57⁰ North: The shape of things to come?

About the only good thing to come out of The Scottish rugby team’s recent loss to Italy in Rome was that my family who had been across for the match brought me back a whisky from the airport. Talisker 57⁰ North, until very recently only available in airports. It is pretty much a cask strength Talisker, although it should technically be referred to as ‘special strength’ – it is deliberately bottled at 57% abv to match Talisker’s longitude.

All well and good, but I was thinking the other day that the appearance of 57⁰ North is actually a very significant bottling. It is a release from a Diageo distillery which very much mimics the releases of the last few years from Ardbeg. Now Ardbeg is undoubtedly the Scotch distillery which has the most buzz around it, for reasons that have been well covered recently with the release of Rollercoaster. But what does the future of Ardbeg hold? Anyone who has read the latest issue of Whisky Magazine will have seen Dave Broom’s column ‘Reasons to be cheerful (part 2)’. In it he lists possible events that will occur in the coming years for the whisky industry. He anticipates that Diageo will take over Moet Hennessy which will give them Glenmorangie and Ardbeg.

Now if Diageo were forced to sell these distilleries to prevent them from having too big a piece of the Single Malt Pie things would be interesting enough. Who would look to acquire them? Chris pointed out that Ian McLeod were keen enough to have their own Islay single malt that they invented one, in the shape of Smokehead. Or maybe some form of Glenmorangie PLC, with the two distilleries standing independently – a pretty good option considering they are two very successful single malts. But if Diageo do hold onto them, what happens to the Ardbeg range? Allowed to continue to operate outside of company structure, or wrenched into line? Leave us with just a standard ten or twelve year old and a Distiller’s Edition along with annual releases of older bottling? Or taken to extremes, an Ardbeg 10 year old in the Flora and Fauna range.

That won’t happen, but an Ardbeg fan could have cause for concern. This is where 57⁰ North comes in. No age statement, cask strength, everything Ardbeg Uigeadail is. Is this a sign of things to come for Diageo? Not a company to miss a trick, is it possible that they are seeing the growing market for more deluxe single malts and deciding to weigh in? Talisker is an obvious distillery to start with, it has the peat level to tap the Islay market and a string of awards behind it. Could we see others in the future – something like a no age, cask strength Clynelish bearing a name like Kildonan (their water source) or Oban Kerrera, a smokier version named after the island just out of the bay. It would surely displease nobody to see Diageo utilise their single malts more with an increased number of bottlings (especially if they are within the price range of a normal human). So whilst Talisker 57⁰ North is not only just a very enjoyable whisky, perhaps it is also the shape of things to come.

Euan

Comments

  1. Well Euan,
    i don’t mind all those NAS CS bottling as far as they don’t cost an arm an a leg.
    i happen to quite like the 57 North, and the Uigedail…
    just reviewed it a few days ago in WhiskyIsrael.

    Here’s my 2 cents about it :

    http://bit.ly/Talisker_57N

  2. NAS is the future, as I predicted here:

    http://bit.ly/2010Predictions2

    My guess is that in the medium term (5-10 years) the standard bottlings from most distilleries will be NAS.

  3. Hi there,

    interesting but a bit off, wouldn`t you think?

    After all Diageo is in posession of Lagavulin and Caol Ila and the remains of Port Ellen on Islay so there really is no need to mimic Ardbeg.

    There is the Caol Ila cask strength NAS and the Lagavulin 12 yos which do a better job than the 57° North.

    And why would Diageo want to sell Ardbeg? It is hard to believe they would make an acquisition that would give them Ardbeg only to lose it in the same deal.
    No matter how desperate they may be to lay their hands on Moet and Hennessy.

    I am not sure that your reasoning is entirely sound.

    On the other hand…

    And oh, by the way 57° North is available as a Friends of Classic Malts bottling in 0.7 ltr. bottles in Germany an afaik in Austria and Swizerland as well already.

    Greetings
    kallaskander

  4. Diageo are probably looking to aquire M-H for their fine wines/cognacs rather than the whiskies. As I understand it, they may be forced to sell the distilleries aquired because of it would give them too large a share of the scotch whisky market, though I am unsure on how exactly that works.

    I mentioned that ‘until very recently’ Talisker 57 was only in airports so I’m aware that in some markets it is available as a general release.

    Lagavulin 12yo is part of the Diageo ‘Premium’ releases which come out every Autumn – technically it is a vintage bottling which changes on a annual basis so it doesn’t really compare to a bottling which makes up part of a distillery’s core range. Caol Ila is still a distillery which very much has a focus on producing stock for blends. Maybe in a dozen years RoseIsle will produce the stock needed for JW Black Label to take the pressure off but probably not before then. The CS Caol Ila is a great whisky, but to say that it appeals to the current single malt market more than an Ardbeg bottling does not seem correct to me.

