The Watchers

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In the original ending of The Emperor’s New Clothes, there was no child. Hans Christian Andersen had written the story as an adaptation of an earlier folk tale, where devious tailors play on the insecurities of a vain emperor, telling him that they have made him an outfit that is visible only to those of great intellect and taste. The emperor parades through the city in his non-existent garment, as the crowd, scared to be seen as ignorant fools, applaud his wondrous attire. In his first version of it, the story ended there.

It was only when the work was on its way to the printers that Andersen decided to add the child who points out that the emperor is in a state of undress, thus causing his undoing. There are many theories as to why Anderson made this change, but it generally believed that it had a lot to do with his own experience of the bourgeoisie in Copenhagen. Having strived to gain acceptance among them, he was disappointed by their elitism and snobbery once he was accepted into their ranks.

If I had known the Hyde blog post was going to be read by so many people, I might have swore less. Or I might have swore more, it’s hard to say. But there was only one minor change that I made to the text. I added the word ‘many’ to the statement on whiskey bloggers. There are many who endlessly post press releases instead of critical, creative reviews or thinkpieces, those who are willing to operate as mouthpieces for industry rather than challenging the status quo – or, as the Whisky Sponge titled them, bribe units.

However, there are also many who are excellent, and write insightful, thorough, thought-provoking features and reviews – the ones who are more than happy to point out that the emperor wears no clothes. Much of what I have learned about whiskey, its craft and culture, and how the industry works, has come from blogs.

So that was the only change to the Hyde post. The rest of it – including the comments section – I stand over 100%. You may not like the tone, or the content, but anyone who feels like actually accusing me of perpetuating falsehoods can take me to court. The statute of limitations on defamation is seven years, so we have plenty time.

The first defence of the Hyde business model was ‘everyone knew it was Cooley’, which begs the question: Who is ‘everyone’? In reality, ‘everyone’ is the tiny collective of Irish whiskey fans who watch the industry closely, can decode the language and understand the dog whistles. How many consumers who bought a bottle of Hyde Whiskey could actually tell you where it was from? Perhaps they wouldn’t care either way, perhaps they just liked the bottle – and it does genuinely have a good look – but it’s worth noting the case of Templeton Rye. Consider this from the Chicago Tribune in 2015:

Under a preliminary settlement announced Tuesday, anyone who has bought a bottle of Templeton Rye since 2006 is entitled to a refund of $3 per bottle, up to six bottles, if lacking proof of purchase. For anyone with proof of purchase, the refund is double: $6 per bottle, up to six bottles.

The terms were hammered out almost a year after a Chicago man filed a class-action lawsuit in Cook County claiming that Templeton Rye Spirits was “deceptively marketing” its whiskey as an Iowa product.

In fact, the spirit is largely distilled and aged at a plant owned by MGP Ingredients in Lawrenceburg, Ind., along with many other ryes on the market. A second class-action suit against Templeton was also filed in Cook County, and a third was filed in Polk County, Iowa, according to the Des Moines Register.

In addition to compensating customers, the Templeton whiskey label will now feature the words “Distilled in Indiana” on the back and remove the words “Small Batch” and “Prohibition Era Recipe” from the front.

According to the suit, plaintiff Christoper McNair, along with “thousands of consumers across the country … thought they were buying authentic Iowa whiskey and were unaware of the actual origin of its whiskey.”

McNair claimed in the suit he had bought more than a dozen bottles of Templeton Rye (at an approximate cost of $34.99 per bottle) since 2008 and “liked” the company on Facebook, all while believing the product was made in Iowa.

Bear in mind that this case took place in America – the top market for Irish whiskey sales.

Clearly, the Templeton case was different because it made false claims directly on the bottle – something that theoretically would not happen here, as was pointed out in an excellent post by whiskey bonder Louise McGuane. She details the scrutiny of her label by the controlling authority, the Health Service Executive, and how they made her change aspects of it. So labelling is being controlled – to a degree.  But if the State was to start trying to sort out issues like deceptive marketing and false provenance, they would have some sizeable adversaries outside of whiskey – Tesco’s fake farms and the wild shenanigans of massive brewing firms (as exposed continuously by Jaq Steadman on her excellent Liquid Curiosity account) are just the tip of the iceberg. In fact, the recent shambles that is Origin Green showed the State has enough trouble just promoting food and drink.

