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