This is not a very original line of inquiry. I’m guessing lots of other bloggers have visited it over the years. Indeed, I have a dim memory of having proposed something along similar lines some years ago in a discussion on What Does John Know?–back when it was a daily stop for me. But instead of being all negative and accusing me of beating a long dead and highly boring horse, why not laud me instead for my daring retro post on Throwback Thursday? That’s the spirit!
At any rate, this question occurred to me again after the brief exchange yesterday in the comments on my review of the utterly ordinary Kavalan King Conductor that is to retail in the US for $109.99: what should the price threshold be for whiskies in particular age ranges?
Now, I know different people will have different responses, and I also know that none of this discussion is going to carry any weight with the people who actually set the prices. It’s still interesting to me to find out what other people’s thresholds are–and so I hope you will chime in below. It may be a quixotic question in the era of NAS whisky but tilting at windmills is one of my core competencies.
Here’s my current thinking on the ceilings I would impose if I were made Czar of Whisky Pricing:
Young NAS whisky: $40 maximum
10-12 yo whisky: $50 maximum
15 yo whisky: $75 maximum
18 yo whisky: $100 maximum
21 yo whisky: $130 maximum
25 yo whisky: $200 maximum
30 yo whisky: $300 maximum
40 yo whisky: $500 maximum
Older NAS whisky and genuinely limited editions and experimental bottlings to be dealt with on a case by case basis. I would cap things like the Glenmorangie Signet and the Mackinlay’s Shackleton Malt at $150 and say that the Balvenie Tun 1401s are fine at $209.99 (which is where they seem to start in Minnesota). Exceptions to be made as well for cask strength variations on regular expressions (as, for example, with the Laphroaig 10) and cask strength NAS bottles (such as the Uigeadail).
Now you may say that I’m too directly tying age and price together. Sure. But please note that I’m not tying age and price and quality. I am not saying that a 25 yo should be twice the price of an 18 yo because it is likely to be twice as good. A 25 yo may well be no better or worse than a 10 yo (I sometimes feel that way about the Laphroaig 10 and 25, and certainly about the new Talisker 25 and the Talisker 10). I am just assuming there are incremental costs and risks associated with longer aging, and also the opportunity cost of not bringing more younger/middle-aged whisky to market sooner and adjusting for those. And I’m asserting that it makes sense to tie price to these variables than to the absolutely subjective variable of taste: i.e. I am unwilling to pay thrice as much for a whisky made exactly the same way as another merely because the company tells me they added some invisible secret sauce to it. That way lies madness as every distillery will produce whisky that they will insist tastes more expensive than the price they could charge for it if they put an age on it–in other words, exactly what’s happening with young NAS whisky. I am, however, willing to pay some extra for visible difference in “materials cost” (whether it is the costs of aging or specific production costs involved with special barrels etc.).
But this stuff is not really what I’m most interested in here (though if you want to explain how I’ve completely misunderstood the economics of whisky production, be my guest)–I’m primarily interested in finding out where fellow geeks set their basic thresholds when pondering purchases: at what price points do whiskies of particular (or no) age statements stop seeming like good deals and at what points does it feel like the companies are taking the piss? Everyone will likely have differing answers, but I’d like to hear yours.
In the meantime, the distilleries I can think of that pass my system at all points of the spectrum are Glenfarclas, BenRiach, Glencadam, Glen Moray, Ardmore, AnCnoc/Knockdhu and Bladnoch (though who knows what will happen with new ownership). Of these Glenfarclas really stands out as they have a large number of regular bottlings: 10, 12, 15, 17, 21, 25, 30, 40, and they all pass.
There are others who don’t have regular old expressions and whose younger and middle-aged expressions pass: Aberlour, Old Pulteney, Clynelish. Distilleries that pass at the low end but fail spectacularly at the high end include Laphroaig and Highland Park. Springbank fails at all levels (in the US at least); so, alas, does Talisker. Most pass at some point on the spectrum but fail elsewhere (Bowmore, Bunnahabhain, Lagavulin).
Anyway, that’s enough from me: where would you set your ceilings and are there other distilleries that pass mine that I have not listed?