Origin Green was a food sustainability programme that was run by Bord Bia, the national body responsible for promoting Irish food and drink at home and abroad. The idea was that firms would apply for Origin Green status on the basis of their ongoing endeavours in sustainability and ecologically sound practice. As recently as last September, Bord Bia announced that they were spending one million euros on promoting Origin Green. That money is, of course, funded by the taxpayer.

Within days of that announcement, three firms who were certified members of Origin Green were named by the Environmental Protection Agency as some of the worst polluters in the country. This in turn led the Irish Wildlife Trust to call Origin Green a sham, accusing it of ‘greenwashing’ for firms that are actively damaging our environment. It’s hard to ascertain just how stringent Bord Bia were when giving out the verification awards, but Hibernia Distillers – who, once again, do not own a distillery or warehouses – are among the firms who have Origin Green status.

You can read their entry here, but this is a key point:

All barley and corn used in the distilling process is 100% sourced in Ireland, with the whiskey produced in small batches.

Given that much of what they are selling was distilled in either Cooley or Bushmills between five and ten years ago – when their firm didn’t even exist – I find it highly unlikely that they could possibly claim that all of the grain used was Irish.

All of the corn used for grain spirit in Ireland has to come from other countries, as we do not have the climate here to grow it without incurring large costs. If the Hydes can show paperwork to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the grain spirit they are selling was made from 100% Irish-grown maize, then I would love to hear from them. Sadly it won’t be on Twitter, where they went from ignoring my questions for two years to actually just blocking me after my post went live in August.

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Then there is their use of the term ‘small batch’ – malt whiskey is made in batches. It is, by its very nature, a batch process. However, I would find it hard to call the sizeable distilleries of Cooley or Bushmills ‘small batch’, for it is from one of those two that Hibernia Distillers get their malt whiskey.

As regards their single grain whiskey – grain spirit is made in a continuous process, which is why the still that makes it is known as a continuous still. If you care making grain spirit, you are making it non-stop in as large quantities as you can manage. Pot whiskey is batch, like a kettle, while grain is non stop, like a tap. So the grain whiskey Hyde are bottling and selling is not small, nor is it batch.

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It’s also worth noting that their most recent release – which falsely lists Alan Hyde as master distiller –  states that their single grain is triple distilled. All grain whiskey is distilled once, as the process is so efficient it doesn’t need more. You can argue that the compartments of a column still constitute three processes, but let’s face it, nobody does that, except the Hydes.

Meanwhile, under the ‘social responsibility’ section of their Origin Green profile, the Hydes list sponsorship of sports teams (they claim the Church Of Ireland hockey team is one of the best known sports clubs in Cork, which will be news to Cork City FC) and donations to charity. Sponsorship is marketing, while charitable donations are just PR masquerading under the flimsy banner of corporate social responsibility. Somehow, all of these things are listed as reasons why Hibernia Distillers deserve Origin Green certification. I put all of these points to Origin Green in an email on November 2nd last year, asking if they actually verified any of the claims in the profile, and this was their immediate response:

Hi Bill,

Thank you very much for your email and your interest in the programme. Please note that because all Origin Green plans are treated as confidential, we are not in a position to disclose any further information than what is publically available on our website. However, all Origin Green plans must achieve 3rd party verification before they’re accepted to the programme, and all targets are audited on an annual basis for their validity.

Thank you again and have a nice day.

Kind regards,

The Origin Green Team

One point I’d like to make to any communications people out there – nobody in Ireland says ‘have a nice day’ without it being a passive aggressive ‘fuck you’. It’s the equivalent of ‘have a great weekend’ or ‘enjoy your evening’ on Twitter – it means ‘don’t bother to contact me again’. So if you are starting out in your career of firefighting with journalists, don’t use ‘have a nice day’ to sign off on a request for information that you clearly do not want to share, as this sort of brush-off rarely works the way you hoped. Naturally, I set my jaw and responded:

Hi,

Thanks for getting back to me so quickly. While I appreciate confidentiality, I’d like to quote from the Bord Bia strategy statement document: “Transparency and safe supply chains are a critical component of the Origin Green ambition. Consumer trust in where their food comes from and how it is made is vital for manufacturers, retailers and, indeed, the reputation of Ireland’s food and drink industry. Producers recognise the priority that should be given to transparency throughout the supply chain – to form a chain of trust– starting at the source of the raw ingredient or farm of origin. Without safe and transparent supply chains, the vision for the Irish food and drink industry cannot be achieved.”

Client confidentiality is important – so is transparency. If the Hydes are allowed to use Origin Green as a platform to boost their brand and use it for corporate virtue signalling, I would suggest that it might be in the public interest for you to go back over their claims and see how much of it they can actually back up – especially the part about using 100% corn and barley from Ireland, which is audacious as they don’t have anything to do with actually making whiskey.

