The Bartender Conspiracies: NJ Bars Switching Out Booze For Rubbing Alcohol

Thank God, it’s real booze! Last week, bars – including a lucky 13 TGI Friday restaurant in the great state of New Jersey – were caught substituting real rubbing alcohol and caramel coloring for real brands of scotch. These busts must have similar agencies in other states clamoring to find out if their own licensed premises are playing games.

In my experience, this isn’t happening much around town. I do believe that some places are putting cheap vodka into empty expensive vodka bottles for their comps. Promoters may be getting the cheap swill in bottles that are more impressive. A "beggers (or promoters) can’t be choosers" attitude does pop up from time to time. This is, of course, a no-no.

As I go from joint to joint, I sometimes see a bartender taking the last drops from one bottle and pouring it into a less empty bottle of the same brand. This practice, called "marrying," is also a no-no, but most bar staffs don’t know that. Some think that bending down and staying out of sight makes it O.K.

I have seen a bartender pour a last gasp of one scotch into a more expensive scotch bottle. I asked him about it and he told me “nobody ever says anything.” I, as you guys know, only drink a couple or three times a year…whenever I have sex… but when I do, I drink Irish. I can always tell the difference between brands. Although all of them will get you there, a patron has a right to get what he or she orders. Especially when they are paying a premium price for what is supposedly a “premium” liquor. How do they get away with it? I guess this time they didn’t.

Luckily, nobody got hurt during the rubbing alcohol switch, which says a great deal about the stomachs and experiences of the patrons of the great state of New Jersey. Rubbing alcohol does the trick, but can also cause great harm to things like eyes.

How a scotch drinker could not tell the difference between this swill and the real stuff is strangeness… Is the faker an incredible mixologist? Are only really drunk patrons served this booze, alluding to a conspiracy that includes both management and bar staff? Why fake scotch when vodka seems easier and is sold at an exponentially greater rate? Was vodka also done but missed by authorities?

These questions are making me dizzy. I’m going to go get a drink. I’ll sip it for taste and hold it up to the light first.

Daniel Boulud Launches Exclusive Dalmore Scotch

If a Franco – Scottish accord seems at first a bit odd, it’s perhaps important to remember that friendships are often the product of common foes. Scotland and France, of course, were regularly united (the Auld Alliance, they called it) in opposition to English territorial pissings. And Mary Queen of Scots was the daughter of Marie de Guise, after all–both legendary antagonists of The Crown. But the news that Gallic superstar chef Daniel Boulud has just launched a partnership with Alness-based distillery The Dalmore, we must admit, is really more of an…epicurean thing. And just in time for summer imbibing, The Dalmore Selected by Daniel Boulud will be a feature at all six of his NYC dining establishments: Daniel, Café Boulud, Boulud Sud, db Bistro Moderne, Bar Boulud, and DBGB Kitchen & Bar

In painstaking collaboration with Dalmore master distiller Richard Paterson, the exclusive single malt was conceived to the discriminating tastes of the many-Michelin-starred Boulud, who enlightens that, "the creation of a single malt is an artisanal craft, which takes expertise and time." Matured in American white oak, it is uniquely finished in Muscatel, Madeira, and Port wine casks. The final product is as smooth as velvet; and notes of pears, plums, and mocha are specifically tailored to coaxing the palate to optimum appreciation of the the master chef’s culinary proclivities.

But mind, it’s not all such seriousness. The exquisite new spirit has also been honored with the introduction of a corresponding and imponderably decadent DB dessert temptation: the Chocolate-Coffee-Whisky Sundae, made with whisky gelee, brownies, and a cream brulee tuile.

Alba gu bràth! Vive la République! And all that.

[Related: BlackBook New York Guide; Listings for Daniel, Cafe Boulud, Boulud Sud, db Bistro Moderne, Bar Boulud, DBGB Kitchen & Bar; More by Ken Scrudato; Follow Ken on Twitter]

A Few Observations on the Launch of Bunnahabhain 40-Year-Old Scotch

Last night, in a private room accessible through a secret door at The Lion on 9th Street in Manhattan, a bunch of whisky experts, cocktail enthusiasts, and one acoustic guitarist got together to celebrate the launch a very special new malt, the Bunnahabhain 40-Year-Old. This whisky is unique for several reasons, including but not limited to the fact that it sat in wooden casks for four decades in a warehouse on the northern shore of Islay, mellowing to perfection as it soaked up the essence of the air and sea.

