why not visit one of my other social media channels. Lets spread the whisky love!

Scotty’s Drams encourages responsible drinking. To find out the facts about drink, and where to find help if you need it visit Drinkaware.co.uk by clicking on the link.

Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own

All content and photos are subject to copyright and may not be used or reproduced without permission.