The End of an Era

If you didn't catch any of my posts over the past year about Scotland's new distilleries and what they mean for the independent cask trade, I'll give you the one sentence version: the recent era of independent single casks as a reasonably-priced alternative to the main market is coming to an end. Why, you ask? Because the major players are having no problem selling their own casks of whisky right now, meaning they're cutting off the pressure relief valve they've been using as a safety mechanism for decades. No more filling contracts. No more access. What you have is what you can work with. That's why the prices for single barrels have begun to creep back up, access to interesting stuff is tighter than ever, and independent bottlers have begun looking for a new source of income: PRODUCTION. Any independent bottler that wants to stay in the Scotch business has either begun to build a new distillery, or purchased an already operational one. That's the new reality for the time being.

Is there a whisky glut coming down the road? Personally, I think so. There's a lot of whisky being made right now, and a lot of it is just sitting in bottles on the shelf, but even a future surplus of Scotch whisky doesn't mean we'll ever go back to the independent bottler model we've been primarily working with over the last decade or so. With most of the bottlers now focusing on their own distillation, the amount of working capital they have to devote to cask purchasing is far less and their attention is now elsewhere. I've seen the writing on the wall for years, which is why I bulked up and bought everything we could afford this past summer before prices really hit the ceiling. Come 2018, I'm not sure what will be left for us in Scotland's independent game. I've got plenty of casks tied up for the time being, but I'm weary of pricing as it currently stands.

That pricing, however, reflects the availability. There ain't nothin' to be had. Anything interesting has a premium. Anything luxurious is crazy expensive. That being said, I made one final play this past July for what I have to assume will be the last truly collectable, lavishly-priced single barrel of Scotch we buy for some time. As the spirits buyer, I stopped looking for luxury casks years ago. The Port Ellens and Broras of the world are far too expensive at this point to justify the thousand dollar prices and the amount of customers still looking for rare editions of lost distilleries has dwindled, especially for an entire cask's worth of whisky. That being said, every now and again I can pull a little magic out of my dusty old Scotch hat and find a barrel of something truly stupendous. While $600 for a bottle of Macallan may not seem like a deal to everyone, I would do a price search for the 25 year Macallan as a comparison and see what pops up. You're looking at a minimum of $1500-$1700 for a single bottle in today's market and that's for a blend of numerous barrels proofed down to 43% ABV. Can you imagine what the Mac 25 would cost as a single barrel at full proof? It would be at least $3000 if not more.

Even older independent editions like the one we're offering here are selling for $750-$1000 overseas. But in the spirit of the holidays, we're offering a pure, unadulterated cask of 24 year old Macallan from a single barrel at full proof for $599 (because I got creative with the math and found a way to subsidize the price). There's not much of it. Only enough for 190 lucky people (if everyone only buys one bottle), but like I've said before: Macallan is the only true first growth in today's single malt market and it's not often you get a deal on luxury. Aged in a refill hogshead barrel, there's no sherry influence here, just golden grains, soft vanilla, rounded fruits, and classic Macallan elegance. Getting the price down to $599 in today's competitive market was something of a miracle, but that's what the holidays are for, right? Those looking for something truly special this holiday season need look no further. We won't actually receive the bottles until January, so you might have to print out a gift receipt and place it in a card for your loved ones in the meantime, but it doesn't get more refined than this. This is the Chateau Margaux of single malt whisky casks. It's finesse in a bottle, from front to back.

It's also the end of an era for K&L. Unless we see an accelerated market move on a glut that I think is still four to five years away, you won't see anything like this at this price again anytime soon. The age of independent bottlers as a value alternative is coming to and end and a new era of booming production has begun. 

1993 Macallan 24 Year Old "Old Particular" K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Scotch Whisky $599.99 (Pre-Arrival) - Macallan is the only Scottish single malt distillery that has truly achieved first growth status within the industry, despite the fact that many others have tried. The distillery's multi-thousand dollar price points are reminiscent of Chateau Lafite (even DRC at times) and rare collections continue to drive the value of the heralded Highland distillery further into the stratosphere. The 18 year old has gone from $80 to $250 in the span of a decade and the 25 year old now sells for a minimum of $1500 a bottle when you can find it. It's for that reason that, despite the lavish expense, our buyers could not pass up the rarest of all opportunities when it happened upon them: a rare single cask of Macallan 24 year old, bottled at cask strength (no water added), unchillfiltered straight from the barrel for a price that defies the market forces. While normally full proof, single barrel editions sell for a premium compared to the standard editions, our team managed to pull off the deal for a fraction of comparative market prices. Full of vanilla, stone fruit, and classic malt character, this single hogshead edition captures the elegance of the perfectly mature Macallan distillate at an unbridled 51.3% natural cask strength. Bottled exclusively for K&L by our friends at Old Particular, there are only 190 bottles available. (Due to arrive 1/15/2018)

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll