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Cadenhead’s Ardbeg 1993 26 year old

Firstly, I don’t have anything to say about Ardbeg whatsoever beyond what we’ve already published, but the obvious topic, right here, right now, is one of economics i.e. supply and demand.

These seemingly annual Ardbeg releases are an interesting benchmark on the rising cost of whisky. Even for a perceived good value independent such as Cadenhead’s where the market pressures have eventually reached Campbeltown. Because there’s no denying, or sadly escaping from the fact, that whisky sells and the name and vintage often propel it to a higher level of flipper fever.

This year the Cadenhead Ardbeg is 26 years in age and will set you back £350 in Edinburgh, if you were able to get your hands upon a bottle, or potentially slightly more from other shops. Last year a 25-year-old from the same bottler was £250 and the year prior, the 24-year-old was £210. The expectation of a single cask Ardbeg from the 1990s and feverish demand means that bottlers can almost charge anything and sell.

In the defence of Cadenhead’s they’ve tried to resist such market forces longer than most and still do so. Unlike say for example Douglas Laing, which has thrown itself into the swell with glee: possibly to pay the bill for Strathearn or their Glasgow distillery? For Cadenhead’s, there’s still a sense of duty of value and keeping regulars happy. And I’ll also congratulate Gordon & MacPhail for releasing a 40-year-old Port Ellen recently for £2500. Yes, that’s a pile of cash, but I suspect they know they’ve under-priced slightly, especially as Douglas Laing revealed their 40-year-old Port Ellen for £3500, only last month.

I don’t think it is a matter of overdoing the packaging either. The Douglas Laing XOP range looks a little garish next to the understated yet classy Gordon & MacPhail release. Not that we’ll be seeing either of these releases here at Malt. So, apologies in advance. Both will be destined for worldwide destinations and individuals who don’t choke at such a price point. With only 60 bottles within the UK of the G&M Port Ellen, it’ll be interesting to see how many turn up at auction and what the secondary market determines is a fair price. It doesn’t take a genius to predict it’ll be higher: even Dominic Cummings could get that right.

Meanwhile back on terra firma, the majority of us can only dream about such bottles, or even passing a drop between the lips. You can try exclusive bars and whisky shows that are potentially influenced by the cash cow nature of whisky currently. I acknowledge that everyone should make a profit, but where do we draw the line between an acceptable percentage and pure greed? Ah yes, greed or some seem to call it good business. Call it what it is, because the art of a good business is customer satisfaction and loyalty. Not the eat ‘em up and spit them out attitude that we’re starting to see. Customer happiness and retention should not be taken for granted – see the SMWS for how not to do it – and existing customers are just as desirable as new ones.

We’re a devout bunch in whisky or even whiskey. Brands take our loyalty for granted and we give it freely. We should be just as demanding of distilleries, bars, shows and such like as any other service. For a variety of reasons, we seem intent on cutting slack and giving whoever another chance. With so much choice and whisky out there, now is the time to be more demanding and give honest feedback.

As for this Ardbeg, I was successful in purchasing the said bottle for £350. Yet again, knowing a friend who missed out on the release and loves this distillery more than I do – plus will open the thing – the bottle was shipped off to them for cost price. That’s the third time in three years I’ve done such a thing for these Ardbeg releases. It’s my way of helping friends, but also cleansing the whisky gears, which are in danger of becoming corroded with greed and the bad behaviours we’re seeing on a regular basis around such releases.

I couldn’t give a bottle of Jura about how much I could have made from selling it on. I’m happy to be of service and I’ll gladly do it again. This Ardbeg delivered 240 bottles from bourbon hogshead and was bottled at 53.7% strength.

Cadenhead’s Ardbeg 1993 26 year old – review

Colour: a light honey.

On the nose: salty, refreshing invigoratingly coastal with driftwood and seaweed. A gentle marmalade underpins it all followed by silver needle tea, hemp and damp wool. Butterscotch moves alongside a gentle peat before golden syrup, heather honey and liquorice root round off a lovely nose. Water brings out more sweet peat, a pleasant oiliness and a well-loved shammy.