This delicious whisky stands out from other very expensive Scotches–it will cost you $3,170 to get your hands on one of the 212 bottles released in the U.S.–because it’s from the only Islay distillery that doesn’t burn peat to dry its malted barley. That means that Bunnahabhain doesn’t have that peaty taste–more accurately described as a smokey taste–associated with other Islay malts like Laphroaig, Lagavulin, and Ardbeg.

It also has an interesting story behind it. It might not have made it the full four decades had it not been forgotten about for a very long time. Master blender Ian MacMillan, who was at last night’s event, found the casks listed on the distillery ledger and set out to find them in the warehouse. When he did, he sampled them and determined which ones had the flavor and strength to be bottled as a "prestige" release. There are a total of 750 bottles available around the world, and you can pick up yours at a retailer like Astor Wines, or enjoy a pour at an upscale whisky bar like the Flatiron Room.

Over the course of the evening I had a chance to chat with MacMillan, who was a font of whisky wisdom. Here are just a few pearls:

  • When he started working in distilleries 40 years ago, it was common for distillery workers to get a very generous dram of whisky at several intervals during the day, beginning at 8am. The first time MacMillan partook of his morning dram he fell asleep for several hours. (The distillery no longer provides a whisky ration to its employees during their shifts.)
  • Back in the ’70s, they siphoned whisky out of the barrels with a hose, and you had to start the process by sucking on the hose, inevitably getting a healthy drink of whisky in the process. There was one guy who would take massive gulps of whisky from the hose, acting like it just took a long time to get the flow going. His cheeks would get huge and his eyes would water. Sometimes he would deliberately mess up the flow just so he had to re-start the siphoning process. (They don’t use this method of siphoning anymore.)
  • Whisky ages differently depending on where the warehouse is located, and the brisk ocean air of Islay can impart a hint of saltiness to the spirit.
  • It’s possible for whisky barrels to "die" in the middle of the aging process, imparting no more flavor into the spirit and instead allowing it to oxidize, which damages the whisky. However, the whisky can be saved if it’s put in a fresh barrel. 
  • Bunnahabhain 40 was originally launched in Taiwan, where every single bottle on offer sold out immediately, making Bunnahabhain management wish they had charged more money for it.
  • Most people who buy the Bunnahabhain 40 buy it as an investment, with no plans to open the bottles. (I find this kind of sad. I drank the heck out of my glass, and somehow finagled a second pour.)
  • While Scotch whisky has a rich history going back hundreds of years, the whisky that people drank in the old days probably tasted pretty nasty, and had an oily consistency. Today’s production processes yield a superior spirit.
  • Whisky and beer are related because they’re both made with cereal grains like barley, but the barley used in beer is slightly different than the barley used in whisky. (I’d love to taste a beer made with whisky malt, and vice versa.)
  • The idea of deliberately aging whisky in wooden barrels happened by accident, and there are several competing stories for how it first came about. MacMillan’s favorite involves two whisky-making brothers who sampled a bit too much of their product before hiding the barrels in a cave. They forgot where they hid it, and it aged to perfection before they finally rediscovered it.
  • Single malts really weren’t a thing until the ’70s. Up until then, almost every malt was used to create blended whisky. But if you go way back more than a century, almost every whisky consumed was a single malt because of the trouble and expense of shipping whisky around for blending. So the recent fondness for single malt Scotch actually brings it back to its origins.
  • There are a bunch of Islay distilleries, but the Bunnahabhain distillery is located far away from them. There’s only one road that leads to it, and it stops at the distillery. In the beginning the distillery was accessible only by sea, and they built a dock long before the road was made.
  • At 25 miles long and 15 miles wide, Islay is very small. It’s also quite flat and has notoriously lousy weather, but after a nice glass of whisky you’ll forget about all that.

There were other observations, but the whisky was flowing and I gave up on taking notes. As for the Bunnahabhain 40, it’s one of the finest single malts I’ve ever had the pleasure to imbibe, with an aroma of grass and heather, flavors of chocolate, vanilla, and butterscotch, and subtle notes of mango and banana. It also has a finish that goes on forever.

