There is a website dedicated to keeping up with the price of Freddo. Seriously. It’s this one.
I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. There are websites dedicated to inanity ad infinitum these days. Animals dressed as humans. Humans who think they’re animals. Correct procedure for wiping your bum. Whisky reviews. In the Looking Glass World of digital-age barminess, tracking Freddoflation sits comfortably on the ‘noble cause’ side of the ledger.
After all, discussing the fiscal antics of confectionary’s vilified, smirking amphibian is one of the great levellers of British society. Young, old, rich, poor, Leave, Remain, North, South – everyone knows that Freddo’s proper price is 10p tops, and anything upwards of 20 is capitalist profiteering at its most darkly vicious. It’s all we unanimously agree on; all we’re properly passionate about. The Freddo question is one’s badge of Englishness. The great strifes and injustices roll by and we’ll do nothing but grumble and chunter. But we’ll go to war over the price of the Cadbury’s frog. A party running under the banner ‘Make Freddo 10p again’ would take the Commons in a landslide.
And of course, the folk responsible for Freddo’s price hops are held among history’s great villains. Dollar-eyed, pustulous, bile-hearted ogres; joyless Ebenezers, grey-faced, grey-humoured, grey-suited. The sort of incomprehensible, frightening bogey-folk whose souls aria as they open up Microsoft Excel.
Which brings us to Pernod Ricard.
Reams of rage have already been written on Aberlour A’Bunadh’s recent price rocket. Along – randomly – with an article that basically said “fair play to the lads; I’ll still be a customer”. I didn’t get in on the twitter hate-fest myself. Partially because I’m not all that surprised. It’s hardly as if Pernod Ricard don’t have form for this. Where other conglomerates adjust their prices with a constant, sneaking creep, Pernod just waits for a bit and then mashes some enormous “money boost” button with a sledgehammer and a bellow of “POWER”.
There’s also, I’m afraid, no point whatsoever to righteous anger here. Or, at least, nothing that’ll come of it. Fundamentally because Pernod Ricard couldn’t give a rat’s toss what you think. Of course they couldn’t. They’re not interested in your opinion; these are the people who inflicted Pernod upon us, for Christ’s sake. And Ricard. They’re French, lest you forget, and the French are better than anyone in the world at not giving a rat’s toss what you think. Better than the Russians. Better than the Americans. Not giving a rat’s toss what you think is the central tenet of Frenchness. Aberlour A’bunadh’s priced up 67%? Gallic shrugs all round. Some new, rich customer will buy it. They never liked you much anyway. Drink up your Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve like a good little tiers-état.
For all the cutesy brand personality building on insta-grim, all the cheery customer outreach by lovely people trained to be even lovelier brand ambassadors, all the copy about heritage and humble roots and salt-of-the-earth, self-effacing Scots: be under no illusion. It’s all about money. All. And you, the whisky enthusiast, are the most irritating, least cared-about person on the Big Whisky spreadsheet. You want to try the good stuff, but you’re probably not prepared to pay what they’re determined to ask. And you’re probably not interested in the bulk stuff – their most important products – because it’s probably boring and average. You’re not prepared to knuckle down to life in the Jura Journey lane, and you can’t – or won’t – trade up to Mortlach 25. Well then, as far as they’re concerned, sucks to be you.
The upshot of all of this is that there’s one less great – I mean really great – whisky available under £50. Bit of a thin herd now, isn’t it? I’m reminded of the wonderful piece Mark wrote questioning what “value” means in whisky. Of course, there’s value to be had in the moment; the memories; the experience of drinking whisky, and of course those memories can be made with friends over a bottle of Famous Grouse or Jim Beam White Label. The geophysicist has a bottle of Laphroaig Select she shares with me, and I haven’t made any douchey, smart-arse comments. Not more than half a dozen times.
