A Week of Whisky: The Macallan

While I do get around to writing about whisky eventually in this post, there’s a bit of meandering along the way. If you only care about the booze, feel free to skip to the last few paragraphs – but if you do that, you’ll be missing a good rant!

Also, sorry for the crap photos – I forgot my camera and was using my two-years-old-but-already-ancient iPhone.

And yes, I know that I’ve already missed a posting day in this supposed Week of Whisky. No need to rub it in…

Writing for TAPS Magazine, TasteTO, this blog and a few other places has put me in an odd position of being somewhere between a blogger and “real” media in the eyes of many PR firms and others who are looking to pitch stories. And believe me when I say that there can be a big difference between the way that some PR folks approach and treat bloggers versus more traditional or established media outlets.

In the case of blogs, pitches are often filled with loads of mumbo-jumbo about “tastemakers” and “social media outreach” and “influencers” and such. They can  also try to build a false air of mystery around whatever product is being promoted, saying only that we should “save the date” for the launch of an “exciting new high end spirit” at a “trendy downtown location,” or similar nonsense.

Pitches aimed at more traditional media, however, tend to be straightforward and to the point. The PR companies know that people who write for a living generally don’t have the time or the patience to deal with extraneous fluff and bullshit, so they simply say what’s going to be offered, where and when. Easy peasy.

A couple of months back, I was able to make a good comparison of these two approaches when I received invitations to a tasting event for The Macallan whisky from two different sources.

One was from a company that specializes in “word of mouth marketing,” and while it was a bit more forthright than many such invites – i.e. it actually mentioned the product and tasting location – it included a caveat that in order to attend, I needed to “like” The Macallan on Facebook and fill out a “qualification survey” in order to be approved. I responded to indicate that I found this pretty ridiculous, given that they had contacted me specifically because they’d read some previous whisky articles I’d written, so what further proof of my qualifications did they need beyond that? A bit of back and forth followed, in which I tried to be as polite as possible in explaining my objections to the survey concept (not to mention the assumption that I was even on Facebook – which I was, but still…), but in the end, I stopped the conversation when it was clear that I wasn’t getting anywhere.

The next day, I got an email from a real PR company, which consisted of a single paragraph saying that they’d like me to attend the tasting, and to please RSVP. I did. They replied with the full details. I responded to thank them. It took about 10 minutes of combined time on both of our ends, and there was no mention or sign of a survey at any point during our exchange. How very civilized and grown-up!

Of course, when I showed up at the event – which was at a trendy downtown location, natch – it became obvious that the “word of mouth marketing” company was pretty much running the show. The crowd was quite young, there were cards on the tables encouraging people to tweet during the tasting with a specific hashtag, and a paparazzi-style photo station was set up in the corner for attendees to get their picture taken holding a bottle. It was all… well, kinda douchebaggy. But that said, I have to begrudgingly give them credit for attracting a lot of people to the event, as there were somewhere around 100 people in attendance, and that was for one of four sessions taking place over two nights. So maybe it’s just the old cranks like me who have a problem with their methods.

This old crank was there for one thing, though, so I was glad when we were shuffled from the reception area to the room where brand ambassador Marc Laverdiere was preparing to lead us through a tasting of five expressions of The Macallan, accompanied by a presentation that covered some whisky basics, as well as some facts about the Macallan Distillery and its output. Among other tidbits, he made special note of the fact that the distillery originally used exclusively sherry casks for maturing, but that bourbon casks began to be used several years ago for a new Fine Oak series, a couple of which were included in the tasting.

We started with one of these – The Macallan 10 Year Old Fine Oak (LCBO 602565 – $61.95/750 mL) – which I found quite respectable despite its youth. It was sweet, with notes of peach and crème brûlée, a mild woodiness, and a fleeting hint of peat that I suspect that I might’ve imagined given it’s incongruity. Not especially complex, but a nice one to prime the palate.

Next was The Macallan 12 Year Old Sherry Oak (LCBO 186429 – $89.95/750 mL), with a prominent nose of wood, caramel and sherry, all of which come through in the flavour as well, along with dried apricot, marzipan, candied orange peel, clove and allspice.

We flipped back to the Fine Oak series with The Macallan 15 Year Old Fine Oak (VINTAGES 620229 – $129.95/750 mL), which Laverdiere referred to as “the summer Macallan”. It’s a fitting name, as the light golden spirit is packed with floral and spice aromas, with some citrus supporting, and a flavour that balances orange and vanilla with a background of creamy chocolate. Very unique, and quite unlike any other whisky I’ve tried.

More typical was The Macallan 18 Year Old Sherry Oak (VINTAGES 214759 – $249.95/750 mL) – but I mean “typical” in a good way. My scrawled tasting notes begin “Holy crap!”, and go on to praise the big aromas of butterscotch, vanilla and dried fruit. The dried fruit continues into the flavour, along with notes of orange zest, cinnamon, nutmeg, and smoke. A solid all-round whisky that I could happily drink regularly.

Finally, Laverdiere unleashed The Macallan Cask Strength (LCBO 608604 – $99.95/750 mL), a 58.2% abv monster that took more than a few of the crowd off-guard. The aroma was misleadingly sweet and buttery, with dried fruit and spice, and much less burn than expected. The flavour showed off the strength, though, and while I can usually skip the splash of water when I’m sipping a dram, I thought it best in this case to add some to cut the rough edges. This allowed the flavours to open up a bit, with notes of dark fruit cake, chcocolate, almond and cloves. Scrumptious, but also a bit dangerous.

And with that, we cleared out to make way for the evening’s second session. I’m sure most of the young and keen bloggers in attendance had posts up within hours of getting home that night, so leave it to the old curmudgeon to take almost two months to get around to it. I’m sure this will put me on the first PR firm’s blacklist, assuming my email exchange with them hasn’t already done so. Hopefully I’ll be able to recover from the shame and humiliation…

… aaaaaaand there, I just did.


2 responses to “A Week of Whisky: The Macallan

  1. I still haven’t gotten around to writing about this one and the more time passes, the less inclined I feel.

  2. Pingback: Taste T.O. – Food & Drink In Toronto » Bottoms Up! – Thursday, January 20th, 2011

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