What do you consider to be value in whisky? It is certainly something which seems to be harder and harder to find, with the ever-escalating prices across the board.
Let’s start with a couple of rather extreme examples for illustration purposes. What if I said I could sell you a 30 year old single malt for £100? You would probably be in too much of a rush to get your money out of your pocket that you wouldn’t consider anything else. However, what if that whisky had spent it’s time maturing in a terribly sulphured sherry cask and had an overpowering note of rotten eggs? All of a sudden you wish you could have your £100 back.
What if I offered you a non-age statement single malt from an unnamed distillery for the same price? Not so tempting. However, you then try a sample; it’s been maturing in an absolutely phenomenal cask and is one of the greatest whiskies you have ever tasted. Suddenly you want to buy a bottle.
I use those examples because it shows how quality is always going to be the best barometer as to whether something is worth purchasing. If it’s bad, then nothing can make it good value. The problem is, we don’t often have the luxury of trying before we buy, so we look for certain criteria to decide whether it is worth taking a punt. These factors include the age statement, ABV, whether it has been chill filtered or colour added, the type of casks it has been matured in, which distillery or bottler it is from, and feedback from other people whose opinion we trust.
That is what we have here with anCnoc 24: an educated punt based on the above criteria. A great age statement, un-chill filtered, natural colour, and 46% ABV. I had never tried it before buying this bottle, but I did have the benefit of hearing good reports from those whose opinions I trust, and it seems like a solid purchase at £116 in today’s crazy market. anCnoc 24 ticks all the boxes. You only have to look at the price of similarly aged single malts from other distilleries – some of which are three or four times more expensive – to realise that on paper, anCnoc 24 looks a decent proposition. Mark reviewed it for Malt back in 2017 and loved it.
I must admit that spending £100+ on a bottle of whisky is pretty rare for me. There is so much good whisky to be found in the £30-£70 range that I rarely stray beyond it. Once you start going into three figures, then the whisky has to go some ways to meet your expectations.
This £30-70 range will always have plenty of good options, but the age statements available are getting younger and younger. The excellent Deanston 18 is the oldest single malt at 46%+ that gets into the category, with anCnoc’s 18 year old just a fraction over at RRP. Even 10- or 12-year-old whisky is getting harder to find under £40, with many creeping up to £50 plus. We are seeing more non-age statement whiskies fill the gaps that have been left behind.
With the independent bottlers, we are seeing prices in many cases remain stagnant, but the age statements getting lower and lower as the prices of aged stock increase. The 50cl size is also becoming more and more commonplace as a way of keeping costs per bottle down. I have always pushed back against it, as I don’t wish it to become the norm across the industry. The price per litre often doesn’t add up compared to 70cl bottlings, in my opinion. It’s something we see in many other consumable items such as chocolate, with the prices remaining consistent, but the volume reducing. Only the other day I noticed there are now only 10 cakes in a pack of Jaffa cakes, instead of the usual 12. Scandalous!
We find a lot of what many people call “value” in supermarkets, where in some cases you can pick up an unnamed single malt for less than £20. I have bought them, and I’m sure I will do so again when a new one crops up. You take a punt because the price is so low and pray you find a gem, or at the very least a nice experience.
The problem is that to my palate – which has been spoilt by lots of excellent whiskies – they are often thin, caramel laden, and lacking great flavour. Therefore, they sit on the whisky shelf at home for some time gathering dust. Instead, I reach for something that may have cost me twice as much, but is a far better experience. Was the supermarket whisky “value?” I would argue it wasn’t, despite the low retail price. I would have been much better off saving that money and putting it towards something else.
Many of the releases from new distilleries are challenging what is perceived as value. On the surface, £50 for 3- or 4-year-old whisky can hardly be described as decent value when compared to the more established distillers’ older products for the same price. Often, though, the quality is excellent and begins to justify the price. You have to remember, the costs of building a distillery and laying down stock in decent wood is vast, and there is a clear need to recoup some of those early expenses as quickly as possible to pay those bills. The ones that have produced superb young whisky continue to be popular beyond the first release, and long may that continue. The new breed of distilleries are certainly giving the established – and sometimes we have to say complacent – operations something to think about.
They say we are already in a recession, but if and when it hits hard, and customer budgets reduce, those that have remained fair with their pricing, and provided consistent quality will be the ones reaping the rewards. One such example would be J&A Mitchell, who own Springbank and Kilkerran. Their whiskies are lauded the world over but, despite the fact they could double the RRP’s of many of their whiskies and still sell, they continue to offer fair prices that make the whisky accessible to all that can get their hands on a bottle.
That kind of practice should be applauded, as it is not the case with all companies once the executives smell a larger profit is there to be made. If you had to cap your monthly budget to one bottle from the aforementioned £30-70 category, I would imagine the same dozen or so distilleries or independent bottlers would crop up time and time again as the place people would choose to spend their money. The good times won’t last forever, I’m afraid. These things go around in cycles. Be good to your customers if you want long term success.
Now that I have thoroughly depressed you with that thought, let’s move on to the review! anCnoc 24 is available from Master Of Malt priced at £115.95 and The Whisky Exchange for £116. As mentioned previously in the article, it is presented at 46% ABV, un-chill filtered, and natural colour.
anCnoc 24 Years Old – Review
Colour: Warm gold.
On the nose: The sherry influence is immediately apparent, with a lovely sharp, sweet, balsamic note the first thing that strikes me, along with prune juice. We have lots of intense, fruity orange peel, overripe banana, and peaches, along with richness from raisin, sultana, honey, muscavado sugar and butter toffee. There is a light spice of cinnamon and clove.
In the mouth: A good oily mouth feel. I really like the sensations on this one. It’s sweet fruit – orange marmalade rather than the peels this time – along with raisins and dates. There’s a warming ginger spice, which has an effervescence that has the effect of reminding me of ginger ale. Then a bitterness comes through in the form of black treacle and leather, but stays in check rather than asserting too much, and subsides to bring back more of the sweet fruits and continuing ginger. We then get some black tea working its way in, with a touch of cream added seconds later. Unusual, but great. In the finish we get some apple peels coming through, with light oak, a tickle of black pepper and double cream.
It’s fair to say I like this one. From the sharp, sweet nose, to the journey of sensations on the palate, it’s a winner all the way for me. It is matured in a combination of ex-sherry and ex-bourbon casks, and although the sherry certainly does do a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of the flavours and aromas, the bourbon cask influence is still very apparent too. I’d love to know the cask proportions and types in more detail.
As for the value thing… well, I guess we all have to have our own individual opinion of what we feel is worth spending our hard earned money on, and no other person should be able to dictate what you buy. I have been guilty of calling out what I perceive as poor value in the past, and no doubt I will again. You may not even care about the value in some cases. You have the cash and you want the whisky regardless.
We ticked every box with this anCnoc before tasting, and in my opinion, there is a massive tick in the quality box too. It’s hard to argue against this being an excellent value whisky.
Photo courtesy of The Whisky Exchange.