Outrageously priced whisky

10 May 2016 16:00

Last Friday I got an e-mail from a local whisky distillery, announcing their second bottling (I think they started distilling in 2010), which was available for order through their web shop.

The price? 150 euros for a 0.5 liter bottle (for any Americans: that’s about $170). Not only is that quite a steep price for whisky in general, it is an insane price for what they’re offering. My response therefore: HELL NO, but let me explain.

Whisky comes in a lot of different varieties. Aside from the various types of grains used (barley, rye, corn, etcetera), the processes involved, and the legal definitions in place in the country of origin, you can get quite a different product. For the purpose of this post, we’ll limit the discussion to single malt whisky. Also, please keep in mind that I am not an expert when it comes to the production of whisky, nor would I consider myself a connoisseur. I’m simply a whisky enthusiast who enjoys a glass or two in the evening, on weekends.

Did I mention you should drink responsibly?

Now suppose I had 150 euros to spend on whisky (which I don’t). What would that get me?

  1. A 0.7L bottle of 25 year old Glenfarclas
  2. A 0.7L bottle of 18 year old Caol Ila
  3. A 0.7L bottle of 25 year old (unpeated) Benriach, which is easily the best whisky I’ve ever tasted
  4. A 0.7L bottle of 21 year old Glendronach Parliament
  5. Four 0.7L bottles of 12 year old BenRiach, one of my favorites

To summarize, that amount buys a 0.7L bottle of good Scotch in the 18-25 year range, with an alcoholic content of 43 to 50% ABV. Now let’s see what the local distiller is offering:

  1. A 0.5L bottle
  2. No age statement (at most 6 years, based on how long the distillery has been using the current process)
  3. Cask strength, or close to it (50% ABV)
  4. Limited availability (500 bottles)

Not even close to what that money would otherwise buy me. Granted, most of the whiskies I listed above are easier to come by, but I don’t consider rarity to be a good quality. If I like a particular whisky I want to be able to buy another bottle when I finish it.

So how should whisky be priced? Let’s talk about a number of factors that I think merit a price raise.

Age Without going too much into the effect of age on whiskies or the quality (and duration) of casks used, it is my opinion that older whiskies should cost more. Whisky’s without an age statement I will generally regard as 3 year old in that context (the minimum required age to be called whisky), meaning that they should cost less than pretty much every other single malt available.

Cask type Most whisky is matured using ex-Bourbon or ex-Sherry casks. Exotic casks such as certain wine or port casks merit a small increase in price.

ABV The higher the percentage of alcohol, the less the spirit was diluted with water. A higher ABV means a higher price.

Absense of chill filtering Chill filtration is a process that is used on many whiskies to remove certain fatty acids and other residue, mostly to prevent the whisky from appearing cloudy. However, this also affects the taste in a negative sense, so a non-chill filtered whisky is worth more in my opinion.

Bottle size This one’s easy: the bigger the bottle, the more it should cost. A 1 liter bottle should cost more than a standard size (0.7 liter) bottle. On occasion I will buy a 0.2L bottle to try something out (these aren’t that common though), and I also buy samples (0.06L) from time to time. But 0.5 liter bottles can go die in a fire as far as I’m concerned.

In conclusion As you can see I’m quite specific in how much I’m willing to spend on a bottle of whisky. The more expensive a bottle, the more it needs to have going for it for me to be interested.

So yeah, about that local distillery? I’ll consider their product when they get a more sanely priced release. For now I’ll pass.