On a related note, I would very much appreciate it if you could furnish me with the official Bord Bia/Origin Green definition of ‘sourced in Ireland’ – does it mean grown here, or simply purchased here?

Finally – were the three firms named and shamed by the EPA stripped of their Origin Green status? Who audited them on their claims, and who verified their status?

Many thanks,

Bill

Granted, the last part was just a giddy snarl, but it is all part of the bigger problem – offering this rubber stamp from the State to firms that they don’t seem to scrutinise all that well.

A week later, I hadn’t heard a peep. So I emailed again:

Hi there,

Concerned that you might have forgotten to reply to me – my questions still stand: Do you stand over the facts as stated on the Hibernia Distillers Origin Green website page; do you have an official definition of the word ‘sourced’ as used by Bord Bia/Origin Green; and what was the outcome for the three Origin Green-certified firms named and shamed by the EPA?

Regards,

Bill

This is the point where a badger has latched on to your leg and you are desperately searching for a twig to snap so he lets go. They answered, with a rather more pleasant tone than the ‘thanks for the email and have a nice day’ opener.

Hi Bill,

Apologies for the delay, just to inform you I am following up with this. I’m just gathering the information needed and will be back to you in due course.

Kind regards,

Anna

That was the tenth of November. Cue silence. On November 25th I emailed again:

Hi,

Any updates on this situation?

Regards,

Bill

Then on November 30th I got this:

Hi Bill,

I hope you are well.

Sincerest apologies in the delay in getting back to you – we are just waiting for input from a colleague ad will get back to you as soon as possible.

Kind Regards,

Katie

Katie is an assistant brand manager with Origin Green. So there was a faint hope some clarity might be coming. On December 5th, I got this:

Dear Bill,

Sincere apologies for the delay in getting back to you and thank you for taking the time to enquire about the Origin Green Programme.

If you are referring to the Hibernia Distillers case study on our Origin Green website https://www.origingreen.ie/member/hibernia-distillers/

we can confirm that their sustainability commitments are a  summary of their sustainability plan, that was independently verified by SGS http://www.sgs.ie/

Regarding your query looking for an official definition of the word ‘sourced’ as used by Bord Bia/Origin Green:

Sourced in relation to Origin Green can be sourced from Ireland i.e. produced in Ireland or sourced from outside i.e. produced outside the country.  Companies are eligible to join Origin Green as follows:

Origin Green Eligibility Criteria https://www.bordbia.ie/industry/manufacturers/origingreen/Pages/EligibilityCriteria.aspx

‘Origin Green is a sustainability development programme that encompasses the Irish food supply chain and all associated activities from farming to food processing. Where ingredients are sourced from outside the Irish supply chain the food processing undertaken in Ireland must represent a significant element of the total manufacturing footprint. Where seafood is exported without further processing the producers involved are required to be members of a recognised Quality Assurance programme and which incorporates a sustainability element.’

Regarding your question asking about the outcome for the three Origin Green-certified firms named and shamed by the EPA:

We are investigating the issues with the Origin Green companies on the EPA’s priority list and will be progressing these on an individual company basis. We have an ongoing working relationship with the EPA.

All companies are third party verified to Origin Green by SGS.

Exactly as you would expect, almost no clarity. ‘Third-party verified’ means ‘we wash our hands of these claims’. Yet they are the ones pushing these firms. So naturally there was another email from me to them on December 8:

Hi,

Thanks for the reply – as a follow-up question, what is the Bord Bia/Origin Green definition of ‘produced’? Does it mean actually made or grown in Ireland? Or is it more about processing and packaging here? I’ve checked with a few brewers, distillers and grain farmers here, and they all say that no maize grown in Ireland is used for distilling – so despite the Hibernia Distillers claim that all the grain used in the whiskey they sell being sourced in Ireland, it seems utterly impossible that the maize used in their single grain was grown here. That’s something you might want to check more thoroughly with SGS.

As for Hibernia Distillers and their wild claims, if you are happy to stand over their statement, I assume it is because SGS have backed it. However, it is basically a press release that deserves far greater scrutiny that SGS seem to have given it – even just the claim about CoI HC being one of the best known sports clubs in Cork is absolute nonsense. Perhaps going forward you should let firms stick to their green credentials and not use Origin Green as a platform for shameless self-promotion that has little to do with the environment.

