The #GlenGrant50 Whisky Tour. Whisky tours, as they should be.

Introduction

There’s too much for one post. Too much goodness, emotion, history – and just the right amount of whisky, thank you!

So please allow me to spread out, over a few weeks, the story of the whisky tour of a lifetime. My story of the #GlenGrant50 tour (hashtag devised over a beer at Heathrow) will take the form of a travelogue. It was a Friday-to-Friday whirlwind, one week of England & Scotland. From day one, walking into the player’s dressing room at Old Trafford to be presented with my own Manchester United shirt; to enjoying a 50 year old Whisky in the maturation warehouse, presented by the very gentleman who filled the cask all those years ago; it was a week of indulgence. Every day served up highlights. Every day saw more items ticked off my bucket list.

Slowly, deliberately, the story will unfold. At the end I hope you’ll sit back, alone, with a whisky and your thoughts for company, to reflect on your own whisky journey. You’ll find whisky and your thoughts very good company while you think about where you’ve been, where you are and where you want to go.

Part one

The gathering of a band of merry men.

Whisky has been good to me, or to paraphrase Churchill, I’ve taken more out of whisky than whisky has taken out of me. To me, the people and experiences are more important than the spirit itself. The spirit brings us together, but the spirit alone is just a spirit. It needs people to drink it. Years ago I interviewed a Master Distiller from Islay, who said “Whisky is not a bland, one dimensional drink. It is multifaceted, a social, gregarious drink. It will get lonely and dull unless it interacts with people.”

The title of this story is a play on the Glen Grant slogan ‘Whisky as it should be”, which is true, but doesn’t explain the tour. The tour is what all whisky tours wish they were like if budgets, planning, people and the universe played along.

Let’s start with from the beginning. I present whisky for many different companies. I’m independent and don’t get involved in the high-pressure corporate world of sales and targets and ROI and all that stuff.  Neither do I get involved with favourites, talking one brand only. I like whisky, the drink, not whisky from one company alone.  Give me a bottle of whisky and ask me to chat about it to a group of people and I’m happy. One rule – I only talk about whisky I like to drink.

Along come E Snell & Co, local distributors of Glen Grant, a whisky brand now owned by The Campari Group in Italy. I’d been doing festivals for about 6 years, for the Whisky Live organisers and a few other liquor companies.

“Bernard”, Craig, the brand manager says, “can you do Whisky Live for us?” Yes of course, with pleasure. I like Glen Grant and they were the first to ask that year, so, sure, I’ll talk Glen Grant. That was about 4 years ago. It’s a cool gig. The Whisky is great, from the light, fresh and fruity The Major’s Reserve to the more complex and intense 16 year old and in between is my favourite expression, the 10 year old. Yes, talking Glen Grant is a very cool gig.

I’d heard a whisper in my ear about a new release, The Glen Grant 50 year old. Soon enough the press release arrived in my inbox.

It is a thing of beauty.  gg1You’ll have to wait until part five, Tuesday of the trip, to find out what I thought of the whisky. Hint: I had an Oliver Twist moment. The whisky carries a hefty price tag: R 150 000, about $ 15 000. It is on the reasonable side for a whisky of that vintage from a renowned distillery. I read on and started to dream, for buying the whisky comes with something special, a tour to Scotland. It was, as they said, a rare experience to accompany a rare purchase, for “with each purchase of the Glen Grant 50 Year Old Limited Edition Single Malt Scotch Whisky you will also receive an all-expenses paid trip to the Glen Grant Distillery in Rothes, Scotland.” Ok then. Tell me more.

The trip includes:

  • A private tour of the Glen Grant Distillery with lunch in the Victorian Gardens
  • Ballindalloch Castle tour
  • Adventure activities at the House of Mulben
  • The final day of the 2014 British Open Golf tournament at Royal Liverpool, with hospitality at the Champions Club Village
  • Manchester United Stadium tour
  • Loch Ness cruise
  • All flights, transfers and accommodation with breakfast,
  • lunch and dinner, are included.”

I’m not one of the lucky ones who purchased the whisky, I’m the lucky one invited along because I talk and write about whisky.

I knew we were in for a treat when my travel kit arrived, including top quality luggage & clothing, via a dedicated tour organiser who specialises in corporate incentives.

Quick as a flash Friday 18 July arrived the Cape Town crew left the airport to meet up with the Joburg crew and 14 whisky lovers clinked glasses in the private lounge at OR Tambo. We were a mixed bunch. There were sales and marketing guys from E Snell; buyers from the trade; some of the gents who purchased the whisky (only 10 bottles were made available to the public). There were three in the ‘journo’ contingent. Christian Eedes, who talks, writes about and judges wines, very, very well; Patrick Leclezio; a drinks packaging expert who in his spare time travels round the world writing the best spirits blog in South Africa; and me, a whisky lover, writer, reader, teacher, learner, not forgetting, since 1977, an ardent Manchester United supporter.

