The Tasting Panel magazine

November 2016

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24  /  the tasting panel  /  november 2016 SCOTCH REPORT EXPERIMENTATION IN BLENDING—AND MARKETING— IS THE ORDER OF THE DAY by Ian Buxton The Big League I finished last month's column with Diageo's Special Releases for 2016. Now I like to reserve space here for smaller brands because they need the publicity, but I make no apology for staying with Diageo—the biggest of the big—for another month. That's because they've been doing some unusual things over in the Johnnie Walker blending rooms that suggest that experi- mentation in whisky isn't the sole preserve of the "craft" distillers. Some years ago, their blenders started a very large-scale, long- term experiment which they called Project Calculus. It involved the permutation of many hundreds of casks, with many different distilleries involved and using many varied finishes and wood types. Some weren't a great success, but others were so eye-opening that they have found their way into Diageo's most important brands. Hence the recent release of Johnnie Walker Red Rye Finish (40% ABV; $22), described by the company as having "all the characteristics of Scotch, [but] matured in first fill American oak casks with a rye cask finish." Apparently, it took more than 50 experiments exploring 203 malt and grain whisky samples to finalize the recipe, yet it was created using a blend of just four whiskies. This release will shortly be followed by two more Johnnie Walker expressions: Blenders' Batch Bourbon Cask and Rye Finish and the Blenders' Batch Triple Grain American Oak. This is bold, radical thinking by the world's number one Scotch and deserves prominence on your shelves. Sticking with Diageo, their Buchanan's deLuxe blended Scotch has launched a U.S. marketing campaign targeting the Hispanic consumer. The brand has long been a favorite in Latin America, as Tara King, Brand Manager for Buchanan's explained."Buchanan's has deep roots in the Latino community, going back generations and transcending borders," she said. "At a time when cultural appreciation has never been more significant, we hope our campaign inspires a new generation of whisky fans to take pride in their heritage and to embrace this pride as a key to achiev- ing greatness." "Es Nuestro Momento" will roll out nationwide and includes a 30-second ad called Los Imparables (The Unstoppables), supported by out-of-home advertising, television spots and digital ads. The Johnnie Walker owner has partnered with Latin Grammy–winning artist J Balvin for the campaign. The singer has composed a song titled "Es Nuestro Momento," which will be released early next year. Elsewhere, the maverick experimenters at Compass Box have released a three-year-old blended malt with an eye-watering $300 price tag. But all is not as it seems. This precociously mature dram comprises just 0.4 percent three-year-old malt whisky produced near the village of Brora, with 90.3 percent malt whisky of a different but considerably older age from the same distillery and 9.3 percent peaty malt whisky distilled on the Isle of Skye (all Diageo distilleries, I note). It's part of Compass Box's continu- ing campaign for transparency and an attempt to show that the current Scotch whisky regulations, which specify that only the age of the youngest component whisky may be shared with consumers, may obscure as much as they reveal. But savvy consumers will see the value in this youngster! Finally, it will shortly be time for me to sit down and taste the John Walker Special Release blend for 2017: the super-premium result of those Calculus casks and more Walker blending magic.

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