To coat or not to coat?

In the comments section of our last post on Octomore, drJarv (who I’m assuming is on the design team for Octomore as he hasn’t denied it yet!) asked for our thoughts on the coated opaque bottle that they’ve gone for with Octomore (Bruichladdich fans will remember that both Blacker Still and Redder Still were similarly adorned with this coating).

Poster bgulien immediately responded with a fair point that these coatings make it difficult to see how much whisky you have left.  I decided to throw my tuppence-worth in and started to write a quick comment – but it kind of turned into a bit of a rant and opened up a bit of a can of worms, so I thought I’d do it as a new post and throw the floor open for discussion.  Here goes:

I have no big problem in principle with coated bottles – for me what’s inside the bottle is more important than how it looks.  If a whisky is a great whisky then IMHO what the bottle looks like is a minor issue.  I’d certainly prefer great whisky in a crap bottle than a crap whisky in a fancy bottle.

In fact, you could argue that a great whisky in rubbish packaging is the best thing of all – it puts gift shoppers off and leaves more for those in the know!  I remember the old Oddbins own label single malts from about ten years ago – just cheap glass bottles with huge blocks of colour and ‘Single Speyside Malt Whisky’ on them: but the 25 year-old Speyside was Glenfarclas – for twenty-five quid!!

Now, bgulien’s point about coated bottles is valid - if you can’t see what’s in there, how can you tell how much whisky is left?  Just feeling the weight of the bottle isn’t really very accurate these days because some bottles are heavy even when they’re empty – and Bruichladdich certainly falls into that category.

So why put whisky in a coated bottle?  The cynical side of me would reply that it’s because they don’t want you to see the colour of the whisky.  Why not?  Perception.  The industry thinks that we think that no colour = no flavour.  And it’s unfortunate, but lots of people do.

Sight is the most visceral and immediate sense, and no doubt there are reams of market research showing that shoppers make their mind up whether or not to buy something in the first few seconds of seeing it – and if a whisky has no colour, they’ll decide it probably isn’t very good.

Now this, of course, is all tied up with the “older = better” fallacy and is patently a crock of you-know-what.  We once bottled an Ardmore that was paler than an albino’s pee, but it was one of the most deceptively powerful, intense, blow-yer-socks-off whiskys I’ve ever tasted.  But it doesn’t matter, because that’s what people think.

*Engage Clarkson mode*

*Clarkson Mode On* / Picture from nissanforumsph.com

*Clarkson Mode On*

But why do they think that?  Because that’s what they’ve been told!  “This whisky is older - look at the colour - that’s why we have to charge you loads of money for it.”

The problem then, of course, is that once you convince people that older = better and colour = older you have to start putting caramel into your whisky so that it looks like what you’ve told people to think it should look like!! Thereby tainting what was once a perfectly good malt whisky – and Yes, I’m looking at YOU, D*lm*r* !!!

*Clarkson Mode Off* / Picture from thetruthaboutcars.com

*Clarkson Mode Off*

So why is Octomore in a coated bottle?  My guess is that it’s because, as a young whisky aged in Bourbon barrels, it’s probably pretty pale.  However, I reckon that the kind of people who are prepared to fork out £75-85 for a five year-old whisky are probably the kind of people who understand that Octomore will be pale.  In fact, they’d probably be suspicious if it wasn’t.

So, in conclusion, I guess what I’m saying (in a very roundabout way and I do apologise for the immensity of this post) is that Pale is Beautiful.  Drinks companies should be proud of the colour of their spirit.  Coating a bottle is frippery, it drives the price up unnecessarily and it makes cynical drinkers like me wonder what you’re up to.  It’s also inconvenient in that we can’t see how much of the whisky is left.

Pale is Beautiful.  There is no need to talk down to whisky consumers. If the industry educates people better and steers them away from older = better and colour = older, they might just find that people with no prejudices can learn to appreciate young whisky for the vibrant, beautiful thing that it is.  The industry doesn’t have to monkey around with colouring, and they don’t have to compromise quality.  The consumer gets good, cheap, young whisky that hasn’t been adulterated.  Birds sing, flowers grow, world peace breaks out.

The irony here, of course, is that this is what Bruichladdich themselves have been preaching for years – so why hide Octomore behind a coating?

Pale is Beautiful.  But I would say that, my wife looks like Kate Winslet  ; )

*Clarkson Mode On* / Picture from nissanforumsph.com

*Clarkson Mode On*

Down, Clarkson, Down!!

 

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