Introductions made, ice broken, we left South Africa and landed at Heathrow en-route to Manchester. What should have been a routine stop, clear immigration and leave Heathrow was not to be. We landed two days after the tragedy of flight MH17, so I expected increased security. We were on the tarmac for 90 minutes and took 2 and a half hours to clear immigration. Half of our group, me included, had our luggage examined with all sorts of paraphernalia, tested for heaven only knows what and then cleared. But we missed our connecting flight so got to Manchester later than expected, a minor inconvenience given what was to come.

As was the case in 1992, my first trip to Europe, on a Contiki tour, the arrival at a new hotel meant that a few of us gathered in the bar. 22 years later, nothing changed, so to the bar we went for an Aperol Spritz. Aperol, owned by Campari, is one of the sponsors of Manchester United. Campari is a favourite summer drink of mine and now with Aperol playing a delicious and meaningful part of my drinking arsenal, (no wait, arsenal is not the word to use in this story) my drinking repertoire, I see many a long summer lunch with an Aperol or two.

Enough about the drinks. To Old Trafford we went. For those who don’t know me, I’m 47 years old and have seen and done more than my fair share of living. It takes a lot to wow me or get under my skin.  On that day, I confess to being utterly overwhelmed. I’d arrived at a spiritual home. All that I’d seen and read about in a long history of supporting United was there in front of me. We had a private tour of the stadium, I sat in the seat Sir Alex Ferguson occupied while steering his team to victory upon victory. I could picture him on the touchline, checking his watch, pushing his players and intimidating the officials. I thought about some of the great games I’d seen, the players that had graced the pitch with displays of skill mortals can only dream of.

The highlight, and something that blew me away, was during the tour we went into the players changing room and on the wall, was an official Manchester United shirt. On the back, was my name. Yes, I walked into the changing room and there was my shirt.

united 1I don’t know how many times during my teens I dreamed about playing for United. It was not to be, but that day, the tour, the atmosphere of the stadium, the energy and topping it off with entering the change room – I couldn’t have dreamed of a day like that.

After another Aperol Spritz at The Red Café it was back to the hotel, back to the bar and then to dinner. And that’s where we’ll tee off on the next instalment.

I’ll also post a link to some photos, videos and so on, so bookmark this site and come back, often.

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An open letter to @realDonaldTrump about Judge Masipa and the moron comment. #OscarTrial

Dear Mr Trump

In the early ’90s I read your first book, “The Art of the Deal” and was impressed by your skill in business, or rather, how you described your expertise. Its been entertaining following your career over the years. I watched a few episodes of “The Apprentice” and was amused at the way you engaged with the competitors. It takes a big ego and thick skin to hold yourself out as the greatest business expert on the planet, while your companies were subjected to bankruptcy reorganization. Not once, not twice, but four times. Shit happens, and when it does, perhaps humility is a good alternative to arrogance.

I don’t have a hassle with anyone making mistakes – I’ve been there, done that, often. But I do have some difficulty with you calling Judge Masipa a moron. At best you have a superficial view of the law in South Africa. Judge Masipa is academically qualified in South African law and has been trained to apply the law to the case. She is an expert in South African criminal law. You aren’t. You are an expert in American Chapter 11 Bankruptcy law. She isn’t.

You called Judge Masipa a moron, which, dependent on which dictionary you use, is either a person affected with mild mental retardation; a very stupid person; or an insulting word for someone who behaves in a stupid way. Think about it. Whether she got the judgment right or wrong is immaterial. Factually, she is not a moron.

I thought – why did you do this? Perhaps behind that big ego is insecurity. Perhaps the negative publicity has gotten to you. I suppose that someone who loves the spotlight as much as you would feel quite hurt by comments from the mainstream and respected press.

Time Magazine published a list of your top 10 failures:

Donald Trump is very proud of himself for forcing President Obama to release his birth certificate, ending the debate over whether he was legally fit to lead the country. But not everything the Donald has put his name behind has succeeded. TIME takes a look at some gambles that went bust

Trump Airlines

Trump Vodka

The Bankruptcies

The Hair

The Marriages

Trump Mortgage

Trump: The Game

The China Connection

Trump Casinos

The Middle East ‘Policy’

I don’t agree with the comments about your hair and marriages. We all have bad hair days and sometimes marriages go wrong, so I wouldn’t call them failures. Learning episodes, perhaps.

But what is more worrying is what Wikipedia had to say. Yes, I know, you aren’t a fan, but it seems that Wikipedia is a good resource for finding the good and the bad. So let’s have a look.

