Ted Britton walked out of my life a couple of years ago. Britton’s news shop had been an Ottawa fixture for decades until profitability slowly eroded in the face of declining magazine and cigarette sales.
Rumours has it that gentrified rents struck the killing blow, but perhaps that is just because the shop sits vacant, a community gathering spot turned eyesore.
Nearly twenty years ago I picked up a magazine in Britton’s that I’d not seen before. Turned out it was the inaugural issue of this one.
Charlie MacLean was the editor and among the writers, a guy called Dave Broom who later became my kind, generous and unofficial mentor.
The whisky web was still in its infancy then. One of the few non-commercial websites with any real following was Johannes van den Heuval’s Malt Madness.
Johannes was keen to share his love of whisky and soon there were six of us contributing to a collective effort we called the Maltmaniacs.
We’re still active, especially on Facebook where our global network has surged to over 15,000 members. Today we can go anywhere in the world and find a malt maniac waiting to greet us and share stories and a dram.
Something happened ten or twelve years ago though, that challenged print whisky media. Seems everyone who had tasted even one single malt thought their next step should be to start a website.
As the same thing happened in other hobbies, Ted’s magazine sales began to decline. With an exploding on-line whisky community, marketers saw opportunity to milk money out of it.
There is a sign on the back door of my house. On a cute card with a picture of a fluffy dog there is written a warning: Beware, Guard Lhasa Apso On Duty. Our grandchildren picked it up for us when they vacationed in New York. It is useless, Chewie doesn’t guard anything, but it filled a need for our grandkids to bring us a little gift.
I picked up a magazine I'd not seen before. It was the inaugural issue of this one
Question is really though: what do you get for the grandparents who have almost have everything? Answer is an adorable picture of their dog with a mildly amusing warning on it.
Question again, what do you get for the whisky lover who has really might have everything? The ansers are many; stones, rocks, balls or whatever, that they can stick in the freezer then use to chill their whisky without diluting it. There are just two problems with this for me.
First, chilling whisky, as with ice cubes, has the primary effect of decreasing the flavour. It is most effective in killing the harsh alcohol burn of the cheapest drams.
If we like whisky enough to read Whisky Magazine though, we likely don’t drink such whiskies. Secondly, a little dilution often enhances the flavours in your glass. Glasses! That’s what you can buy a whisky lover – special glasses to increase their enjoyment of something they already love passionately.
So people began selling glassware they claimed would enhance the whisky experience. Really though, they were intended to attract the cash of naïve buyers.
This came into focus recently at Tales of the Cocktail where a whisky-glass brand ambassador tried to convince me his glass was better than my tried and true Glencairn.
“I’ve used your glass,” I told him, “the whisky just dribbles down my chin.”
“You have to learn how to drink from it, that’s all,” he told me. “You had to learn to drink from your Glencairn.”
“Nonsense,” I replied, “I learned to drink from a sippy cup.
"Yours is the first glass to make me dribble. My money is better spent buying whisky.”
As he began telling me of a prestigious competition that uses his glass exclusively, I interrupted to say that we should be wary then of the results from there.
But my guard dog sign has left me wondering a little.
These novelty ice cubes and glasses sell like crazy for gifts. Would Ted Britton’s news shop still be open had he added useless whisky gifts to his literary inventory?