Compass Box Leads The Way To Labeling Transparency
Compass box just threw the first punch in the fight to help consumers get better transparency in whisky labeling. Love it. Dear readers…please click the image below to follow a link to Compass Box’s site and sign your name to be part of the change.
Done. Great idea!
Though I like the notion of the obligation to do so. After all, if you KNOW your product is good, what are you afraid of? I know I’d dearly love to see Macallan obligated to tell us what the blend is for their colour series. Maybe after they discontinue the younger age statements in the U.S. they’ll feel the pressure.
It’s difficult to take this seriously when I’m told in one breath that I have a right to know what I’m buying/drinking and, in the next, that no one, not even Glaser, has any obligation to tell me. If I have a right to an attorney, my having one is guaranteed at MY discretion, not at that of the state in electing to provide or withhold one. Maybe the words” right” and “obligation” mean something different in some weird Glaser model of the universe, because his use of them here amounts to nonsense.
There’s really no difference between this proposal and current discretionary revelation/concealment of minimum age for marketing purposes, only in what information is revealed/concealed and whose marketing all the now familiar “fighting for the little guy” positioning serves. Glaser likes to look as if he’s throwing punches, but there’s no actual commitment (from, well… anyone!) to tell consumers anything beyond current legal requirements in the “information utopia” proposed so, if Glaser’s somehow leading the way, we’re not going very far; there’s good ideas presented, but from a very wrong-headed perspective showing zero dedication to anything beyond marketing. There’s nothing new that Glaser thinks you should know that he doesn’t carefully and explicitly reserve the legal right not to tell you – with “allies” like these on transparency…
Anyway, more anti-industry posturing and PR from an industry leader two or three steps ahead of the rest of the industry. Win or lose, the Steve Jobs of whisky strikes again.
Holy fuck, you are a cynical soul. Hahaha.
I was initially going to reply with something along the lines of ‘Glaser’s given you exactly what you want…and more’, but I don’t even know what you want any more. Do you handle all facets of life with such uncompromising rigidity? I don’t mean this in a confrontational manner; simply curious. I don’t know how you expect such black and white results from an industry that has varied interests (even among its consumers) among its untold multitudes of people on many sides of an ever-changing game board. By nature, any system made up of more than one person is going to devolve into shades of gray. It has to. And at some point we need to accept some form of compromise.
John is giving me exactly what I want. As is Bruichladdich now. Or at least both are trying to in their new initiatives, and making enemies, I’m sure, along the way. Now, you can be cynical and look at it as marketing or PR, but I look at it as sea change. Two big companies have come out and said ‘we want to do this…how can this possibly be bad?’ Don’t you recognize that anyone that now fights them will look like the big bad wolf? John has played this perfectly. He hasn’t insisted everyone DOES do it; just asked that they CAN do it. That means that a rejection of this principal immediately casts shade on anyone in opposition. What could they possibly need to hide? A brilliant tactical move if you ask me. I can see Benromach following suit. And others after that.
John may not be obligated, under this proposed new mandate, to tell you this information, but he is going to. That is huge. And don’t you think other producers will follow suit? If not, don’t you think they will inherently look like they’re being shifty, causing consumers to gravitate to those whisky makers that ARE willing to share the information we want?
I can’t lie…I was almost frustrated yesterday, reading all the people on Twitter who never spoke out before…never defended me or others when we got our asses kicked and were blacklisted in the public sphere*…now suddenly coming out saying ‘Yes! We need this! Support transparency!’ The reality is though…who fucking cares at this junction? Let’s be happy for positive steps forward. Rosa Parks didn’t kill racism, but she kicked the shit out of it. (Don’t start overthinking the analogy, or comparing degrees of importance, please). This is a monumental move in the right direction. The SWA even responded to it yesterday (albeit with nothing more than a regurgitation of previous spewings along the lines of ‘it’s not us…blame the EU’, but still shows they are aware of what’s going down).
I love your passion, mate, (and truly envy your insight and articulation) but I’m not with you here. This is nothing but positive in my eyes. Well, done, Compass Box and Bruichladdich.
*An aside: I mean it literally when I say blacklisted. I have been blocked, unfriended, DM’d, etc on Twitter. I used to have loads of people who retweeted and engaged, but they’ve fallen off to a degree you can’t even imagine. Many are even locals with whom I engage at almost every event in the city. Such is. I’ve rocked the boat and these people know who butters their bread. It’s easier for them to turn their backs – chickenshit as it may be – than be seen in collusion with some young upstart who won’t swallow Nick Morgan’s shit (or insert whomever’s name you like). I may not agree with a lot of people out there, but I recognize, to paraphrase Freud, that ‘sometimes a drink is just a drink’, and I don’t take it personally. I get worked up, yes, but I still think of these people as ‘people’ with feelings. In short (too late)…passion about the drink is great. Outright disdain for everyone in the industry and unbridled negativity serves little value. My two cents.
To paraphrase Rambo: “what I want is for my whisky to love me as much as I love it”.
What I want is information for the reason it should be rendered: because consumers DO have a right (a real one, not Glaser’s version) to it at point of purchase, not because more freedom to render it will give Compass Box some marketing advantage down the road to be exercised at Glaser’s whim. Glaser just doesn’t get this and it’s not what motivates him, which is why
“By ‘Freedom but not an obligation’ we mean that no producer should ever be compelled to provide Full Disclosure (in the same way that no producer is currently compelled to include Age Statement information within the current regulations).”
draws a direct comparison between what he wants to do and what we have now with NAS, and we know how “more freedom for producers” has worked out there. I don’t think I’m cynical, either, I just look at positions. Glaser and Compass Box think that consumers should know more about what they’re buying? OK, are they currently providing all the information that they legally can in terms of minimum age? No. Are they promising to provide all the information that they can if these reforms are passed? No. Sorry, I just can’t see the commitment, let alone the leadership, on transparency, so it mostly looks like posturing to me. John is giving you exactly what you want? All I wanted was age statements on Spice Tree and Peat Monster so I can buy them again… still waiting.
I do understand the “line of best fit/necessary compromise/hold your nose and smile” angle to this – and the whole thing DOES have me torn because what’s proposed DOES sound good; it would sound far better if it were promised as well, however – then I might believe that someone thinks I actually have a right to it. “John may not be obligated, under this proposed new mandate, to tell you this information, but he is going to”. I never read that or heard anyone say it – and, again, for all the things he wants me to know, he still keeps a lot back. I can also follow the domino effect with other producers that people foresee if this goes through, and it might well happen, and it WOULD be a good thing. It would also be just all so much easier to support if CB was currently telling me all it legally can and was actually committed to tell me all when more becomes possible. You could well be right: getting all Malcolm X on this might be counterproductive; I just wish there was more actually on the table that I could buy into at this point in terms of commitment from Compass Box. If that happened, I’d be an easy sell.
I don’t think I have outright disdain for everyone in the industry based on the simple fact that that’s where they work, but by their works shall ye know them; if people want more respect for their positions from me, all they have to do is adopt more respectable positions (or, at least, ones that don’t have logic holes you can drive a truck through).