You’ve been a member of four political parties. Is it indecision, or don’t you understand the difference between Republicans or Democrats? Oh – I see you were thinking about running for President. A word of advice – it’s not presidential to call someone a moron. It’s also not presidential to call for a revolution, which you did when President Obama was re-elected. A revolution? Come now, Mr Trump, that is something a moron would say, not you.

Your business career has been interesting. Perhaps you acted like a moron, behaving in a stupid way. From Wikipedia “By 1989, poor business decisions left Trump unable to meet loan payments. Trump financed the construction of his third casino, the $1 billion Taj Mahal primarily with high-interest junk bonds. Although he shored up his businesses with additional loans and postponed interest payments, by 1991 increasing debt brought Trump to business bankruptcy and to the brink of personal bankruptcy. Banks and bond holders had lost hundreds of millions of dollars, but opted to restructure his debt to avoid the risk of losing more money in court.”

Sorry – clearly I got it wrong. It was the banks that acted like morons.

Do you remember an analyst who worked at a stock brokerage firm.  The analyst had made negative comments on the financial prospects of Taj Mahal. The analyst refused to retract the statements and was fired by his firm. Taj Mahal declared bankruptcy for the first time in November 1990. A defamation lawsuit by the analyst against you for $2 million was settled out of court. So the analyst was correct; you had him fired; your company went bust and then you settled when the analyst sued you. That’s quite silly of you, I think, maybe even moronic.

Given your history of racial controversy, perhaps it was moronic for you, a white man, to call Judge Masipa, a black woman, a moron. You see, what you said has to be viewed against your history. Or shall we call it, your moronic behaviour.

You remember that In 1973, the Justice Department sued your Trump Management Corporation for alleged racial discrimination, at which time you were the company’s president. The federal government filed the lawsuit against your New York City real estate company for discriminating against potential black renters.

After the rape of a white female jogger in Central Park in 1989, you aroused controversy in New York City’s black community when you took out full-page newspaper ads calling for the death penalty for the African-American teenage suspects—who were all later exonerated. Thank heavens you weren’t a judge in that case. You would have had innocent people executed. That would have been moronic. Or maybe not moronic, but racist. There is a long list of similar incidents. Silly of you, really.

But wait – maybe you aren’t just a racist. Maybe you’re an anti-Semite as well. Another snippet from Wikipedia is that last year you sent a tweet about Jon Stewart of The Daily Show which some other Twitter users believe had anti-Semitic undertones: “I promise you that I’m much smarter than Jonathan Leibowitz – I mean Jon Stewart @TheDailyShow. Who, by the way, is totally overrated.” Andy Lassner, producer of the Ellen DeGeneres Show, tweeted in response: “I knew you were more than just a racist. Proud of you for showing your anti-Semitic stripes too.”

Really now Donald (you don’t mind if I call you Donald, do you, I feel that I now know you so well) what I don’t like is people shooting off their mouths and interfering with what goes on in South Africa. I like it here. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty cool. If a Judge makes a mistake, there is an appeal process. Judges do make mistakes. We all do. You did, often, and still do, often. So before you call someone a moron, sit back, run your fingers through your hair, and ask yourself: who is the real moron?

 

Yours sincerely

 

Bernard Gutman

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Whisky flying high @BainsWhisky @JSDistillery

There’s been much in the press about a vial of whisky travelling round in space and heading back to earth. Since space travel is beyond the reach of most of us I’d like to focus on commercial airlines, particularly the whisky we can now enjoy on some flights.

Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky (produced in Wellington in the Cape) is now available on SAA and Kenya Airways. It makes sense that the world’s best grain whisky from 2013 can now be enjoyed on South Africa’s national airline.

Bain's Cape Mountain Whisky 02 LR

International visitors travelling on South African Airways (SAA) and Kenya Airways this August and September will have the unique opportunity to purchase Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky, the award-winning South African grain whisky, on-board.

Global marketing manager Eliska Botha said that these two new listings form part of steps towards making Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky available to consumers worldwide.

“Since launching in South African in 2009, Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky has performed phenomenally at all the major international whisky competitions. The whisky has also ignited quite an interest globally but the high demand from consumers in South Africa has resulted in limited availability in the rest of the world. Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky currently sells only through duty-free and a select few retailers in the UK and Canada.

“Through this new on-board listing, international travellers will now be able to get to know our proudly South African whisky and take a bottle home with them. The international consumer-base travelling on these airlines are quite discerning and we believe that having Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky available within this premium environment will further strengthen interest worldwide.”

Given the massive interest in Bain’s locally and the growing international curiosity about this whisky, availability on the airlines is bound to generate sales for Distell and most importantly, enjoyment for the consumer.