In the mouth: now more peat and a well-fired cinder toffee. More robust yet not as expansive. Lots of cracked black pepper and a touch of peppermint, but mostly pepper and smoke into the finish. Plenty of ashy qualities and salt on the finish. Water unlocked more vegetative aspects but ultimately wasn’t beneficial.

Conclusions

I really enjoyed the nose on this release and had high expectations of the palate that sadly failed to deliver. There’s a feeling of time lost and an opportunity slipping through the fingers. This Ardbeg maybe has resided in a less than stellar cask, or has stepped beyond the summit of its potential and is now on the way down thanks to the ravages of time. It is still a good whisky, but far from a £350 and I’ll sell my granny for a bottle of whisky. In the current market conditions, the contents are a mere sideshow, when in reality it is all that should really matter. Until next year…

Score: 7/10

My thanks to Cadenhead’s Edinburgh for the opportunity to review this release.

CategoriesSingle Malt
  1. John
    John says:

    Interesting tasting notes, Jason. I’m now more curious about 20+ year old Ardbegs. I’d like to see if it’s mainly your senses speaking or if it’s really just old Ardbeg character speaking.

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi John

      I suppose it depends on where you draw the line in terms of Ardbeg character. The 70’s stuff is fantastic and thereafter it is a reducing curve with the odd highlight. I just know here, I could have more fun and enjoyment with my £350 elsewhere, but it sold out immediately, which proves the point it does sell.

      Cheers, Jason.

  2. Avatar
    Mark says:

    Thanks for addressing the issue, Jason. As you may recall I’ve been pretty vocal about it on your insta, as I finally got an allocation from Cadenhead’s for a bottle and then had to pass it on as there’s no way I could justify the price, nor could I countenance flipping it and becoming part of the problem. You mentioned ‘terra firma’ and I think it’s sad that the whisky enthusiast community doesn’t seem to value living in the real world. I think it might have been Malt Fascination or possibly Edinburgh Whisky blog who did a post a while back pointing out that to the vast majority of people, spending £75 on a bottle of whisky a heckuva chunk of change on a consumable product, and yet the whisky industry knows it can bleed dry a committed but financially irresponsible minority. We now seem to be seeing a tranche of independent releases around the £100 mark for early teens bottling at cask strength of mid tier distilleries, and someone presumably is buying them. Meanwhile the super rare crystal decanter releases are aimed at the small but powerful demographic of high net worth individuals who are riding high on wealth inequality. It’s a difficult balance to strike I’m sure for the likes of Cadenhead’s, who remember all too well the years of financial struggle before the surge of interest in single malts after 2000. I wonder if Cadenhead should be doing minis of their most desirable releases, rather like TWE do with the Buffalo Trace stuff, though admittedly I can’t imagine Stephen at the London Cadenhead’s shop wanting to organise such a complicated allocation process! One more thing and I hope it’s not an uncomfortable question but I notice that you’re able to get your hands on pretty much all of the most desirable Cadenhead’s releases, Jason and I think it would be worth addressing that there can be a bit of frustration around success rates in bottle draws and availability, not that I’d accuse you of taking advantage of your status like some other reviewers (case in point with passing on the Ardbeg)

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi Mark

      Thanks for commenting. Yes, many often forget that £75, £100 is a great deal to spend on an alcoholic drink. Many in our Insta world seem to forget the true price of whisky and stepping aside when something is priced excessively, or taking the next step and complaining.

      Especially in the current climate when so many are struggling or having to cut back. But pricing isn’t just a problem at the higher end. I’d say, like you, that some lower-end single malts are overpriced and what’s being requested doesn’t match the experience within the bottle. You’ll see that in a forthcoming SMWS review for instance. Not just them, but I’m questioning X-amount for a staple 10-year-old from an independent, or even the premium a finish brings to the price. It is so important and must always remain up for debate.

      I have been lucky in ballots – the recent Daftmill for instance – but there’s no secret handshakes or special treatment. I’m a good customer, but I’m good in that I’ll get excited about bottles they probably know won’t sell out immediately. Like the Dailuaines, some grains and bonkers foreign spirits. Also, I don’t ask for every bottle. I think that’s wrong, you can only drink so much today, this week and in the future. So, for every bottle I’m fortunate to purchase, there’s another that I miss out on like the recent firkin or the single cask Kilkerrans. And I’m perfectly fine with that because it’s fair. What disappoints me is when you see bottles you did have a genuine interest in, appearing immediately on the secondary market, but that’s another issue.