If you’re not quite ready to part with the $3k required for a bottle, you can enjoy some of Bunnahabhain’s other expressions for much less. The 12-year-old, for example, is excellent: malty sweet with just a whiff of smoke, and it goes for less than fifty bucks a bottle. If you’re looking to splurge on something really great, but not quite at the 40-year level, the Bunnahabhain 25-year-old goes for around $325 and has an amazing melange of flavors, from berry and cream to caramel and spice. Buy a bottle and pour me a dram. 

[Related: BlackBook New York Guide; Listings for The Lion, Flatiron Room; Keep up on all the new openings and events by subscribing to the free BlackBook Happenings newsletter; Download the BlackBook app for iPhone and Android; More by Victor Ozols; Follow me on Twitter.]

Dewar’s Highlander Honey Whisky: Sweetening Up That Dry Scottish Edge

While American whiskeys are bold about experimenting with different flavors, Scotch producers have been reluctant to offer much in the way of brand extensions beyond different ages and cask types. Maybe it has something to do with America’s forgiving nature. You release new Coke, people scream like the world is ending, you bring back "Classic" Coke and everything’s hunky dory. So I don’t know how people in Scotland will react to Dewar’s Highlander Honey, the latest expression from Glasgow’s Dewar’s Scotch Whisky. After all, it takes Dewar’s White Label–a truly iconic blend if there ever was one–and infuses it with natural Scottish honey. They’re messing with a classic here. But I’d advise them to taste it before chucking it by the case into the nearest bog, even if it abandons that dignified austerity the Scotch category is known for, because it’s quite tasty.

Dewar’s isn’t the first to infuse whisky with honey. Jack Daniel’s did it two years ago with Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey, and other American whiskey makers followed. If you’ve got to add some kind of flavor to whiskey–and to survive and thrive in today’s spirit market, you pretty much do–you could do worse than honey. It’s an organic fit, with the natural sweetness of the honey complementing the spicy, oaky notes of the whiskey. People have been mixing honey and whiskey for years, so why not save them the trouble and stickiness of doing it themselves.

We had an impromptu tasting session of Dewar’s Highlander Honey in the office yesterday afternoon. I poured shots for seven people, and the returns were universally positive, ranging from "this is really good," to "it’s a lot smoother than I expected" to "when does this stuff come out?" As for my own thoughts, I’m a regular whisky guy, so I wouldn’t naturally gravitate to a flavored blend, but I enjoyed it. It’s smooth and velvety, and it keeps its Scottish backbone while adding the sweet, fruity notes of fresh Aberfeldy-area honey. We drank it at room temperature, but, owing to the sweetness, I’d advise adding a couple of ice cubes to your tumbler, or, better yet, shaking it and straining it into a shot glass. It would make a fine party starter.

Scotch may actually be a better fit for honey than bourbon, because I find bourbon sweet enough on its own. With the dryer taste of Scotch, there’s a bit of a yin and yang thing going. Plus it was created by Dewar’s master blender Stephanie Macleod, and she knows what she’s doing. She wouldn’t let some cloying swill escape her tasting lab. If that’s what you want, the whipped cream-flavored vodka is right this way. 

While Dewar’s Highlander Honey probably won’t replace Dewar’s White Label (or my personal favorite, Dewar’s 18) in my regular whisky repertoire, it’s a fine addition for those times when you need a sweet treat to lift your spirits. A bottle will cost you about $24, and it will be widely available later this month. 

Try Dewar’s and other great whiskies at bars like the Flatiron Room. For more great whisky bars, check out the BlackBook City Guides and download the BlackBook Guides apps for iPhone and Android. To keep up with all the great nightlife openings, subscribe to the free BlackBook Happenings newsletter. 