 

 

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After #Basculegate, Bascule goes from (almost) ruin to redemption. Well done @CapeGrace

It makes me happy to write this. It makes me happy to write good things about Bascule.

There was considerable fallout after my original post about Bascule. My thought was to get the hotel to sit up and take notice after many private emails and conversations passed without the CG acting on complaints.  Immediately after my post the hotel denied that anything was wrong. Then lawyers got involved. They said if I carried on with negative public comments the hotel would ban me. I said here that I can’t afford a legal battle, nor could I afford to be banned from a place that is part of the Whisky fabric in Cape Town.

But nearly a year after the post, most of what I complained about (and granted, what I complained about was subjective, my opinion only and the hotel did deny everything) has been fixed. The Bascule is on its way to restoring its whisky heritage.

Importantly, in public I repeat my private apology to Michael Liffmann. What I did wrong was that I attacked your character. I should not have done that. Instead I should have simply stuck to the facts. I hope that you will enjoy more support from the staff and any negativity that you feel blows away faster than the froth on your favourite CBC craft beer in a south-easter!

On the whisky front it seems that George has taken back control of the bar. The Bascule now boasts stunning new display windows, showcasing the best of South Africa in the form of the multi-award winning Three Ships expressions & Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky. Bascule is a whisky bar in South Africa and it makes sense, and makes me proud, that Bascule has chosen to feature the best we have to offer. Recently I attended the launch of the Bunnahabhain display – a must see, very clever use of the maritime theme linking whisky to the Waterfront.

Unfortunately for Bascule, George Novitskas is heading to Gauteng where he has accepted a position at an international drinks company. George will be looking after luxury brands, something he is well suited to after his time in the opulent, elegant world of the Cape Grace.

That begs the question: who will take over? I don’t know the internal workings but I would suggest Bradley Jacobs, the assistant manager. Bradley has been a Bascule stalwart for years. He has a wealth of whisky knowledge and has been rebuilding Bascule back to a whisky bar. If merit were the only factor, Bradley would be my first choice. On the empowerment front, Bradley would add some much needed colour to a very pale management team at Cape Grace. So – let’s hear it for Brad!

What’s new at Bascule? Cocktails. Not the normal fare, but some very clever, high-end drinks. Among those mixing them are Andrew, possibly still celebrating Zimbabwe’s cricket victory over the Aussies, and Devin, ex-Orphanage, Cape Town’s best cocktail bar. Inspiration and advice came from Anil at Shaker Bar School. Some of the offerings are a Rooibos Blazer (Lagavulin 16; maple syrup; lemon bitters & rooibos tea) at R 190; Cape Malay Curry (Johnnie Walker Platinum; Apricot liqueur; roasted cumin) at R 110. Chatting with Bradley last week he said that the cocktails are made with double measures of the lead spirit. The mathematically inclined among you may be interested to know that a single Lagavulin 16 goes for R 100, so with that in mind, the cocktail is pretty good value.

George said “As you know most whisky lovers prefer to drink their whisky neat. Yet whisky cocktails are making a huge come back worldwide. A good whisky marries beautifully with citrus flavours, loves a bit of spice, and can be utterly transformed by a shot of sweetness tempered with a dash of bitters.

Bascule has always been at the cutting edge of whisky trends so it made sense for us to diversify our whisky offerings in the form of a new whisky cocktail menu, making whisky the star attraction. To start our creative juices flowing, we took inspiration from our local heritage experimenting with fynbos, rooibos and locally grown herbs to really bring out the beautiful expressions of single malt and blended whiskies used. All ingredients used are house made such as our chocolate and lemon bitters, ginger beer, spiced purees and naartjie ratafia.  We have utilised whiskies from the full whisky flavour spectrum to suit any whisky palate as well as non-whisky drinker. It is also important to remember that these cocktails are not seasonal and can be enjoyed all year round. 

The passion at Bascule will always be whisky.  The new menu is designed to get people excited about whisky again and for non-whisky drinkers to fall in love with it like the rest of us.”

Back to my original post. I suggested the following:

  1. Bring back the comfortable seating.
  2. Make a designated, comfortable outdoor area for smokers. Cigar lovers don’t want to be huddled under umbrellas in the rain during winter or blown away by the Cape south-easter during summer.
  3. Make a special area for the members.
  4. Have regard to the views of the members.
  5. Give George, the manager proper authority. He has the support of the staff and members.
  6. Remove Liffmann from the decision making process. He does not enjoy the respect of the staff or any of the members I’ve spoken with.
  7. Get rid of the hookers.

Subsequent to my post…

1 – The seats remain, the couches gone, a distant memory. It is a pity. No change.

2 – Cigar smoking is gone, Cape Town following the international trend. It is what it is. No change.

