The Macallan officially launched their new “Ice Ball Serve” machine yesterday, a heavy brass device that can mold chunks of ice into spherical shape. It basically is a branded adaption of a Japanese invention already on the market. Some pictured reports had already been published by Macallan representatives, and to finalize the launch, a flamboyantly worded press release was published on What Does John Know?
Normally, this would have been a non-event for me. But the whole circumstances of the launch, along with the blog discussion sparked by the publication of the press release, highlight a topic that I have been wanting to adress for quite a while now.
Ice in Your Whisky?
At the first look, this is just yet another re-incarnation of the age-old discussion about whisky and ice, intensified by The Macallan’s explicit mention of single malt whisky as an object to be adorned by the not-so-new ice balls.
To set things straight: For me it does not matter, if some people prefer their whisky with ice, be it a Famous Grouse or a 30yo Macallan. But I don’t. It’s entirely up to personal preference and I don’t want to play the missionary man.
But hidden underneath the obvious exchange of arguments pro and contra whisky and ice, there is another issue worth to be discussed.
A Dumbed-Down Rolls-Royce
As much as I don’t really care about the whisky-with-or-without-ice discussion, as much I am concerned about what this means for The Macallan in particular and for whisky in general.
Frankly, I don’t like the direction The Macallan is heading to. After the introduction of the Fine Oak range, this is another step towards the former Rolls-Royce of whisky transforming into a Vauxhall Corsa.
Carefully reading the press release and the blog comment of The Macallan’s US brand ambassador, it becomes obvious that this move aims at making The Macallan attractive for a new customer base hitherto mostly untouched by Scotch single malt whisky: bar goers and cocktail drinkers. By promoting their ice ball machine in prestigious bars all around Britain (and probably the rest of the world in the future), The Macallan wants to get the attention of the hip urban people in order to convert them from Margaritas to Scotch on the Rocks.
It is true: The physics behind the big ice balls really acts in favour of keeping the original qualities of the drink as intact as possible because the ball melts slower than your average ice cube. But honestly, this does not really matter at all to this clientele. Cocktail lovers are used to enjoy diluted drinks; they love slowly sipping Mai Tais or Caipirinhas through mountains of crushed ice. No, it’s all about the “I want one of those” effect that these big balls and the machine on the bar are suposed to have on the locals.
It’s not that I am against cocktails, I even created my own Macallan cocktail – The Machattan. But I see major problems with this approach:
Marketing instead of Quality is the Motor of Innovation
Both the introduction of Macallan’s fine Oak range and the Ice Ball Serve have their raison d’être in broadening the customer base for The Macallan. The question was not: “How can we make the best possible whisky?” but “How can we sell as much whisky as possible?”
In my eyes, this marketing-driven approach to whisky making is a real danger for the quality of whisky in general. To appeal to as many people as possible, compromises must be made. The ultimate result would be a generic unoffensive dram that is almost indistinguishable from its competitors. But this also means that it may be replaced perfectly well by a cheaper product at any time, if the price is perceived too high. The doomsday scenariao of a downward spiral in quality lingers in the future.
I don’t want to paint too bleak a picture here, but the question has to be asked if offering Macallan on the spherical rocks to whisky novices really can create a brand awareness fuelled by product quality. Or will they only perceive it as a generic brown spirit that may well be exchanged for any other booze if they feel like it?
Only if novices are properly informed about the true values and properties of whisky, there is a chance that they will stick to it and will even buy bottles of Macallan to enjoy at home without the need for a monstrous machinery.