I’m glad to hear about your working relationship with the EPA, and look forward to hearing the outcome of your enquiry.

On a personal note, I am saddened to see that the information you have provided me with took a month to send through. None of it is revelatory, and I see no reason why you couldn’t have just sent it in reply to my initial email.

Regards,

Bill

Finally, on December 11, they sent me this:

Hi Bill,

Thanks for your follow-up query. Please accept our sincere apologies for the delay in responding to your previous query.

With regards to the word ‘produced’, this would refer to products that are made or grown in Ireland. In some instances, materials or ingredients will be procured which may make up a product that is still produced here. From an Origin Green perspective, we strongly encourage local sourcing wherever possible but in all cases, the aim is to implement robust sustainable sourcing credentials.

We cannot comment on individual cases with our verified members but please note that all companies are audited by SGS against the targets and claims in sustainability plans on an annual basis. This occurs from January to March each year. For companies that became verified members in 2017, they will go through their first annual review in Q1 2018. If a member fails to submit the Origin Green annual review, membership may be suspended. Also, if a member is found to have made claims that cannot be verified or not made sufficient progress against set targets, SGS may outline a clear action plan to be enacted by the company or recommend suspension of membership.

Kind regards,

The Origin Green Team.

These are the people who are in charge of marketing our food and drink overseas. It took them a month to provide me with very simple, utterly useless information. So while they piss away a million euro of your money promoting ‘green’ firms like the ones the EPA condemned as some of the worst polluters in the country, the team at Origin Green seem incapable of simply answering a basic question about one of the brands they have given their blessing to.

As for the firms named and shamed by the EPA, one of those firms was Carbery, who made the EPA watchlist in both 2017 and 2011. It would appear that Origin Green and its parent body, Bord Bia, have an even healthier relationship with Carbery than the one they claim to have with the EPA – a relationship that is about to get a lot stronger:

It’s also worth noting that the Minister for Agriculture who made this promotion, Michael Creed TD, is based in the Cork North West constituency – which is also home to Ballineen, where Carbery are based. 

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Sinead Treanor, sustainability manager, Carbery Group, Ballineen, with Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed, and Dan McSweeney, CEO of the Carbery Group and now head of Bord Bia.

Announcing the appointment of Mr MacSweeney – who recently retired as head of Carbery – the Minister said this: “I am delighted to appoint Dan MacSweeney to the post of Chair of An Bord Bia. Dan is an outstanding individual, with a wealth of knowledge and experience of the Irish agri-food sector. Dan’s reputation for developing a successful international agri-food business, while placing the primary producer at the heart of the business model is widely recognised. I am confident that he will provide innovative strategic leadership and direction to Bord Bia”.

Of the outgoing chair of Bord Bia, Michael Carey, Minister Creed said: “I wish to place on the record my deep appreciation of Michael Carey’s commitment in chairing Bord Bia over the last number of year. His business experience, effective chairing of the Board and work with the organisation particularly in relation to the sustainability agenda and Origin Green has delivered tangible results”.

The bold emphasis was by me, a shorthand way of seeing ‘are you fucking seeing this too?’ The CEO of a firm that was named by the Environmental Protection Agency as one of the worst polluters in the country has now been made head of the Irish Food Board, which also includes Origin Green, which promotes sustainability.

So this is food promotion, food marketing, and food production in Ireland in 2018. This is the time for all Irish whiskey fans to ask: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? – who will guard the guards themselves? Who is going to protect consumers? Because as we learned in the global economic crash of 2008, industry does not self regulate, especially not here on a small island where everyone knows everyone else. There is no invisible hand of the market guiding best practice – there is only human weakness and human greed. Libertarianism is a capitalist wet dream, and unless the whiskey community gets vocal on issues like basic honesty, renegade brands will hobble our resurgence. There is a vast difference between someone like Bernard Walsh, who has always been open about sourcing whiskey and has built a distillery through hard work and honesty, and this new breed of brand that has crashed into the market here.

Consider the Dublin Whiskey Distillery Company, whose CEO Lorcan Rossi told the Independent that you didn’t need a distillery to make great whiskey. Of course, he is right – there is distilling by contract – but one would hope that if he isn’t going to open a distillery, that he will remove the word distillery from the company title, and the bottle. We might be a while waiting for that however, as their new whiskey has hit the market, emblazoned with the tagline Dublin’s Own. 