3 & 4 – I hear there is a new membership offering, with private areas, discounted rates, special members evenings and so on. A lot of members left, but I hear that a lot have signed up for the new offering. Positive change.

5 – I understand George (and Bradley) were given more authority than he had at the time of my article. Positive change.

6 – Michael Liffman is still there, but I understand stepped back from Bascule’s operations. Change.

7 – The hookers. That seemed to generate the most coverage. Let me relate a story. A few months ago I went to East Africa on a whisky gig. I stayed at a top hotel and once I settled in to my room, went downstairs for a drink. I walked in to the bar and the half a dozen women sitting at the bar turned and batted their false eyelashes at me. It was not because I am a Brad Pitt lookalike. I’m not. It is because I was  a tourist and tourists are perceived to have fat wallets. The point is that most 5 star hotels in the world have prostitutes on the premises. It is a fact of life.

Since my article I understand that Cape Grace has taken several measures to deal with the scourge of prostitution. (They deny that anything they have or have not done is a result of my article). Apart from one initiative introduced in conjunction with the V & A Waterfront, all measures are internal. They include enhanced access control to certain areas inside the hotel; tighter coverage via CCTV, more uniformed and undercover security personnel and certain other measures.  There are other measures, of course, that have been introduced since the article appeared. Well done CG – you have now done good, confronting the problem.  Why Philma Gomes, the PR director, denied that there were prostitutes is still a mystery to me.

I’ve been to Bascule about 4 times in the past 6 months and am pleased to say that the measures have worked. Positive change.

Membership was also an issue, with members originally not being credited for the time the Bascule was closed. The original response to complaints was “During the Bascule closure, all whisky members have had access to their whisky from their lockers and were offered 10% discount at all F&B outlets.”

A week after some comment on my blog about membership CG sent out an email to members saying “Dear Valued Member of Bascule.  I would like to inform you that your memberships have been extended by 2 months due to the closure for the refurbishment in March of last year. If you have already paid for the renewal of your membership it will be extended by 2 months of your current membership year.  I do apologies for the late communication of this information and if you have any further questions or concerns please don’t hesitate to contact me.”

Common sense and decency eventually prevailed as one would expect from such a great hotel, and the members got some of what they wanted.

On the staffing front, someone I found to be a particularly problematic waitress changed her name and left the country. Positive change. The staff seem happier. Positive change. There is a new personnel manager, Barry Ross, who I think is an excellent addition to the CG and I wish him well. I’ll be sending him information about a responsible drinking initiative I’d like to do at bars and hotels at the Waterfront. He seems keen to help. Unfortunately the many emails I sent to the GM Sandy Pollard and PR director Philma Gomes about the responsible drinking issue went unanswered. I think that’s a bit rude of them.

Overall – well done to Bascule, well done Cape Grace, you’re heading in the right direction and have done well.

See you this Tuesday evening.

Thank you.

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Now, via youtube! Thami sings for our whisky – part 1 of the musical tribute to Glenfiddich @GlenfiddichSA @banda_thami @Butter_KnifePR

Part 1 of 2 about the superb Glenfiddich Whisky and the people who make it fun to drink.

Whisky is whisky and it’s tough to find new ways to present to the public, more so to the jaded journos & bored bloggers. I want to be surprised and dazzled. And I was, in an unexpected way.

Two large boxes arrived on my doorstep. In box 1 I found 20 whisky tasting glasses, branded with the instantly recognisable deer antlers, a hallmark of the Glenfiddich branding. Ok thanks, but the glasses are empty. What now? Cue box number 2, which I opened to reveal the Glenfiddich 15 year old, the whisky formerly known as the Solera Reserve. But wait, that’s not all! There were 4 bottles of some of the component whiskies of the 15 year old: Traditional Oak; Solera Vat; New Oak & Sherry Oak. The Glenfiddich 15 is one of the whiskies I think should be in every whisky lover’s collection. No, correct that, not collection, because collection implies not drinking it. I think the Glenfiddich 15 is one of the whiskies I think should be in every whisky lover’s glass, regularly.

The idea, as explained in the letter that accompanied the whiskies, was to gather a few mates and at 6 on a Sunday evening tune in / log on to the interwebs for a live broadcast from of the maturation warehouses at the Glenfiddich Distillery, all the way over there in Scotland. The letter informed that Thami Banda, whisky’s answer to James Bond and the Glenfiddich Brand Ambassador for South Africa would be leading a tasting of the content of box number 2 and invited us to share in the experience.

So I did just that at The Rockwell Apartments, where the Steelworx bar is going from strength to strength, improving whisky offerings to local and international guests. And we opened the bottles, did the tasting, guided by Thami and the pieces of the 15 fitted together nicely, thank you.  My favourite component: the Sherry Oak cask.

