The Black Isle Bummer

Whisky Review #118 – Glen Ord 12, 15, 18.

Not one to be positive when there is a chance of negativity, in this article you could say I’ve hit the jackpot. I’ve snatched defeat from the jaws of victory somewhat, but it is a hollow victory.

One of the issues of being a whisky geek is working out when you need to switch off from the constant marketing, promotions and opinions from those in the whisky social media circles that you mix in. While you may get a lot of enjoyment of having a massive and consistent whisky geek out, for me I’ve been finding this more of a burden than a blessing. While I usually have broad shoulders for these sort of things, I’ve become tired of bearing the load, so I’ve decided to shed some of the dead weight that troubles me. But like my big belly, this weight isn’t the easiest to offload.


Glen Ord Visitors Centre

I understand the need for marketing and pushing a product. Otherwise how would we know what is new and available? How would we get information about products? It can just be anything from subtle advertising in a publication or repeated adverts online – a personal hate of mine. Or it can be countless people online repeating the same stories countless times. Don’t ask me about Whisky Santa or Tweet Tastings – those got muted some time ago.

Before you are wondering what has happened to make me so bitter and twisted, don’t worry, I’m not. I’m just tired and have developed a low tolerance for faff that continually targets me but provides little benefit to my journey. I first spotted this issue after a visit to Glen Ord distillery in February 2020. Before I start this semi-rant, I’d be interested to find out how many people feel the same, so pay attention to my points.


Mash tun. 99.9% of distilleries have one

Once upon a time Diageo had three Singletons – Glendullan which was for the US market. Dufftown was for the European market and Glen Ord was for the Asian market. Therefore, before I visited Glen Ord it was a distillery I knew little about. That’s because most of their produce goes directly overseas to the Far East, where they don’t seem to be able to get enough of it.

It’s a pleasant enough distillery, with all the same bits that other distilleries have. The tour started with a video and off we went around the plant. But what stood out to me was the guide. I remember their name, but I won’t mention it for not wanting to embarrass them, but I have to say it was the worst tour I’ve ever had in a distillery. Not because the guide was unpleasant – indeed they were polite and courteous. My fellow visitors were the same. What made it the worst tour for me was the constant company propaganda.


Glen Ord Washbacks. Other distilleries have them too.

Of course, each distillery will try to make their product look as good as possible. Go to the Tellytubby-like distillery of Macallan and it’s a full on assault of the senses with audio visuals. Despite me not being a big fan of Macallan, I was expecting the sort of bombast from what is undeniably an iconic brand. Given the impressive nature of their new distillery and the premier status of their product, there was no way that they weren’t going to shout from the rooftops about what they do.

But we now look back to Glen Ord. This is a brand not many people in the UK know, unless you are a whisky geek. Or you may have had an independently bottled spirit, picked up one through a Diageo special release or travel retail. While I have never owned a bottle of Glen Ord, I have tasted it before and it wasn’t anything stunning. So it grated on me a little bit when my guide was singing the company line. Everything the distillery did was apparently to the highest standard that no other distillery matched.


Glen Ord Stills. All other distilleries stills.

You can’t blame the guide for trying. But for this weary whisky geek it was too much – the trip switch got flicked and rather than turn me on to the brand, it turned me off. It got to the point that I could not wait to get out of there.

As mine was a solo trip, the samples given at the end had to be put into a drivers pack for me to taste at home. The tour at the time gave out samples of the 12, 15 and 18 year old. If I remember correctly, the 12 was bourbon matured cask, the 18 Sherry matured and the 15 was a 50:50 mix of both. And unusually instead of the usual Glencairn style glass you get from a visit to a Diageo distillery, the glass given was a rocker glass. Unusual to me, as I prefer the Glencairn, it was at least a full sized glass. At last I had found something to intrigue me, but it didn’t fire my imagination too much as the glass went into the cupboard and the samples went to the back of the cabinet and got forgotten about.


Muir Of Ord maltings. Gives away the mass produced nature of Glen Ord and other Diageo Malts.

So we come now to the present day. I took it upon myself to sort out the whisky samples in the display cabinet in the kitchen. There lies the wreckage of samples tried then forgotten as I either didn’t care for it or I had just not got around to tasting them. There, hiding in the background were the Glen Ord. Better late than never I suppose, and this would give me the chance to clear three sample bottles. It also gave me the chance to test the rocker glass I had also been ignoring.

I wanted to be positive. Trust me, I did so badly. I wanted to like this whisky. Alas it was not to be. What I thought should have been a 10ml sample wasn’t even that (8ml x 3) and looked decidedly pathetic in the glass. I don’t know if this affected my perception of the whisky, but I’ll be honest and say it didn’t help. The samples were only really two sips each which made it almost impossible to do any serious tasting of the whisky, so hence in this review there are no tasting notes.


(L-R) 12 y.o, 15 y.o, 18 y.o Glen Ord. Spot the two major issues.

To be truthful, I did get the aroma profile of a bourbon, sherry and mixed casks from the nosing but it would be impossible to say much about the flavour profile as the samples were so small it wasn’t easy to tell. Yes, again there were hints of sherry and bourbon, but that’s about it. There wasn’t a lot of difference between the drams if I was to be honest. If you are going to shout about how good your product is, at least give us enough to be able to taste it.

And here we come to the worst point – this is a whisky aimed at a certain market. Even when we look at the samples we can see that they are all the same colour despite the difference in age and casks. We know that this dram is chill filtered. We know it’s diluted and we know it’s coloured, so in a message to distilleries, please don’t continue to preach about quality and standards when you are handing out a whisky that has been blended for a foreign palate and has been butchered to an inch of its life in unnatural and undesirable processes. We know you’ve got to do your marketing spiel, but to me it’s all getting a bit boring, especially when the product does not live up to the hype.


Rocker Glass. The Glen Ord sample looks lost in it. Did not enhance my experience at all.

A recent tour of Glenallachie during Spirit of Speyside 2021 also seemed to follow a company script, but was a lot more subtle. Once you’ve done a few tours, you’ll understand what I mean. The great thing was that this time the tour was given by a true whisky enthusiast and had a great deal of personal passion which could be based on their knowledge of other whiskies. I have to be careful as the guide on my tour is a follower of my blog, but I can comfortably say the message was passed over to everybody with a personal interaction; they genuinely wanted to know how the others were enjoying their whisky. They took the criticism of one of the drams well. And being fair, to push the Glenallachie line wouldn’t be a boast as Billy Walker does seem to have the Midas touch when it comes to consistently releasing good whisky. You could comfortably argue this would be a statement of fact in my opinion.

Alas, it’s lodged deeply in my mindset rightly or wrongly that a large distillery pumping out the goods to a specific mass market doesn’t necessarily earn the same bragging rights. It’s your money they are after is what you need to remember and you want to ensure is that you are going to be spending your money on quality based on taste and not some company fed bombast.

Turds can be polished regardless of the myth, therefore when consuming marketing or promotional output, it is essential to know not all that glitters is gold. By all means pay attention to what is getting released, but for me the best thing to do is let the whisky do the talking. Glen Ord may not be the metaphorical turd; not everyone can like everything, but I won’t be paying out for a special release or an original bottling. I think I’ll be seeking out an independent bottling to see if I can connect to this distillery in another way.

Now, as it’s now past the season for the Christmas Grinch, I’m happy to assume his duties for the rest of the year. After this rant, perhaps it’s time to beat up Whisky Santa. The miserable git didn’t even give me a bottle of Bells…

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


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All Photos – Authors Own

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(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.