Every year I have a reunion with old friends. They are all whisky drinkers but only one would call it their hobby. It is always interesting to see whisky through the eyes of others. They all enjoy whisky and we always share several drams. I love the fact that their opinions are honest and uninfluenced by the general social media chat.
I was describing how to tell the difference between sherry cask and bourbon cask in the colour and flavour with the usual caveats about added colour and non chill filtered.
There was immediate outrage from all at the very idea that colour could been added to Scots Whisky. I gave the usual reassurance that it does not effect the flavour. This was completely rejected. The whole point of Scotch there all agreed was that it was 100% authentic and from local natural ingredients. I made the mistake of mentioning that most of the barley was far from local and indeed some came from abroad and there was not enough Barley grown in Scotland to meet the demand. Further outrage. I kept the use of hybrids to myself.
It is reassuring that the brand message of local and natural is still the message that the average consumer wants to hear. The use of carmel colouring really ought to be banned. I certainly drink plenty of natural coloured non-chill filtered whisky myself. But I assume that the vast majority of whisky consumed if you include blends is both colour added and chill filtered. Perhaps it is time to come clean, at leat with the colouring.
Colouring of course comes from the marketing departments seeking to ensure uniformity of colour on every bottle hence a prerequisite of particularly blended brands.
The other things that cause surprise are that Japanese whisky is good or that English and Welsh whisky is excellent. Surely not? I just don’t have the samples available too persuade them otherwise. There was the thought that only whisky produced in Scotland could be called whisky! I pointed out that the protected name was `Scotch Whisky’. An understandable misconception interesting nevertheless.
Finally after a brief reminisce about our early whisky experiences of the old Blends, Teachers, Haig, Grants, Dewars and the rest. Their views are of these products from the 6’s and 70’s. They all remember rough harsh flavours.
My assurances that each now produces exceptional whisky is met with some scepticism. I assure them that my own opinion is that you get exceptional value and a quality product at every price point these days and that there is really no bad whisky in Scotland. There may be some that do not go with your palate.
It comes back to marketing. My lesson from this experience:
At some point in the future the adding of colour could create a major unjustified campaign the publicity from which adversely impacts future whisky sales.
Secondly, the blends need to do much more to get the public to give them another try. The likelihood is that most people will be surprised at the quality and complexity these fabulous products provide. Then they might move on to Ballentines, Chivas Regal, Johny Walker and of course the independents providing really awesome blended whisky, the equal of any overseas blend. Remember that most single malt, Bourbon, Cognac and most are blended products. Single cask is the exception and a very niche market.
So the question is added colour or not? Tell me you thoughts?