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Every casino should be able to boast a decent whisky selection – so says Marcin Miller, Casino International’s new columnist
The world of spirits has never been so dynamic. Consumers are broadening their horizons in what they drink, a reflection of increased interest in quality and provenance of food. If you are providing a serious dining experience, then the drinks offering should be of the same standard. Very often, even in the world’s finest restaurants, the spirits on offer are a huge disappointment.
This, of course, presents an opportunity. Anyone willing to make an effort can create a fantastic spirits list that will bestow upon their bar – and, by extension, the whole establishment – a point of difference and, ultimately, a reputation as a place for the discerning opinion-former.
The temptation is to go for the obvious; there is safety in stocking big name brands but isn’t that a bit too easy, too safe? Every bottle on the back bar should tell a story; where it is from, who makes it and why is it different from its competitors. If the bar staff can’t answer those questions they need training – or replacing. If the reps can’t answer those questions, don’t stock their brands.
There is a backlash against globalisation; few people will admit going to McDonalds these days. So why promote the big brands? Learn more about the drinks, enter into dialogue with the customers and reap the benefits. What would your customers make of the very limited and highly collectable Ichiro Akuto’s Card Series, single cask whiskies from Japan’s defunct Hanyu distillery?
Of course, the point here is not ‘big is bad’; Diageo’s management of its single malts, its emphasis on heritage and education and quality of liquid is peerless. However, the decision to stock Johnnie Walker Blue Label generally seems an instinctive one rather than based on a comparative tasting with the competitive set.
A development in the world of Scotch whisky is the recent breakdown of received wisdom. It was universally accepted that age equals price equals quality. Older whiskies are more expensive, therefore, they must be better. In the red corner, Chivas Brothers; the world’s second biggest drinks business. A recent campaign informs us that The Age Matters. To a very large degree that is correct; the longer a single malt matures in oak, the greater depth and complexity that is developed. However, that only applies if the oak casks are of the highest quality. Great whisky comes as the result of top quality spirit matured in the best wood. However, the campaign may have had something to do with Chivas owning the world’s biggest inventory of whisky aged 25 years
There is a shortage of aged whisky – unless you have the good fortune to be Chivas – but no shortage of demand from the emerging markets (Brazil, Russia, India and China foremost among them). To make the most of these opportunities, whisky companies are thinking creatively and an increasing number of releases have no age statements on them. This vogue (out of necessity) began with The Glenrothes, a single malt previously available only by vintage (rather than age), and the launch of Select Reserve to represent the house style with a view to being permanently available.
It is a quandary. The age statement was shorthand for quality, as stated previously. Take that away and what have you got? Fancy packaging, an interesting name and the distiller’s word that it is worth investing in a bottle. What does Glenmorangie Signet, Ardbeg Uigedail, Highland Park Saint Magnus tell you about the whisky?
Which brings us to the good bit; the only way you can find out how good these whiskies are is to taste them. Don’t take anyone else’s word for it. If you are not interested in tasting them, you are missing out on one of life’s great pleasures.
Of course, there is more to life than whisky. There is gin, rum, cognac, vodka, tequila…