[Related: Interview with Dewar’s Master Blender Stephanie Macleod; Review of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey; More by Victor Ozols; Follow me on Twitter]

Jefferson’s Presidential Select 21-Year-Old: American Whiskey Has Grown Up So Fast

Last week a padded envelope arrived at my desk containing nothing but a small bottle of whiskey with "Jefferson’s Presidential 21" handwritten on a white label. There was no note or press release, but I soon figured out that the bottle contained Jefferson’s Presidential Select 21-Year-Old Straight Bourbon Whiskey, the latest expression from Jefferson’s Very Small Batch Bourbon. Having recently tasted a selection of bourbons, I was eager to give it a try. What makes Jefferson’s Presidential 21 interesting to me is that American whiskey is rarely aged for 21 years. That’s upscale Scotch territory. Most bourbons are aged for less than ten years, and when you get to 12- and 15-year releases, you start seeing age statements, because it’s a big deal.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that bourbon is less refined than Scotch, of course, it just means that it ages faster. Whiskey aging is largely a function of the climate. Warehouses that store bourbon barrels tend to be located in Kentucky and Tennessee, places that have a wide temperature range, with torrid summers and chilly winters. The climate in Scotland is more moderate. So, while many other factors contribute to the flavor of whiskey, bourbon tends to lose its alcoholic astringency and gain the flavors of the oak barrels at least twice as fast as Scotch.

And here we have a 21-year-old bourbon. Is it comparable to a 42-year-old Scotch, and should we even care? I’m of the view that people worry a bit too much about the age of spirit while undervaluing other factors. All the same, it’s hard not to wonder, so I went home and poured a shot’s worth into a small tumbler. The aroma’s striking, with a pleasant spice note that’s quite an eye-opener. Taking a sip, I noticed lots of cinnamon and pepper that grabs the tongue before mellowing into flavors of butterscotch, honey, and dried fruit. And it’s very woody, with a dark color and vanilla notes from here to Louisville. To be sure, it’s mellow, but still brings the heat like a bourbon should. It’s bold and interesting and delicious neat, but it wouldn’t be a crime to drop an ice cube in the glass if that’s how you like your bourbon.

For comparison, I poured some Glenlivet Archive 21-Year-Old, one of my favorite single malt Scotches (and yes, I do have a quite well-stocked liquor cabinet). The big difference between the two was apparent right away: the flavors of the Glenlivet, which was aged for the same 21 years, were subtler and more complex. There’s all kinds of stuff going on in the glass, including many of the same flavors, but there’s a restraint to the Glenlivet where the Jefferson’s Presidential is outspoken. The Glenlivet whispers in the forest, while the Jefferson’s climbs a tree and hollers. (I didn’t have a 42-year-old Scotch on hand–my liquor cabinet’s not that good–but I’ve tasted a couple of 50-year-old Scotches at events before, and recall deep wood flavors that bring to mind the Jefferson’s, while being a bit softer with the spice.)

I refuse to pick a favorite, though, because I love bourbon and Scotch for different reasons, and, regardless of the age, they’re radically different beasts. But with summer coming, the feisty nature of the bourbon seems to suit the season of active days and sultry nights perfectly. It’s a shame I only have that one tiny sample bottle. Jefferson’s Presidential 21 is available in limited quantities at upscale liquor stores for $120 a bottle. Buy one and invite me over.

Sample both whiskey and whisky at New York bars like Whiskey Ward and the Brandy Library. For more drinking spots, peruse the BlackBook New York Guide.

[Related: Update Your Liquor Cabinet for Summer with Six Brilliant American Bourbons; More by Victor Ozols; Follow me on Twitter]

The Macallan Releases the World’s Toughest Flask and a Tasty 22-Year-Old Whisky to Put In It

"You’d better pull over for a minute, you’ve got about five cones stuck under the car," said Nick the racing instructor, after I’d just annihilated the last gate of the slalom course. It was embarrassing, but only a little. I wasn’t there for a leisurely drive. I was there, along with a handful of other journalists, to test out the new Porsche 911 Carrera 4S, and I figured I’d push the car’s limits, and my own. A ship in harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships are for, right? And so I threw that 400 horsepower beast into the course as hard as I could, and hung in there pretty well until the end, where those five poor cones told me where the limit was. After pulling them from the car’s undercarriage, I tried it again, ever-so-slightly slower, and holding a tighter line. This time, flawless. The purpose of the exercise was to demonstrate how the design of a new flask made by Oakley for Macallan scotch whisky parallels the design of the 911, and I came away armed with the knowledge that, well, they’re both pretty amazing.