Jeff, it sounds like you want the proposal to be “NAS is outlawed,” leaving only “age statement” and (presumably) this new “full disclosure” as the only labeling categories. Is that right? If so, please say that; it would make this discussion a lot easier to manage—or at least, for us lurkers to follow.
And I agree that CB’s use of “obligation” on that page is a little unclear. I think they’re proposing that full disclosure IS obligated IF a producers were to choose this new “full disclosure” labeling category. But yeah, their wording is a but muddy because that “if” isn’t explicit.
Maybe it’s true that the perfect shouldn’t be the enemy of the good here. Do I believe that this proposal, if successful, would result in more information for consumers. Sure, but the same can also be said for the wider adoption of age statements as well, so I don’t know who has a problem with those – unless it’s the folks in marketing.
Ideally, I’d like to see NAS outlawed but, short of that, I’d like to see some commitment from Compass Box to informing the consumer: a company pledge to consistent full disclosure if the proposal is successful and to age statements as the best available alternative in the interim. If that’s a non-starter, it’s because my “right to know” takes a backseat to company marketing/positioning.
On the “obligation” issue, you may be right in that Glaser is proposing a third labeling option (Full Disclosure) that, if you opt to use, you must completely fulfill according to his definitions of “complete, unbiased and clear information”. As touches on the word actual word “obligation”, however, that’s only used in the context that no producer is actually obligated to do anything, and that seems very clear to me.
Jeff, I’m completely sure that CB is proposing a third category, which no one would be obligated to use, which would of course make “full disclosure” not obligatory in the broad sense for anyone.
I agree that if CB were successful in creating this third category, they’d be hard pressed to give a good answer to a question like “so what’s the composition of that Glasgow blend?”
Then I guess we’re agreed that, under this proposal, no one is really obligated to provide any information beyond current legal requirements (so do those current requirements somehow already satisfy our “right to know”?) – what I thought you were referring to was the idea that, if someone did opt for that new category, they would then have to meet all the standards set out for it by Glaser; he’s not just proposing the category, he’s also defining it within law.
On the second point, certainly Full Disclosure wouldn’t be obligatory in the broad sense for anyone but, more pointedly, is even Compass Box committed to it? Would we get it with all CB products going forward? If successful, I’m not sure why they’d be hard pressed to answer “so what’s the composition of that Glasgow blend?”. Isn’t the point of this to allow them to answer exactly that kind of question to help satisfy consumers’ “right to know”?
Right. Glaser is lobbying for PERMISSION to reveal, not OBLIGATION to reveal. Is it just me, or are we collectively making this way harder than it needs to be? 🙂
I’m not following your question about whether ‘those current requirements somehow already satisfy our “right to know.”’ Are you making a rhetorical point there that I’m missing, or is there a real question on the table?
Regarding full disclosure on something like the Glasgow blend: My point was just that CB would probably choose “full disclosure” only when it suited their marketing goals. The bottlings that they’ve already done “illegal full disclosure” on surely weren’t accidents: They were the bottlings that had impressive specs and I’m guessing that distinction would continue. I’m pretty sure you’re similarly cynical here, but I’m getting lost in the way you’re expressing the point. Sorry.
“Glaser is lobbying for PERMISSION to reveal, not OBLIGATION to reveal. Is it just me, or are we collectively making this way harder than it needs to be?” – I don’t think that “we” really are; you previously seemed to feel that the use of “obligation” was somehow “muddy”, while I never felt that way about it at all, just as I don’t think it’s at all a “muddy” concept that if someone has a right to something (to an attorney, to vote, etc.) then someone has an obligation to give it to them – which is the problem I find with Glaser’s position: he says I have a right that somehow no one is bound to honour.
Related to that, re: “do those current requirements somehow already satisfy our “right to know” – it’s a real question; if Glaser isn’t proposing any additional requirements, just more producer options, then the current legal requirements are sufficient in his eyes to fulfill our “right to know” because, if you’re right about the Glasgow blend thing, that’s not about our rights at all, just choosing full disclosure “only when it suited their marketing goals”. Personally, I’d rather not HAVE to wonder about this point, which is why I’d like to see at least Compass Box uniformly commit to the reforms it proposes if the company’s campaign is successful.
Yeah, that would be great move.
I wonder if incremental change is the objective of Compass Box. A political analogy:
In Canada, Stephen Harper wanted to change the fabric of our society. He decided to do it slowly, an appointment here, a little law there. He almost got away with it but he went to far with his racist anti-muslim antics.
Glaser knows that it will be impossible to achieve a law requiring full disclosure. It’s not practical for bigger brands (like Glenfiddich 12…they probably use 1000s of casks and if one happens to be 13 YO should they have to disclose that?) and they wield too much power.
A smaller change that makes him look like the underdog is the way to go. The big companies have less of an argument to make against it and are less effective in lobbying.
Then, with the law changed, the standard of disclosure gets changed as other companies now have to match CB.
As much as I’m a fanboy for most of what CB puts out (recently took delivery of a Flaming Heart), I recognize this crusade as nothing more than a PR campaign to sell more CB whisky. Nothing in the existing regulations has prevented Glasser from blending and selling good whisky at reasonable prices, AND telling us exactly what he WANTS to tell us about the content of the bottles. As Jeff points out, if he loves disclosure so much why doesn’t he put the AGE on the label? – its completely legal to do so!
What he’s saying is: I want the right to tell you what suits my commercial interest, not the obligation to tell you want to know. This kind of selective disclosure, isn’t that much different than what’s going on under the current regulations.
Glasser is a master of BRANDING … “the Steve Jobs of whisky”, brilliant!
on one side
on the other?
Battle? What battle?
This is, of course, bullshit. The government knows sweet fuck all about whisky labeling. They are there to collect taxes off the back of production and sales. There will be studies, advisors and vested interests involved in drafting these policies and regulations. And who do you think is behind that? The big players, of course. Just as in any nation led by big business. There is no disassociation between government and business. Those with the deepest pockets have the most political influence. Anyone who thinks the SWA (largely made up of all the biggest Scotch whisky producers in the world) is merely an agency for policing regulations and advising where producers overstep bounds is being naïve. The folks behind the SWA will have been instrumental in contributing to the 2009 Scotch Whisky Regulations.
Dangerously close to conspiracy theory talk, I know. 😉
the SWA worked out (or up?) the new 2009 whisky rules for the British Govermnet and now these rules are EU law… what pleased the SWA tremendously.
Now they wash their hands in innocence and claim it is the law makers fault.
Speaking of conspiracies….
Would any whisky company be pleased if “transparency” became the rule and small companies like Diageo would be obliaged to give full transparency on the contents of a bottle of Johnnie Walker?
Now here you have something to lobby against because at the end of the day it would mean full disclosure of the recipe of the blend. Revolution! Nip it in the bud!
Funny how the European Commission is the scapegoat according to the SWA but if you look at the EC position on traceability and labelling for GMOs and GM food/feed products you find that they have a completely different position:
“Labelling provides information for consumers and allows them to make an informed choice.”
So my question to the SWA would be why this does not apply to Scotch and other whiskies from the EU?
“So my question to the SWA would be why this does not apply to Scotch and other whiskies from the EU?”