      In terms of these Ardbeg’s, I guess they know my intentions are good to help someone as it has turned into an annual tradition. I wouldn’t have asked for myself as it is a great deal of money. Also, it helps if you change your mind and want to pass something up, you let the retailer know immediately, which I have done on numerous occasions. I’ve made a point of supporting local restaurants and retailers like Cadenhead’s and Luvians in recent weeks with good orders. I support these shops all year round and just don’t turn up for the big names so that’s probably appreciated. In times like these, it is important, or that’s what I believe.

      Hopefully, that answers your questions? I wish I was luckier, but I’m happy with my own successes. Cheers, Jason.

      1. Avatar
        Mark says:

        Thanks for the reply. I didn’t want to insinuate that you’re somehow cheating the system, and I’m glad you consider the ethics of it. I don’t necessarily think the likes of Serge and Angus need to address issues of price inflation and accessibility as it doesn’t fit with their format, but it does bear some discussion, and I will address it when I finally get my blog off the ground.

        I do often notice a side to reviews, for example the G&M Caol Ila 50 last year, where clearly a circle of reviewers got to try it, all with the caveat of ‘if you can afford it’, when clearly they couldn’t either. I know someone said the same of 1st growth Bordeaux, think it was either Jancis Robinson or Jamie Goode, that it’s only the super rich and wine writers who get to try these things.

        The issue at the moment, as you mentioned it, is how rising prices at the top end seem to be a justification for continuing speculative pricing in the lower end of the market. Is a 10 y/o cask strength Bunnahabhain really worth £100? And conversely is Longrow Red underpriced at about half of that price?

        1. Jason
          Jason says:

          Hi, again Mark,

          We value your comments and questions. Plus, I always think it’s a great feature of the site that we have this interaction and can answer any questions. Other sites should do the same and it was a flaw of SW.com that didn’t offer such interaction.

          Yes, some sites don’t need to discuss price, or wash it away with a simple £££ scale. Here we do debate it and rightly so. There’s a whole world outside the realm of industry samples and rare drams from mates. That’s the one many of us exist in and price forms a major part of our purchasing decisions.

          Indeed, there is this ‘if you can afford it’, or suggesting you club together with X-amount of people to purchase a bottle. That’s all proper and nice enough, but is the price justified?

          We should vote more with our wallets. There is plenty of choice out there. We’re far too forgiving as whisky customers. How many times would someone visit a restaurant that keeps dishing up disappointing food? I believe whisky should be exactly the same.

          Cheers, Jason.

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi Ed

      I’m guessing, but I wonder if that’s something to do with all the shops setting their own prices? Hedging their bets? I see price variations between London and Edinburgh for instance and I might be wrong here, but I think this Ardbeg was £395 in London?

      Cheers, Jason.

      1. Avatar
        Mark says:

        I think Cadenhead’s know they can charge more for the Ardbeg because it’s from Islay and was only distilling part time in the early 90s, contrast that with the river’s worth of independently bottled Highland Park around at the moment.

  3. Avatar
    Gordon says:

    Hi Jason ,
    I think you nailed it in one line ‘This Ardbeg maybe has resided in a less than stellar cask’ .
    When Allied recommissioned Ardbeg back in 1989 it was primarily for blending so not great casks were used , also they brought the wash up from Laphroaig . Not long after this years distillation they also turned off the famous Purifier on the Spirit Still .
    Price wise i could write a thesis on this……
    20 years ago we were paying £60-70 pounds for Indy Ardbeg this old from the likes of OMC , The most i paid for an Old Ardbeg was a mind Blowing £250 (at that time) for the OB Provenance which was an absolute stella bottling (all 3 of them) . but it wasn’t long after this the prices started going north . I’m so glad i was around for the decent prices as i don’t think i could have tried what i did at todays ‘Market’ prices . BTW my first Ardbeg was a G&M Conn Choice 1974 20yo in late 94 / Early 95 for the sum of 30 of your Pounds , about the same time that you could get two of the Classic Malts at Asda for the same price…….
    Happy Days :))

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi G

      Good to hear from you, hope all is well and the golden age you lived experienced. That’s good to know about Ardbeg and it does tally with the actual experience itself. I doubt you’ll be running out to buy a bottle of this? The price of whisky these days would be a huge series and no doubt would upset a few industry folk!

