I was full of ideas for openings when Mark asked for a volunteer to scrawl up Expedition Blended Malt. Sniggery-sniggery ones, riddled with gags along a “Sweaty Explorer’s Rucksack Finish” theme. I was going to quote from The Worst Journey in the World, which would have appealed to Father Wells no end, and I was going to crack wise about chill filtration. (Which, for the record, I don’t think Expedition has undergone.)
And then my buzz got good and killed by the discovery that it was all to do with a laudable renewable energy collaboration between Ardgowan scientists and Robert Swan MBE. Which you can read about here, and which is, of course, far too worthy an endeavour for cynical jokes and silly puns. (Though, re-reading this intro, one accidental quasi-pun did make its way in.)
So, having ditched the initial angle, I suppose I’m just left wondering about the price. Which, to you, is £500. For which you get a 20 year old blend of Speyside and “North Highland” malts. One six-hundredth of which has been to the South Pole, after Robert Swan’s bottle was tipped in with the rest. (Mark made a vulgar joke about backwash at this point.)
I do more than my fair share of price-related chuntering, both on Malt and elsewhere, so I want to be clear that I’m asking this sincerely: who is the target market for a £500-per-bottle 20 year old blended malt?
Alright, so it’s not quite the 5,000 notes demanded by the Bladnoch Bicentennial. But I think once we pass a certain price point – £200, maybe, though even that’s perhaps naïve of me these days – we’re into the rarefied waters where only the exceedingly wealthy swim. Along, possibly, with whisky uber-enthusiasts who are getting married or celebrating a birthday ending in a zero.
And I suppose what I’m wondering is what it is about Expedition that would induce someone to part with that amount of cash.
If your bottle of whisky had been to the South Pole, then I guess there’s a talking point. If you like that sort of thing. But that’s only true of less than two millilitres of what you’re getting. Occasionally whiskies are slapped with a heavy price tag because profits are going to charity; Arbikie’s inaugural rye, for example. But that isn’t the case here, despite the distillery’s commendable contribution to the renewable energy project.
I guess it’s a striking bottle, though not really in the way that snares in the Macallan mafia. I imagine the inspiration were the flasks that Ardgowan designed, but the effect is less Lalique and more back-shelf Inferno’s. I can’t really see it garlanding an oligarch’s display cabinet if you see what I mean.
Which leaves us with a 20 year old blended malt for more than three times the price of the already-too-expensive Collectivum from last year’s Diageo Special Releases. (Albeit you get some decent age with the Expedition.) Besides that, there are an absolute host of outstanding, proven whiskies for the same money or less. And I just wonder why, standing in front of all of those, with five hundred quid in your hand, you’d say “nope. I’ll have the Expedition.”
But I’ve never spent £500 on a bottle of whisky. So what would I know? Answers, if you please, on a postcard.
Expedition 20 Year Old Blended Malt – review
On the nose: Nicely balanced, mature, sherried nose. Walnuts, dates, pine, moist Dundee cake. Lots of old furniture, lit cigar and leather. It’s certainly dusky, but it isn’t too woody. Chocolate wafers and cedar. The whole thing, whilst reasonably complex, seems to be set to “cruise”. It’s easing out of the glass, rather than really jumping out.
In the mouth: Again, a balanced palate, with a nicely waxy texture. (Wouldn’t be surprised if there was some Clynelish in this.) The wood and tannin are nicely set against the sweetness of the malt and the old Oloroso (I assume) doesn’t overwhelm. A touch of caramel and ginger biscuit. Blood orange and walnut wood. A dab of something more tropical too; peaches and apricots. That old (but accurate) cliché of fruitcake.
It’s nice. It’s skilfully blended, sensitive stuff. Very pleasant to sit through an evening with. But there’s no ohmyGodImusthaveabottle chutzpah and outrageousness, which for half a grand I feel it ought to deliver. It’s cut down to 46%, which seems slightly miserly, and may explain the somewhat sedate nose and delivery.
This is really being sold and priced based on marketing story and rarity. And it’s actually a perfectly reasonable, even admirable story. But it’s simply overpriced. There is competition for the money that absolutely wallops it, and that’s just too much of a stretch to look past.
(Point docked for the price.)
Many thanks to Ardgowan for the sample, and best of luck to them as they develop their own “in-house” whisky.