    Kallaskander, it’s always nice to have a bit of discussion around a post, so please get back to me.

  5. Hi there,

    Cognac and Champagne is what LVMH has and Diageo covets.

    The deal if it came to pass would be concluded under EC laws and rules and most probably would result in Diageo having to sell one or more of their whisky brands because of the market dominating position they already have in the whisky business.

    But I thik the EC would be open to negotiations which brand or distillery Diageo would have to sell.
    It might not be Ardbeg nor Glenmorangie neccessarily. And among us Euan – would you sell Ardbeg if you had it in your hands already?

    But I am with you in the NAS thing. Not long ago the Scotsman – I think it was the Scotsman – featured an article about the whisky industry having itself manouvered into a corner with the age statements in the first place.
    The tenor was they should never have done that and the taste of whisky is not dependent on age. So the standards of 10yo 12yo and so on were good at the time but today are a hinderance.

    That was the moment when I began to thik the story was sponsored by the industry.

    Greetings
    kallaskander

  6. I would have thought Diageo would have to get rid off a high profile single malt if they were to keep Ardbeg and Glenmorangie. I doubt they could sell Strathmill and Glen Spey to make way for those two.

    As for selling Ardbeg, I guess it would depend on the price. With Diageo already in possesion of Caol Ila and Lagavulin, does their portfolio really need another Islay distillery? They could potentially get a very good deal for offloading Arbeg.

  7. It was ‘The Scotsman’, Kallaskander, well remembered. In that article they talked about just the distilleries Euan has mentioned in his post: Glenmorangie (with the Signet) and Ardbeg (with Rollercoaster). I can’t recall the particulars but I do remember that the main thrust of the article was all to do with the trend that new drinkers coming to Scotch, and single malt in particular, are increasingly free of the age-requirement prejudices: they’re after something different instead – a talking point in their whisky.
    But of course, it is worth asking the question of whether this is truly consumer-led thinking? In this very blog, whiskies have been tasted recently for which their marketing folk have devoted considerable imagination and time in the library to come up with a justification for touting the malt’s romantic provenance over its age. Subject of the latest post, in fact, The Dalmore is one such distillery with the 1263 King Alexander III. What does the secondary school history lesson have to do with the whisky? Practically nothing, but if, for the purposes of exploring fully this pioneering period the industry has attained, enticing new drinkers with this image of progress and innovation, and providing the consumer with a revolutionary take on the presentation and flavours of single malt by using in a new bottling some exotically-matured or crafted whisky whose age is maybe 6 years, why shouldn’t they concoct some Middle Earth monicker if abiding by the conventions of single malt branding and the law means alienating the ‘traditionalists’ (whatever that means) or the uninitiated by having no choice but to market your dram as a 6yo? Providing it’s an exceptional product and the master blender has put in as much effort as the PR people what is the problem? The 1263 is an incredible dram, as is the Uigeadail. Both the marketing and the distilling parties have used their imaginations to bring exceptional drams to consumers who might at first have missed out based on a predilection for age statements. The only point at which we need to worry is when it seems that companies have used these more premium malts to soften the market for other NAS bottlings which then turn out to be crap. Then the cycle will begin again as distilleries return to touting age statements as the sole mark of quality!

  8. Hi there,

    well said James. Bell`s springs to mind. Every time there is a whisky lake Bell`s takes on an age statement. When demand rises the age statement is dropped. This circle they reasoned they were going back to the roots of Arthur Bell`s original recipe which made the “new” Bell`s more authentic and, err original. And the original is so authentic all on its own that it does not need an age statement of course.

    Does anybody question that releasing NAS whiskies which are guaranteed to be less then 10 years old is all about selling your whisky earlier and thus creating quicker money while being lenient towards overall quality? No?
    By definition most of the NAS whiskies are not up to the standards of maturity which have been established by custom at around 10-12 years in most cases over the years. Many contain whisky less that 10 years old or so much younger than the old whiskies used for the vatting that an age statement would “devalue” them if the heart was say 20 years old but vatted with 7 year old whisky, you know where I am pointing to.

    Is there an interval in pricing in order with the reduced age and quality?
    No, I do not try to be ridiculous.

    If you were a cynic you could argue that they do sacrifice some older bottlings with NAS of undisputed quality to implement much younger NAS whiskies of far lesser quality.