      1974 for £30??? Where’s that time machine!

      Cheers, Jason.

    2. Jeremy
      Jeremy says:

      Just had a though about your comment, as I’ve also mentioned the line of poorer cask used for blending a number of times before. Yet the same would have applied to the casks back in what many would call the golden days of the 70’s for Ardbeg (and others), so is it actually correct or just easy to say? Or have we seen a change from when “everything” was for blends to some being focused on single malt and so selecting the best casks, and does that mean once the single malt thing took off each distillery will improve when it focuses on that market?

      1. Jason
        Jason says:

        Hi Jeremy

        No, I don’t think it’s as easy as that. For instance, here, and knowing Gordon does have some detailed knowledge of Islay, the owners would have kept their best casks for their more premium malts or blends. Those deemed further down the chain and of lesser of importance would have received poorer casks or 2nd fill, or 3rd fill from within the company. Also, I don’t think Allied became involved with Ardbeg until the ‘golden age’ was actually maturing in the warehouses. So, that probably takes us back to Gordon’s point with a new owner on the scene and placing less value in Ardbeg, casks and reducing costs.

        Cheers, Jason.

  4. Avatar
    Andrew says:

    Hi Jason,

    Interesting questions raised in this piece. I often question the economics of Whisky value at times but being relatively new to the Whisky world and now drinking the more expensive bottles, I don’t have the frame off reference.

    Do you base the drop in value on what things used to cost? or knowledge of what whisky costs to produce? I’m always struck by the comparative costs of wine which is far worse value for money based on cost per serving than even a £75 bottle of whisky is (referring specifically to your comment that £75 is a lot to spend on an alcoholic drink).

    I’m not defending the prices in any way shape or form just trying to understand where the concept of good value comes in?

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi Andrew,

      Thanks for commenting. Value is a great topic and we do touch upon it on a regular basis.

      Value nowadays for me is all about the liquid. Ditch the packaging, the bottler and distillery name. Age comes into it and generally many now price to reflect the secondary market and flipping activity. You cannot blame them, as they’ve matured and bottled the cask. Yet in some examples, they are making less money than those merely selling on and that’s wrong.

      So, value? I’ve bought expensive bottles and many I wouldn’t pay such a price again. Wine is a good example as you rightly say. I purchased some Napa/Sonoma wines recently and these were expensive compared to what you can get in a supermarket. In terms of lifespan, they are very limited, so is that value?

      There’s an Edinburgh whisky institution called the Jolly Toper and he always asks during his events what would you pay for this – before revealing what the whisky is. There are varying answers, but generally, unless it’s bad, people are very fair.

      I just rely on my experiences and there are good value whiskies out there right now. Carn Mor springs to mind. They are bottling some good stuff for under £50. Yes, it’s young, but the whisky is tasty. That probably doesn’t answer your question!

      Cheers, Jason.

      1. Avatar
        Andrew says:

        Thanks for the reply Jason.

        To be fair it’s a very difficult question to answer and a wee bit baity in truth! Can you really compare Wine and Whisky in such a way? I think not, not really, they are consumed in very different circumstances and different ways.

        When it comes to value, Kilkerran springs to mind in my limited experience. No nonsense, great price point and loaded with flavour.

        I’ve decided to have a tour of the standard distillery bottlings following the revelation that was Deanston 12 so I have a Glen Garioch 12 and a Glendronach 12 winging their way to me, both under 40 pounds so not hugely expensive but still more than say a Glenfiddich or Glenlivet 12. I’m hoping that because they are lesser known names that the spirit will be more interesting in the same way that the Deanston was and that’s where the value comes in.

  5. Avatar
    Greg says:

    Hello Jason,

    Before I go into my rant, I would like to say thank you for this great review of the Ardbeg 26 yr, which I bought recently myself. However, I plan to open my bottle some years down the road for a special occasion.