Clever presentation and brand marketing from Leandi, Marisa and their the team at Butter Knife PR dazzled me, the whisky, Glenfiddich is always good, such consistent quality, but what blew me away was Thami singing about the whisky. Yup, there he was, in full voice, belting out the tunes like a rock star!  Here’s a link to the presentation, listen and learn about the whisky, then sing along;)

Well done and thanks to all involved.

Oh, here’s Thami, preparing to wet his lips and launch into song!

 

BsQUCrCCQAEofUC

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Noble whisky treated with contempt; facts ignored and the public misled. The wrong way to do whisky events.

In this beautiful city of Cape Town there are a lot of whisky people, all happy to sit down and talk whisky. Some of us involved in the whisky world as part-timers happily give of our time for nothing other than the joy of sharing our passion. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing and working with professionals – the liquor companies, PR agencies and hospitality venues – all doing good, properly, responsibly, with pride. I call and pick brains, sit down and share knowledge. I can name a dozen people well known in hospitality circles, who are available for advice about whisky events. No charge, we do what we do for the love of whisky. If someone needs help, we offer advice and people accept it in the spirit that it is offered.

But one company, instead of taking advice and fixing up the problem, allowed ignorance and ego to take over. Instead of accepting much needed help in the spirit it was offered, the company threatened to sue me. The result is not a pretty sight

The company is Global Focus Events. The Managing Director is Julia Harmel.  Here is what happened, word for word, direct from me, from her and from her lawyer. But first, some background.

A superb chef, the late Frank Zlomke, of Bosman’s at Grande Roche, now sadly departed this earth, once told me that he takes care over his menu; makes sure there are no spelling mistakes; the dishes and ingredients properly described, because, he said, before his customer sees the plate and tastes the food, the first experience is looking at the menu. He said that if he doesn’t take care about something that is there for a season, (his menu was seasonal) a customer can’t have faith that he will take care in what appears on the plate. Frank was a perfectionist and a professional. He took pride in his work.

When I see serious errors on menus and mistakes in social media I call or email whoever is in charge and suggest a correction. My thought is that it is bad for the brand, bad for the bar or restaurant and sometimes misleading to the public. Why is it my business? It’s not. But then, if we all sat back and did nothing, pretty soon kids in school will be like, u no, like I dunno, not like talking proper, u no, like, and riting rongly.

A friend drew my attention to some howlers on social media from the Global Focus Events and 220 Brands twitter accounts. They were bad, very bad, so after some playful banter I called Global Focus to speak to Thando, the intern responsible for the tweets. Thando did not call back, but Mark Harmel did. Mark sounds like a nice guy and said he had two bottles of The Macallan 12, now rare, discontinued, in high demand, in his collection, but no, he was not going to serve those whiskies at the event.  The problem I had was that his company was advertising The Macallan 12 when they did not plan on serving it that night.

He thanked me for the call, said he would fix up all the errors and that was that. I’m not going to list all the errors, suffice to say that if my kids made so many mistakes in a school essay they’d get a failing grade and some PR companies could well fire the staff member responsible.

After our chat I dropped him an email.

As discussed with Mark Harmel today, please confirm that you will correct the incorrect information on your social media account.  There are errors and misleading items of information. To me it seems as the social media messages were put together in an unprofessional manner, which damages the brands and is harmful to the whisky loving public. It is also a poor reflection on your business but that is something for you to manage.

I called twice this morning to speak to Thando but did not get a return call.  This is unprofessional. It is only when I said I would turn to social media with my complaints that Mr Harmel phoned me. 

I hope that you will repair the damage done.

Kind regards and good luck for the event.”

I thought that all would be fixed, but I was wrong. I suppose I was optimistic, when a company says “Dream it, we’ll organise it… Events Management & Catering Extraordinaires | CANT is word none existent in our vocabulary” on its twitter masthead.  

Nothing changed, despite the undertakings. It is neither difficult nor time-consuming to fix up errors. Importantly, if you mention brands, get it right. If you mention a whisky legend, do him the courtesy of spelling his name correctly and describing him properly. It is just good manners.

I wrote another email:

Please sort out your Facebook pages as well and the description on twitter of what you claim to do is also incorrect. 

A spell and grammar check will go a long way to improving your image. 

Do it for the whisky-loving public.

Kind regards”

Again, nothing – but I did get a call from the Chef. He said everyone is too busy so he took it on himself to sort things out. Thando called. He said I mustn’t interfere and everything is perfect, there are no mistakes. I said there were. He said there weren’t. I pointed them out. He said it makes no difference and he was too busy anyway and I’m not a guest so he doesn’t care about what I have to say.

I sent another email:

Hi

I told the Chef and Thando some of the issues. They are still there, not fixed up. Please sort out.  Ardbeg, not Ardberg, Whisky, not Whiskey, and others.