The defence among these brands is ‘’we never said we had a distillery’. But how is any consumer, here or – more importantly – in the States, meant to know that there is no such place as the DWD, that this spirit is not from Dublin? If you are using words like ‘crafted’ and anchoring your brand in a location other than where it was distilled and aged, then you are misleading consumers. Is it any wonder that this sort of thing happens?:

The response from the brand is also worth noting –

Absent from the tweet is the fact that they don’t actually have a distillery.  Read the about section on their website and note a slight deja vu as they talk at length about purity of water and family tradition of pub ownership.

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Nowhere does it say ‘we source our whiskey from the finest distilleries in the land and cut our whiskey to measure here in Wicklow’. Would you enjoy the whiskey less if it did? I wouldn’t. In fact, I wouldn’t write off Barr An Uisce like I do if they offered a little more clarity on what they actually are.

But this isn’t just about protecting consumers who may not be privy to insider information about how Irish whiskey works – this is about the industry itself. Few in the IWA want to openly start a war with each other, but they are ultimately fighting for the same market. Beyond the big five – IDL/Pernod Ricard, Beam Suntory in Cooley, Brown Forman in Slane, Jose Cuervo in Bushmills and the biggest distiller in the world, Diageo, in Roes of James’s Gate – there will not be much room for the smaller distillers, and they need to be aware that brands which endeavour to create the illusion that they have a distillery pose a threat to their business. Even the guardians of the category for the past 40 years are starting to take note.

In an interview with the Sunday Times, IDL CEO Jean Christophe Couture made the point that there is nothing wrong with creating a brand out of nothing – but misleading the public is unacceptable.

But long before this, one of the smallest, most grassroots distilling firms in Ireland was making the same point. Eighteen months ago, journalist, author and distiller Peter Mulryan wrote a blog post on his frustration at being forced to compete with brands that create nothing except fanciful narratives. As Mulryan said at the end of his post, “So the question is this. As an industry what are we saying to the world? 1. Our spirits in Ireland are awesome, you just have to try them! Or 2.  We’ll invent whatever shit we can get away with, stick it on a bottle and hope you are dumb enough not to ask awkward questions.”

This is the point where we all need to start asking those awkward questions. Jak Steadman asks those awkwards questions, Leslie Williams asks those awkward questions, Louise McGuane asks those awkward questions, and, whether you love him or loathe him, Mark Reynier asks those awkward questions. Brands that mislead are the enemy within, and the growing chorus of whiskey lovers who are willing to say this is not good enough are the only ones who can bring accountability to the sector. Whiskey bloggers, possibly the biggest nerds in the food and drink world, need to be that child who shamed the emperor, need to be able to use their knowledge and their voice to shout ‘fuck this’ when it is needed.

One of the the most surprising things to come from the Hyde post was the realisation that there is a whiskey community beyond Twitter. The analytics show that most of the push to the post came from Facebook and – oddly – LinkedIn, but there were people who contacted me via email just to share their thoughts on it. Not all of us agreed on everything, but in general it was great to hear from fans who had huge passion for whiskey.

One whiskey lover who contacted me even went so far as to rewrite the Scotch whisky regulations on marketing: Explaining his methodology, he wrote; “The main change was to put the technical file rules into it (much of the technical file is just descriptive in my view). I think it is now much better; it is jokey but effective to dress it up as a future statutory instrument. This is simply a rewrite of the Scottish Regs. It undoubtedly needs more work and may contain errors but can be a source of debate. The underlined parts clearly need change to Irish law.

“I had another look at the geographical point and I would argue that you should not put the locality before the category; e.g. a ban on “Kerry Single Malt Irish Whiskey” unless the whiskey was made in Kerry. This is what the Scottish rules say and I think this goes to the heart of the Hyde/West Cork thing and the place-marketing issue generally. I find it difficult to see how it can be any other way, otherwise opening distilleries is disincentivised.”

That is at the crux of this issue – why would anyone want to open a distillery when you can just pretend to open one? Why have a warehouse when you can pretend to have one? Why create when you can just relabel?

You can download the document here:

uksi_20092890 amended for Ireland

There is another issue, beyond all the shenanigans of the brands: Sameness. In an excellent piece in the Irish Independent, Dingle’s head distiller Michael Walsh made this point about a huge amount of brands coming from a small few sources: “People looking to explore Irish whiskey are being greeted with a vast array of new whiskeys under different labels professing to have something ‘unique’ contained within, when in reality it is anything but. You could find largely the same whiskey in any number of different bottlings, which could lead to potential customers getting a very narrow view of Irish whiskey – or simply a distrust of the product, which could turn people away before all the genuinely unique whiskeys come along from the new wave of distilleries. I don’t have a problem with independent bottles, as long as it clearly indicates that this is the case.”

