Is Scotch Whisky Suffering From The Lindt Syndrome?

by Oliver Klimek on November 17, 2013

Time again to wrap up some thoughts that have been fermenting for quite a while.

I like chocolate. I like it almost as much as I like whisky, but I am not a chocolate geek by any margin. I don’t hunt down “small batch” “hand crafted” chocolate made by local chocolatiers (although I know to appreciate it) and sneer at supermarket offerings. Usually I get my fix of theobromine from readily availbale bigger brands, although I avoid bottom shelf stuff.

The brand that in my view probably has the best ‘quality vs. shelf exposure’ ratio is Lindt. I freely confess that I am a sucker for their Lindor stuff for example. It has struck me that in recent years the number of different varieties of Lindt chocolate has virtually exploded. Recently I took the time to count them in my local supermarket. I counted exactly 60 different varieties of chocolate bars alone. And then there is the gimmicky and seasonal stuff as well… Whenever I have a look at the shelves there seem to have some new varieties arrived and others discontinued.

Every once in a while I try some new variety I have not tasted before. All of them are good, but for decades now I keep finding myself returning to the old classics that have stood the test of time, the sensational tenderness of Lindor, the crunch of Cresta or simply their excellent plain milk chocolate.

I think it is much the same with whisky. I get to taste quite a bit of whisky, both official and independent bottlings. Granted, I am not drowned in samples of new releases like some other bloggers. But I read the reviews of people whose palates I trust. Most of what I taste and what I read about is good to very good. Scotch whisky is a high quality product without a doubt. But what do I buy myself in terms of original bottlings? Things like Ardbeg 10 or Uigeadail, Glendronach 15 of 18, Talisker 10 or 18 or Laphroaig 10 or Quarter Cask.

Wait a minute. Laphroaig Quarter Cask, isn’t that an ‘experimental’ whisky too? Indeed it was their first one and it turned out well. Frankly I think they should have stopped there. Triple Wood: shoulder shrug, PX cask: shoulder shrug, QA cask: shoulder shrug, An Cuan Mor: shoulder shrug. Talisker just has launched Storm, Dark Storm and Port Ruighe within a very short period of time. Reviews were a bit mixed.

I am all for experiments with whisky, but more often than not it seems they are not done to explore new territory but simply to always have something new ready as the Flavour of the Year. They cannot change much in the production apart from using a different malt, so the tweaking will concentrate on maturation and blending. Some companies even have a dedicated position for this. Bill Lumsden’s job at LVMH is called “Head of Whisky Creation”. Poor Dr. Lumsden is forced to come up with something new on a regular basis, otherwise he would be considered useless. The results can be admired in the annual Ardbeg shenanigans and the Glenmorangie Private Edition range.

It has probably been proven by marketing theorists that a constant blast of new products is benefitial for the total sales, even taking into account cannibalization effects. Designing and launching new products costs a lot of money, but if it wasn’t worth the while the industry wouldn’t do it. But as an old fashioned whisky geek I can only wish that they use some of this money to keep up the quality of their standard bottlings which has been dipping ever so slightly over the years.

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