Germany has turned into a major whisky producing country in the last years, at least with regard to the number of distilleries which is in the triple digits now. It is dificult to keep track of all the new releases, and one particularly interesting bottling I have noticed only now when I saw a picture of it on Facebook.
The Hammerschmide distillery in Zorge is offering a single malt called The Alrik under their Glen Els whisky brand. Apparently the 2012 edition was given 95 points by Jim Murray in his latest Whisky Bible. Now the 2013 edition is on the market.
Anyone familiar with the distilleries on Islay will notice a striking resemblance of the bottle design to Ardbeg. The ornaments around the label, the eleborate A, even the small logo with the year of establishment on both sides of the A; all this is too similar to be called a conicidence. And not very surprisingly the bottle contains whisky made from heavily smoked malt.
I am not in a position to judge the legal aspect here. If this design constitutes plagiarism in a legal sense or not is not really relevant to me. It may be relevant for Ardbeg, though. I just think it is a shame that this brand appears to be designed to ride on the waves of the Ardbeg hype.
Regardless of what you may think about the branding and marketing of Ardbeg, the company has invested a lot of money and creativity in making the brand what it is today. The only creativity I see in the design of Alrik is the obvious effort to resemble Ardbeg as closely as possible while trying to avoid the impresison of a clone.
Being German myself I am saddened that this distillery wants to appear as Scottish as Scotch, from the name of their whisky brand to the bottle design, especially as the whisky is not even distilled in proper pot stills of traditional shape.
In German there is a wonderful word to describe people who do things like this: Trittbrettfahrer, literally meaning people who cling to the platform of a bus or train in order to get a free ride.
Normally such look-alike bottles can be found on the bottom shelves of supermarkets as cheap imitations of big spirit brands. But the no age statement Alrik costs €139,50 which makes it more expensive than all regular Ardbeg bottlings. I have not tried it, so I cannot judge the quality of this whisky, but I am sure the bottle design helps to keep up the price by sending out subliminal messages of greatness. This may well be the underlying reason.