Saturday, 18 September 2010

#386 - Is Google Growing Evil-ish?

So far I've used this new 'Blogger' blog mostly to apologise for the fact that I post so few messages here - but then again I'd like to think that I usually have a good excuse... 

Like this time. I had to upgrade to a new PC last month and strangely enough, such a relatively simple 'domestic' procedure also affects the Malt Madness and Malt Maniacs web sites. Because the foundations of these sites were laid in 1995, simple things like transferring files from one computer to another can cause some technical problems. 

So, I have to admit that one of the reasons for starting this "external" whisky blog was that it would allow me to keep sharing my thoughts with other whisky lovers, even if something went wrong with the main sites. Since Google generously provides all the services behind this "Blogger" blog for free, I guess I really can't complain to loud when something goes wrong. Nevertheless, some very colourful words were shouted in Google's general direction when I found out last week that all pages on Malt Madness had disappeared from Google's index. 

This effectively meant that novices in the confusing world of whisky would no longer be able to find any of the precious nuggets of whisky wisdom that are littering the pages of Malt Madness. And that wasn't even the worst part of it. Unless I'm sorely mistaken, Google did more than introduce 'Google Instant' last week. (Google Instant starts offering search results before you hit 'enter' - significantly increasing the amount of web traffic in the process...) I'm not sure yet, but it seems Google used this opportunity to change their search algorithms as well. Many pages on Malt Madness used to score quite high "organically" with Google on whisky-related searches, but even now that most pages seem to be back in Google's index, they score much lower than they once did.

So, I'll have to make some changes to the structure of the site to try and make Malt Madness easy to find again. This could mean that parts of Malt Madness will be temporarily off-line in the days and weeks to come. Fortunately, I'll still be able to vent my spleen via other channels like this blog, the Mixed Messages mailinglist, Malt Maniacs, Facebook and Twitter

So, watch this space for updates in the weeks to come. As far as the news over the past few weeks is concerned: we've already received more than 150 bottles for the MM Awards 2010, our annual whisky competition. And there's still one week left for participants to join the competition, so we should get over 200 bottles again. Yumm.... Furthermore, we've received an interesting E-pistle about taxes on whisky in Europe from foreign correspondent Keith Wood. There are a few more E-pistles in the pipeline AND Rich Howard has been making some steady progress with the Malt Maniacs Database. The demo of the new MMMonitor is fully functional, so that should hopefully keep you suitably entertained for a while. 

And if that isn't enough, here are a handful of links to some enjoyable music I found on YouTube. Since YouTube is owned by Google, I figured that my enjoyment of the music they so generously provide might diminish their increased evilness a bit in the grander scheme of things. I'd like to encourage everybody to help me reduce Google's evilness by enjoying this small but eclectic collection of some home grown Dutch music... 

Johannes Heesters - Ode aan de Westertoren (An antique pre-WWII song)
Caro Emerald - Back It Up (The Original Videoclip)
Caro Emerald - Back It Up (A funny Kraak & Smaak Video-remix)
Veldhuis & Kemper - Volkomen Kut (Funny videoclip & lyrics) 
Room Eleven - Hey hey hey! (Just some happy music)
Zangeres Zonder Naam - Ach Vaderlief, toe drink niet meer (1959)
Bløf - Mooie Dag (lovely spacy music to my ears)
Jurk! - Tram 7 (Live)
Jurk! - Verloren (Beautiful melancholic lyrics)
De Lenco's - Het Grote Brandweerlied (Dutch Uber-folk)* 

(* Voor de Nederlandse lezertjes: in het laatste lied spreekt me met name het tomeloze enthousiasme aan waarmee de Lenco's over "een brandende hel" zingen...)

Eauqui-deauqui - enjoy....

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

#385 - Cask Logistics in South Africa

In entry #382 I posted some thoughts from the other maniacs and myself in response to a question from Jeff Borowitz regarding the selection of casks for ageing. Our South African maniac Joe Barry was kind enough to follow up on Jeff's question and forwarded it to Andy Watts, Manager of the James Sedgewick distillery in South Africa. Andy wrote;

"Great to hear from you again and this is a very interesting and good question. I will try to answer with my opinion which is not necessarily that of the company or other whisky companies / distillers. Please also remember that we are relatively very new in the whisky business and therefore we don’t currently have all the “nice” options of very old aged stock!  To try to answer you would ideally have some kind of strategy within your company which would give guidelines as to what products the marketing department would want available with volumes and when! 

This strategy may change due to various reasons; however it must remain the back bone of your planning. This means that for example a certain amount would be laid down for a 12yr plan but also an acceptable volume may be added so that if during this 12 years the strategy changes you do have some stock to go forward with.

In our case our oldest commercially available whiskies at current are 5yr old but with the success of the previous 10yr old single malt it highlighted the fact you need a whisky strategy. Over the last few years we have put that in place and this means we now have whiskies laid down which will eventually bring an ongoing 10yr old and then also older versions.

I would be very reluctant to make the decision that a particular whisky is made for being 30yr old and then just left in maturation. I believe whisky inventory control means constantly assessing the product and making decisions regarding re-vat into a different / older type of cask etc. At all times quality must take preference over age!

Economics also plays a very big role in whisky inventory and that is why, in our case, the older offerings are generally low volume. The accountants are reluctant to sit with stock of high value which can’t move. It is therefore a case of demand outstripping supply on these products. Special occasions or significant dates in history may necessitate releasing whisky at a younger age than anticipated or leaving it in for an extended period of time. 

Personally I believe that style is starting to play a more important role in the whisky we drink making an age statement not always necessary but there is no escaping the fact that age is a traditional part of the whisky heritage and there will always be aged products and a demand for them.

I hope the above gives Jeff some insight into the mind of a distiller. If I have missed anything or not been specific enough then please let me know but I think the reality is all companies will approach this differently and there is no hard and fast rule. Whisky Live will see me at both Cape Town and Jo’burg this year and look out for the new 10 yr old single malt which will be on the Three Ships stand.  It is due for release towards the end of October and I can’t wait to hear the honest comments from all of you whisky lovers."

Joe added: "An interesting point to note is the pending release of new single malts from South Africa, the one Andy mentions and a first ever from Draymans which was supposed to be ready for the World Cup but will now appear at Whisky Live here."

So, apart from the theories of a the maniacs that were posted in July, we now also have a contribution from somebody working in the whisky industry. That's great - although I should point out that the situation might be a little different in Scotland. In fact, given the differences between the way the process works in countries like Japan, Ireland and Canada it's possible that things work a little differently in every country.
Sweet drams,