The blotto lotto

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The chaps at Master Of Malt had a lottery for the new Yamazaki Sherry Cask. Guess what? This:

Gif reaction:


All this because one man said the 2013 release was a great whisky. Madness.

Grand theft auto


I have plagiarised; and I have done it many times. I can give you excuses – I was young, I was stupid and lazy, I was under pressure, I lacked self belief – but really there are none. It is inexcusable. Plagiarism is theft, not just from another writer, but also from yourself – you are robbing yourself of the pleasure of writing, of taking full ownership of a piece of work, of the honour of having your work then read by thousands of people (even in this age of declining sales). I regret it, because it devalues all of the work I did back then; if you’ve done it once, your entire canon is basically bullshit. But what is most surprising about plagiarism is just how common it is.

I worked as a sub editor, a job that involves editing and rewriting a journalist’s work with two key aims – to conform to house style and, more importantly, to sharpen the text so no it is as tight as possible. The best writers were the ones whose work was nearly impossible to cut – they could weave an untouchable tapestry that took a considerable amount of time to unpick and edit. But not everyone had the skill – or, more commonly, the time – to craft their copy like that. In fact, time has a lot to do with plagiarism – journalists are expected to do more with less, so they have less time to write more copy, meaning that the temptation to cut and paste direct from the web is all the more alluring. But it is easy to spot. Every journalist has a voice in which they write, and plagiarised copy is like badly dubbed cinema; another voice suddenly chimes in, breaking the flow and disrupting the entire piece.

It was in my work as a sub that I discovered just how widespread it is. Whether lifting chunks from a press release and sticking your byline on it, or just lifting off Wikipedia, the print industry is rife with it. And beyond the cut-and-paste culture, there is the culture of regurgitation – and this is where the line between plagiarism and ‘research’ gets blurry. If you are writing on a subject and read all you can and then rewrite and condense it, is that plagiarism? Or a well-researched piece of writing? When is a credit to the original source needed, because this isn’t academia – this is a newspaper, where footnotes simply don’t work. At what stage do you need to credit a source? This is a good example of where one was needed. Read to the end for the link to the other piece ‘inspired’ by their work. It is basically a rewrite of work by an excellent blog, repackaged and sold to a paper who then charges the public for access to it.

But it’s really only when you get plagiarised yourself that you understand what an ugly thing it is to do – but there is so much of it going on that you actually feel silly for pointing it out. Or at least, that was how I felt. My dad was the person who spotted an article similar to one I had written for the Irish Examiner. It was about the same topic, so there was always going to be similarities. But it was when I spotted one of my own typoes in the copy that I realised it was actually lifted straight from my work. It wasn’t a huge amount, about six lines, but it was enough to tick me off. I posted on the blog about it, and tweeted my dissatisfaction. Nothing happened for a couple of days, then it ended up on and it took off from there. An apology was offered, accepted, and a few lessons learned – including the age-old one that people in glasshouses shouldn’t throw stones. It may be well over a decade since I plagiarised, but I was still not in a position where I could sit in judgement on anyone for doing the exact same thing I did. I should have contacted the writer privately, rather than behaving like a total prick.

The most important lesson of all was about originality and creativity in general. If print media is to survive in any form, it has to take a zero tolerance approach to both plagiarism and its ugly sibling, churnalism. To have thousands of people reading your words is a privilege – one that most journalists take completely for granted. To be honest, if the weight of that knowledge was ever-present on your mind you would probably never write a word. But quality journalism – well-written, original content – is more important now than ever, as the lifting of content – be it written or otherwise – is becoming more and more of a problem. Platforms like Facebook/Pinterest/Tumblr are just making the problem worse. They enable you to reblog or repost or pin or share content that not only did you not create, you also have no idea who actually created it. One of the reasons I quit my local gym was their cavalier attitude to content – their Facebook page repeatedly posted beautiful photos of weddings lifted from Pinterest et al and passed off as their own. No credit was given to the models, the photographers, the stylists, the graphic designers. Anything they saw that tickled their fancy suddenly became fodder for their ‘digital marketing’ portfolio. They failed, just as I had, to heed the one commandment of content – respect the creator.  

Nowadays I try to write every word, take every photo, record every talk, shoot and edit the videos, and generally do as much as I can, because nobody is going to read your blog for a load of press releases. I may run Ireland’s Least Successful Blog, but that is because I am Ireland’s Least Successful Journalist – but at least I can claim that I earned both those titles through my own inept work. To fail on your own merits is a far better feeling than achieving success at the expense of others. Or at least that’s what I tell my kids as I feed them cardboard for breakfast.

Money a lámh


Mano A Lámh – one in the hand is worth two in the bush.