Please explain what you mean by an evening of unlimited whisky tasting.  

Thanks

Still nothing.

So I took to twitter to express my disappointment.

I said “I’ve never seen so many stuff-ups from one company. Come on ‪@220PL ‪@GF_Events, ask for help, it’s available, please, for the sake of whisky.”

The mistakes remained. Got worse. Bain’s became Brains. And so it went on. Julia sent her lawyer an email, saying:

“Hi Zeeshaan

The situation I consulted you about (time to consult attorneys, no time to spellcheck?)  is still persisting and now getting out of hand. Kindly see below. Now as I stated I do not normally interfere with petty issues (Petty? Responsible drinking, petty? I think it’s deadly serious.) and frankly this individual has now overstepped the boundaries. Can you kindly deal with this matter as soon as possible? 

Mr Gutman (copied here) has been a bit intrusive lately; calling my office and ordering my staff around. He even indicated to one of my staff members earlier today that he has been on my personal facebook page. He was asked earlier to stop contacting the office and perhaps this is a message that he did not understand, as he is still sending emails making orders. Perhaps he has mistaken my silence in this matter as a sign of  weakness. 

Now if he wanted to help there are ways of doing (I did, called, emailed, to no avail) so rather than taking a matter that he did not ask about to social media. We had decided to shy away from replying to his twitter remarks as he is entitled to his opinion, however calling my office about such matters is out of bounds.

Please note, he is neither a client nor a guest or  affiliated with any of the brands that this event will be associated with. The only claim he has on this is the fact that he is a whisky loving person.

Please deal with this matter ASAP. 

Bernard; as indicated earlier, please DO NOT contact my office in any other manner.  Zeeshaan is my legal counsel he will be dealing with you from now on.

 Zeeshaan once you have sorted this, either call me or email me on my personal mail account.”

Now what is not there is anything about fixing up the mistakes, anything about advertising whiskies that aren’t on offer, nothing about any of the errors or misleading information. Just a complaint. Perhaps the correct thing to do have done was to publish a retraction of the misleading advert, a correction of the mistakes and move along.

But then again, if a company is charging the public R 450 for the evening, more than double the price of the truly world class Whisky Live and Wade Bales offerings at less than R 200, perhaps I should be circumspect about what to expect.

So I sent an email to Julia and her lawyer:

“Thank you for your email.

The content of your email is not correct and is, quite frankly, a sorry attempt at silencing a voice of dissent. It would be far better to seek advice from those who know instead of trying to get the lawyers involved. How about this: sort out your own mess. If you want to have a public fight, good luck to you, and let the truth come out. Come now – do the right thing for the sake of the noble spirit. Get advice.  

We’re here to help. 

Lets focus on the real issues.

If you want a public fight, I can’t stop you, but think about the harm to your business as a result of your sloppy work. 

I wait to hear from you.”

And “Here’s the thing: are you going to deal with the issue of an advert for unlimited whisky tasting? Surely it is irresponsible to promote drinking from 6 in the evening until late. Let’s be sensible about this.

Please get back to me.”

In come the lawyers:

Dear Mr Gutman

GLOBAL FOCUS: 220 PRINCES LOUNGE / WHISK(E)Y CONNOISSEURS EVENING

We confirm that we act on behalf of Global Focus and we refer to the email correspondence below.

It is our instructions that you have published numerous statements on Facebook and Twitter, which are potentially defamatory and which may cause damage to our client. We are further advised that you have acted in an intrusive manner and that you persist to harass our client’s offices via email and telephone despite their previous requests that you to desist from such behaviour.

We are instructed to direct, as we hereby do, that you immediately desist from the conduct aforesaid and that you refrain from any contact with our client at all. Failing which, we hold instructions to institute proceedings against you in order to enforce and protect our clients rights. Our client’s rights remain strictly reserved in this regard.

We trust that you will be guided accordingly.

Kind Regards

ZEESHAAN NORDIEN”

No, you would be wrong if you thought that my reply would be similar to that of Private Eye to Arkell’s lawyers when Arkell threatened to sue the magazine. I wrote as follows:

Thanks for the email. 

 Firstly, to enable me to provide you with a proper reply please let me know what statements I made on Facebook and Twitter your client is concerned about. 

Secondly, my calls and emails to your client were not intrusive. I called to request that your client correct information it had put out which was both incorrect and embarrassing to it and the whisky brands. My emails also dealt with the serious problem of alcohol abuse.  Perhaps your client can answer the question I posed.

I look forward to hearing from you as a matter of urgency so we can properly deal with the issues of concern, so please reply by close of business this Monday.

I wait to hear from you.”

 

They replied:

 

Dear Sir

 Your email dated 23rd instant refers.