That’s why I found myself in a massive parking lot at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey on the first full day of spring, putting these amazing cars through their paces. I knew our time was limited, and I don’t get many opportunities to drive $100,000 sports cars, so I decided to ball the jack from the start. I have no regrets, even after my first lap around the speed track, when my passenger, Alyson, insisted on getting out of the car and shivering in the cold rather than taking another lap with me. I didn’t take out any cones on that lap, either, though I did make the tires squeal around just about every turn. It’s all because I kept hearing the voice of a racing instructor from Mustang school last year, who told us that we were being too damn timid on the track. "You’ll run out of talent long before you run out of car," he said. And so I threw that baby into the curves like I was on the last lap at Le Mans. Why the hell not?

But the car was just a metaphor. This is really about a flask and some whisky, both of which figured into the picture after we’d left the cars behind. Driving first, then drinking. And so we headed to the Hotel Americano in Chelsea, where Neil Ferrier, an engineer from Oakley, explained what The Flask is about. It’s tough as nails, as the above video demonstrates. It’s made of a food-grade stainless steel inner flask wrapped in a carbon fiber composite shell, clad in black anodized 5-axis machined aerospace grade aluminum, which is the most bad-ass kind of aluminum. And it looks really cool, with perfect grips for your hand and a mouth near the corner, rather than in the center, which makes it easier to pour. It’s also a bit of a departure, stylistically, from what the Macallan brand has represented in the past, but it’s the same in spirit. As Ferrier explained, Macallan simply asked them to make the best, most amazing flask imaginable, a directive similar to the 189-year-old distillery’s approach to making whisky. (Scroll down.)

Macallan 22

As far as whisky goes, Macallan’s releasing a very special one to sell with The Flask. It’s a 22-year-old, single cask whisky, aged in American oak barrels that were seasoned with sherry in Spain before making the northward trip to the distillery in the village of Craigellachie in Scotland. It’s also quite delicious, with an aroma of citrus and leather and a note of pepper on the palate before mellowing into vanilla, butterscotch, and dried fruit flavors. Brand ambassador Charlie Whitfield took us through a tasting and had us all share our interpretations. We learned that there are no wrong answers. If you taste toffee, grass, or Funyuns, that’s just your palate. Nothing to feel bad about.

And so we sipped and smiled and bragged about our racing prowess before fading into the night. Hopefully I’ll get another chance to drive a Porsche like that 911, and if I do I’m going to be even more aggressive with it, orange cones be damned.

Vic Porsche

The Flask is sold as a set with the 22-year-old whisky for $1,500 at select retailers. You probably won’t find the whisky in too many bars, but places like the Brandy Library in New York have a few other great bottles you can try, including the Macallan 18-Year Sherry Cask and the elite Macallan 25-Year-Old Sherry Cask.

[Related: BlackBook New York Guide; Highland Park Releases Loki, a Scotch from Norse Mythology; More by Victor Ozols]

Highland Park Releases Loki, a Scotch From Norse Mythology

Single malt scotch has a reputation as a serious whisky for distinguished, tweed-jacketed men who sip it from crystal tumblers while sitting in leather armchairs in the library of some manor house as a gray-whiskered hound sleeps on the carpet beneath an oil painting of a fox hunt. This reputation has not been thrust upon it. Scotch producers have carefully cultivated it, likely on the assumption that such a scene represents the reality of a few scotch drinkers, and the aspiration of many. Yet now it seems they feel a bit chained to it. The scotch industry would love to nab some younger drinkers, but that stuffy scene just doesn’t play with the modern twenty-something set. What to do? Well, if you’re Highland Park, you take a look at where you’re from and adjust accordingly. The Highland Park distillery happens to be the northernmost distillery in Scotland, located in Kirkwall, the capital of the Orkney Islands. After being occupied by a number of different tribes, the Orkney Islands were annexed by Norway in 875 and settled by the Norse, who used the islands as a base for Viking raids until the Scottish Crown took over in 1472. So while the Orkney Islands are a part of modern Scotland, the area maintains a cultural duality, with vestiges of its Nordic past found in its dialect and cultural traditions. Thus, Highland Park has the luxury of choice: it can position its whiskies as traditional Scottish products, or it can tap into its Nordic side. Given the intense competition among traditional scotch producers, it’s hardly surprising that they’ve decided to go Viking.

