Bond preferred vodka martinis. But for many a spy, the drink of choice is Scotch. Neat. Perhaps with a cigar. Usually the Scotch in question is merely a means of enjoyment or relaxation. Recently, it became the subject of an outcry one would have thought was in response to straight espionage or outright betrayal.
To be given the moniker of Scotch whisky, a very specific formula and process must be followed. The process itself is even codified in law. The libation must be distilled in Scotland from water and malted barley. The mixture must be aged within Scotland’s borders for a minimum of three years inside oak casks. The result must be at least 40% alcohol by volume. Period.
But the world’s largest producer of the caramel colored spirit, Diageo PLC, wants to change the rules of the Scotch game. And they wanted to do it in secret, or at least very quietly. But it’s in the open now and Scotch purists are none too pleased.
You might be familiar with some of Diageo’s brands like Johnnie Walker, Talisker and J&B. After meeting resistance to earlier proposed changes, Diageo formed a task force in 2017. Yes, a task force. Scotch is serious business and serious business has been involved in the game of subterfuge ever since espionage became the second oldest profession in the world.
The task force’s mission? Explore ways to change the traditional and much beloved Scotch-making process. Why? To stave off a slowing market and entice new drinkers to the proverbial bar. American whiskey grew from 19% to 25% of the market share over the last decade and it was Scotch that took the hit.
Some ideas thrown around were to finish the aging process in old tequila barrels in lieu of the traditional port and cognac casks; or to create a “Scotch infusion” to place on shelves alongside other low-alcohol and flavored blends.
According to the WSJ, a Scottish member of Parliament went so far as to ask then-Prime Minister Tony Blair to intervene in what he called an “ongoing crisis.” Mr. Blair said he would “look into it.” Diageo eventually pulled the product from shelves.
During the past two years, Diageo executives approached the SWA directly, asking to use Don Julio tequila casks to finish some of its batches. The SWA apparently said no. The task force continues to bandy about other ideas, though analysts believe they will continue to face fierce opposition.
The Gaelic word for Scotch is uisce beatha. It means “water of life.” The locals do not take it lightly. Progressive Scotch making looks to have as much chance for success as the Highland Clan Jacobites did at the Battle of Culloden Moore. But casks have been used as vessels for smuggling contraband and rebels at various points in Scottish history. So if Diageo really wants to change the formula, it might just need to use those Don Julio casks to smuggle out its proposed Scotch insurgents.
Photos Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.