The Pundit and the Popper

The Pundit and the Popper

Michael Jackson brainstorming on behalf of Scotch Whisky.
Michael Jackson

03 September 2004

Publication: Issue 42

The American business magazine Fortune calls for a chat on the future of Scotch whisky. Among the reporter’s questions, a particularly pertinent one: some consumers have spurned the big blended brands as lacking in individuality, in favour of single malts. There had emerged a handful of dominant brands in malts; would they overpower their smaller competitors?I thought the opposite might happen. Seeming to become commonplace, the leading malts might eventually experience resistance, creating an opportunity for the smaller ones. First to spring to mind was Bruichladdich, followed by some of Diageo’s Hidden Malts.After a long chat, the journalist thanked me and promised to plug the new edition of my Malt Whisky Companion. The story in Fortune ran to six pages, dominated by a picture essay on Bruichladdich. No mention, though, of M. Jackson and his book.I immediately forgave the journalist. I was sure he had fulfilled his promise in his text the story had been cut. No such cuts when The Scotsman newspaper called me about Welsh whisky. At the time, I had not received a sample.“Well, what do think of the idea?” asked the reporter.“Whisky is Scottish, isn’t it?” I joked. The jest looked a little harder in print. A few days later, Radio 4’s The Today Programme called asking me for my observations on the spirit of the red dragon. “We saw your comments in The Scotsman,” said the researcher, gleefully. “Since then, I’ve tasted it, and think it is rather good,” I explained.“Oh,” sighed the researcher, regretting the loss of a punch up on air. I would have thought that an endorsement of Welsh whisky would be a story in itself; perhaps I’ve been out of the journalistic front line for too long.Radio 4 came looking for a punch up again over The Rich, Spicy One. This time, I was to appear on You and Yours, sparring with David Robertson. Once again, I explained that I don’t like hitting people who make good whisky. Yet again, the researcher seemed disappointed, but I am happy to say I persuaded her that some interesting issues could be aired without a confrontation.It’s hard work being a pundit, especially when one is trying to write one’s next book. My book editor keeps telling me to concentrate on the task in hand, and stop entertaining offers of sweets from strange men. His colleagues in the publicity department keep giving me the opposite advice.The German Magazine, Der Spiegel, made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. A full length profile and all the Werther’s Originals I could eat. My side of this bargain was to take them to an ordinary local pub where I would be photographed drinking whisky.The difficulty is that in ordinary locals, people tend to drink beer. While pondering this, I popped into my own favourite neighbourhood boozer, where one of the regulars promptly bought me a pint. As we chatted, he was joined by another friend, whom I had never met. The newcomer ordered a Famous Grouse, and continued to do so all evening. He was a small, neat, dapper man, of late middle age. His dark suit had a slightly Victorian look.If he would return on the night of Der Spiegel, he could demonstrate the popularity of Scotch in local pubs. Later, I asked my pint buying friend about the Grouse enthusiast. He’s a pop man, I was told, a jelly man. He’s done a fair bit of porridge for it.“Pop? Jelly?,” I inquired.“Gelignite. Explosions. He’s a safe cracker,” he said.You never learn this kind of thing from market research. If you did advertising would be more market oriented. I can see the commercials now: man fiddles with safe. A pop is heard. The door swings open, revealing a safe full of The Famous Grouse. The severe looking safe cracker breaks into a broad smile.I must share this idea with the people at Grouse, but first I have to take a call. It’s the Police Gazette, wondering why the denizens of the Costa del Crime are so keen on Cardhu. A pundit’s work is never done…

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