We are instructed that there is no reason for any concern in relation to alcohol abuse. In fact we are advised that our client has partnered with Uber Taxis for the event in order to provide transport for guests from the event. 

 It is our instructions that you are not a member or guest of the event nor do you act on behalf of any duly authorised regulatory authority. Accordingly, no grounds exist for you to persist with your monitoring of our client’s event.

Our client has no issues of concern and persists that you refrain from making any further contact with them. “ (my emphasis)

I get worried when events promote unlimited whisky drinking or tasting, very worried. Driving drunk is only one issue. The sight of people lurching around vomiting in the toilet is something that cannot be unseen; it is not a good look. People that can’t see further than their car keys will say they can drive and bravado triumphs over the sensible call to the taxi company. Women passing out and ending up in places and with people they shouldn’t be with is a worry. Anyone involved in whisky needs to do more to prevent problems from happening. Promote drinking less, but drinking better. Why promote unlimited anything?

Julia complained about what I had said and threatened to sue. The reply from her lawyer did not make sense, so I wrote:

Thanks for the email.

Firstly, you write to me saying: 

“It is our instructions that you have published numerous statements on Facebook and Twitter, which are potentially defamatory and which may cause damage to our client.”

So I asked you to  “…please let me know what statements I made on Facebook and Twitter your client is concerned about.”

Your reply says, basically, mind your own business.

You see, the difficulty I have with this is that your client sought fit to get you involved with a threat and now says that it “…has no issues of concern…”

So let’s think about this. I call offering to help.  Your client carries on with its embarrassing conduct then gets you to send a threatening letter. Then, under scrutiny, your client says mind your own business. The offending issues remain. 

My view is that your client should focus on doing what is proper instead of trying to run an event where, notwithstanding the involvement of Uber, the focus seems to be binge drinking. The fact that a taxi company will be involved is not the issue. It is the advertised unlimited whisky tasting that is the issue.  Your client should be well aware of the provisions of the Liquor Act and Regulations. 

 Again, I’m affording your client another opportunity to let me know what statements offended your client and what your client is going to do about the invitation for unlimited drinking.

The fact that I’m not representative of any of the liquor companies or regulatory authority is irrelevant. Let’s get this resolved in the interest of the public.

Please reply by close of business on this Wednesday.

Kind regards

I then called the attorney for a chat and afterwards he sent me the following:

“Dear Mr Gutman

Your email below and our telephone conversation of 26th instant refers.

As we have already telephonically discussed the statements made on social media, it is not necessary to address same again in this email.

We refer to your concern and allegations regarding unlimited whisky tasting and wish to emphasise that advertising of “unlimited whisky tasting” by no means implies that the event promotes irresponsible drinking. There is a significant difference between tasting and drinking or consumption. Accordingly, our client denies that the focus of the event is on binge drinking as suggested in your email below. It would be unreasonable and presumptuous to assume otherwise and we are informed that no other person has made any such allegation.

It is further noted that neither the Liquor Act nor the Regulations seem to prohibit the use of language in our client’s advertising. (Not quite correct, but he skips over the fact that the client advertised whisky they weren’t going to serve!)

We are advised that our client is aware of the provisions of our liquor laws and the event will be hosted within a controlled environment.

We trust that the above is clear and that no further correspondence in this regard will be necessary.”

I replied:

Thanks for this.

 I don’t agree with your client’s interpretation but will include your explanation in the article I’ll be posting on my blog. 

Kind regards”

I think that any event offering a “taste as much as you like whisky”, without a cut-off time, is dangerous. I hope with all my heart that the event will be properly policed; that patrons don’t drink themselves into a stupor; that nobody drives drunk; that people drink less, drink better; that whisky appreciation, not unlimited ingestion, is the focus. The Liquor Act governs what you can and can’t say, what you can and can’t do. I’m happy to sit down and discuss the content.

Julia, whisky has spent at least three years in a cask, some you are supplying have spent twenty years and more. The least anyone can do is spend five minutes checking spelling and facts. The next time someone offers help, please take it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Coming up on this blog…

Got some free time over the next few days so that means I can catch up with some writing about one of my favourite subjects: WHISKY!

What’s in store are stories about a 50 year old masterpiece of a Glen Grant that gave me one of the best moments in my whisky career; news about Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky & Three Ships, South African superstars taking on the world; an awesome Glenlivet created with input from whisky lovers round the world; a brief visit to Kavalan in Taiwan; fun times and great whisky at the Glenfiddich 26 release; great news about Bascule Whisky bar, from ruin to redemption; beautiful scenes behind the scene at whisky festivals; how to run a whisky event, and how not to and…tales of the tonic water. 

And of course, keep following, keep tweeting, Keep Walking;) 

 

Drink less, drink better.

 

Cheers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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