...where distraction is the main attraction.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Talkin' Diageo Boycott Blues

Monday: The Diageo non-whisky brands
Tuesday: The Diageo whisky brands
Wednesday: A summary of my larger Diageo conflicts

I used to write whisky industry-related posts almost once a week.  But then I stopped.  Writing about corporate actions and rising prices made me angry.  But writing about actual whisky made me happy.  So I focused on my single malt reports instead.

Each time I've found something enjoyable to obsess about -- baseball, music, movies, whisky -- I get to the point where I discover how business and finance shapes or limits those pleasures.  Then the fun drains out.  So here I am, left index finger in a splint, typing very slowly (a total martyr, right?!), brain running very quickly, writing about how the business is ruining my joy.  I'm already grumpy (I mean, you try washing your right arm with your right hand), so maybe this was the perfect week for Done With Diageo.


For this week's series, I wanted to air out my issues with Diageo in one place rather than gripe and snark about them here and there.  I also wanted folks to think about what they drink before they drink it.  But don't think too much while you're drinking.  Seriously, or not so seriously, I don't want to ruin people's enjoyment of everything.  I'm also not a complete communist.  Not all businesses are bad.  Just most of them.  ;-)

I don't take back anything I've written this week, though I may have overstated my pricing issue.  As of today, the regular "Classic Malts" are priced well and if you have the coin to buy 25yo single malt then Diageo's are comparable to the rest of the market.  Because I do agree with many of the counterpoints presented this week, I'll clarify where I stand.

To begin with, I'm in the camp that thinks when it comes to whisky prices, we are in the new market reality.  Yes, whisky is getting more expensive at a rate that far exceeds discretionary income growth.  When those price increases are no longer tenable, then assets will be liquidated, overhead will be reduced, and prices may plateau.  But they will not go down.  For those of you in my boat who wish prices would go back to where they were even three years ago, get used to disappointment.

And it's not just Diageo and LVMH at fault here.  Beam, William Grant, Edrington, Inver House, Suntory, Burn Stewart, and Pernod Ricard are all actively raising prices -- mostly because they know we will continue to pay them.  The independents will raise their own as well, especially as they get fewer and fewer casks to sell.

The auctions are at fault as well, from the fools (the politest term I can manage) who are grossly overpaying for items, to the houses themselves (like Bonhams and McTears) providing misleading information and selling easily identifiable fakes.  As the secondary market prices go up, so will the primary market's prices.

How about my gripe about dwindling indie casks?  Diageo is far from alone on that one.  Glenfiddich has let maybe a handful of casks go since I've been born.  Balvenie and Glenfarclas indies are either teaspooned or have to go by another name.  Meanwhile non-OB Macallans are getting rarer.  The Big D isn't the only one hoarding malt.  This was also demonstrated when most of the major owners pulled their own vatted malts from the market at the same time Johnnie Walker did so.

And my qualm with Diageo barely bottling any of their distilleries' single malts?  Pernod releases single malts from less than half of their distilleries.  Bacardi doesn't release any [Correction! They do regularly release a 12yo and 21yo from Aberfeldy. Thanks, Eric!].

But just because everyone else is guilty of some of the issues, doesn't mean that Diageo is in the right.  In fact with their size and influence, their choices carry much more power.

I also don't care what the reasoning was behind Diageo killing off Green Label.  It was a brand I liked, and they took it away, so it's a personal frustration.  Their pricing on Talisker 18 essentially killed off another of my favorite whiskies.  Another personal frustration.  And I don't take back anything I said about the goofy Diageo PR machine.  Nor how I feel about the crappy presentation of what is some of the most glorious whisky in the world, before it is tampered with.  Nor will I stop questioning how Scottish their Scotch actually is.  Nor am I comfortable with a single international conglomerate controlling such a considerable part of the liquid.  Nor do I forgive them for some very ugly corporate actions.

But is it enough for a boycott?

