I talk a lot about how the whisky well is drying up. I’m constantly reminding everyone how hard it is to find great casks and how astounding the relentless increase in prices has been. It's not because I like to brag about our ability to source awesome whisky, but because I'm legitimately concerned that one day we might not have the same access we once had. Yesterday I tasted through a line of new and very attractive independently bottled single malts. This is a brand developed by a medium sized drinks company who is a relatively large player in the European market. The whiskies are all between 9 and 10 years old and from very respectable distilleries. Nothing rare or unusual, but good workhorse malts like Linkwood and Miltonduff. I was super psyched to have a new partner to deal with, a potential source for single casks in the future, not to mention the rare bonus that their packaging was great.
The whiskies were all solid, not single casks, but small batches of a few thousand cases. That means these guys are buying enough to be get bulk pricing either direct from distillery or from the next tier down - the very secretive broker market. Most likely they're buying this stuff when it's really young and hanging onto it for a few years before bottling. They likely pay a few pounds per pure liter or alcohol plus another pound or so per year. That's how bulk commodity pricing works in Scotch. If you're willing to commit to a lot of volume the raw cost is not VERY high. It's all the other stuff that starts to make it expensive –taxes, time, angels, logistics, marketing, packaging, etc. Of course, we'd love to be able to purchase at that level, but it's not that simple. It doesn't make economical sense for us to buy quantities like this. It’s not the worst investment, you're by no means guaranteed the top quality whisky we require. That demands additional investment in quality casks, the know how and logistics to fill and warehouse your own product, not to mention bottling and whatnot. So I'm excited when I see someone new who can operate on that level. There's so much potential for exciting products, but executing a viable brand launch takes much more than just potential.
After walking myself through the various marks, some cask strength and others at 92 proof, I was feeling good about the prospects. Each whisky was a great example of the specific distillery and all had uniqueness despite their similarity on paper. When we came around to discussing price, my excitement turned to utter disbelief. The look on my face must have made it obvious. 9 and 10 year old Single Malt for $80-100? Who is going to buy this stuff? If it was Lagavulin, Ardbeg, sherried Macallan or Glenfarclas, maybe this might just maybe make sense. I broached the subject with caution. They insisted the prices seemed right in line with the market. They'd done the research on comparable products and priced them accordingly. The brands were doing great in Europe!
Ultimately they might be right - tons of young whisky is being marketed and sold by independents at wildly inflated prices. But I cannot stock products just because they exist. I often find myself defending our stocking choices to geeks who ask why we don't have more independent bottlers on the shelf. They remember a time when the independent bottler was providing so much value that to consider buying a distillery brand seemed ridiculous. Now it seems the opposite is true. The simple answer for these folks is that if the suppliers can't provide value for my customers, there's no point in buying them no matter how cool or rare they are. When we find a product that delivers real value, we'll buy them. A pretty bottle and romantic story only go so far. In the end, we can sell you one bottle of nearly ANYTHING, but if you don't go home crack ‘er open and immediately start think about buying a second then we're not doing our job well enough.
Today I'm not going to sell you 10 year old whisky in third fill casks for $100+, but instead old delicious rare single malt for not much more at all. These are the types of barrels that make me question the business model of some many people in this industry. Luckily, they reaffirm everything we’ve tried to prove over the last ten years. These are the final two single malts from Old Particular until the summer. We may have saved the best for last...
This 25 year Bunnahabhain isn't just from a "refill hogshead" barrel, it's from a sherry hogshead and the dark, rich color of the malt lets you know at first glance that this is going to be one supple dram. Bunnahabhain, unpeated in its classic expression, takes on a completely different character in sherry than its Islay counterparts. While sherried Bowmore tends toward savory campfire notes and sherried Kilchoman towards sweet peat, sherried Bunnahabhain is like pure salted caramel, combining the sea elements of island maturation with the mouthcoating texture of a textbook Speyside malt. After 25 years in the barrel, this incredible specimen came out at 49.5% cask strength with an absolutely incredible color. Sweet sherry dances with caramelized apples and pears, lots of Oloroso rancio, and loads of oak spice on the finish. You'll be thinking more along the lines of Macallan and Glenfarclas than Islay at the end of this one. This is a MUST for sherry heads.
Another classic 20 year old Bowmore beauty from our friends at Old Particular has landed to make 2018 another banner year for our whisky import program. This 52.7% ABV stunner packs a healthy dollop of smoke along with tropical fruits and notes of citrus with plenty of length through the finish. The peat isn't nearly as pronounced in this expression as it was in the previous edition, so fans of Talisker or other mildly peated malts might want to take a look at this one. The finish is sweetly smoked with a coastal sea air element, notes of vanilla, and lots of spice. It's hard to go wrong with classic Bowmore at full proof, especially at this age.
Two Islay whiskies that couldn't be more different, but both stunning examples of what each distillery has to offer. We going to keep the exceptional whiskies flowing for as long as we can. When we get stupendous casks like this it feels like the party might never end. For those paying attention, the Faultline casks were delayed along with the IRS filing deadline. They should be in the main warehouse and ready to go in the next few hours. You'll have a few more days to take a first crack at those before the rest of the world catches on.