That’s easy to answer – because there is no plethora of lobby groups demanding it. There’s a smattering of folks, like our fine host here, who are willing to go against the beast (and pays a price for it) but the vast majority as we’ve seen have precisely no interest in rocking the boat. In the absence of a loud and persistent voice that can be perceived as a majority (or pesky, persistent and vocal minority) you’re pretty much throwing rocks at an aircraft carrier. Once critical mass is achieved, if it can be, then you can make a difference but not until then.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to draft a letter to GlenDronach/BenRiach to see if they’ll be signing on to the campaign. 😉
Of course it is a question of lobbying… When is it not a question of lobbying? You and I and everybody else do not need to be a psychic to know that most SWA members do not want transparency. Because if they did, SWA would have act on it years ago.
Nobody is saying JW will have to disclose all its components. What Glaser is saying is that any producer should be allowed to disclose the component whiskers and their ages on the label of any or all of their products. Strictly voluntary. Otherwise it’s business as usual.
Great song ‘o the day, Curt. Have you heard the Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks’ version?
Wow! Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks! A blast from the past for sure! I had their albums back in the 70’s, when you guys were still in your daddy’s scrotum. Picked up a “Best Hits” CD of theirs a few years back to listen to on trips. Great music! RIP Dan.
Nope. Haven’t heard that version, but will make a point of hunting it down now. Thanks!
Curt, it’s on an album called “Beatin’ the Heat” Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks.
I agree with the many saying it is posturing on Compass Box’s part. To my mind I must say there is a lot of smoke and mirrors with their “we’d love to but we can’t” tact. Whether they knew of the rules existence or not, it speaks volumes that the rule only became a burden and received public airing when they released a blend with 30year + malt in the mix.
I can envisage a scenario in which this reaches a tipping point, the larger distillers voice their public support, a palatable change ensues, a victory is declared for all and everyone moves on; problem being the change is self serving leaving us with minimal, if any benefits and little voice/support for further reform.
Well now it’s officially on. Ralfy has signed on…
Molehill -> Mountain
I enjoy Scotch Whisky.
I enjoy orange juice.
The label on the juice container indicates ingredients as “orange juice”.
I care not a rat’s buttocks if the oranges are Valencia, Stasumas, or Clementines; nor do I care from which specific grove in Florida they originated and that one variety was “grown on the side of a hill that was kissed with more sunlight than the others resulting in a more fruitful bouquet”.
I enjoy orange juice.
Keep calm and drink cask strength.
It doesn’t follow from the fact that “you enjoy orange juice” that different whiskies are what they are regardless of factual information about them that’s either included or omitted on their labeling. Your “not caring” about certain pieces of information doesn’t make them irrelevant to the product. How can you drink cask strength if you don’t know the ABV? Do you enjoy all Scotch Whisky equally? If not, why not? Don’t all the labels say “scotch whisky”?
And on the topic of information, the following are a couple of emails I sent recently –
Hello to all at Compass Box:
I have a couple of questions regarding your current Scotch Whisky Transparency Campaign. If the campaign is successful, will Compass Box be providing Full Disclosure on all of its products going forward? While the campaign is still underway, would Compass Box be willing, in the spirit of providing consumers with all product information currently legally possible, to put age statements on its products until Full Disclosure becomes a reality?
To the SWA:
Is the product “J & B EXCEPTION 12 Year Old Pure Malt” in contravention of Regulation 11 of the Scotch Whisky Regulations 2009 in that its use of “pure” and “malt” are prohibited in the labeling, packaging, advertising or promotion of any Scotch Whisky? If not, why not, and in what way is this product an “exception”?
Link to current sale of product on The Whisky Exchange: J & B Exception / 12 Year Old Pure Malt : The Whisky Exchange: https://www.thewhiskyexchange.com/p/26351/j-b-exception-12-year-old-pure-malt
So far, the responses have been identical: none at all. I’ll let folks know if I hear anything.
Jeff, shame on you… You ask for full disclosure yet you don’t disclose the nature of the name which is “pure OLD malt”
Here’s some full disclosure for you: “Pure Old Malt” is just as illegal, and people who know, know that (see 11b).
11. A person must not label, package, sell, advertise or promote any Scotch Whisky in a way that includes—
(a) the phrase ‘pure malt’ or any derivation of that phrase; or
(b) the words ‘pure’ and ‘malt’, or any derivation of those words in a way that, although the words are separated from each other (whether by text or otherwise), the word ‘pure’ (or any derivation of it) is used adjectivally in connection with the word ‘malt’ (or any derivation of it).
Shame on me? Shame on you.
Shame on YOU for feigning aggravation in not having received a reply to confrontational correspondence.
The best way to be ignored is to pear confrontational. Politicians always ignore hecklers.
Oh, I’m not surprised or “aggravated” – and I’m not “feigning” it either – at not having received a response, David; if the issue of NAS has taught me anything, it’s that the quickest way to hear crickets is to ask real questions that people don’t want to answer. To Dr. Nick Morgan, I’d be a “heckler” or a “hothead” too.
If to ask those questions in anything like a direct way seems somehow self disqualifying as “confrontational”, well, that’s a large part of the problem with discussion in whisky today: the paradigm of current discourse is such that real and direct questions are so rare that they appear confrontational to those who don’t bother asking them and are instead largely content to play at the fringes of issues. Shame on me? Shame on them, because it’s a lack of critical thinking that brought us to where we are now (and why the majority of consumers, and experts, “don’t know” whether age matters to whisky).
I could still get responses, but send the same questions in emails yourself in any way you like and attach “pretty please with sugar on it” (or variations) if you think it will help. In fact, I encourage everyone to ask the same questions if they feel so inclined.
Asked and answered on Pure Malt.
Thank you for your e-mail.
Our enquiries indicate that the product illustrated in the link attached to your e-mail is old stock, bottled before 22nd November 2011.
Regulation 13 of The Scotch Whisky Regulations provides that a person is not to be taken to have contravened, or to have failed to comply with, regulation 11 by reason of the labelling or packaging of any whisky on or before 22nd November 2011. It is on that basis that old stock and collector’s whiskies may continue to be legally sold.
You will note that in this case the retailer has correctly described the product on its web-site as “Blended Malt Scotch Whisky”.
Thank you for your enquiry.
Magnus Cormack | Legal Affairs Director | Scotch Whisky Association
2 Lister Square
Still waiting to hear from Compass Box.
And asked and answered on transparency.
Thanks for getting in touch and for your excellent questions!
I’m traveling at the moment so please excuse the brevity of my response.
Regarding your first question the answer is yes. This is very much the ambition of our campaign.
On the second question, believe it or not, it’s not something we’ve ever discussed as a team so I would need to talk this through with a couple of others. However, my gut instinct is no. We haven’t released age statements in the past because although as you say they would add additional information, they would likely not add much in the way of meaningful insight and because of our habit of blending whiskies of different ages to create complexity would certainly not be representative of the liquid. It is a very interesting question though and I will be sure to discuss it with others in the business at our next group meeting – thanks for raising it!
I hope the above helps.
The above was from Jonathan Gibson, Compass Box’s Head of Marketing. I do thank him for the response and I can now support CB’s campaign, given that the company seems committed to providing consumers with full disclosure on all CB products; that, for CB at least, full disclosure wouldn’t just represent a marketing/labeling “option”. I’d still like age statements in the interim – and the whole thing kind of reminds of George Carlin on praying to Joe Pesci in that you get about half of what you ask for and write off the rest.
I’ve never agreed with the idea that age statements “misrepresent” the whisky they’re applied to: minimum age information is certainly better than no information at all – and how much insight into a product does NAS provide, other than someone wants to hide something? – and an age statement says exactly what it means to someone who knows how to interpret it. The process, and desirability, of multivintaging and the need to conceal ages are far from the same thing, but that’s all moot if CB plans on using full disclosure with all of its products anyway.
Well, I can see if CB were to have a blend with 15% young whisky and everything else older that they would not want to put the young age as the only statement because it would not provide useful information and might actually deter sales. Just as knowing the youngest age does not change the quality, in such a case it doesn’t help either.
While I support clarity and disclosure I would recommend that people ignore age statements and focus on the quality.
What kind of wood was used?
How tired or fresh was she cask?
What was the ABV of the spirit before water was added?
A minimum age statement is not enough. Knowing how long the spirit sat in what kind of barrel is even more important.
More information is always better, but I don’t support “focus on the quality” if it’s just code for “less information is OK” because telling me nothing about age doesn’t “enhance quality” either. Many people who say “a minimum age statement is not enough” have no problem buying NAS with virtually no product information and then defending that.
Again, minimum age statements are not the best of all possible worlds, but they are legally possible, right now, today – and companies interested in providing the consumer with “as much information as possible” should be interested in providing them until more information becomes possible, whether that information “deters sales” or not. My idea of product information for the consumer consists of more than just what stands to help a company’s sales figures. Whisky sold at 40% ABV might well be at a competitive disadvantage compared to stronger stuff, but I don’t see that as any reason that anyone should be able to avoid putting the ABV on their label. The point isn’t whether the information makes anyone any money; it’s whether the information is pertinent to the product.
Maybe I didn’t come across as clearly as I meant to. I had 3 points to make. The first was that I support clarity and age statements. Like you (I believe) I would prefer full disclosure as CB is promoting, but I support the release of minimum age.
Separately, I think a minimum age statement does not provide a lot more information than NAS, because there are other factors that have a great impact. The type of cask (which itself has multiple variables) is as important as the time in that cask, for instance.
Finally, even if all the information is there (I give as an example Lambertus 10 YO grain whisky), the whisky can be awful. So as a “last line of defense”, ignore age and buy only good stuff. Sure, filtering by age narrows your choices to a more manageable list, but you risk missing out good stuff that is below your cutoff. In any event, and especially if it’s pricy, look at trusted reviews and if at all possible…TASTE before you buy.
On the first point: no issue and no disagreement.
On the second point: age statements tell me more than NAS because, no matter the impact of cask type/quality (and I’m not disputing the importance of that either), NAS, in itself, tells me nothing about casks – not even the minimum time spent in them.The argument for the validity of wood management (as if that, in itself, is a new concept because it now has a buzz phrase) has no bearing on the concealment of age – and the type of cask WITHOUT duration is meaningless, regardless of cask quality. There’s just no getting around the fact that cask influence is a time-sensitive process.
On the third point: information IS no guarantee of quality, but that’s no reason not to have it, or to fight for it, because a lack of information (and substituting whisky bedtime stories for it, about the loch out back or the whirlpool out front), guarantees nothing about quality either. If some information is good, then more information is better, and that applies to production information just as well as to trusted reviews and personal tastings. Having a bottle of the best whisky you’ve ever tasted isn’t any justification for tearing the label off it, or for having information about it removed for you upstream.
Bob, somehow I think if you argued the sky was blue Jeff would find a way to argue about it, and explain why it wasn’t blue enough…
I don’t see the point of chiming in on these things and saying nothing; Skeptic on the other hand…
well, today, the sky was definitely blue enough where I was…
Soju anyone? oops sorry, it’s NAS
Yeah. Sorry PeterV, but that argument’s pretty dumb. The logical conclusion to draw from your analogy is that all whisky bottles should just be labeled with a generic “scotch whisky.”
Unless you really think that, make sure you know what point you’re trying to make.
Yeah, the OJ analogy fails pretty spectacularly. I’m not especially concerned about the contents of the OJ container other than it contains OJ. I may vary the amount of pulp I choose to buy, or if I want to pick one up with calcium. Curiously though, the label on the OJ provides me that information. I can also opt to go for a generic brand, which all I know contains what the label states it contains (juice, added sugar perhaps, added calcium) but again, that information is provided to me. Most fascinatingly though I’m not spending a measurable percentage of my income on OJ. So I’m ok to let it slide. If Macallan Rare Cask is available weekly on sale for $5.99, y’know, I’ll probably snap up a bottle or two. That it’s a NAS won’t bother me much at that point.
It’s a dangerous thing to go to Whisky Advocate for whisky news but, in the absence of other reporting, here’s a recent exchange with John Glaser as it touches on the transparency campaign. (http://whiskyadvocate.com/2016/04/06/john-glaser-in-140-or-less/).
Q: Your recent online petition to amend the law to let producers state blend component ages on labels, etc. received lots of admiration. What support did the petition get?
A: Seven thousand people have signed up to show support. 1 every 30 seconds in the first 24 hours! We simply want the freedom to tell people all the details about what’s in their whisky.
Q: And where do people find out more?
A: http://www.compassboxwhisky.com/transparency/, Go take a look.
Q: Is there any indication yet that a change in the law is being considered?
A: We’re in discussions with the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA). And we’re waiting to see what the big industry players think. They direct the actions of the SWA.
Q: So a waiting game.
A: We’ll see! This is far from over, but we have hope, as this is a common sense issue.
Q: Definitely is. You like pushing the rules envelope. Can we hope to see more of that?
A: Only if in the best interests of Scotch whisky. Sometimes better to re-evaluate rules/laws when outdated or when new discoveries are made. Traditions evolve. Or die.
I considered whether or not to copy/paste this rather fluffy exchange here because, after all, it overtly does/says nothing except confirm what a “rebel” Glaser is, as per his promoted self image anyway. It is instructive in a few other ways, however:
There’s naturally no mention of age statements or the fact THEY’RE completely legal (very convenient for both parties, despite that it’s ALSO a common sense issue);
Whisky Advocate, while not really covering or commenting on transparency beyond Potemkin distillery issues in the US, thinks that this is an adequate discussion of it;
Whisky Advocate writer Caroline Dewar “hopes” to see more pushing of the rules envelope – that was truly a shock if in any way true;
Contrast the recent WA interview of Nick Morgan with this one and you probably have some idea of where Diageo is on this issue;
Nobody’s in a great big hurry to get this resolved – showing “sensitivity to the issue” is presently more important than doing anything about it.
Something that should also be pointed out is that 7,000 people signing up at CB isn’t an endorsement of CB as a company (when did their website ever previously generate that kind of traffic?); it’s an endorsement of the idea that whisky should become more transparent. It would be a shame if people’s trust in CB to carry this issue forward was misplaced or used simply for promotional ends – and it probably wouldn’t be forgotten either. This issue IS far from over – and it won’t be over just whenever Glaser says it is either, because it’s a whisky issue, not a Glaser issue.
a take on NAS and more transparency from down under…
I think this could well be posted in the “We are not done…” thread but of course Jeff’s thought on Diageo – or any other whisky giant at that – having a NAS agenda and a purely profit driven one of their own is reason enough to knit it to here.