    So I understand the point of view of greed and giving into hype because of exclusivity, and purchasing a bottle such as this particular Ardbeg, but I think there’s another point of view to consider, as one who purchases whisky to drink, and not to sell.

    As someone who has started to seriously purchase/drink Scotch for almost 4 years now, I would say that I have a pretty eclectic range that includes regular available bottles such as Ardbeg 10, Springbank 10, and GlenAllachie 10, to some ‘high end’ bottles, such as a Port Ellen Old&Rare, Brora Diageo Special Release, and a Rare Malts 1974 Teaninich. Value represents something more personal for me, and not just bound by some sort of simple ratio like say, price vs. years. I think it’s a bit more complex than that.

    Obviously, if a whisky is way too expensive, and clearly out of my price range, I won’t even think of purchasing it. However, I believe this is where the meaning of value is different for everyone, when they make a decision to purchase a particular bottle that is not your average priced whisky. You have to keep in mind different factors, such as Residence, access to purchase the bottle, tariffs (which applies to me, as a US citizen living in Los Angeles, California), etc,.

    When I purchased this Cadenhead’s Ardbeg 26 yr from an online UK retailer, which I paid £490 with shipping and tariffs, I thought despite the high price, this was still a good value for me personally, as I do enjoy aged Ardbegs, and purchasing something like this in the US, is pretty much impossible to find in any US retailer. Plus, if a US retailer did manage to snag one to sell on their shop, it would be much more expensive than £350 guaranteed.

    So for comparison’s sake, If you do a search for US retail shops that sell for example, the OB Ardbeg 23 yr, the average price that includes shipping would be well over $600. Online UK shops and even auction sites, which are usually cheaper, are actually much more expensive, when shipping and tariffs are included.

    Now I know this isn’t a popular way of looking at how someone purchases whisky, and some may even demonize me for such, but due to external factors that I mentioned earlier, some of us outside of the UK and Europe, are not so lucky to get those exclusive bottles such as a single cask Ardbeg, and if we do have the opportunity to purchase the bottle, well yes, there’s going to be a bit extra cash we will need to shell out.

    Now if I was much older, experienced tasting whisky for many years, had chances in the past where aged malts were much, much cheaper to purchase, and where the ‘quality’ was much better, I could see the argument for not spending money on high priced bottles.

    But as a younger whisky drinker who only has close to 4 years of tasting whisky, I don’t want to deny myself to purchase a bottle of say a rare Port Ellen, Brora, or Cask Strength Ardbeg, due to a concept of giving into a seller’s greed. I think there needs to be an understanding if there is only one avenue to purchase a bottle at a certain price, well, what can you do? I feel sometimes a bit chastised, especially on Social Media, where you are asked how much you paid when you post a pic of a bottle, and when you give an honest answer, you get that stupid laugh emoji, not realizing the context as a whole.

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi Greg

      Thanks for the non-rant comment.

      We were talking about value further up the chain and at the end of the day, it is in the eye of the beholder. Clearly, you value this release as a special event, which it is to many of us and are happy to go the lengths you have to acquire it for a future occasion. Nothing wrong with that whatsoever.

      I know from my time with Californian friends, they see the UK as a whisky bubble where everything is plentiful and cheaper. At times it might seem like that, but it isn’t always the case. There’s a bit of give and take as they can pick up some releases that I would struggle to get here. Eventually, all things balance out. For instance, I know one of my previous Ardbeg single cask acquisitions, now resides in your state. Funnily enough, I don’t recall being asked anytime recently how much did I pay for a release. Perhaps that’s more of an issue and the focus in the community there.

      Social media nowadays is more about possession and being seen with such a bottle. Sadly, the actual experience within remains sealed tightly shut, like the cork.

      Anyway, hopefully, you enjoy the moment when you come to experience this Ardbeg and it’ll help you decide upon the value you place upon it.

      Cheers, Jason.

  6. Avatar
    Rolf Isaksen says:

    Hi Jason! Great article as always and I also enjoyed reading the interesting discussion in the comment section (which I usually do). Thanks to everyone at Malt for giving us top quality content week after week.

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi Rolf

      Thanks, we’re trying to keep things normal here and doing what we do best. I like to think of the comments as the bonus features – always worth checking out.

      Cheers, Jason.

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