Greed. It’s everywhere in whisky currently. We’re often fed the justification from flippers and auctioneers that they provide a vital service as to their existence and purpose. The suggestion being by selling these bottles on the secondary market, they are enabling those further afield to purchase and explore such releases. This is a red herring: the bottom line is pure profit, with the whisky itself being another entry on an inventory.
This was highlighted in 2019 by visiting friends at different times of the year. They had spent a great deal of money to visit Scotland. Part of the appeal was visiting distilleries and being able to take back an exclusive bottle to share with friends. Unfortunately, several distilleries including today’s example of Bruichladdich, the bottle your own and exclusive releases had been wiped out by marauding flippers and auction vans. They left empty-handed and the forceful punch of disappointment lingered.
Think about that for just a moment. I doubt in whisky terms if there is anything more disappointing than being denied an exclusive memento to enjoy? Especially in the full knowledge that a large proportion is destined to be sold to the highest bidder. Enjoy your holiday: thanks for visiting Islay and Scotland. Maybe you’d prefer to pick up a bottle of Lagavulin 10 at the airport on your way out? A word of advice: don’t even think about the Lagavulin 10, although David (a Patreon supporter) enjoyed it so there you go – all opinions are valid.
In a way, it, unfortunately, exposed them to the problem we are now facing in Scotland around the auction aneurysm that will eventually explode. You don’t see many of these valinchs opened whatsoever. Generally, they double their value and the more unusual casks can go beyond this level. Throughout, the sense of the whisky is lost.
How do you combat the problem? Stop offering such an option to any visitors? The distilleries are clearly watching with Diageo’s recent pricing of the Lagavulin Jazz festival at a remarkable £395, which is more than double the price of the Feis Ile release earlier in 2019. In some ways, you cannot blame distilleries. They do all the hard work to produce this liquid and then a mere courier can obtain a bigger profit windfall from the release.
We’re seeing more distilleries moving to a direct to consumer aspect. Macallan has tried this recently much to the dismay of some retailers who would love to stock such releases. Long term what is the future for such releases? New distilleries may try to cultivate and own their own distribution channels and outlets. Harris distillery has attempted this with their hugely successful gin. I still find it bizarre that you cannot pick up and purchase such a bottle without filling in an online form, which in turn prompts the retailer to scurry into their office and await the email confirmation. Only for then to return with the said item nicely packaged – wasn’t technology meant to make things easier?
What does the future hold? Considering the options, I don’t have any easy answers. Whisky is a worldwide phenomenon and releases such as these valinchs perform a worthwhile role. Their variability is part of the appeal and the sense of the unknown. I have more to open and I’ll do so in good time. I hope you’ll do the same and not chase short-term gain over what truly matters; the whisky, friends and memories.
This valinch #48 is named after Ashley MacGregor, tour guide & shop employee. Distilled on 26th November 2007, this resided in cask #3288, a Portuguese fortified wine cask, until it was bottled in 2019 at 11 years of age. The strength was 57.4% and 425 bottles were released at the distillery shop with a price of £75 for a 50cl. My thanks to @whiskytravelscotland for passing on a healthy sample of this release.
Bruichladdich Valinch 48 2007 – review
On the nose: barley drops and an unsurprising reddish influence with bruised apples, grapes, orange peel and raspberries. Some brass, ginger loaf, a dough quality and blackcurrant. Cornflakes of all things, malty with some cinnamon, peaches and with time tobacco comes through. Adding water reveals almonds, jaffa segments and more fiery ginger.
In the mouth: very sweet and a little hot with a touch of earth. Tartness isn’t a surprise alongside a clammy nature with rubbed brass, pomegranate and strawberries. Unfortunately, water isn’t beneficial and removes these interesting aspects, leaving you with something drinkable but lacking a voice.
An inoffensive example of a distillery exclusive. I’m left thinking that this is a perfectly safe but inept choice. The Bruichladdich distillate has been chaperoned by this Portuguese fortified wine cask (which isn’t top-notch) and the end result is something a little muddled and a little meh. An unfortunate state of affairs given that this is £75 for 50cl. A touch of sweetness hints at the cask yet in reality beyond this, there is little to recall, or debate.
However, it is good that this series continues and a distillery tries to offer its visitors something different to the core range. Bruichladdich fans are used to finishes and wine casks, so this plays to the home market with aplomb.
We all want that souvenir of a distillery visit, whether it is a t-shirt or something more pleasing in liquid form. For the more adventurous, releases such as these that we can repatriate and break the seal amongst friends. This where such things come into their own and in doing so, memories are also revived. While #48 fails to deliver, it won’t stop me from trying further releases in this series and I hope you have the opportunity to do so as well.