Goldenballs’ grain whisky: Haig Club

Beckham

Grain whisky. It’s always been a rather divisive topic among whisky drinkers. Some see it as no more than blend fodder or a ‘poor man’s bourbon’ whilst others, who may have tried some cracking Clan Denny bottlings or Scotch Malt Whisky Society single casks, see it as a unique, albeit small, category in its own right. I’m firmly of the latter opinion. I’ve tasted some brilliant Caledonians, Girvans, Port Dundases, Invergordons etc over the years and they’ve opened my eyes to what I initially thought was a rather industrial, personality-less spirit. Recently, we’ve seen the launch of Girvan Patent Still whisky from William Grant & Sons and now it’s the turn of the big boys, Diageo.

Enter stage left the Haig Club, a brand new single grain whisky from the Cameronbridge distillery. Cameronbridge was established in 1824 and it was at this distillery where John Haig pioneered the use of Coffey and Stein stills to efficiently produce high volumes of grain whisky for blending. Indeed production at Cameronbridge now stands at a staggering 120 million litres per year and Diageo have recently invested £70 million in bioenergy technology at the distillery. They’re not fannying about.

Now, to the product. Last month I was lucky enough to be invited to a very secretive tasting of ‘product x’, as it was called at the time, at a top secret location in the heart of Edinburgh. Passwords, strange Masonic-esque handshakes, a sample of Aisla T’Orten 105yo and a lock of Hoban’s hair were required to gain access to this underground nuclear bunker. Actually, not all of that is strictly true… but Diageo were certainly keeping their cards close to their chest when allowing myself and a few select others to sample the liquid.

Confusing this bottle with the Haig Club bottle may seriously damage your health (and your pulling ability)

Dr. Nick Morgan, Diageo’s head of whisky outreach, guided us through this new liquid, stating only that it was an NAS, 40% ABV, single grain whisky aimed at recruiting new drinkers into whisky. Nothing was given away regarding name, packaging, RRP or celebrity endorsements. While the apt name may hark back to Cameronbridge’s heritage, I’m not surprised he didn’t discuss anything else. Now don’t get me wrong, coloured glass can be cool. Look at Cutty Sark Prohibition, Old Pulteney 40yo or the newly launched anCnoc Peaty Collection to see what I mean. The bottle’s also very unfussy. Another big tick. But if I buy a bottle of this I’m gonna have to keep it in a different room from my bottle of Bleu de Chanel, or if I’m not careful I’ll end up going out one night smelling of whisky and with a terrible taste in my mouth. That scenario doesn’t usually happen until at least 2am. It looks cheap, low quality and not at all what I’d go for if I was ‘new to whisky’.

The celebrity endorsements are the ones that really tickle me. To promote Diageo’s responsible drinking programme, none other than goldenballs himself, David Beckham, has been dragged in – probably because his manager, Simon Fuller, is the other ‘big name’ (I had to google him) involved with developing the brand. Trying to recruit new drinkers, huh? Well, putting Beckham’s name to it has just distanced the vast majority of young female drinks who will instantly perceive this as a ‘male’ drink… as if whisky didn’t already have an issue with trying to shrug that image off. I mean, I’m not going to buy a drink endorsed by Kylie Minogue or Serena Williams without feeling like a right prick at the bar. Now I like Beckham as much as the next man – we all remember THAT goal from the half way line, and the brilliant interview with Ali G - but did he really need a few extra quid this badly? Finally, there’s the suspicious lack of a retail price. If everything else is in place, surely they must have at least a ball park RRP so we can get an idea of how much this is going to cost. Or maybe they’ve shined up their brass necks on the back of the outrageously priced Mortlachs and are going to drop another mega bombshell later in the year when the product goes to market. I’ll wait with baited breath in the aforementioned nuclear bunker just in case.

Haig Club
Single Grain Whisky
No Age Statement
40% ABV
£probablymorethanyouthink

Nose: Butterscotch, toffee, apricot, orange peel and faint cinnamon.

Palate: Caramel, vanilla fudge, chocolate éclair toffee sweets, and Werther’s Originals. Quite a creamy texture.

Finish: Cinnamon, vanilla and honey.

