I wonder what the Rare Malts range would be called today by Diageo? The New Money Bling Malts? You can’t touch this? Whisky Investment Series 101? What were we thinking in the 1990s? Lacklustre suggestions you’ll agree; let’s see if you can do any better?
For such a dominant force in the Scotch Whisky industry, there needs to be a more cohesive and ultimately a refresh of the range from Diageo, or even something new. The Special Releases have become anything but nowadays. I really don’t get excited, or interested, by their appearance and that’s a sad reality. The prices being demanded are prohibitive and the series is no longer a gateway into whisky and specific distilleries.
The exceptionally rare stuff it seems is destined to be finished in very old sherry casks (for a short period) and thereby receiving a higher price tag aka Talisker. There’s no debate as to why you’d need to finish stock that’s resided happily for 3 decades or more, except the obvious reason. Silly actions generate silly price tags it seems; we’ll leave such offerings to the fools who gladly make the purchase and good luck to them.
Meanwhile back on planet earth most of us have a budget. A ceiling that we daren’t cross for fear of reprisal from our better halves, or imaginary line that we won’t break as a matter of principle. The new Octomore 10.3 is retailing for £170; effectively a 6-year-old whisky. Where are the naysayers that happily complained about Springbank pricing for its latest Local Barley release? You have to be consistent despite the presence of branding and ultimately, a bias towards Islay.
Pricing is so relevant for whisky consumers today, yet it feels like a taboo subject for most of the media. Why don’t we ask more of our distilleries and why the price is XYZ? Where is the justification? Explain to us the reasoning behind such a pitch, which in turn enables us to make an informed decision whether something is worth the admission fee. In this buoyant market I sense that the tide is starting to turn against excessively priced whisky. I see more discounting; more offers and even more dust gathering bottles.
For many of us whisky has become too expensive. As a new father I have less time and more bills. I have become much more selective. The arrival of a child wasn’t the catalyst as such, but I’ve been asking more questions myself as to the logic in some prices. Even the independents have gotten in on the gravy train. Slowly, any sense of goodwill is being eroded and arguably more of us are finishing what we already have open before scanning the new releases. Quite rightly, because this stuff isn’t cheap and if the industry gets its way, whisky is only going to become more expensive.
I’ve written before about the sense that the older whiskies and the unicorns are becoming detached from the mere mortal whisky drinker. Few of us have the ability to go back now and explore. This is a devastating loss because judging and appreciating the whisky of today, is assisted by knowing what went before. Profits need to be made and rightly so for those that open and share such vessels, all of which takes us into this Rare Malts release from Glenury Royal.
This was one of the Northeast distilleries brutally chopped by the forerunner of Diageo in the 1980’s; effectively when the computer said no. A fantastically rare whisky; a unicorn for many. When I think of Glenury Royal, I visualise the excessively aged Diageo releases that were too woody. At least we did find a delightful example from Cadenhead’s distilled in 1966, or a 1973 release from Signatory as part of the Whiskybase Gathering dinner.
Glenury Royal 1971 Rare Malts – review
On the nose: a sensational assortment of spices, waxiness and sherry qualities. Plenty of black pepper, butterscotch, toffee, sage, dark chocolate or soil, well worn wood or polished wood. Leathery, bitter oranges, used tea leaves, pretzels and walnuts.
In the mouth: easily one of the best expressions I’ve had from this distillery. Plenty of wood influence but its balanced with a rich toffee, chocolate, pepper and a touch of soap. More varnish, oak, cloves, vanilla and a hint of smoke on the finish. Dried fruits galore and a resin caramel vibe.
A brilliant dram with that sense of soap midway that stops a 10 from me. I’m often asked what constitutes a 10 score? Its difficult to nail down in terms of text. To me personally, its just a whisky that ticks all the boxes and delivers. That realisation that you have something truly special in your glass for that evening, or few minutes. A whisky where everything comes together and the world stops spinning for mere second, or two. If a whisky does that for you; takes you a back to a good moment in your life, or reminds you of lost friends or relatives, then isn’t that a 10 and something to saviour?
We can trot out that immortal line that they don’t make them like this anymore. Wonderfully layered and textured. Full of flavour, aroma and balance. Superbly drinkable at cask strength yet sadly out of reach of the mere mortal whisky drinker. My hope is that we can recreate such whiskies when the industry focuses on flavour and the experience once again. Not just merely packaging, profit margins, shareholder returns and efficiency gains – the sorts of things that are crippling Scotch flavour-wise today.
Lead image kindly provided by the Whisky Exchange. My thanks again to Michael, who also provided the Rare Malts Benromach sample.