Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Blended Whisky and the Power of the Brand

Photo by Tzutzu

Today you won't see much advertising for single malt whiskies - these are products that are publicised through reviews, word of mouth and so on to build a long and healthy reputation based on consistently providing a good product.

 I have never seen a Laphroaig sponsored sports event, or a music festival backed by Dalmore. This is partially due to the target markets not being there, and they wouldn't be influenced by such endeavours, and I completely understand that a nice and easy, sweet bourbon is going to lend itself a lot more to rocking out than a nice sherried malt.

This is at least historically and generally true. However, (and this is what frustrates me) you will see tons of ads for bourbons and blended whiskies that place so much stock behind the "brand": it's the marketing, the label, the logo, the story they've concocted in sterile boardrooms.

Photo by Ron Cogswell
Once the PR guys get their claws into the semblance of something they will cling on and beat it to death. If I hear anymore about goddamned Old No.7 I'll probably throw up. What makes it worse is that Jack Daniels say they have no idea how the number came about as though it is something wonderfully mysterious and therefore must have some amazing lineage.

They will pose a few possibilities: the good old No.7 train that carried the barrels, or that old Jack the lad had 7 women on the go, or that 7 fingers of whisky is what Jack's esteemed clients love with their coke. Seriously, if a number THAT MEANS NOTHING is the selling point that sets you apart from the competition then there is something really wrong going on.

We've established that there are brands setting themselves apart from the competition using inane, shallow bullshit masquerading as mystery and heritage, but now there are those that trick you with the visage of quality.

Photo by Five Starr Photos
There is one main brand that I think of in this category (although there are others), and that's good old Johnnie.

Johnnie Walker is one of those brands (owned by Diageo) that is in every bar - and it should be, as it's a good mixer. However, my umbrage comes from the fact that Johnnie Walker is styled as a luxury label, of class and substance, and really as something special.

The entry level bottle is labelled as "Old Scotch Whisky," but a quick internet search brings up the fact that the whisky is only 8 years old! That's a toddler. 10-12 years is average, 18 years is well-aged, and 20+ years could be considered old - calling an 8 year old whisky "old" is insulting.

Now, this isn't to say that Johnnie Walker produce bad whiskies, as some of them are pretty good. I swear by Black label as a mixer and Gold is pretty impressive, but the issue with these are the price: black label is an average, mixing-level whisky, and yet it's priced at the same level as really good single malts. They are able to get away with this as a result of their marketing and the false illusion of quality through high pricing which many of the consumers have fallen for.

I apologise for this poorly formulated and incoherent rant, but I implore you to please, please be an informed consumer. Don't fall for the marketing ploys, lies and tricks, it's all smoke and mirrors.

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