I went on about this a little bit on Twitter earlier this evening but I can’t resist putting it all together in a blog post as well with a little more detail (this is why I am so beloved). I don’t know if you’ve seen it but the Daily Beast today published a piece by someone named Aaron Goldfarb on Single Cask Nation’s single cask releases that is quite laughable in many respects.Single Cask Nation, if you don’t know, is the independent bottling concern/club started by ex (?) whisky bloggers Joshua Hatton and Jason-Johnstone Yellin of Jewish Whisky Company (they also operate the Whisky Jewbilee events). Goldfarb appears to be someone who writes about spirits on a regular basis but it’s hard to tell from this if he actually knows very much about the ins and outs of the Scotch world. But I do expect a little better from The Daily Beast (is that an error?). Okay, what are my problems with the piece? Read on.
Where to begin? Well, mother always said to start at the beginning. So here’s the promise the title of the piece makes: “How Three Jews Are Changing American Whiskey (sic) Drinking”. We are then told that this is because “Jewish Whisky Company is showing Americans both Jewish and gentile a whole new way that great whisky can be bottled and released in this country.”
What is this whole new way, you ask? Are they selling pre-mixed whisky and ginger ale? Whisky in boxes? Are they piping the whisky directly into people’s homes? No, apparently the answer is that they are independent bottlers, a “business arrangement”, we are told, that is apparently “far less common in America” than in Scotland. Really? That must be news to the large numbers of independent bottlers who’ve been happily selling their wares to American drinkers for about two decades now (and perhaps even longer). Gordon & MacPhail, Duncan Taylor, Douglas Laing, Scott’s Selection, Signatory—these are only the most prominent names that any whisky drinker in the US would have encountered long before Joshua Hatton apparently started drinking whisky, leave alone bottling it. But none of these companies (or any others) are mentioned in this article which really seems to believe, or at least want readers to believe that this is some innovation in the US by Jewish Whisky Company.
Another innovation, we are told, is that they are bottling cask strength whisky. This “because it’s somewhat rare to find scotch bottled at barrel-proof strength”. This is certainly true…if you never go to a liquor store. Cask strength single malt whisky is everywhere in the US: it’s the calling card of pretty much every independent bottler, for crying out loud (then again, Goldfarb doesn’t seem to know that any others exist); and distillery released cask strength whisky is ubiquitous as well. You don’t have to go speciality whisky stores to find cask strength whisky (or other independent bottlers) either: just go to your local mega booze mart.
Finally, there’s the suggestion that there’s some novelty in the fact that a large part of the target audience is Jewish. This, we are told, is the reason why the distilleries are willing to work with Jewish Whisky Company:
Still, why would distillers like Laphroaig and Glen Moray want to sell off their quality stock to these Jews from America?
“Two reasons,” notes Hatton. “From our blogging, we had built relationships with people in distilleries. Like anything in businesses, it always comes down to relationships. The second reason is that we are the Jewish Whisky Company.”
What he means is, even if the company’s internal motto might be “Whisky first, Jewish second,” from a distillery’s perspective, they just wanted to get into Jews’ liquor cabinets.
This is folly. Yes, a Jewish independent bottler is a new thing (as far as I know) but Jewish drinkers have not needed a Jewish independent bottler to buy and drink Scotch whisky and nor have Scottish distilleries/companies had trouble getting Jewish drinkers to buy Scotch whisky because no Jewish independent bottler previously existed. And as it turns out anyway the majority of Single Cask Nation’s club members are not Jewish anyway. (I won’t say anything about the amusing suggestion courtesy Jason Johnstone-Yellin that without whisky Jews and non-Jews would have nothing to talk about.)
It emerges then that there is nothing new about what Single Cask Nation is doing—in what way any of what the article describes could possibly change American whisk(e)y drinking, I don’t know.
So what gives? Does Aaron Goldfarb not know much about whisky? If that’s the case The Daily Beast shouldn’t be publishing pieces by him on whisky. Now, I have nothing against Jewish Whisky Company/Single Cask Nation. I don’t know Joshua or Jason but I don’t wish them ill: I am all for more good whisky being made available and reports are that they’ve bottled some. I do have a problem with journalism that can barely be differentiated from marketing/p.r and that’s what this piece amounts to: advancing the interests of Jewish Whisky Company/Single Cask Nation at the cost of accuracy*. Whisky bloggers are usually all over publications when they make errors or swallow marketing claims hook, line and sinker, and we should do that even when those benefitting are members of the larger whisky geek community.
*The piece also tells us in the same breath that the company has signed an NDA with the distillery from which their “Undisclosed” Islay 7 release comes and that it is a Lagavulin (which is nice, because this is basically what every indie wants the customer to believe their undisclosed Islay is if they’re not trying to convince them it’s an Ardbeg).