And that’s how I found myself at an event space called the Foundry in Long Island City, New York on Tuesday night, entering a darkened chamber bathed in red light and accentuated with Norse iconography. Highland Park was releasing the second expression of its Valhalla series, a collection of four whiskies inspired by Norse mythology. The series began last year with the great warrior Thor, a strong (52.1% ABV) malt with vanilla, blackberry, and cinnamon flavors. It was delicious. This year we were being introduced to Loki, a crafty shape shifter with a command of fire, and the event was designed to underscore its mythical underpinnings.

As a sharply-dressed crowd of New York journalists, bar owners, and other assorted whisky lovers filled the room, waiters circulated with trays of mini shepherd’s pies, and a concealed kitchen produced salmon three ways. Put your hand in this hole for raw salmon. This hole gets you a tasty bite of smoked salmon. The third gets you torched salmon. Hope you like salmon. Pre-mixed Blood and Sand cocktails were offered, but since I don’t fancy them, I hit each of a pair of bars serving Highland Park’s traditional 12- and 15-year-old whiskies neat. Next to each bar was a water station complete with waterfall, where an attendant would happily add a few drops of mineral water to your dram so you could watch it squirm. I reached for a flask. "Please let me pour for you, sir," pleaded the attendant. "It’s my only job here." My F&B needs properly sorted, I made my way back into the crowd to enjoy the theatricality of it all.

After a half hour or so attempting to mingle, my group–I was somehow lumped in with a couple dozen other "impulsive" souls–was summoned into an adjacent chamber by the god Loki, whose commanding voice over the PA system somewhat resembled that of one of the female publicists I greeted on the way in. No matter, this was the moment we were here for, the grand unveiling of the Loki the whisky. Smoke machines set a misty scene around the T-shaped table arrangement, into the center of which strolled Highland Park brand ambassador Martin Daraz, who introduced the spirit and led us all in a toast.

Finally, amid the smoke, red lights, music, and thunder (I’m pretty sure there was thunder), I took my first sip of Loki. And then another. I liked it immediately. Loki is a 15-year-old single malt that shares the DNA of its more traditional cousins, but goes off the rails a bit with a few out-there flavors. At 48.7% ABV, it’s another elevated-strength whisky, but it’s smooth enough to take a generous sip without having to put your fist through a wall to get it down. It smells of bitter orange and has a complex yet pleasing flavor, with notes of apple, lemon, grapefruit, and a faint wisp of smokey chocolate. The essence of vanilla lingered on my palate for several minutes.

And so we made our way to the balcony of this magnificent space to spend the remainder of the evening relaxing with our whisky as visions of Vikings danced through our heads. Music played and laughter echoed off the brick walls as I chatted with strangers and ate savory and sweet hors d’oeuvres out of order. At one point I swear I saw a man in a Druid’s cloak wandering around, but then it was dark, and there was whisky.

Evaluated on its own, Highland Park Loki is an excellent whisky, bold and flavorful, but smooth enough to not overpower the senses. It’s fun to drink. If there ever was a whisky that’s truly the "water of life," it’s Loki. But will its market positioning amid the pantheon of Norse mythology help it gain traction with the hip set? Maybe. The party certainly was fun, and the historical connection seems to make sense, moreso than, say, a German tequila. Who knows, maybe over the next few years more distilleries from northern Scotland will identify with Viking regalia as a point of differentiation. There certainly seems to be a lot more latitude for creativity on that side. Marketing-wise, it’s all but a blank slate, waiting to be filled with a dramatic scene.

All too soon, it was time to leave Valhalla and return to Park Slope, a soft landing if there ever was one. I took the warming glow of the whisky with me all the way to my couch, where I plopped down and turned on the TV. Fumbling with the remote, I landed on a show that was all too perfect: Vikings.

Highland Park knows what it’s doing.

Highland Park Loki has a suggested retail price of $249, and is available at select whisky retailers. Check the website for more information. If you’re in New York and want to sample different scotches, drop by Highlands, St. Andrews, or the Brandy Library.

