Learning From the Masters or How I Became an Idiot Scotch Snob

by Oliver Klimek on March 20, 2010

Whisky and ice can certainly be an explosive mixture. Renowned whisky writer and bourbon expert Chuck Cowdery published a blog article called Scotch Snobs on Parade taking on the criticism of The Macallan Ice Ball Serve that was expressed in various comments on the publication of the press release at What Does John Know? including myself.

Snobby Soit Qui Mal y Pense

Chuck basically accused all those of being scotch snobs who were trying to express their adversion against scotch on ice or were criticizing Macallan for their marketing strategy:

“Here’s how to tell if you’re a whiskey snob. If you berate other people about the way they enjoy their whiskey and you berate producers when they stray from your idea of whiskey purity, you just might be a whiskey snob.”

I was specifically targeting the marketing issue, as can be read in my post linked to above, so I felt addressed by the second category.

So I guess I am a snob because I don’t approve Macallan’s strategy of drawing new customers from the pool of cocktail-drinking hipsters. My fear that the traditional values behind Scotch whisky might get diluted by explicitly promoting ice balls “to modernise the way single malt can be enjoyed”, as the press release states, seems to make me a patronising know-it-all. Is this really a good way to deal with contrary opinions?

Macallan’s target market for scotch on the balls are people who don’t give a damn if their drinks are pumped out of column stills after having been distilled and filtered to death for five times. They also don’t care if it’s coloured (just look at that Pinky Vodka). For most of them, whisky is just another spirit in their repertoire that happens to be brown instead of pink or blue.

And not even the ice balls are are a new invention. There even is a company called Gläce that is selling their balls for $8 a piece because they are made from ultra-purified water. This is what I call snobbery.

If it is snobbery to defend the traditional quality-focussed approach to whisky making, the artisan way as Ralfy Mitchell likes to call it, then I am happy to be called a whisky snob.

Idiot Savant?

Some further browsing in Chuck’s blog brought up an interesting article about the obsoleteness of the traditional method for measuring the alcohol concentration in proof. Although I absolutely agree with him on this topic, the article contained a passage that struck me:

I have encountered a few idiots who claim they drink for flavor only and wish they could avoid the alcohol effect altogether, but such delusions are easily dismissed. Of course we enjoy the alcohol effect, but that’s not the same as getting drunk. Many, possibly even most drinkers today want to enjoy some effect short of intoxication.”

I state frankly that I am one of those idiots. More often than not I refrained from pouring another dram because I felt I had enough alcohol and wouldn’t really be able to enjoy it anymore. Which basically means that I wished away the alcohol effect. And I don’t go for that state of “feeling good just before feeling pissed” either. Is this idiocy? Is drinking whisky for the physiological effects of alcohol really the wiser choice?

I could take the easy road and return the compliments by saying that this kind of attiude might be caused by an overexposure to whisky on the rocks, but I won’t. It is not my style to attack my readership, be it globally or personally.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t feel offended by this statement, I can take a wallop. And I also appreciate when people voice their opinions loudly. But some readers out there might be more sensitive than me and may even consider such statements insulting. I don’t think it is a signature of sound journalism to fire shrapnels at one’s readers.

Or Am I a Whisky Renegade?

The funny thing is, after I had posted my cocktail recipe for The Machattan, the distillery published the link on their Facebook page. Soon it received comments like “No one is adulterating my Macallan with anything!” or “You’d get kicked out of a Speyside pub if you asked for this.” Sounds quite funny for being a scotch snob.

I take it as a good sign being called a snob by one side of the camp and an adulterator from the other. Or am I just doing everything wrong?

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

kallaskander March 22, 2010 at 10:41 am
Oliver Klimek March 22, 2010 at 10:57 am

I wonder if the author would have been as enthusiastic, if Mr. Algie had brought the ice monster with him.

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Chuck Cowdery March 22, 2010 at 6:53 pm

I never pointed the ‘scotch snob’ finger at any individual. I left it in the ‘if the shoe fits’ category. Perhaps those shoes were pinching a little, Oliver?