The top performing investment last year was not gold or wine – it was whisky. As the Guardian reports:

The leading index for scotch whisky, the Rare Whisky Apex 1000, rose by 14% last year, outperforming wine, which fell by 0.4%, gold, which declined by 10%, and many of the world’s leading equity indices. The FTSE 100 index in London lost 4.9% in 2015, while on Wall Street, the S&P 500 edged up 0.7%. In China, the Shanghai Composite gained 9.4%.

The whisky market is booming: the total value of rare whiskies sold at auction in the UK last year was £9.6m, up from £7.6m in 2014, according to consultancy Rare Whisky 101.

So this begs the question, what defines rare? Is Midleton Rare actually rare? As time goes on and people consume more and more of each year’s releases, yes. And the editions signed by former Master Distiller Barry Crockett are now a diminishing number, so that adds to their specific rarity and thus to their value. But generally there is enough of it released each year that it won’t appreciate in value for some time. So when the guys in Midleton decided to release a special edition Redbreast, I was screaming ‘shut up and take my money‘. I bought four bottles, getting around the two-per-customer clause by purchasing two in my wife’s name, which in turn led to a recreation of the closing scenes of Se7en, as I begged her over the phone not to open the box that had just arrived with her name on it. Eventually she did open it, and realised that it wasn’t a lovely gift for her at all, but more fucking whiskey for her (then-unemployed) husband. Gif reaction:


‘It’s not even flavoured, like us ladies allegedly like it’ she sobbed.

I got to sample the new release before I bought it, but haven’t actually opened any of the bottles I bought. I used three of them as gifts, and now have just the one left. There were only 2,000 released, so I waited and waited for them to sell out, as the value would (theoretically) go up. And lo and behold, this email arrives during the week:


Mano a Lámh, gone but not forgotten.

It’s true. We are writing to let you know that all two thousand bottles of our limited edition, all sherry, Redbreast Mano a Lámh are gone. Every last drop. But you can help us to begin a new tradition in its honour and be rewarded for your thoughts.

Did you have an opportunity to taste Mano a Lámh? We are eager to know what you liked most about it. In return, we are giving you the opportunity to win a further addition to your whiskey cabinet. And so, as a thank-you for filling out our quick survey, you will go into our members-only draw to win a bottle of Redbreast 21 Year Old Single Pot Still.

While Mano a Lámh is now gone and officially retired, there are new opportunities on the horizon. Our Master Blender Billy Leighton was truly inspired with your appreciation for this all sherry whiskey. So he is now working on a new project that we will be excited to share with you soon. Which is why your views today may help us to craft a new whiskey in the future and keep the collaborative spirit of Mano a Lámh alive.

Translation: We have sold out, there is now only a finite amount of them available, and none through normal retail outlets; in other words, they are now rare.

My immediate reaction was: Shall we start the bidding at one million billion euro?

And then later, my reaction was: No, we shall not. This is why:

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Two auction sites there giving you an idea of the prices it is reaching. Even the 150 is probably a bit optimistic, given that this is a non-age statement whiskey. The whole debate over the NAS movement is akin to the weed droughts of my youth – someone alleges there is a drought, prices go up and product quality and availability goes down. In the whiskey world it simply means that we are being sold younger whiskey at older whiskey prices. The move towards NAS is not necessarily a bad thing, as age statements are often misleading and bear no relation to quality. I won’t bore you again with the tale of the seven-year-old Adelphi bottling of a Glen Rothes that blew my mind, or my opinion that the seven-year-old Glendalough is preferable to the 13, but I assure you I’m no ageist snob. But if you want an investment whiskey, an age statement is sorta important. Or, failing that, for the distillery to be obsolete, which is the case with a present I got this Christmas:


The one on the left is the valuable one. The distillery at Dumbarton is long gone, and the stills sat idle at Bruichladdich for years – with one of them sitting in the front garden with a welly boot sticking out of it. But then Mark Reynier set up down the road from me in the sunny south east, and brought his sense of terroir – exemplified in Bruichladdich’s Islay Barley release, above on right  – and the Inverleven stills to Waterford city, where he is now operating a distilling powerhouse (here’s Mark talking about the Inverleven stills in a recent interview).