Look at all the independent bottlers we have here – how many of them make it clear that this is what they are, right there on the label?  I can’t understand why no-one has done it – look at the great Scotch bottling firms, there is a golden opportunity here for someone to do the same, and now is the time to get started when there are deals on casks with up and coming distilleries. Surely there is a gap in the market for a quality bottler, blithering on about how they traveled the land like a modern-day Barnard, sourcing only the finest casks of whiskey, how the distillers don’t want anyone to know where they got it from as it was some of their best stuff, throw in a few pictures of yourself copper dogging in a dimly lit warehouse or sniffing a bunghole, and away you go – you are an indie bottler.

Here, however, the norm seems to be pretending you made the stuff you are selling. How did we get to this point? And how do you think we look to the rest of the world? I met a brand rep recently who told me of the gentle ribbing he had been getting for years at whisky fairs overseas, as the Scotch brand ambassadors make jokes about the Irish pretending to have distilleries. Good natured as it was, it shows there is a problem, and while the Hyde post may have forced some of us to confront the issue, it hasn’t gone away.

This is the new whiskey from the Dead Rabbit, a pub in New York:

On the label is the name of the Dublin Liberties Distillery, which is currently being built and is due for completion later this year. A valid question would be – why is there the name of an unfinished distillery on the label? Clearly this isn’t where the spirit was distilled, so why is it there? It is there to give the whiskey legitimacy.

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Due to non-disclosure agreements they cannot legally tell you where the whiskey was sourced, same as any other brand, so they are instead using the name of a distillery that is owned by the firm behind the release – Quintessential Brands. An average consumer – especially one overseas – is going to look at that and make the assumption that Dublin Liberties Distillery is where it comes from. There is literally no other reason for that distillery to have its name on that bottle. It is there to mislead.

You can say – most people won’t care, they will drink this as it has the Dead Rabbit aura, after all, it is the world’s best pub. As a counterpoint to any ‘world’s best’ awards, I’d like to point out that Spike Island in Cork Harbour was recently voted the second greatest tourist attraction in the world – just behind Machu Picchu, and ahead of the Great Wall of China. Yes, the actual Great Wall of China is not as good as an island with a fort on it in Cork harbour.  But while I may see ‘world’s best bar’ as a meaningless accolade, it will be enough for this whiskey to fly off the shelves, and help continue the grand tradition of Irish whiskey brands that mislead.

When I posted the Hyde piece, my wife wearily asked if this meant I had got it out of my system. She had to listen to me banging on about this transparency issue for two years, and didn’t want to hear the name Hyde again. Neither did I, to be honest. For their part, the Hydes have pivoted to being whiskey bonders, which at least is based in fact. I do feel sorry for them, as I think they simply failed to grasp where the lines were drawn for whiskey brands who source. In fact, the most common complaint I received over the last six months was ‘why just Hyde? Why not all the other brands doing the same thing?’ The simple answer is that most brands aren’t so blatant about it. Also, most brands don’t plagiarise vast chunks of copy for their site.

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And, as if the Hydes weren’t already on enough of a downer, the influencer who helped give exposure to their brand – DJ, actor and prominent Scientologist Danny Masterson, who played Steven Hyde in That ‘70s Show – has had something of a fall from grace.

I’d like to point out that the whiskey the Hydes sell is not at fault here. I personally feel it is overpriced, especially when you consider that the sourced ten year old malts from West Cork Distillers are an incredibly reasonable 40 euro, but that isn’t to say that Hydes’ releases are poor, nor are any of the other sourced whiskeys on the market, it’s just the message that left a bad taste.

I’d love to say this is my last post on transparency in Irish whiskey, but the Dead Rabbit brand shows that this problem is not going away. We have everything to play for, but it will be a sad day for whiskey lovers everywhere if the second coming of Irish whiskey comes undone because people who know and love whiskey stayed silent while brands ran riot. 

