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Tuesday
Jul242018

Relativity

Picking the best spirit at any price point is an interesting way to start a discussion about value. Objective quality is something that can be measured empirically. You can ask a distillery how the ingredients were chosen, what the recipe requires, the technical details of fermentation, distillation and aging. Compare those details to the decisions made at similar distilleries and you'll draw conclusions about the products made there. But technical detail is meaningless without context both sensory and situational. Taste a product and you can tell if it’s good, bad, or great. If done blind you can make an unbiased assessment of the flavors and feelings it gives you and perhaps assign a score or other qualification explaining its inherent values. 

I don't believe, however, that you can make a subjective determination about a product in a vacuum. Objective quality is inherently tied to several factors beyond just what goes into the bottle. As a drinker and buyer of whisk(e)y almost every decision I make is a function of my feelings or knowledge of the objective quality and the potentially level of enjoyment I might receive from other products that might cost less or more. I’m in a unique position of having tasted nearly everything that I sell, but on the wine side I’m constantly making purchases based on my excitement for a particular winery, the availability of those wines and their price on the shelf. There are thousands of wines that I would buy tomorrow if I didn’t have a budget.  

The scenario plays out every day on the sales floor. Invariably, someone will bring up the state of the whiskey world. Usually it's a regular who is raging about the price of Van Winkle at some shop in Beverly Hills. "Don't believe the hype," they tell other customers. "The internet ruined bourbon," they might say. I'm usually there to talk them off the ledge and get them thinking about how much incredible bourbon is still out there for absolutely incredible prices. There are mountains great bourbon for less than $50 and pretty much the entire category remains under $100 with the exception of those few rarities. Certain products do command wild prices on the open market.

It frustrates a lot of people (part of why we’ve committed to selling rare whisky at our normal mark up), but it's also one of the basic tenants of a free economy. Scarcity raises prices. I often fight back against the notion that Pappy is overrated. It's not overrated at all, it's extremely rare and delicious bourbon. It's overpriced. And not by the people who make it. It's overpriced by the people who BUY it. The relative high price of these rare bourbons makes the availability of wonderful affordable whisky for $30 that much more astonishing. Grab a bottle of David Nicholson for $27 and I guarantee you're not going to have 1/100th the experience of Pappy 20 year at $2700.

This brings us to the issue at hand, one of the single best deals of whisky we’ve ever had. Cutty Sark is a fine old brand. Created by BB&R in 1923, targeting the closed American market, it became one of the most popular whiskies in the country in the 1960s. Their entry level offering is a classic, but nothing we'd ever bother with. Yet, affordable blended Scotch is something that's always had a place on our shelves because it can offer an incredible drinking experience for a really reasonable price. Remember that old Faultline Blend anyone? Just about the time that special little product dried up, Cutty Sark released a re-imagined version of their historical blend. Adding more malt whisky and a higher proof, it became a go to for the store under $30.

Close links to the Edrington Group and their eventual purchase of the brand, meant that the blenders had access to some incredible stocks (Macallan, Glenrothes, Highland Park, etc.). But Edrington doesn't really do "value brands". Their a luxury company now and recently decided to put the brand and its home base, the Glenturret Distillery, up for sale. The resulting fallout has reverberated across the distribution networks and created one of the most significant closeouts we've ever seen. I was perfectly happy to recommend Cutty Prohibition when it was $28.99. It's good solid whisky with no gimmicks. Round rich and obviously maltier than most blends on the market, it has tiniest wisps of background smoke that allude to an older style and age gone by. Right now, dollar for dollar this is one of the best whiskies in the store. We got 50 cases, but there's no telling what the new owners will do with the brand.

Cutty Sark "Prohibition Edition" Blended Scotch Whisky (750ml) $14.99

-David Othenin-Girard