Overall: Quite tasty. Considering it doesn’t come with an age statement we can probably say it’s youngish, and it’s better than most young grains I’ve tasted before. The mouthfeel is lovely and I have a feeling mixologists are going to have quite a bit of fun with this when it comes to creating cocktails. However, it looks like a bottle of aftershave, it’s a very simple liquid, and all I can picture when I think of it is Beckham’s H&M underwear ad… and I’m not that way inclined. A price tag of £25 would sit about right for me, anything over £35 for this product and we’re venturing in to the super-mega-ultra-premium category Diageo seem to have invented for themselves recently. I hope not, but with Beckham promoting it, you never know how far Diageo will think they can push that boundary.

Tiger

 

Comments

  1. Strangely, I have no problem with the bottle. Don’t think it looks cheap or low quality, the glass has a pleasant intense colour and the stopper looks like it has copper wrapped around it. And the aftershave/perfume association? They’re not the first and won’t be the last.

    What I find strange is the apparent juxtaposition of Beckham’s status and the liquid they chose for him to endorse. Had they asked him to take off his clothes for a Mortlach ad, I would have got that. But in this case I’m just concerned that the whole project lacks heart.

    Having said that, I hope the project succeeds. A bit of hype around grain whisky is well overdue.

    Also, on a side note, you said you wouldn’t order a drink endorsed by Kylie or Serena. What about sipping a Double Black or a Platinum Label with Christina Hendricks winking at you from the poster :D

  2. Lucas, fair point on our differing opinions on the packaging – I agree it’s not the first bottle to look like an aftershave bottle and it definitely won’t be the last, but to me it looks like it could be a bottle of gin or vodka before it’s a bottle of whisky. Not good if you’re trying to entice ‘new drinkers’ into whisky. I also agree about the overdue hype surrounding grain whisky – for years the SMWS has been bottling incredible twentysomething single cask, cask strength grain whiskies. About time some good OBs made some noise and hit the market.

    Oh, and the Christina Hendricks thing? I’m not in to red heads…

  3. Fine, more of them for… well, Hoban.

  4. This does not look like a whisky for us geeks / fans. its more of a whisky for those who dont know much about whisky. Beckham? really? WTF.
    was he even involved in creating it? (no.) does he know what it’s about? (no). does he know what a grain whisky is?(no).
    really PR guys outdid themselves this time.

  5. A NAS whisky from Cameronbridge distillery with notes of toffee, caramel, vanilla, cinammon and a creamy mouthfeel, and priced at £25 – it already exists, it’s called Cameron Brig and they’d better not mess with it!

    Of course stick it in an parfumier’s bottle with a tin-lid celebrity endorsement and I think you’re talking £40. We shall see…

  6. It’s interesting, seeing this new stage, where Grain Whisky becomes more of a commercial liquid, rather than just the odd fantastic IB (Clan Denny, SMWS etc). Girvin launched their offering first, which seemed to be pitched right in terms of packaging and liquid, but the pricing seemed a bit high (although I think they will find the right level soon with them). I suppose from my wallets point of view, it’s a bit of a sad time, as I quite liked being able to get ridiculously old, tasty grain whisky, at bargain prices.

    With the Haig Club, I’m really looking forward to tasting the liquid, because one thing Diageo do well is creating consistently good liquid (I would argue for example, that Johnnie Walker is some of the best blended whisky on the market as a whole range). I don’t think the bottle looks good, it does remind me of my chosen aftershave in my late teens (Ralph Lauren Blue).

    Not sure I agree Lucas, that Beckham could be representing a Single Malt like Mortlach. I get the feeling that they have hired Beckham because of his global appeal, particularly in Asia, which makes me think that the ambition with Haig is to roll it out in global markets. If Beckham was representing something that is limited, I don’t think you would be getting your value for money from him.

    I’m also perhaps a little surprised that they didn’t get him for their major player (JW) but instead to help them launch a new product. Does show that they are going to put quite a bit of effort into Haig Club.

    Already, you can see Beckham’s affect (reported in major news websites across the globe). I am in two minds about his appointment. I have always thought that he seems like a good character, and that pretty much everything he gets involved with becomes a success, but on the other hand, as has been pointed out above, this seems a bit outside his interests. He has never struck me as someone who has been interested in the drinks business, but I guess we will find out more about him as he talks more in his new role.

  7. Just seen this in a major supermarket, heavily promoted (end of aisle, own stand) for £45…

  8. Awful. Worst whisky I have ever tasted. Brutal.

  9. This Whisky is pure trash for what it is, My girlfriend brought it back from Europe for me and I can say this doesn’t event come close to the Crown Royal North Reserve or any of the Canadian Whisky we have the fact that some people promote this as good Scotch is brutal this is low class stuff and tastes like it overpriced garbage.

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