10 Comments

  1. Another great article Bill. I know the vast majority if not all the Irish whiskey nerds are 100% behind you fight for transparency & honesty.
    I’m gutted to read about Origin Green, I’m glad you’re exposing that. I know that some are very deserving for their efforts in sourcing all local products. Walsh whiskey produced their organic Pot Still recently which is great for the industry. It’s a real reflection of the past going forward.
    I know you’ve stirred the fire in lots of us and there’s plenty in the industry too that support you, even if they can’t openly say it.
    I look forward to reading more. I hope Bord Bia, IBEC, IWA & the Department of Agricultural and whatever other group that are responsible for the industry, sit down and start from scratch.
    There’s no reason why Irish whiskeys can’t be made with 100% Irish grains too. I know this was the situation in the past and I hope it will be again.
    (Have a nice day, 😂, ah jaysus)
    Sláinte
    Will

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Defo with you on the grain – I’d love to see Irish whiskey made from 100% Irish-grown grains, be it wheat for grain spirit of barley. When I was over in Scotland a few years back I met a chap who works in distilling and he made the point that there aren’t enough farms growing barley, either in Scotland or here, for us to use 100% homegrown, so they basically had to import. A sad state of affairs really, we have 40 shades of green for the cows, but less and less gold for the whiskey lovers.

      Like

      1. I’m Scotland, barley growing is incentivised in some areas. In Islay for example, the vast majority of barley grown is lost and never get to a maltster. If the farmers were dependent on growing it for an income, they’re be none. Wheat that’s used for grain Distilling doesn’t need to be malted and therefore could be used over maize.
        Malting barley was the cash crop but the price isn’t in it for the effort for farmers. It’s paying 35% less per tonne in the last 5 years. We have the quality land in Ireland to grow malting Barley but it’s not as attractive to farmers as other areas.
        If Brewers, distillers, Maltsters and farmers got together and could come to an agreeable price with the help of the Department of Agriculture it would be a different landscape. Unfortunately that’s too simple and the EU wouldn’t be happy if the Irish Government was to incentivise the industry and take money away from the poor maize farmers in France.
        Of course I could have it all arseways and am probably wrong but worth looking at.
        Sláinte
        Will

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Bill, another great piece and I would like to thank you for the in depth research you obviously do to highlight this issue.

    I recently got some indirect ‘heat for a recent review on http://www.malt-review.com for highlighting that The Quiet Man 12 year old is sourced from Bushmills. The poor review seems to have upset some people somewhat.

    But here we have another brand that on the face of it have their own distillery and associated operations but who are in fact an independent bottles and many consumers especially in the states where they sell lots of their whiskey are completely unaware of who The Quiet Man are and where there not inexpensive whiskey comes from. On the flip side they will at least be opening a distilling operation soon.

    I also share your concern that these new ‘brands’ who are essentially misleading consumers about their provenance will cause the Irish whiskey community’s reputation harm in the long run by not being transparent.

    It seems to me that many in the industry are all about branding and not really concerned about offering a good product. Profit margins are the be all and end all.

    I too am glad that there is a burgeoning online community who are willing to call out shady practice and marketing….in the long run it can only benefit those brave enough to open a new distillery and actually MAKE their own product.

    Phil

    Like

    1. Hey Phil, love what you guys are doing on Malt, it was always a great read but since the revamp it’s one of my daily reads. Great to see someone representing whiskey from Ireland too. As for the whole ‘planned distillery’ conundrum – it’s a tough one to unpick, but it is, as you point out, all in the message. I always wonder why some new distilleries don’t be more open about sourcing – they should want to stand apart from sourced stock made by their future rivals, so when theirs comes on stream they can say ‘this is who we are’ and celebrate the difference.

      With you 100% on online community being the ones who need to call out any poor practice. I think we’ve had enough free rein for brands here, and it has started us down a dark path. Time for the whiskey nerds to get online and get vocal. The geeks shall inherit the earth!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Bill,
    An extremely powerfully researched & well put together blog.
    Yes – there is a growing problem with Irish whiskey regarding labelling specifically. But there is not – as you pointed out – a problem with the spirit in the bottle.
    I’m not for a wholesale adoption of SWA rules. I believe the different countries methods, traditions & customs have brought about a divergence of styles, flavours & tastes which would be lost by such a move.
    The pastiche rules book goes somewhere to allay my worries – but in practice adopting chapter 9, Names of localities, distilleries and distillers etc., would effectively end misleading labelling.
    I do however draw a line when some commentators imply that Irish whiskey is fake.
    The only fake whisky I have seen confirmed lately was one from Macallan.
    The labelling issue has also allowed a section of the whisky community with an excuse to not venture into Irish whiskey.
    I call them the ‘Scotch is whisky’ brigade.
    There is a certain amount of bias, prejudice and narrow mindedness out there that finds it hard to accept that any country other than Scotland can – and is – producing fine tasting whiskeys.
    Until the rules are changed, Irish whiskey can continue to be branded with non-existing distilleries as effectively no Irish whiskey rules have been breached.
    Like Templeton Rye – it will probably take a court of law to sort it out.