    Glenmorangie does. Dalmore does. It is all about creating a new category with interesting and profitable pricing options.

    Greeting
    kallaskander

  9. Hi there,

    I could not find the Scotsman article but here is something on the subject probably even more drastic.

    http://www.thedrinksbusiness.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=9788&Itemid=66

    Greetings
    kallaskander

  10. And what an interesting article it is. I was disappointed that it didn’t explore the concept of targeting consumers by menatlity/tastes more: that would effectively be a NAS approach to marketing, wouldn’t it?

    I do think this is something that needs to be discussed because, to refer to the article Kallaskander has attached, there must surely be some correlation between brands’ obsession with ensnaring the younger drinker and the sudden emergence of non-traditional whiskies. As I said above, I’m fine with non-traditional so long as the bottom line is still ‘Mmmm’ (and that there is enough to go around at reasonable prices), and this other writer’s examples of Monkey Shoulder and Smokehead show that in the main, brands are not thoughtlessly chasing the young pound while creating drastic future problems by scrimping on the quality. As the article suggests, consumers often find themselves in the whisky camp at some stage anyway, and when they do they want more than a snazzy bottle and the conferred prestige that some rapper was snapped drinking the same stuff.

    In short, you can tell the consumer what to drink, and why they should want to drink it, but that doesn’t mean they will, and so diverse a product is single malt that the reasons for purchase can never be fully anticipated by the focus groups.

    On the other side of the coin, and much of this will contradict some of my first comment, isn’t the ephemeral nature of them harmful in itself? Doesn’t the risk exist of alienating those new drinkers when, in 18 months time, they can’t find the malt they were hooked in with in the first place because it has been replaced by something else, the latest fashion in whisky which contains even newer, more originally-crafted malt: ‘matured in fourteen different Riesling casks (-:cough:- matured for only three years and which we’ve vatted with some average 16-year-old refill stuff for a bit of body -:cough:-) and you’ll love it just as much’! Well, they might not. These special, limited whiskies might therefore anger the newbies and the majority of serious enthusiasts alike, both groups tired of the distillers dressing the goose in too many new clothes for it to ever get round to laying the golden egg. Well, the newbies won’t get tired; they’ll just go back to vodka or rum.

    Of course, we aren’t saying that distilleries will do away with their age statement bottlings. I just think they have to be careful with how much emphasis they place on the components of their range – and that they aren’t fiddling around with ‘new and exciting’ spirit so much nothing stays in the warehouses beyond thirteen years!

  11. Hi there,

    your post remided me of this

    http://www.whatdoesjohnknow.com/2010/03/15/macallans-new-ice-ball-serve/

    That is another way of trying to snare the young and fashionable drinkers – which angers the old and not so fashionable but experienced drinkers – us – in the same way constantly changing bottlings and branding might anger the young.

    And it reminded me of something I posted somewhere much earlier about the poorest sod on earth – the young fashionable hip drinker and drinkeress aged 25 – 35 who is supposed to drink all that alcohol thrown at them.

    All drinks alcoholic beverages and spirits compete for that same age and peergroup.

    If they would succumb to the marketing efforts thrown at them they would all have serious health problems.

    Companywise the crocodile tears of the whisky industry when vodka beats Scotch in 9 times out of 10 and spurrs more renewed and sometimes furious efferts to sell more whisky – against the companies own vodka and other spirits brands, make me lough.

    If that wasn`t so serious. Because the in house competition of whisky and white spirits within the portfolios of the drinks giants is the motivator for ever more NAS whisky younger and more colourless more trendy and fashionable drives the trend.

    And some pure and honest greed and lust for money of course.

    Greetings
    kallaskander

  12. Hi there,

    well James that makes me think.

    As I see it there is a problem with the fundamental philosphy of whisky and the drive to sell ever more. Now you ask me if I know the fundamental philosophy of whisky… the answer is no, of course not.

    But if you think a bit you will realise that the industry in a way is on the way back to the roots.

    After arguing that a malt less than 10 years of age is not worth considering for drinking and that the older a whisky the better… etc etc for the last 27 years they whish they were back in the good ol`days when whisky was sold unmatured from the cask and the customer brings his own crock.

    Why 27 years? The year of fate for the Scotch whisky industry 1983 when distilleries died by the dozen, some never to come back.

    What they are unable to realise I fear is that they have turned into the road the exact same route Cognac went before its demise.

    Greetings
    kallaskander

  13. u have spam comments lucas!
    look at VickiBryant28

Leave a Reply


Anti-Spam Protection by WP-SpamFree