Are you sure Jeff didn’t write that article under a pseudonym?
Nah, this guy’s more diehard than I am; read this: https://maltmileage.com/2016/04/08/the-transparency-debate-in-whisky-and-naming-all-components-in-whisky-a-legal-angle/
Talk about getting worked up, while dotting your Is and crossing your Ts!
I salute his fanaticism; as a Thespian, I have now seen a Spartan.
glad you liked it. The more, the merrier….
It is heartening to notice that the misbeviour of the whisky industry is seen and felt all over the world.
That guy’s reviews are pretty good as well; it’s kind of surprising that he hasn’t gotten more comments, because he’s really working from down under.
Yeah, I just took a spin too. That’s a great blog with interesting industry interviews and all sorts of jazz.
I received the following email on the Transparency Campaign from Compass Box a little while ago, reprinted here in absence of a link to it on the website:
Over the last few weeks we have been excited to witness a growing industry momentum behind our Scotch Whisky Transparency campaign, with other producers publicly adding to the debate. As one of the many thousands of enthusiasts who signed our Statement of Beliefs, I’m writing to tell you where we, at Compass Box, stand today and what our next planned steps are.
Our talks with the wider Scotch industry continue behind the scenes and we are making progress in the critical task of building a consensus that change needs to take place.
Importantly, we have recently identified a pragmatic approach that we believe could allow authorities to use the existing regulations to crackdown on misleading product information whilst still permitting full transparency.
Until we have had the chance to discuss this approach with the industry we will continue to work within the confines of the existing regulations – but it offers the prospect of change on the horizon. We will of course keep you fully posted as the situation develops.
In the meantime, those interested in greater transparency in the world of Scotch whisky may wish to keep their eyes open for our second Limited Edition release of 2016.
Details will be shared in the coming days but rest assured it is a whisky with which to ponder the world of Scotch not only as it is, but also as it could be!
As ever, we remain grateful for your support as the fight for greater transparency in the world of Scotch whisky continues.
Whiskymaker John Glaser
It’s a little strange to frame this as an “update”, given that the stated goal is to say where things stand while you’re just told that action continues behind the scenes; it’s the kind of briefing I periodically get from the CIA through CNN. Things are happening? Good to know. I’m not sure that I like Glaser’s secret whisky diplomacy, not because it’s Glaser’s, but because I often didn’t like Kissinger’s approach to things either. Early days yet, but I’m not sure why, if “a pragmatic approach” forward has been identified, it can’t be shared with the great unwashed who want reform as much, if not more, than anyone else involved. I honestly don’t want to be too cynical, but keeping things so hush-hush sort of sends the message that things are “need to know” and the whisky consumer really isn’t on the list; that it’s principally the whisky producer who has to be kept happy and in the loop, so much so that the consumer doesn’t need to know what’s being considered. While it’s true that they’ll be no reform without producer buy-in, it’s not producer dissatisfaction which is driving this campaign; if Glaser’s website gathered 7 sign-ups instead of 7,000, there’d be no discussion in the first place on the basis that the people have spoken through their silence. If things are moving in the right direction, that’s fine – but it would also be nice to know in what direction they’re moving beyond just “the right one”.
As an aside, and given that I signed up with the company’s assurance that “we will not use your information for marketing purposes”, I’d appreciate it if CB wouldn’t drop little teaser ads for their upcoming products in the middle of campaign updates that don’t tell me very much. Beyond never vaguely believing that Glaser ever either invented or reinvented the whisky wheel – so being in no danger of being led to “ponder the world of Scotch not only as it is, but also as it could be” by a CB product – I find it increasing difficult to “rest assured” with anything Glaser tells me, given all the things he doesn’t. Again, for all the positive noises, what I see is a lot of missing age statements on CB products and a best-case scenario that won’t legally obligate anyone to give me product information that even Glaser says I have a right to (although I still take Jonathan Gibson, Compass Box’s Head of Marketing, above, at his word).
If anyone wonders what kind of producer’s move I could have more faith in/belief for WOULD look like, take a look at this: https://scotchwhisky.com/magazine/latest-news/8964/boutique-y-drops-nas-in-transparency-support/. I’d invite Compass Box to follow suit.
one of the first whisky companies to chime in on the transparency campaign was Bruichladdich.
As yet it is only one of their whiskies but here
you can enter a 5 digit code you will find on the bottles like 16/003 on the right side of the screen where it reads Laddie Recipe. Just enter 16003 the slash is set automatically.
It is a start.
Beyond the idea that it’s the kind of information that belongs clearly stated on the label anyway – or what’s being defended IS the “legal right” to obfuscate – what’s shown is pretty interesting.
By percentage, 16/003 breaks down, if I have my math right, about this way:
9.5% – 11 y.o.
14.3% – 10 y.o.
20.2% – 9 y.o.
56% – 8 y.o.
The average age would work out to 8.77 years, which DOES seem low to me, but I think it’s right. It’s not a claim that Bruichladdich makes here, or for the Classic in general, but the idea that NAS is needed because a minimum age statement shortchanges “all of the old whisky that’s in there” doesn’t find much substantiation here (not that stronger cases can’t be made elsewhere, or that they justify not providing any age information at all because, after all, age statements only deal with minimums anyway; more detailed age information doesn’t make age statements in any way “inaccurate” or “misleading” in what they say). On the other hand, if one believes the Classic to be very good, the ammunition is finally there to prove that youth can deliver quality, and all the detailed casking information IS a definite step up.
It is a first step – maybe, most importantly, in acknowledging that age DOES matter to whisky and that paying customers should know what they’re buying – but, if it’s important, it belongs on a label, not on an app. If producers are starting to get that, it’s appreciated – but it’s also about time.
I’m certainly now looking forward to details of Compass Box’s “recently identified pragmatic approach that we believe could allow authorities to use the existing regulations to crackdown on misleading product information whilst still permitting full transparency”. Given the recent referendum, the industry should just be begging for a solution that will both still satisfy EU trading partners and encourage increased whisky consumer confidence going forward. That is, of course, if the entire campaign is more than window dressing, and details can be given without a spoiler sales pitch for the next Compass Box release.
after Brexit comes into effect the Whisky Rules of 2009 are a Britsh rule. Whisky will no longer automatically be protected under EC rules and regulations – which are identical with the whisky rules.
One of 12,000 rules laws and regulations the need to be negotiated anew within the next two years.
I am looking forward what the SWA and the whisky industry will say after the scapegoat EC which prevents transperency according to the SWA has just conveniently been pushed out of its regulatory role.
Dear SWA it is a chance to liberate the master blender once and for all. Now that Britsh rules apply for Scottish whisky and one of the new powers you successfully brought back to Britain could be to allow more tranperency on the labels.
But only as long as Scottland will still be part of a united UK. After the Scots vote to leave the UK to come back under the EC umbrella they will make their own rules…. or EC rules will apply – again!