    Like

    1. Agree with you – I know there are whisky fans all over the world who will pick up on things like shoddy labelling or information from brands with nothing to lose, and it will reinforce their opinion that Irish whiskey isn’t worth bothering with. It’s a fairly snobbish scene at times but we have to make sure we come to the table with a message that is worthy of the excellent product we have.

      Re: Templeton Rye – I had one of the bottles that entitled you to a refund if you sent the cap back, I never did as it was a great whiskey. MGP make some crackers, despite being seen as a sort of fountain for third party sellers. Very much hope we never see a case like Templeton here, the negative press would crush our resurgence fairly lively.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I am very saddened by Origin Green. Bord Bia is a truly supportive organisation for new spirit producers. Of all the state bodies or private industry sponsored bodies like IWA. Bord Bia is the organisation that has helped my business the most and continues to do so. Their research resources and understanding of the needs of Commercial Support for new food and drinks businesses is truly outstanding. I was super excited to hear about Origin Green, because at heart I am a 1960’s environmental activist. So I signed up to take part. The concept behind the initiative is an excellent one.

    However I never did yet actually get my Origin Green certification, specifically because technically I do enough to already qualify (like planting wild-flower meadows, and NOT cutting my hedgerows……..) and I felt as through it was a bit of a box ticking exercise. To be fair another large motivation was that I did not find the time to file all the supporting paperwork. When those EPA allegations came out, I sort of felt well what’s the point then? Origin Green through very well intentioned is simply at this stage a great (and very well performing) PR platform for Bord Bia globally. I would argue actually that if judged on that merit, its worth the 1 Million. It is however a marketing department initiative not a true environmental one or at least it feels that way to me. That said for all of us small businesses who go to the OG seminar, there has to be some residual positive effect.

    As my business grows I’ll be damn sure we source sustainable packaging where we can, I’ll recycle everything possible and ensure our planned blending and bottling facility is as low impact as we can get it. Sorry, but the barley my whiskey is made from won’t all be grown IN Ireland as much of it comes in from Eastern Europe (just like EVERY other independent bottler at the moment….) It might be BOUGHT here but THAT DOES NOT COUNT THAT STILL MEANS IT IS FOREIGN BARLEY. As for the corn used for the grain whiskey….well we don’t really grow corn here in Ireland now do we? I will forge ahead and complete OG to avail of Bord Bia supports, but I am sad to say based on my the EPA revelations, the program is not working the way its supposed to and by that I mean holding small and more importantly large food & drink businesses to account on sustainability and environmental standards suited to securing our little Islands future.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s incredibly depressing Louise. Hard to know where Origin Green started to get it wrong – possibly not enough staff for the project, they certainly need to get more people in for verifying those profiles and even for basic communication like answering emails. This from the Irish Times makes for grim reading – “Department of Agriculture figures show An Bord Bia received €32.5 million in public money for the marketing of Irish food in 2016, “something, which leans heavily on our supposedly ‘green’ credentials”. In contrast, Mr Fogarty noted, the National Parks and Wildlife Service, the body which manages natural heritage, received €13.5 million in 2015, the most recent year for which a figure was available.” (https://www.irishtimes.com/news/environment/environmental-group-calls-origin-green-a-sham-1.3244507)

      Fair play for shooting straight on the barley – I don’t think I have ever heard any producer laying it out like that!

      Like

      1. Yeah the barley thing, is weird. I have no clue where the Cooley barley came from, but I’m pretty sure just like JT’s current operation its a bit of Irish and a bit of Eastern European. The trucks are a different colour….that is how you know, or you can just ask. like I did….. The corn is mostly from France I think. I think Ballykeefe, and Tipperary are striking in the All Irish direction and that is doable on a small scale. Any big distillery is bringing it in or buying foreign barley, that is just the way it is. I also don’t see why its such a massive deal. Scotch is not all made from Scottish barley either. My hat goes off to anyone doing Grain to Glass with Irish, its cost-prohibitive and logistically tough, so well done to anyone who can manage it. There seems to be a disconnect between the Irish Grain producers and the big whiskey producers though, Surprisingly those industries have not grown symbiotically. LIkely due to Irish Whiskey being a commodity for such a long time. Price was all that mattered. This will change through consumer WANT grain to glass products in their glass. You’ll see this coming through with small to mid-size producers AND you’ll see special releases from the Multinationals with this theme too.

        Liked by 1 person

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