[Related Content: A Sample of This Season’s Most Scholarly Scotch; BlackBook New York Nightlife Guide; More by Victor Ozols; Follow me on Twitter]

Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna Make Cool Mini-Movie for Chivas Scotch

Do you remember the 2001 movie Y Tu Mamá También? I liked that movie. Its two male lead actors, Gael Garcia Bernal (pictured) and Diego Luna, went on to have prolific careers, and have recently begun working on the other side of the camera as well, with their art-house Mexican film company Canana. Their latest project is pretty neat: they’ve developed a two-part film for Chivas Scotch Whisky called Drifting that takes place at some Mexican resort, where a bunch of friends are kind of nasty to each other, but for a good reason. The films are embedded after the jump, so set your volume right, pour yourself a tumbler of that lovely, smooth, golden whisky with notes of vanilla and cream, click to make it full-screen, and enjoy. Oh, by the way, it’s not just some over-extended commercial, it’s an art film all the way. If you’re being marketed to, it’s the softest soft-sell I know. Plus, the whisky’s good, so everybody wins. 

Here you go. 

Dewar’s is From Glasgow, And Glasgow is Gritty, and Maybe You Are Too

Have you seen the new TV advertisements for Dewar’s? They’re theatrical and well produced, like those Heineken spots, but a lot grittier. Thing is, the people at Dewar’s realize that we’re not all living the lifestyle embodied by the Scotches of yesteryear. We don’t sip our drams in leather armchairs in the library of some massive estate, hunting dog at our feet and an oil painting of a scowling patriarch hanging on the wall above us. Nope, more likely we’re enjoying our whisky at a bar, house party, or in a clandestine lounge behind a curtain in a sketchy-looking auto shop by the docks of Glasgow. Wait, what? Look, just watch the ad and it will all come back to you.

You see? Don’t you remember the time you were driving that luxury car through the gritty streets of Glasgow? And you drove along some partially abandoned docks, and there was a black-and-white checkered lighthouse, and a fishing boat, and a crane, and a white horse and a car on fire for some reason, but it made sense at the time? And a guy with a black leather jacket opened up the bay doors of a warehouse for you, and you drove in, parked the car, got out, and walked past some tough-looking guys working on cars, and maybe it was a way station for stolen cars, and maybe it was a completely legitimate auto repair business, but you didn’t care because you were on a mission? And this older guy with white hair led you through the back, past corrugated steel walls to an elevator that opened to a dark curtain, which the guy parted for you and you entered a really cool lounge that had chandeliers and an art deco-style bar? And there was nobody in the bar, you were there to drink alone, or possibly to meet somebody, so you took a lone glass off a shelf and helped yourself to two perfect ice cubes that were in an ice bucket that was filled with fresh ice just for you, and you opened a bottle of Dewar’s White Label and poured two fingers for yourself, and then took the glass and bottle and sat down on a couch with red satin and smooth gray velour cushions? And you talked about taking life seriously, because even though it’s not always easy, it comes with serious benefits? And then some off-screen guy named Angus said something weird and you basically told him to stuff it because you were having your serious drink? Also, you were a woman?

I knew it would come back to you. Yes, this is the way we drink today. And while I poke fun–this is marketing, after all, so let’s please not take it too seriously–I get what the spot, and the others in the series, is getting at. For most of us, even amid all this supposedly labor-saving technology in the world, life is hard, but if you can grind it out you’ll find your rewards. Maybe it will be a hidden lounge behind some Glasgow chop shop, and maybe it will be happy hour at the local Chili’s, but if you put in the sweat, you’ll get yours, and it will feel all the better for your labors.

The commercial is part of a larger campaign for Dewar’s about defining what the "drinking man" is about. From what I can gather, he’s about hard work and courage and confidence and creativity and maybe a flash of kindness for those deemed worthy.

Dewar’s had a cool event in New York recently that started at Milk & Honey and ended at Madam Geneva. I only made it to the latter portion, since the drinking man picks up his kids at school when his wife gets stuck at the office, but I think I hit the right one. At Milk & Honey, people learned how to mix cocktails and blend whisky. To me that sounds like work, which I was done with for the day. At Madam Geneva, we just sampled a selection of cocktails made with Dewar’s. They were all great, but my favorite was Dewar’s 18 on the rocks, with its gorgeous golden color and creamy notes of honey and spice. That’s technically not a cocktail, of course, but I’m a drinking man and I earned it.