So use the interim for the best of the whisky connoisseur.
Regulation will revert to Britain (and who the SWA will NOW blame for their hands being tied without Brussels to kick around is a hi-LAR-i-ous question), but if Glaser and Co. really have a magic bullet proposal that would both allow reform and satisfy otherwise potentially hostile trading partners on the continent, it’s a great time to come out with it and name names about which producers stand in the way of it – because there’s really nothing more pragmatic than admitting that the endless “problems” with label reform are, like NAS itself, created by the producers to serve their ends and no one else’s. Sure, there’s a lot of young whisky that needs hiding and the last thing any of the big boys want is to create a bidding war based on product information, but the entire issue has become a boil that needs lancing.
But I do like your “golden window of opportunity” approach in addressing the SWA; it really puts them over a barrel.
leading the way is senseless when no one wants to follow….
That seems to happen to John Glaser’s initiative at the moment.
Not sure the reluctance of the Big Boys has to do with Brexit ff or their further sinister intends as far as whisky labeling is concerned.
Sure, “people have a right to know” but no one has an obligation to tell them anything, which, even with its most optimistic read, still puts consumers in the backseat while producers choose what info, in what context, they want to divulge to enhance sales. As it stands, it’s not about anybody’s “right to know”; it’s about a “selective privilege to know” at most. Strangely enough, one hears as little about the inherent contradictions of rights and obligations in this piece as Glaser has heard from the SWA. Go figure. Compass Box wants a marketing advantage in providing bottle content info and the big boys don’t want to give him one. Go figure again.
I do support the campaign because it stands to give consumers more information from Compass Box (see the email response from Jonathan Gibson, Compass Box’s Head of Marketing, above) at a minimum if successful, but the silence of the SWA and its members is only matched by that of Glaser as to what he has proposed, and is proposing, in terms of reform within the current legal framework (see above as well). Just what is this “pragmatic approach that we believe could allow authorities to use the existing regulations to crackdown on misleading product information whilst still permitting full transparency”? Who knows? – but just as absent is any call for consumers to walk away from whiskies, and marketing, that tells them little about what they’re buying (or Words of Whisky raising any of the above points in another pro-Glaser interview). Start boycotting NAS products on some kind of principle of consumer rights (heaven forbid anyone’s sales be affected or anyone reading this gets off their ass!!!) and that leaves a lot of Compass Box products on the shelf as well. It’s a little hard for me to get excited about Glaser’s positioning as a champion of rights to information I apparently don’t really have when he’s not willing to tell me all he currently can in terms of age or what he’s proposing anyway.
I imagine the SWA (spoken the drinks giants forming the SWA board of directors) would be more enthusiastic if this Glaser campaign would lead to them being able to state that their NAS is 95% of 3-5 yo mixed with 5% maturer stuff for drinkability – and than being allowed to forget about mentioning the 95% 3-5yo part.
Then the age of these 5% would matter again – at least for marketing.
At the moment the Glaser campaign wants to counteract NAS in the eyes of the whisky industry – if intentional would remain to be seen.
And in the same moment it is a Compass Box marketing ploy and the “support” that sprang up has been too little too late and neither long or strong enough nor does it seem to be sustainable.
There are a couple of very good points raised there – that we’d be swamped in age statements (and teaspooned bottles) if age statements were about maximum age, and that’s it’s difficult to believe that most NAS offerings are “mostly older stuff” with younger whisky added as some kind of “revitalizing elixir of youth” in the context of an industry that admits older stocks are dwindling faster than they can be replaced – and an industry that has dwindling interest in replacing them as the “age doesn’t matter” campaign convinces consumers to not care what they’re buying.
The campaign is a “no-lose” situation for Glaser: either he gets his marketing advantage out of it or he looks like the consumer’s champion for trying. But folks should note that, like other industry people, Glaser is only interested in rendering age information in the way he wants it rendered and, again, not as an exercise in principle or simple acknowledgement of cask physics – that age matters to whisky because that’s why it’s aged in the first place and that’s what all those warehouses and millions of sleeping casks ARE about.
If the big boys can only answer Glaser’s proposal (whatever it is) with silence, then it must be a good one because they’re clearly having trouble answering it at all (sort of like the general silence on the question “how CAN somebody be a “whisky expert” WITHOUT knowing that age matters to whisky and that NAS is clearly bullshit?”). It’s for that reason that I think Glaser should turn up the heat, make his proposal public and encourage those supporting the campaign to start demanding answers from the SWA and its board (if all of this isn’t just a PR stunt). As seen with NAS and the obvious crap that the importance of age to whisky depends on marketing and labeling on a pick-and-choose basis(!!!) … yes, people, that IS the irrational folly you’re acquiescing to… the industry needs consumers TO hold it to account.
well reasoned out Jeff.
Here another little storm in a teacup which touches the transparency question in a way.
It was very obvious that the Scotch whisky rules 2009 which include the how-to-give-the-age-of-a-whisky question were written by the Drinks Giants at the board of the SWA and not for innovative craft distillers.
See what the industry or the SWA said about a Loch Lomond Coffey malt Scotch whisky!
The whole craft distilling aproach goes against the grain (and malt) oft the whisky industry.
When you see what Diageo is putting out as whisky innovation under their Whiskey Union umbrella here in Europe
you get a feeling why the giant is afraid of craft and innovation in all forms. Transparency the Glaser way would be one such innovation.
from earlier this year
And away we go…
I would like to give you the benefit of the doubt. Honestly. What I would like to know, specifically, is whether you are supportive of Compass Box’s move (and whether you would support them expanding this to all the expressions) or whether you feel this is a marketing gimmick.
Skeptic, what benefit of the doubt does Jeff need?
For me, I’d call it a well-meaning, self-interested marketing gimmick. I don’t think being “supportive” versus “feeling like it’s a marketing gimmick” is an either/or proposition. I’d call it both.
Who’s the big US retailer who makes a stink about how much money they donate locally—Target? Same thing: It’s good and I’m glad they do it, but I also recognize that part of its purpose is to polish up their image. They’re not doing it anonymously.
Incidentally, that article promises that CB will eventually do this on-demand full disclosure thing for “our full range of whiskies from 1 November.” If they really start giving the detailed age breakdown of even their cheapo NAS blends, then I’ll have to eat my words. All along, I expected that they only ever share the recipes for their high-end blends whose recipes are impressive. Well done to them if they do it.
before anybody get’s their hopes to high…
Here is what a German forum participant got when he or she enquired:
“Before sharing the information, can I please ask that you treat it as being for your eyes only? Specifically we ask that you please do not use the age information in any promotional format or share it in a public forum with others (via blogs, tweets, facebook posts etc.). The idea of this initiative is that the information provided is for personal consumption only – something to help enhance understanding and provide a more informed experience when consuming the whisky. Specifically, we are keen to avoid any claims being made that we are trying to ‘promote’ the ages of our whiskies through third parties by sharing the information with them in the hope that they will share it with others. This is not our aim.”
Perhaps that could help Jeff with his answer to the above question.
It is not the hoped for general solution and I would call it partial transparency… or should it be part-time?
You would not be amiss to call it not a solution at all.