As for the ‘alcohol effect’ comment, my point was that anyone who drinks alcohol and claims not to enjoy the ‘alcohol effect’ is in denial. The alcohol and its effects are part of the enjoyment of alcoholic beverages, even when enjoyed in responsible moderation as I encourage everyone to do.

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Oliver Klimek March 22, 2010 at 7:50 pm

Chuck, thank you for taking the time to comment. Yes of course I felt addressed, as stated in my post. But this is not my point. It’s not about me being offended. It’s about that generalization of seeing any criticism of Macallan’s marketing as snobbery.

That whole debate is about focus on quality vs. focus on sales figures. Of course, sales figures are important. But I am utterly conviced that for a top brand like Macallan, sales must be a result of quality and not of marketing towards casual drinkers. If it were Ballantines or Johnnie Walker I wouldn’t care about that. But the single malt as centerpiece of scotch whisky has deserved better then to be “modernised” by ice balls.

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Oliver Klimek March 22, 2010 at 7:59 pm

And regarding the alcohol thing: I see your point and I can understand it. But me personally, I may sorta enjoy a slight effect of intoxication, but it is definitively NOT the reason for me drinking whisky or any other alcoholic drink. I would drink even more, if it didn’t have these effects but tasted just the same (I know this is impossible because alcohol adds to the taste). And I still don’t think I’m an idiot because of that attitude.

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Jim Walton October 10, 2012 at 5:28 pm

It’s probably a good thing you didn’t point the “scotch snob” finger at anyone, Chuck. “Bourbon snob” would describe you pretty well!

Your own words:

“Here’s how to tell if you’re a whiskey snob. If you berate other people about the way they enjoy their whiskey and you berate producers when they stray from your idea of whiskey purity, you just might be a whiskey snob. ”

Guess what? This is EXACTLY what you went out and did in denigrating small barrel aging and rye whiskey drinkers.

Hypocrite!

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Bourbon Barfly February 20, 2014 at 8:43 pm

What I find hysterical is the last part of that last sentence, about berating “producers when they stray from your idea of whiskey purity, you just might be a whiskey snob.”

Isn’t this what Chuck does on a weekly basis on his blog? Kettle, meet pot. You are both black.

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Ryan August 13, 2011 at 3:04 am

I think anyone who is drinking single malt whisky is drinking it for more than just the alcohol effect, but I do think that it’s a combination of the alcohol and the amazing taste experience that draws us to it. If I could “snap my fingers” and be slightly intoxicated, I would not do it. If I could drink and enjoy whisky with no intoxication, I would still do it, but I admit it would be less frequent. The combination of the two – whisky and alcohol – is what makes a drink of whisky such a magical experience!

I don’t know if we have an analogy to consider how we would really act if there were no alcohol – are there any drinks of such interesting flavor that don’t have any physiological effects? There are coffee and tea, but people drink those for the caffeine as well. An analogy might be something like a well-aged balsamic vinegar; sure, we still eat and enjoy it, but I don’t think there is a whole community of fanatic balsamic fans like there are whisky fans, indicating that the alcohol probably plays some role in our enjoyment.

Interesting topic to consider at least!

-Ryan

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Shelby Taylor-Phillips May 24, 2012 at 1:38 am

Let’s be honest lads, 200 years ago a well flavored(maybe with juniper berries) new make from some hidden glen was about as good as it got. Then somebody wanted to move some of their Uisge somewhere else so they put it in a barrel and it tasted better when the cask was tapped. Now we have good whisky. LOTS of good whiskey. Macallan makes a million gallons a year. Literally. Even a single malt is actually blended. The whiskey is just all from one place. I would straight up murder a dude if he poured MY A’bunadh over ice or dared to pour coke in MY Dalwhinnie. But hey, they make a lot of it, and its all alchoholic because without a great Scottish propensity to keep warm by imbibement, would not even know the word Uisge Beatha today. The Sacred Cow of single malt is really just the snobby rich grandchild of a slave taking pirate rogue. Who would want it any other way? By the dirty graft of our forebears we have an abundance of wealth be it blended, single malt, iced, grain or vatted.

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