By Dave Broom

All smiles as peace breaks out?

Dave Broom wryly observes the surreal lovefest that Whisky Live has become
Depressed? Down in the dumps? Visit Whisky Live and bring a smile back to your face! For sheer entertainment it is the best show in town,
attracting such a diverse bunch of people.There were hippies (who else would be worshipping the roots of a tree while wrapping his arms round its trunk? stunt men (one gave an impromptu masterclass on how to fall backwards while walking forwards) and a tall, bald man dressed as Margaret Rutherford (apparently it’s the latest thing in Poland).It was good to catch up with familiar faces; to see Richard Joynson’s face when he heard that Dewar’s is to bottle limited editions of Aultmore, Craigellachie and Royal Brackla; exciting to judge the final of the whisky cocktail competition – and to do so without being strung up and whipped with wet ‘No salt in whisky’ polo shirts. Maybe the fundamentalist wing of the malt maniacs is mellowing with age – perhaps after a short period of extra maturation in a chardonnay barrel.Indeed after a period when the industry seemed intent on tearing itself apart, a spirit of equanimity prevailed. A few days later came the news that Diageo had ‘changed its mind’ and decided to withdraw Cardhu ‘Pure’ Malt from the market. While the shape of the firm’s strategic withdrawal bears a similarity to the 21st letter of the alphabet, it has apologised for underestimating the reaction the switch from single to vatted caused.“It shows that the company is big and brave enough to make decisions which may be misconstrued,” claimed Nick Morgan, a man whose ability to play a straight bat should be brought to the attention of the England cricket selectors. But why wasn’t Diageo big and brave enough to
tough it out?A quick reminder: The SWA had given the firm the all-clear to sell green label Cardhu Pure (thinks: wonder how much Sukhinder will be selling those for?). There may have been subsequent changes depending on what the SWA’s committee on definitions decided, but the brand was declared kosher.Even if firms are no longer allowed to use the name of a single distillery for a vatted product Diageo is still in the clear. It had already changed the name of the still from Cardhu to Cardow. In fact, now it’s having to change it right back again. Let’s hope the Highways Agency didn‘t throw out the old brown roadsigns.Why then take a huge financial hit? What happens to the commercial rationale behind the initial decision – namely Cardhu single couldn’t keep up with projected growth figures? The intention of making Cardhu Pure a global brand is in tatters. Future sales are now to be restricted to Spain, France, Portugal and Greece.Are we seeing a drinks giant going off to lick its wounds and a vindication on the part of smaller distillers who claimed this was the beginning of the end for single malt?
Believe that and you’ll swallow anything. No-one has come out of this particularly well. Diageo looks indecisive while the decision of certain parts of the industry to employ gutter press tactics to get their message across reflects badly not just on them but the industry itself.You’d have to be pretty naive to believe that the Cardhu incident was going to bring about the decline of the malt category or bring it into disrepute.There was sound underlying logic behind the decision. The potential size of any single malt brand will always be limited by the production of that distillery.Consumers however want malts, not blends, meaning that whisky’s future growth could well rely heavily on the creation of a new-look vatted malt category.So why drop Cardhu Pure? I reckon Diageo thought it better to attack this new sector with a non-controversial brand. Everyone’s happy now, but I wonder who will be smiling when this whole saga is finally played out.