Despite the economic troubles we are starting to get deeper and deeper into, good value and quality whisky which caters for the majority of budgets is thankfully still widely available. How long that lasts for I don’t know, and if prices keep going up and money in customer pockets continues to go down, something will have to give. My budget is getting smaller by the month, and could easily be almost non-existent this time next year if energy, fuel, interest rates and groceries continue to sky rocket. Maybe it won’t be sustainable for me to review whisky any more if I can’t afford to buy it, but we will just have to wait and see on that front. Frankly, there are far worse issues in the world right now.
As well as good value whisky, there is also – and always has been – plenty of whisky with prices which are completely unfathomable and unjustifiable when taken at face value.
This article was inspired by one whisky, and one comment in particular I read about it on social media, but it isn’t alone in being a bottle with a price tag which feels excessive from behind the cold hard glare of a computer screen. That bottle was the latest Friends of Laphroaig Càirdeas. The comment went something along the lines of “How can you justify a NAS ex-bourbon cask whisky for £92?”, with one commenter responding with, “Have you tried it?”
I don’t want to focus too much on this one particular whisky, as it isn’t an outlier. We see it from other distilleries and even some of the independent bottlers, and this is far from being the worst culprit. There will be many Laphroaig fans who may have enjoyed previous releases in the range and will be happy to go in blind again with this. The issue I have is the “Have you tried it?” comment. It’s a comment I have seen plenty on various discussions from people trying to justify a price point, but I think it is rather pointless as an argument. The best reply may be something like, “No I haven’t, would you like to send me some?”
There is no option to try before you buy, there are no samples of these whiskies being sold, so unless you have a friend who has already shelled out for a bottle, you have no way of tasting it. The argument that you can’t criticise the price of a whisky until you have tried it is completely flawed if there is no way to try to try it, and no information to back up the RRP. Why should we be expected to go in blind with our hard earned money without something tangible to justify the spend?
Perhaps in the case of some expensive NAS offerings there is some older stock in the mix, or maybe some of the casks were rather exceptional, and when you taste it you are delighted you did. In the case of older stock; be transparent about it on your website and tell us the ages and percentages of the components which have made up the bottle. The SWA might not let you do this one the label, but we have seen from the likes of Compass Box that it can be put on the website, but most producers won’t willingly do so. Without that transparency we are making a leap of faith and they probably can’t believe their luck that we are happy to pay for it. Just because the market can stand it doesn’t mean you should charge it, as Springbank have shown us consistently.
I am scanning whisky retailers as I write this, and some of the prices I see make me wonder who the heck is buying them. A 10 year old Balblair for £110, a 7 year old Jura in a 50cl bottle for £85, Ardbeg’s Ardcore at £120, and pretty much everything from Annandale (sorry guys). There’s so much value still out there that unless money is no object to you, then I don’t get it.
There have been a few whiskies I have been lucky to try that have justified the inflated price tag, if you place the value in the flavour rather than the cold hard facts on the bottle. A Bowmore 18 and Longmorn 15 from North Star, which were priced up at I think around £180 and £150 respectively, looked far too expensive on paper, but when I tried them at a tasting I could see those were special whiskies, and armed with that amount of money you would struggle to find better. The price started to make more sense from that point onwards, and it was explained that the casks were expensive to purchase. The bottles had long gone from shelves by the time I tried it, which was probably as good an indicator as any that word had gotten out about how good they were. However, that doesn’t change the fact that in 2020 those prices seemed even crazier than they do in 2022, and without trying them first I could never have contemplated making a purchase.
There is also a very fair argument that age isn’t everything. There are 3-5 year old whiskies I have tried that have been much better than ones with much older age statements, but I need something to go on in order to decide what is and what isn’t worthy of clicking the buy button. Blind faith isn’t going to cut it. I need to know why a whisky is priced like it is before I am happy to part with the cash. If they simply can’t afford to sell it for less, then to put it bluntly, that’s not my problem. As a community, we seem to be so much more forgiving when it comes to whisky pricing than we would be for pretty much anything else.
Of course if you can’t try it yourself, another option is to gauge the opinion of people in the community that have, or perhaps a reviewer you trust, in order to decide whether the price is worth paying. At the end of the day its your money and your choice what to do with it, I can only explain my mindset when it comes to pricing and what I see as value for money.
The subject of this review is a whisky which won’t give many people trouble in pressing that buy button if they are looking for a whisky which ticks plenty of the honest presentation and value boxes. A 12 year old age statement, 46% abv, and non-chill filtered. There is very little to complain about, but natural colour would be welcomed too. We can take a chance with whiskies like this, with clear information meaning we know exactly what we are paying for.
This used to be around £40 everywhere, and sometimes less on sale, but due to a recent rebrand, and I would guess the current economic situation, it is now more likely to be seen at £45. It’s a sign of the times and there are far worse price increases we are being expected to absorb than that.
Loch Lomond 12 Years Old – Review
Nose : Bonfire toffee and even a little bicycle puncture repair kit are the first couple of notes that are jumping out of the glass at me, but there is plenty of fruitiness coming through too, and its orange marmalade, ripe pear, and raisin. There’s also warm copper coins, pencil shavings, vanilla, crystalised ginger, fresh cut grass and bread dough. Water accentuates the fruit notes and brings out some apple and blackcurrant.
Palate : I get some great sweet, sour and bitter sensations with this, and they are balancing well with each other. Initially brown sugar and honeycomb, followed by the sour bitterness of Seville orange, along with roasted coffee, toasted oak and a distant garden leaf fire. As those flavours begin to subside, we get vanilla cream and a background of warming ginger that lingers for a while on the tongue. The fruit hasn’t left us, but now there is baked apple, cinnamon and clove, which leads us into a finish which offers a slightly metallic note, malt, apple peels, caramel, salt and a light oaky smokiness drifting into the background.
Conclusions : It’s certainly not what I would describe as a clean whisky, and there is a slight dirty edge which is to its credit and makes it a more interesting proposition. The addition of a touch of water and time in the glass seems to lessen that slight rubber note I get when I first pour it on the nose, with the fruitiness becoming a much more dominant aroma.
There is a great balance on the palate between the sweet, sour and bitter which can be a rare thing in my experience. Often a whisky will go one way or another at some point in the development, which can turn out both good and bad. This bottle is almost gone, and it will surely be replaced before long.
I remain thankful that there is still good quality whisky out there for the people who place an emphasis on value.
Score : 7/10 Very Good
(Score descriptions can be found in the About page)
ABV : 46%
Non-chill filtered : Yes
Natural Colour : No
Maturation : 12 years in American Oak ex-bourbon casks (1st fill, refill and recharred)
Region : Highland
Colour : Dark Amber