I ask myself on an increasing basis: what is value? What does value truly mean to me nowadays, as a slightly grumpy and increasingly disillusioned whisky drinker?
Does it mean being able to purchase a favourite core expression at a discounted rate? A new distillery release without having to break the bank? Maybe it’s simply a fair price for a solid whisky that delivers satisfaction? Perhaps value is picking up a limited release at retail and then doubling your money without any effort, other than walking across the road to an Islay auction van?
Point being, value means something different to each of us, just like many of the words and phrases that the whisky industry likes to foster upon us all and literally take the piss. A limited edition with no outturn stated, the cleanest freshest water possible, or how about that immortal classic the finest casks? We could fill the rest of this opening with similar examples, but we’re here to talk about value. When I do think of the concept, I’m drawn towards the independent sector.
Independent bottlers are not infallible. We’ve already seen price increases from the likes of, for instance, Gordon & MacPhail, and a general silence on the topic. As long as the sample is free, who cares about the price? Well, frankly, I do, and so does everyone who writes here at MALT. Price is a big factor, and if something isn’t representative of value, then it’s highlighted and quite often marked down.
With the market so buoyant around whisky nowadays, the concept of value is being somewhat lost in the stampede. More often than ever, I’m walking away from whiskies or offers because of the price. Everyone has a ceiling, and like Mark suggested, we have to look after ourselves. Not only with the amount of whisky we are consuming, but also what we’re buying. How many bottles are sitting around in houses across the UK never set to be opened and appreciated? A growing number, with many running up debts in the pursuit of, well, I dunno really, as I just don’t understand it.
We’ve taken a tour recently here around some of the smaller independents who are striving to offer quality and value as a fair transaction. Bottlers such as Chorlton and Dramfool offer an alternative and bottle at cask strength and with no messing. Their releases often sell out despite being a one-man operation. The key attractions are a quality cask pick and an affordable price. A simple recipe for success and an increasingly rare commodity nowadays.
So yes, when I think of value I turn to these options, and I always include Cadenhead’s amongst this number. Their whiskies might not always be winners, but they are presented naturally and remain well-priced. This month I picked up a 28-year-old Glentauchers for £121, which in today’s environment is seemingly bonkers. More power to these guys and others, but please keep the quality. I’ve seen other independents bottling casks that clearly aren’t worthy of a single cask release simply to cash in on a distillery name or the ravenous appetite for any limited whisky. More than ever, we’re seeing more average whiskies hit the market, which frustrates me increasingly; I’d love to say go buy this! However, I value the responsibility I have here and the minor influence I may have on some. I’m not going to give out a score that doesn’t reflect what I believe if I had to make that purchase myself. Value, like trust is everything.
We have an assortment of four Cadenhead’s whiskies here thanks to the generosity of Noortje and Dirk. Rather than split these out into four articles, I felt a collective approach would be more fun for a change. Let’s go find some value, eh?
The Bunnahabhain was distilled in December 2005 before being bottled in December 2016 at 56.5%. A bourbon cask resulted in 228 bottles. The Glenburgie heralds from the Authentic Collection and September 1993. It was bottled in the autumn of 2017 at 24 years old and 53%. For the last nine years, it resided in a refill claret hogshead.
Our third whisky is a 41-year-old Glentauchers dating from 1976 before being bottled in the winter of 2017. Just 126 bottles were harvested from the bourbon cask at 42% strength. Last, but by no means least, we have a Highland Park devoid of Viking bling and an opportunity to remind ourselves (hopefully) of what this Orkney outpost can produce. Distilled sometime in 1989 before being bottled in the autumn of 2017 at 28 years of age, the bourbon hogshead resulted in 192 bottles at 45.8%.
Cadenhead’s Bunnahabhain 2005 – review
Colour: Olive oil.
On the nose: Salty crisps, honey and a real sweet vibe. Tea leaves, salted caramel and hot dogs in brine. Oily, an engaging nose that’s fun. Nothing too complex. Honeycomb, Yorkshire puddings straight out of the oven and lemon peel. Water reveals a mineral foundation, bacon aromas and apple puree.
In the mouth: Again, very salty – quite a salty dog this one. The dominant flavour, a gentle peat resides beneath with dirty vanilla, more brine, hemp, heather and salted peanuts. There’s driftwood and more lemon rounded off by sour jelly sweeties. The addition of water diminishes the salt appeal and reveals more wood.
Cadenhead’s Glenburgie 1993 – review
Colour: Pure gold.
On the nose: Fresh and sappy, with pine wood, lemons and pineapples. There’s a zing to it and a freshness reminiscent of a household cleaner – in a good way! Vanilla it goes without saying, a touch of smoke, honeysuckle and ginger. There’s also marzipan and a buttery nature.
In the mouth: More limited and cask driven. Freshly grated lemon, shortbread, apples and golden syrup. There’s also grapefruit, herbal tea and a light dusting of cinnamon, but not the progression or depth I had anticipated.
Cadenhead’s Glentauchers 1976 – review
On the nose: Very detailed with a strong wood element and a freshness with pine cones and citrus twist. Pineapple cubes, resin-like, golden syrup and rubbed bronze. All-spice and mashed orange with waxed lemon. A rum fudge, brown sugar and a malty nature with vanilla custard.
In the mouth: Again woody with traces of vanilla and large chunks of the aromas coming through on the palate. A gentle blood orange, a little chalky in parts, honey, citrus burst with lime and a long candied orange vibe towards the finish with a touch of smoke and black pepper the lasting legacy.
Cadenhead’s Highland Park 1989 – review
Colour: New copper.
On the nose: Complex with an array of aromas including buttered crumpets, bashed copper, tree sap, buttercups, fresh breakfast tea leaves and Highland toffee. Terry’s Chocolate Orange, golden syrup and a touch of smoke followed by rubbed chocolate mint leaves. A wet natural sponge, Madagascar vanilla beans, sherbet and this doesn’t need water. More oils and fruits but it is fine thing in its natural state.
In the mouth: Oh the texture is what grabs you initially. A baked lemon cheesecake, that smoke again followed by charcoal, lapsang souchong, malted biscuits and honeycomb. A dash of white wine vinegar midway, some mango, white chocolate and a touch of wax round off a beacon for all shipwrecked Vikings.
A perfect way to open this tasting up with the Bunnahabhain. A perfect example of value and a well-picked release that won’t cost the earth. The fact that its 11 years old doesn’t matter whatsoever once you spend time with it. I’d buy a bottle, but this one is sadly long gone. Although, it’s a cert Cadenheads will have more casks from this distillery. Potentially sister casks as well. Fingers crossed then that we’re in for a clutch of strong Bunna’s in the coming years.
The Glenburgie is solid without ever reaching expectations and falls into line with other releases from this distillery I’ve had recently, including what might have been a sister cask of this release. The Glentauchers for me has gone just a touch too far in the cask. What remains is still really enjoyable but I wonder what a couple of years ago might have tasted like – a great nose nevertheless. It’s easy to be swayed by such an extreme age statement. Admittedly, I’m such a fussy git armed with a gerbil’s pipette. The Highland Park rounds off our voyage and a fitting reminder of what this distillery should be doing on a regular basis.
All in all, a fun selection from my Dutch friends and a clutch that underlines the value and quality that Cadenhead’s delivers on a regular basis. Whisky is the winner here but if I was to vote with my wallet – a tough decision – I’d go with the Bunnahabhain over the Highland Park.
2nd photograph kindly provided by Cadenhead’s.