Whisky is perceived to be expensive. Global demand, new international markets, hipster marketers and short-sighted shareholders are all ruining your favourite drink, or at least it can seem like that. Aged single malts are becoming very expensive. So much so, that you’re considering turning to filthy, shameful solutions like drinking rum and gin.
But you don’t have to break the bank to enjoy a lot of different types of whisky. Yes, whisky can be pricey, although I do think the silliness in terms of price inflation has plateaued of late. And the staggering number of new distilleries – at least one every second by my calculations – will surely mean that the supply of exotic single malts on the market reaches some sort of equilibrium with demand.
But until then, here are several pearls of wisdom that will enable the typical whisky drinker to try plenty of whiskies without weeping into her Glencairn glass afterwards. I’m sharing them with you as these methods are how I manage to get through so many different drams.
1. Form a Bottle Share Group
Find a group of like-minded individuals and club together to buy your bottles. It’s as simple as that. You each pay for a share of a new bottle, say a tenner here, or five pounds there, and you get to sample a wide range of whiskies at a relatively inexpensive cost. It’s a great way to be able to afford quite old whiskies, too – a £200 bottle for a rarity is much more affordable split 7 ways. Scale this up to a social whisky club of your own, with a monthly meet-up, and you’d be surprised just how many new and interesting whiskies you’ll be sipping.
2. Share samples with your friends
Community support, in other words. I’ve long since been exchanging samples with Whisky Rover, and we get to taste a diverse range of whiskies (often blind) that we might not otherwise have tried. You can easily purchase sample bottles online, into which you can decant small measures. Get a few of your friends doing this, and you’ll be tasting plenty of different drams. And you know what? You get to share notes and thoughts; you get to talk about different topics; and by engaging in this sort of dialogue you’ll remember why you fell in love with whisky in the first place.
3. Visit specialist whisky bars
Don’t have any friends? That’s why bars were invented. Whisky bars – or bars with a very good selection of whiskies – are becoming a touch more expensive these days, but you’re still not actually paying a great amount if you want to try a few different types of drams. A quick search on Google for bars with a good whisky selection in your city is all that’s required.
Edit: as pointed out in the comments, you can indeed always buy samples to drink at home, such as with Master of Malt’s Drinks by the Dram.
4. Buy independent bottlings
Here’s a great list for you to search out: Cadenhead’s, Signatory, Wemyss, Gordon & MacPhail (especially the Connoisseurs Choice and MacPhail’s Collection ranges), Hunter Laing (Old Malt Cask), the Whisky Broker, Douglas Laing, Berry Bros & Rudd. I’ll say Cadenhead’s twice for good measure, as they’re the best-value indie of them all. Every one of those companies sells good whisky at the prices that you would have expected to pay for whiskies about 5 years ago, if they’d been sold by the distilleries themselves. Just look for any of those names at a reputable retailer.
5. Search out the good value distilleries
Don’t accept what you see on a press release to be the norm. In fact, don’t even follow marketing trends and fashion. Apply the same approach as above if you want to buy original distillery bottlings, and you’ll discover gems like: Glen Moray, Caol Ila, Kilkerran, Bruichladdich, BenRiach, Glenfarclas, Glencadam, GlenDronach, Glengoyne, and no doubt many more. But you have to do your research. For example, Kilkerran released their astonishingly brilliant Work in Progress 7 (Bourbon) for less than £50. Even Diageo’s Flora and Fauna range provides some superb whiskies at a good, old-fashioned price. Avoid new original bottlings (if you wish to save pennies) of things like Mortlach, Highland Park, Macallan and Ardbeg. Basically, do your homework.
6. Visit supermarkets
You can find a wide selection of official offerings in supermarkets, but many can be fairly low-quality official bottlings. However, when you look at things like Lidl whiskies then you’d be silly to ignore some fantastic value, award-winning drams that have been vatted especially for that particular store, or which are simply on offer. Some decent Glenfiddichs often get discounted. Tesco recently had a clear-out of some very good whiskies at ridiculous prices too. Keep an eye out. I’ll include Amazon in this bit, too, as they quite often have special whisky offers going on. You just have to pay attention to what’s going on at a fairly regular basis. You basically become a whisky bargain hunter.
7. Go to a whisky festival
There are loads of them about. Once you pay the entry fee, which is the same price as a good night out, you can usually sample as much as you want – within reason, and still clinging onto your dignity. If you’re flying solo, take a notebook with you and make some notes as you go along. You can get to explore a lot of whiskies within a relatively short time frame. Just make sure you don’t get so tipsy that you end up waltzing gleefully into the shop afterwards and empty your wallet there. That way lies divorce.
Have I missed anything out?