Come to think of it… I begin to like the concept of a private, for my eyes only transparency. lol:
I think that’s just a standard cover their butt disclaimer so that if the word gets out they can’t be accused of breaking the rules…
I think by planting a seed about not spreading the word they hope people will do the opposite.
Yep. Sounds like simple CYA to me too.
Yeah, as per Ol’ Jas, not so much an “either/or” for me on the question of Compass Box’s move being beneficial “vs.” it being a marketing gimmick as much as it is an “and/but”. The sticking point, both in law and in motivation, seems to clearly be promotion: who can promote what on what basis and who perceives an advantage by promoting their product in a particular way. The SWA and current law, of course, don’t have an ethical leg to stand on; the idea that you can’t promote your product through simple full disclosure of what’s in it, but that you can promote it by concealing information about what’s in it, is one of the most illogical ideas supported by people who supposedly know whisky since NAS itself.
As far as Compass Box goes,
Sure, it’s a promotional gimmick – “look what we’re willing to do that others won’t, etc.”;
If the “for your eyes only” position is official and sincere, then it’s NOT, and never was, about any consumer’s “right” to know anything; it’s about keeping information compartmentalized for Compass Box’s benefit. Glaser’s position has become one of skirting the law to his own benefit; if he’s serious about non-dissemination of information on the basis of “providing a more informed experience”, then it’s not about anyone’s “right” to know (and notice we’re not talking about rights anymore). There’d be little point to government freedom of information statutes if nothing gained thereby could be reported or shared and everyone had to file their own requests on everything of public interest – and no one needs to point out to me that Glaser is “just a businessman, not the government or the press” in this instance; it’s painfully obvious. If Glaser’s not serious about non-dissemination, then he’s plainly disingenuous; make your own guess on the motivation/intended target;
On the other hand, more information is always better, and it certainly will change the debate landscape somewhat. It’s basically the Bruichladdich model applied more widely – and maybe more carefully; if you’re Bruichladdich and you set up a webpage to which customers have access, in theory, only on the basis of buying your particular product, to what degree can that webpage, and the production information on it, NOT be argued to be helping promote your product?
Most importantly, I think, Compass Box puts the ball back in the lap of the SWA here: by opposing Glaser or trying to shut him down, the SWA will only highlight how it stands for the interests of big industry players at the expense of those of consumers who actually pay for the product. My own interests as a consumer might currently run more parallel to those of Glaser than the SWA, but I don’t think either is really on my side. Maybe the Nov. 1 startup was made to give the SWA plenty of time to shut Glaser down so he can look like a hero without actually having to reveal anything. Who knows? I don’t believe either player is dealing from the top, so it’s difficult to know what to make of the game and who the most ethical player is.
“So starting with our Limited Editions ‘Three Year Old Deluxe’ and ‘Spice Tree Extravaganza’ today and extending to our full range of whiskies from 1stNovember, we are simply asking you to get in touch with us” is pretty plain to me that everything, including Great King Street, is on the table – and it’s the non-promoted whiskies here that I’m most curious about.
I think the CB move is of net benefit to those who want more information about their whisky but are far more comfortable having others fight that battle for them – and, that being the case, I think this move will have very wide appeal indeed, even though it still just reflects someone in the industry telling you something on their terms for their benefit (with benefits to you as only a by-product of promotion). Whether that is, or should be, all that most consumers are capable of supporting is another question.
If the legal workaround stands, and spreads, it could be the first cracks in the dam pointing toward a flood of reform. Long before that ever happens, of course, a lot of heads would roll at the SWA, so resistance will be robust, entrenched, well-funded and, as always, fanatical, as the industry defends the industry for the benefit of the industry. On the flipside of that, if the cracks somehow become a flood, and Compass Box loses its unique and noteworthy position, would Glaser really want that as opposed to just having a level playing field?
What’s curious to me, so far, is that a few sites are reporting the story, but I don’t see editorial support for Glaser’s position as in the past (everyone please shout out if they see any change in this). People trying to test the waters before they commit? Don’t know. Time will tell. I’m getting my email request drafted.
Thanks for the analysis. I look forward to the responses you get from CB after November 1.
*Just to be perfectly clear, and to avoid misunderstanding, the above statement contains no sarcasm.
Me too. Keep us posted, Jeff.
But that’s the checkmate/”damned if you do, damned if you don’t” question: should anyone share anything they learn from CB about its products after Nov. 1 IF said sharing could result in the discontinuation of the program itself? Is more product information more beneficial, in and of itself, to consumer interests than concerns over how such information is rendered? – which is a completely different question than whether anyone takes Glaser at his word on his motivations or who the program benefits most, CB or consumers.
For me, personally, the CB information is about curiosity alone, because having it won’t allow me to buy CB products. Laphroaig already has pretty detailed production info available on some of its NAS products on its website videos, but I think that such info belongs on the label at point of purchase, not just somewhere on the internet. Glaser’s “whoa, I’m not promoting anything here” take might reflect a change in his position from one of legal reform to one of possible legal circumvention, but it’s not really new in itself; other producers have essentially been doing the same thing for a while, and even without formal request – just click and look/listen. If what any of them are doing amounts to “promotion”, there’s been no stopping it yet.
So, to share or not to share info? I’d like to say “yes” based on the strength that the legal workaround must either have or doesn’t have, independent of what anyone does with the information after the fact. If there is no legal difference between “here’s our information, on your request, about what we’re selling you” and a second party saying “I like CB and its products because information about what I’m drinking is offered upon request, and here’s what they told me”, then the CB program is doomed from the outset, because a SWA legal challenge is sure to follow in some form. If, as with Spice Tree, the point of the whole exercise is just to talk about the oppression of the SWA while THEREBY advertising the CB brand (and the SWA could well walk right into this; they have before) and then fold up the tents when the going gets heavy/expensive (and CB has done that before) then the program was just a stunt.
On the other hand, no one would want to help kill an information program that might not matter to them, but might matter to others (and which could matter a great deal to everyone in the long run/larger picture). I wonder if the SWA is putting together its own team of anonymous agents, ready to request CB info, spread it in a “promotional” fashion (whatever that is), and sabotage the program?
I’d like to hear others’ opinions on these issues.
Another boot drops: https://scotchwhisky.com/magazine/in-depth/11234/compass-box-ends-transparency-drive-for-now/
It’s a bit surprising that everyone is as candid as they are about what’s going on here: yes, circumvention of the law, or at least a very different interpretation of it, is a very different route from trying to reform the substance of the law itself.
Glaser’s observations about the SWA are dead-on the money:
‘What we have been informed of since we kicked off the transparency campaign was that, through the SWA, the industry if you will has communicated that there’s no desire to effect any change in the law at this time,’ says Glaser. ‘They view the law as “fit for purpose”, in their words.’ – yes, but what, exactly is that purpose? It’s a very good question. If it’s to prevent The West Wing from pronouncing Blue Label as 60 years old (https://scotchwhisky.com/magazine/from-the-editors/8320/the-west-wing-and-transparency/), then that’s an argument for minimum age statements and/or complete content disclosure, not for laws that allow NAS and editorial license.
