I was fortunate to get to try this very rare expression (only 200 bottles were produced and packaged in Lalique crystal) at a Macallan masterclass in Las Vegas at the Nth Whisky Experience in March 2015. The sample was a little small (no surprise there) so I am recording these notes more for historical record than anything else. The nose is fruity and delicious with toffee and dark chocolate. The taste is rich and creamy with more toffee, pepper and classic Oloroso sherry notes. The finish is also very sherry led. A fantastic tasting dram for sure and generous of Macallan to pour at a tasting event.Read More
At the risk of never getting free samples from Beam and others ever again (oh wait… I never get free samples from Beam or others anyway) I thought I would express my thoughts on current US class action law suits launched against Beam, and many potentially many others, regarding the use of terms like “hand made” and “craft”. To keep this blog brief I will focus the debate around Makers Mark which is one of my favorite bourbons, that way it is clear this entry is not a hidden agenda or “spurned blogger with axe to grind” kind of thing. Also, as a fan of Makers, I have been to their distillery and seen it for myself so I can have an opinion on their production which is harder for me to do with other whiskies and spirits caught up in this. I should also mention that I am a minor shareholder in a small “craft” distillery in London, The London Distillery Company, so I have some experience regarding production in that environment also. Mostly my experience to date involves writing checks to them. (When asked about this investment my usual response is to recall Richard Branson’s line; the fastest way to become a millionaire is to start out as a billionaire and then start an airline. However I am not a lawyer (or a billionaire). I do not understand class actions suits and I don’t understand burden of proof in such cases. This is not a legal discussion but my opinion on what these terms mean and how they are used by this industry.
Those being sued, like Beam, are of course keeping their arguments for court as they have to, but what little comment they have made has been less than compelling to me. The idea that their manufacturing processes are in fact posted on their websites and so all you have to do is search the internet, locate their webpage, identify the videos you want to watch, stream those and then make you own mind up if it is indeed handmade as the bottle says. When am I supposed to do this? In the liquor store? Clearly Beam’s lawyers don’t have T Mobile data services.
While I have seen some quite visceral reactions to the lawyers who are bringing the class action suit, I have not seen that many leap to the industry’s defence. With one exception… www.bourbonguy.com penned a very spirited defence on April 7th (free joke there – enjoy) that making bourbon is indeed a craft because so much of it happens away from the manufacturing plant (yup I said it) and the real magic happens in the barrel and in the blending. I agree this is a great argument. I think this is what makes bourbon (and other whiskies) so special. I believe I could, with a few hours training, operate a still but I could not make a batch of Knob Creek (although there are times I have thought whoever blends Basil Haydens could use a few more hours of schooling). Based on this logic however I think Tito of Tito’s vodka (also being sued as they claim to be handcrafted) might want to pour himself a stiff drink because they don’t have that argument. Going straight from “still to bottle” is not a good look for this case.
I understand all of this because I have invested time and money to learn about whiskey but I am not so sure the judge will see it the same way. Huge production sites with shiny stainless steel equipment everywhere and scale that simply does not scream “craft” to the layman. I also think massive sales volumes for products like Makers Mark won’t help either. I worked in enough oil and gas facilities to know there is nothing in a distillery that you could not walk into any of the Texas City petrochemical plants and find and I seriously doubt I could get away with selling hand crafted gasoline to hipster car owners. To use another metaphor, for me the problem is Beam have been found next to the body with a gun in their hand and a bad case of amnesia and despite whatever actually happened it really doesn’t look good. There has been some abuse of labelling without a doubt and I fear that some of the “good guys” will be on the wrong side of this decision at the end of the day. Perhaps it is time for Beam to accept a deal from the DA’s office? If it turns out the judge does dismiss the law suit then be on the lookout for Seaton’s Handcrafted in Texas Gasoline coming to a gas station near you soon.