The whisky made by the Inverleven stills is finite – their Scottish life ended long ago, and the Cadenhead bottling of their single malt ticks all the boxes for investment; the distillery is silent – not just mothballed, but gone – so no more product; the age statement is a fairly profound 27 years, and it is bottled at a shitkicking 53.9%.  The stills that made this malt are now making Irish whiskey in Waterford, so the value should increase. So much as I would love to crack it open and try to get a glimpse of where Reynier is going with his spirit, I’m not going to. Neither am I going to sell it, as I like the fact that it has a (somewhat obscure) link to a place not that far from me. Perhaps when Waterford’s product matures in fives years we can open it and compare and contrast. Because no matter how rare the whiskey, no matter how expensive it becomes, it was made to be drunk. An undrunk whiskey is an unplayed piano, a car up on blocks, an unloved child. It needs to live and breathe and have somebody talk about it and say ‘this was the best’ or ‘I’ve had better’ or ‘this tastes like photocopier ink’.

I tend not to buy expensive whiskey, as I prefer variety over exclusivity. I like to try as many drams as I can, rather than chuck away 200 bucks plus on something that may or may not be the emperor’s new clothes. Snobbery is the action of the insecure, and to pooh-pooh any malts, blends or grain is to deny yourself some cracking drams. I’m about as far from an expert as it is possible to be – to be honest, I’m not even sure how whiskey is made – but I know what I like. I like something I can obtain again with relative ease, and without remortgaging my home or selling a kidney to an Albanian to pay for it. I don’t want to drink unicorn blood, because what if I like it, where will I get more? Those goofy bastards are almost extinct you know.

That’s the spirit

The Spirit Of Speyside whisky festival is awesome. I spent a week there last year and had the time of my life, and it seems many others did too, as this year’s ticket sales are booming. Here’s the deets:

Ticket sales for the 2016 Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival have set new records, with over 2,700 tickets valued at almost £75,000 being bought within the first hour of their launch this week.

Just 10 minutes after the website went live on Tuesday (February 2) transactions reached the same level that took an hour to achieve in 2015, while the same amount of sales in an hour took 24 hours on last year’s opening day.

Over 60 events in the packed programme taking place in whisky’s spiritual home from April 28 to May 2 have already sold out, and many more have limited availability.  The events attracts thousands of visitors to Speyside to raise a glass to Scotland’s national drink.

Visitors from the UK, Europe and North America have been the driving force behind the sales, with whisky lovers from as far afield as Bahrain, Australia, Japan and India also snapping up tickets on the opening day.


Festival manager Pery Zakeri, above, says the phenomenal demand has taken everyone surprise, and there seems no sign of sales slowing down.

She adds, “We have had ticket sales from a total of 22 different countries and in the first 24 hours of going live we had reached a sales value of over £91,000.

“I think this just goes to show how eagerly anticipated the Festival is this year. We have garnered a fantastic reputation for putting on a world class event, and people are making sure they get in early to get tickets for the activities they really want.

“As with previous years, the exclusive distillery tours have sold out first. The real whisky aficionados are always looking for very special experiences that are only available at the time of the Festival, so tours of distilleries not normally open to the public, such as Strathmill and Dalmunach, were snapped up within minutes.

“However, with 467 different events on the programme from whisky tasting and blending experiences and from heritage walks to traditional ceilidhs, there are still plenty of tickets available.

“The beauty of the Spirit of Speyside Festival is that it is small enough to be incredibly friendly and welcoming, but big enough so that there is something for everyone. But we’d urge anyone thinking about coming to book their events soon as tickets are selling very quickly indeed.”

The Festival is taking part in Scotland’s Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design, and many of the events are focused on the theme. There will be the chance to enjoy drams against the background of stunning architecture, and visitors will learn about the innovation born in the region which is home to the world’s best-loved whiskies.

Paul Bush OBE, VisitScotland’s Director of Events, says, “The Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival is always a massively popular event with visitors from around the world and we are delighted to see so many people eager to take advantage of the opportunity to sample this unique aspect of Scotland’s history and culture in 2016.

“Much more than simply whisky tasting, the Festival celebrates Scotland’s national drink with an exciting and innovative programme of events, and we’re confident that the hugely encouraging sales over these first 24 hours will be maintained ahead of the Festival over the coming months.”

Along with helping whisky fans organise their itineraries and finalising details of the Festival, organisers are balancing that with planning their new mini-festival in the autumn.

It takes place from September 9 to 11 at Elgin Town Hall, and will bring many of the region’s whisky producers together under one roof on their own doorstep fromSeptember 9 to 11. Tickets for that event are due to go on sale after the main Festival in May.

Tickets for all events in the 2016 Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival programme are available to buy now at The Festival is also active on social media – and @spirit_speyside on Twitter and on Instagram.

I’ve posted and reposted links to the blog post I wrote on the festival and the Irish Examiner article, but here they are again, just in case you need more convincing. Book your tickets, brings your mates and have a blast – you won’t regret it.

2001 drams: A Spey odyssey – a swear-filled blog post.

Kindred spirits – the unedited version of the Irish Examiner article.