‘There were some people in the industry, some companies in the industry which did agree with us that there is some need for change – so the feeling was not unanimous by any means,’ says Glaser. ‘But there is no appetite at the moment for change.’ – yep, again; some people just don’t care what the paying customer knows so long as they keep on paying.
“And, in the end, is that enough? Glaser pauses for a moment, then says: ‘I’m pleased we have a way to go back to what we have been doing for 15 years: being completely open, honest and transparent with people.
“But I’m disappointed that we have to do it in this convoluted way, and I’m disappointed that the industry didn’t see the potential benefits of trying to effect change.’ – true enough but, as above, more informed customers don’t benefit most industry players. They like people getting their information from the West Wing; it probably sold a lot of Blue Label.
“But I believe that the issue is not going to go away, and I’m confident that, over time – it might take years – the industry, working through the SWA [Scotch Whisky Association], will come around to the idea that this law doesn’t make sense any more, because consumers have a right to know, and producers have a right to share the components in their products.” – I can readily agree with the first part, that transparency and the call for it probably won’t go away, but Glaser, through his previous proposal (the producer option, not obligation, to declare information), has already made it clear that producer rights trump those of consumers, so maybe he and the SWA aren’t so far apart after all.
There’s still no prominent editorial support for what Glaser is doing, only observation of what he’s doing. Maybe now that the issue is becoming more concrete, with an actual start-up date, Dave Broom and others find it difficult to turn the corner from theoretical support of informing consumers to the real article. We’re now approaching the point where the toes of big players might get stepped on, and a professional whisky writer, above all, must know who and what they serve.
I’m certainly looking forward to the SWA’s next move.
Compass Box’s info program IS up and running, on a product by product basis (on the right side of the individual product promo pages). The following is the request/justification for not reproducing the material to others:
“As you may be aware, despite our best efforts to change the UK & EU laws through our Scotch Whisky Transparency campaign, currently the only way for us to share information about the age of the component whiskies used in our blends is in response to a direct request for information from an interested party.
Moreover, to ensure full compliance with the relevant regulations we are asking those individuals we share this information with to treat the information as being for their eyes only. Specifically we ask that you please do not use the age information provided below in any promotional format or share it in a public forum with others (via blogs, tweets, facebook posts etc.). This will help avoid any claims being made that Compass Box are trying to ‘promote’ the ages of our whiskies through third parties by sharing the information with them in the hope that they will share it with others. This is not our aim. For a full explanation of the Scotch Whisky Transparency Campaign, please see: http://www.compassboxwhisky.com/transparency/”
Following the information itself, there is this:
“We apologise that we cannot present this in a ‘snappier’ visual format but we have taken the decision to avoid creating an infographic with ages to minimise the likelihood of this being shared online and subsequent claims of ‘promotion’ being levelled against us. I hope you understand! Of course, if this information is unclear, please do just let one of our team know and we will do my very best to clarify.
Many thanks again for your support and interest in our whiskies. Again if we can ask you to refrain from promoting the ages of these whiskies to others we would be grateful – as we are trying our very best to get the information we’re asked for into the hands of consumers whilst working within the current regulations.”
Others probably will share/reproduce the information, but I won’t – it’s just as available from CB as it is from any blog (my request turnaround time was only minutes). This same information DOES belong on the label, but potentially wrecking this information program, and the positive counter moves by competitors, won’t put it on those labels.
Almost reminds me of one of those emails about transferring money out of some country and all they need is my banking information… complete with grammatical errors:
” if this information is unclear, please do just let one of our team know and [we] will do [my] very best to clarify.”
Square brackets [ ] are mine for emphasis.
I wish I had a team to do MY very best for me…
I wonder if that’s maybe because some earlier drafts of the email, like many other notes from Compass Box, were originally written as a personal statement from John Glaser, and was then changed to “The Compass Box Team” for legal reasons or to reflect that it would be a team, not one person, that would be fielding inquiries. It’s also interesting that many limited edition expressions (Enlightenment, This Is Not A Luxury Whisky. Flaming Heart, Hedonism Quindecimus, Orangerie, The Circus) don’t yet have “Request Age Info” buttons – and that there seems to be very little commentary, either on Compass Box’s move or the information it reveals, from the “whisky press”.
You mean that money transfer thing is a scam?
More so than NAS whisky?
I think that they have the same target demographic.
On the “what gives on age info on Enlightenment, This Is Not A Luxury Whisky. Flaming Heart, Hedonism Quindecimus, Orangerie, The Circus, etc.” I got this back:
“Thanks for getting in touch!
You’ll be able to request component age information by following the “Request Age Info” button found on the lower right hand side of the product pages on our website – http://www.compassboxwhisky.com/whiskies/index.php?id=18 – for all of our permanent range whiskies and the most recent Limited Editions. This is also something that we aim to continue moving forward.
Unfortunately, this isn’t feasibly something that we can offer on all past Limited Edition whiskies. We’ve made quite a few whiskies over our 16 years and at the time of producing them we did not envisage a future situation where we would be able to share such detailed information!”
It’s a nice response, but if all of these whiskies are currently listed on the website (and many aren’t from 16 years ago), it’s difficult to believe that they, or their blending notes, are really lost in the mists of time. Glaser never struck me as a guy who ever did anything without having a plan, much less anyone who would misplace a whisky recipe.
in a recent interview with Shanken News Daily John Glaser said something quite astonishing.
SND: You feature a lot of aged stock—eight and 10 years old and more. Yet, with the exception of the humorously named Three Year Old Deluxe (which contains less than 1% three-year-old malt whisky), you don’t use age statements.
Glaser: Most of the liquid in Great King Street is nine to 10 years old. Spice Tree averages 12 years of age. Some of Hedonism is 25 years old. But we don’t believe in age statements—they constrain your blending and can mislead the consumer. I can tell you that we’ve been fortunate to line up long-term contracts with many Scotch distilleries, which guarantees that we’ll continue to have access to these older stocks.
The article is behind a smokescreen for subscribers only. So what does transparency really mean to Compass Box? If age is just a constraining factor in blending they could have lived happily ever after without all the fuss about more transparency… no?
For what it’s worth, I don’t really believe in age statements either – in that sense that, as product age information, I don’t think that they can’t be greatly improved upon. The idea, however, that age statements “mislead” anyone is simply horseshit – they tell you EXACTLY what they tell you (minimum age); that, like any other piece of information on the label, they don’t tell you everything about what you’re drinking, is self-evident to the thinking and educated consumer. Sure, we certainly CAN do better than age statements but, in an era where everyone is oh SO worried about obeying the letter of law in an effort to be “fair to the consumer”, age statements are also completely legal, yet curiously largely unused.
What I have found, and still find, more troubling than Glaser’s issues with age statements is his continuing ambivalence about what consumers deserve to know about Compass Box’s products – consumers somehow have a “right” to know what they’re buying but no one, including Glaser has any responsibility to tell them and you can currently download info on a lot of products, but the ages of what went into many of the limited editions (including the ironically named “Enlightenment” and “The Circus”) remain a complete mystery for reasons unknown. So much for transparency there.
To be quite honest, Glaser – yes, the Steve Jobs of whisky – should stop pretending that he’s the only one smart enough to understand the bait and switch games he’s playing and actually find a set of principles that he’s willing to stand by.