Well, I'm 97% there already.  I've purchased one Diageo product all year.  (I had to get that Talisker 10, didn't I!)  In the bigger picture, I'm making an conscious effort to slow (or stop) my whisky buying in general because: 1.) prices are higher; 2.) I have less discretionary income than I used to; and 3.) my whisky cabinet is almost packed tight.

One of my biggest frustrations about the whisky community is that no one (aside from Mr. Scotch and Ice Cream, Tim Read) seems to be satisfied with that what he already has.  And by "satisfied" I do not mean the obsessive narcissistic posting of bottle pics on the Malt Maniacs and Friends Facebook page.  The drive is to buy more, more, more or (worse) buy/flip, buy/flip, buy/flip.  Because retail therapy can turn into an addiction, and because the real pleasure of whisky is in the drinking and sharing -- not the hoarding -- I'm trying very hard to learn how to be happy with what I've got.  It's not easy, and I fail often, but I'm going to keep focusing on that pursuit.

With all of that in mind and with a reduced whisky budget, I need to be selective about my purchases.  And the question goes back to, who do I want to support?  Not Diageo, directly.

I will continue to support small malt producers.  Distilleries like Arran and Kilchoman must bring a great product to the market in order to survive, then keep it great in order to stay open.  Having grown up with small businesses in my family, I want to support the little guys because I know how difficult it is to turn a profit when resources are small and how much the human aspect is needed in order to succeed.

Many of my purchases will be from independent bottlers.  And if one of those bottlers get its hands on a Diageo cask, then I may just avail myself of one of those bottles.  Since Diageo malt and grain whiskies are inside almost every single blend out there, I will continue to buy (tasty) blends.  There's no way I would stop supporting Compass Box; Glaser è il maestro.

I won't can't stop my wife from buying Diageo products.  Do not get between that woman and a pint of Guinness.  And speaking of Guinness, when I am back in Ireland and Scotland (oh, that will be the day), I won't resist buying Diageo stuff because at least some of my money will go directly to Irish and Scottish publicans and retailers.

With Diageo owning 34% of their drinks segment, there's a real dearth of LVMH whisky I desire to buy, especially with Glenmorangie putting the kibosh on Astar.  I've never found an officially bottled United Spirits (now owned by Diageo) malt that made me yearn for a second sip.  But I'm in trouble if Diageo ever does buy Beam Inc.

For the time being, you will find more Diageo single malt reports here because I have a bunch of goodies in the stash.  After those goodies are gone, I'll have to consider how I'll treat samples.  Inside my brain, arguments rage about both sides.

I worry that this week's series came across holier-than-thou.  I don't want to be the guy standing in front of the store, holding the sign that says "EVERY TIME YOU SHOP AT WALMART, GOD KILLS A KITTEN", because we all know that God only kills a kitten every time you masturbate.

Not the reason behind my hand injury

What was my point?

Thank you for your comments, tweets, and facebookages.  I actually agree with most of your challenges, and they all made me think about what I wrote.  And my intent wasn't to be a bummer, so I'm sorry if I pissed in your whisky.  Industry leaders piss in my whisky all the time.  Diageo, with their big D, is the preeminent perpetual pissing perpetrator, and I'm tired of it.  So, I won't give them my money.

Next week, I'll go back to reporting on the fun stuff.


  1. by "satisfied" I do not mean the obsessive narcissistic posting of bottle pics on the Malt Maniacs and Friends Facebook page. The drive is to buy more, more, more or (worse) buy/flip, buy/flip, buy/flip. Because retail therapy can turn into an addiction, and because the real pleasure of whisky is in the drinking and sharing -- not the hoarding...

    Best thing written in the whiskey blog universe since at least the Whisky is Dying post over at Ruben's.

    1. Thank you, Tim. Though I don't think I can compete with Sku's revelation, "Oh, and I only taste in the nude." Life will never be the same again.

      Ruben's post is great! He covers a lot of subjects many of us are thinking about and in a remarkably concise fashion.

