Saturday, January 19, 2008

Last Night's Tipple

As day follows night, when I have a dram of Compass Box Eleuthera, I'll have a dram of Clynelish shortly thereafter. Clynelish is, of course, one of the two principal constituent malts in Eleuthera (the other being Caol Ila). Clynelish, you may recall, is a Diageo-owned distillery in the eastern coastal Highlands of Scotland. Every tasting note for Clynelish that I read mentions its waxy texture; but to be perfectly honest, I never have really gotten that. Chalk it up to my leaden palate. I don't dislike this malt, but it doesn't do much for me. There are many other lightly-peated malts that I'd rather drink than this, and most of them are cheaper, too.

Over the past couple of years, Diageo has dramatically expanded their Classic Malts series. It originally started out with Lagavulin, Talisker, Cragganmore, Oban, Glenkinchie, and Dalwhinnie. Now, it seems that just about every malt whiskey in Diageo's portfolio seems to be one of the Classic Malts. There's Royal Lochnagar (which I really, really wish were imported into the United States in its 12 year old form), Cardhu (the one that Spanish kids like to mix with Coca-Cola), Knockando, Glen Elgin, Caol Ila, and something called the Singleton of Glendullan. I gather from this that the Classic Malts have been a tremendously successful marketing device and that Diageo wants to milk it for all that it's worth. The justification for including Clynelish among the rest is that the distillery is located in the coastal east of the Scottish highlands, and there are very few distilleries close by. Diageo, and most other marketers of Scotch, like to subdivide Scotland into regions in an attempt to make the myriad distilleries more comprehensible. Clynelish is in the Highlands region, but the Highlands cover a lot of area. The lay of the land around Clynelish doesn't share a whole lot of similarities with, say, Oban or Edradour, which are also in the Highlands region. Diageo has responded to this obvious problem by subdividing Scotland still more; and with the subdivision comes the justification for adding new Classic Malts to represent those subdivisions. But I don't think that there is any real eastern coastal Highlands style of whisky. Yes, Clynelish is very different from Oban, but those differences don't have their origin in geography or geographic tradition. There's nothing wrong with Diageo trying to sell whisky, but consumers really shouldn't take the Classic Malts marketing propaganda too seriously.

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