Value is a word that means different things to all of us.
Value is very much in the eye of the beholder. For instance, we had a duo of 40-year-old Port Ellen’s hitting the market last month. The Douglas Laing offering pitched at an eye-watering £3500 and the Gordon & MacPhail coming in at £2500. Both rare casks, both clearly valued differently by their bottlers. I’m on record previously as saying there has to be a profit in it for everyone involved, but we are seeing some arguably over-egging the retail price? I’m sure both companies and others are watching with interest. We don’t know what the better whisky is; both are reputable bottlers with Gordon & MacPhail being particularly adept at long-term maturation and bottling here at a higher strength. Ultimately, the price takes us back to what we conceive as value?
If I had a couple of grand lying about for whisky, then I may have considered the Gordon & MacPhail offering. As such some out there certainly have and the garish XOP Black Series from Douglas Laing is sitting around at retail longer than arguably they might have expected. After all, given the price of Port Ellen these days, there’s a dwindling market for any such releases. I can remember in 2017, a 36-year-old Port Ellen from DL retailing for £1500. With a dram of it in my hand, it was certainly enjoyable and a slice of history. I was very fortunate and continue to be so in experiencing such whiskies, but at that point in time, I questioned the price. Now we’re into the £3000+ range and I’m left questioning again; where does it all end?
I’m fortunate to be able to spend a little more than most each month on whisky. In doing this, it is easy to become distanced from those at the lower end of the whisky journey. There are others further up the chain are possibly immune to my position as well. We mustn’t forget individuals restricted to the supermarkets or blends because that’s all they can afford. To some, the purchase of a single malt is a rarity and a treat. I believe we’re in danger of overlooking such an existence, as we gouge ourselves on the latest big-name release, or deliver another self-indulgent post on Instagram.
The Càrn Mòr range from Morrison & Mackay serves an overlooked purpose of allowing many to experience whiskies from distilleries normally out of reach or unseen by a large segment of whisky drinkers. I’ve enjoyed it since its inception for giving us names such as Inchgower and sometimes showcasing an unusual cask deployment. At the heart of the range, are the fundamentals of bottling above 40% strength and an emphasis on value. Yes, that word again, but something we all relentlessly seek, whatever level of the whisky spending ladder we occupy. What might be a treat to some, could also be a solid daily drammer for others. Both represent value at different levels.
An important part of Malt’s remit is not only to bring you honesty and transparency, the occasional unicorn and a daily article, but also showcase whiskies of value. My volunteering stint at the Fife Whisky Festival allowed me to have a chat with James of Morrison & Mackay and take a couple of samples for this article. I was pleasantly surprised by the names on offer: the unfashionable Croftengea, the overlooked Ardmore, a Diageo staple in Glen Ord and the variable Glen Garioch.
I picked out the Ardmore and the Glen Garioch to review. Firstly, you can never have too much Ardmore despite the best efforts of the SMWS. Then, Morrison & Mackay used to own Glen Garioch prior to 1994, when it was good. You might remember those days? Before Beam turned it into what it is today. It’ll be of interest to see if a former owner, can pick out a good cask from their distillery, or have a special deal ensuring good stock.
The Glen Garioch is distilled in 2008 and bottled at 47.5%. A vatting of 2 casks has produced a total outturn of 580 bottles at 11 years of age. This has only just been bottled and is available from Master of Malt for £48.95. The Ardmore was bottled in 2019 and is just 7 years old. A vatting of 2 bourbon barrels has produced 420 bottles at 47.5% with a price of £41.95 via The Whisky Exchange and exactly the same price via Master of Malt. So, let’s get on with the search for value.
Càrn Mòr Ardmore 2011 – review
Colour: a light haze.
On the nose: coastal briney peat, bacon fat – this nose has a lot to say. A blast of bonfire beach smoke that disipates with time. Apple puree, lime zest, earthy carrots, mace and a thud of vanilla.
In the mouth: oily and weighty, brine, salty and peated. A silky texture flushed with black peppercorns and saline. A gentle smoke on the finish. Pine needles and tarragon on the finish.
Càrn Mòr Glen Garioch 2008 – review
Colour: olive oil.
On the nose: cooking apples, a dulled vanilla and pear drops. A gentle caramel, cotton sheets and floral in places. There’s also green olives, raw dough, milk chocolate and a hint of peppermint tree. Water reveals some white onion and lemon oil.
In the mouth: fairly safe and timid. Apples, a little cream and bitterness from the wood. Green tea, white pepper and icing sugar. Adding water softens proceedings, becoming creamier with pears and apples more noticeable.
There’s a clear winner here in terms of value and an experience. The Ardmore punches above its price point, being full of youthful vigour and vitality. Even thinking back to the avalanche of SMWS bottlings we see from this distillery, for a moment. These tend to be teenagers, where the peat has dissipated slightly and before the fruits come through in the second decade.
Here, the Ardmore feels punchier and more alive. Wrapped up in smoke and peat. A fun and well-priced whisky that is my best value pick so far of 2020.
The Glen Garioch in comparison suffers. Ironically, this distillery used to be the most peated on the mainland during the 1960’s and into the 1970’s. Nowadays devoid of its peat, it is a pale shadow of its former self. Drinkable here, but nothing memorable and for its age, lacking emphasis on the palate.
Needless to say, I’ve purchased a bottle of the Ardmore and maybe another.