But, from where I sit, it’s much easier to say that it’s the moments and the company that really matter if you either don’t give much of a damn about whisky or are affluent or fortunate enough to have access to the best. I have wonderful memories of times spent at my formative local over pints of Strongbow. I’ve loafed around with mates and had a brilliant evening with a bottle of Jäger. But the drink isn’t what makes the memories good. It was just there, like a prop. It hadn’t improved in quality by being drunk with good people. With a better drink, they’d be even better memories.
If you love whisky; like really, properly, write-a-blog, ferry-to-Islay, keep-the-corks, have-opinion-on-Jim-Murray love whisky, value means something with no-corners-cut approaches and as much transparency as you can get. But most importantly it means whisky with something to say. With interesting, thought-provoking, delicious flavours. Not milky, grassy, immature, mewling, sorry-for-itself, minimal-effort, twelfth-fill, all-expense-spared, dilute wood-grog.
If I went to a football match with friends and my team couldn’t be bothered playing much and got thrashed, they wouldn’t be better players just because I had a nice day out with people I liked. They’d still have been rubbish. Why should whisky be held to a lower standard?
A lot is written about how prices are just going to go up, and that’s life. Lots of “deal-wiv-it-mate style” dressings down. Pieces about how whisky is “finally being sold for what it’s worth”. About how we used to have it too good, and now the balance is being redressed. About how not everyone can afford a Ferrari, but people don’t moan about that all the time. And it’s all well and good to point that out, and possibly it’s the truth. But I can’t help noticing that the people who tend to do that writing are the people who tend to be first on the list for samples.
Anyway: efforts doubled at this end to find stuff that’s interesting and tasty at a genuinely affordable price. Hence the total punt taken on an eight year old Glenturret from Morrison & MacKay’s Càrn Mòr range. I don’t buy a lot of Càrn Mòr; a disproportionate amount seems to be put into totally shagged-out casks or plucked from its casks far too early. But this Glenturret stood out to me. And I used to rather like the old Glenturret 10 – in fact it was my friend’s favourite – so I thought I’d give it a go.
It’s from a single sherry hogshead, bottled at 46% and – interestingly for Glenturret – is peated. That’s something they started doing in 2009, with their peated range coming under the Ruadh Maor banner. What’s more they peat to a seriously chunky 80-ish ppm. (Ardbeg is about 55). I know ppm of barley doesn’t translate to ppm of whisky blah blah, but still. 80 ppm. That’s peated. You’d almost say that’s Peated.
Cost me about £43. Still, a couple left online if you do some ferreting quickly.
Càrn Mòr Strictly Limited Glenturret (Ruadh Maor) – review
On the nose: It’s peat, Jim, but not as we know it. Earthy. Soily. Farmyardy – in the way that makes you breathe in deeply and say “aaaah”. Somehow both Smoky Bacon AND Barbecue Beef flavour crisps. Really meaty. Stewed apple, prune and raisin lightly in the background. Super rounded. Dangerously noseable …
In the mouth: … and dangerously drinkable, too. More of that BBQ sauce and woodsmoke. Slithers across the palate. Reminds me of a 14 year old 2002 Cask Strength Ardmore Gordon & MacPhail bottled. Sultanas and cured meat. Sponge cake and cedar. Insane amount of flavour for the proof; just a prickle of alcohol to stop it feeling flabby and unstructured. Finishes to toffee apple and lanolin.
Ridiculously drinkable. Ridiculously tasty. So much better than the current Glenturret range. Almost enough to make me reassess Càrn Mòr. This one would split my editors; I can already hear Jason’s tuts about distillery character, given all that peat and sherry, but I’d be shocked if Mark didn’t absolutely love it.
If you’re after interesting flavours – something different from the norm – at a very decent price, for God’s sake look this up. I haven’t liked a whisky more for under £50 this year.
Shame about A’Bunadh though. When I was getting serious about whisky back in 2008 it was one of the bottles ‘that did it’ for me. At £80 a throw I’m not sure many people will get to say that in future.
Excuse me whilst I console myself with an overpriced chocolate frog.
(Still a really good mark, especially for the price. A whisky has to be an absolute blinder to score 8+ on the Maltric System.)
Thanks to Abbey Whisky for the image.