  2. Good luck on the boycott. As much as I would like to join you, it's tough giving up Lagavulin or Dalwhinnie.

    By the way Bacardi does release a couple official bottlings of Aberfeldy (decent but unexceptional stuff in the 12 year old). I think the other four distilleries they own also have regular releases but Aberfeldy is the only one I've found here.

    1. I'm going to miss quite a number of their Classics. I like Lagavulin and Dalwhinnie a lot for their own unique reasons. You are totally right about Aberfeldy! I'll make the change.

    2. The funny thing is Bacardi has put out more Aberfeldy than its previous owner ever did. I wonder who that was?

      *cough* Diageo *cough*

    3. That's right. Looks like Bacardi got them in 1998. Diageo put out a Flora & Fauna and one cask strength manager's dram. And, of course, they're both selling for a fortune now.

  3. Michael, I don't think you pissed in my whisky. In fact, last night I had a couple glasses of Caol Ila 12yo - it was better than I remembered it and that it has any right to be. Perfect balance of peat and malt, no piss, no vinegar.

    I've also noticed that there seems to be a cycle or an arc to a whisky drinker's experience. You got to the point where you've tried a lot of whisky and have a large perspective of the field that allows you to even consider this Diageo boycott. You most likely could not have done this one or two years ago - the arguments were still there, but you were still curious about a lot of what Diageo had to offer. Was it the Singleton of Glen Ord the tipping point? :) Of course you'll buy and report on independents - how many times are you going to write about Talisker 10yo and Clynelish 14yo? How many OBs does Serge report on these days? So, in a way, you won't miss much, you have moved on.

    In the larger picture, you can see this arc - excitement - connoisseurship - tiredness/disappointment?/moving on in several illustrious bloggers, from Johannes van den Heuvel, to Tim Read, to Ruben, and several others. Interestingly enough, while each blames it on the current state of the industry, they do this at different points in history; the prices that Johannes complained about in his good-bye post were still quite decent by our standards; maybe in five years the whisky drinkers will be surprised at how people like you used to gripe about fantastic deals of the past, such as $60 Talisker 10yo, and so on. To a great extent is just one's personal experience when the law of diminishing returns kicks in.

    I'm not saying you're getting bitter, and I hope that you will continue drinking and writing about it a long time; just that you've graduated to a new level.

    1. Florin, thank you very much for your words.

      I've greatly enjoyed the bloggings of Johannes, Tim, and Ruben. They've all covered more ground than I, contributed considerably to the whisky dialogue, have preceded me in all of these subjects, and have done a tremendous job in the process. I felt the weight within their documentation of their disillusionment. My hope is that my own issues aren't creeping up prematurely, as I'm only a handful of years into my whisky discoveries.

      Ultimately, while I am embittered with the drinks industry (as well as some of the secondary market elements), I still love the whisky. I want to keep and preserve that joy. Diving for Pearls is also a joy, as it allows me to keep a public journal of my whisky experience. Plus it has helped me meet so many wonderful folks (you included) who are simultaneously enjoying their own whisky journeys. I'll endeavor to keep this going as long as finances and health (in that order?) allow.

      The ultimate Diageo tipping point? I don't know, but it may have been motivated by any one of Nick Morgan's press releases. I was a political firebrand once upon a time, so there's something in me that's just waiting to get worked up. But also, on a positive note, I've been very inspired by the newer distilleries, small companies, and indie bottlers. They have kept the filtering, watering, and coloring to minimum in both their whisky and marketing. And, most importantly, a lot of the whisky is good. So my support goes their direction.

      And finally, I'm glad I missed your Caol Ila glass while micturating about! Who knows, with any luck I may just fall head over heels for Caol Ila after reporting on their whiskies this winter. But I'll cross Port Askaig when I get there. Thank you.

  4. And Green Label is back this year as a regular release. On top of the pretty good Johnnie Walker Select Casks, I have a feeling Diageo is trying to win us back....

    1. Yeah, they've been having some issues with JW sales for the past two years. It'll be fun to see how far they'll go.