What does money even mean anymore?
About eight years ago I was given Ardbeg Galileo and another bottle of something I forgot in a trade for some beer. It was good beer, don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t like I pulled the wool over some poor unsuspecting sod’s eyes.
I gave up a couple hard to get barrel-aged beers from the Bruery. They’re one of the early craft beer renaissance brands and when they introduced Black Tuesday – an immensely rich super-high-ABV beer – to the world they, in my humble opinion, really changed the course of beer history. Anyway, the fellow was from New York, the Bruery is in Southern California, and bottles were exchanged across the country.
My bottles for the trade were purchased at SRP, which I can’t remember, but for reference: the standard version of Black Tuesday sells for $33 today, and back then it was obviously cheaper. Ardbeg Galileo was I think around $100 and the second bottle was an indie bottle that was around $50. On a straight SRP trade value comparison, I got the better side of the deal but, as I recall, it was fairly close.
When it comes to single malt, I like Ardbeg… obviously. Why would I make a trade for a bottle of something I didn’t want? The Galileo was my introduction to special release Ardbegs and, while I cannot recall the exact tasting notes, I remember liking the whisky but being unimpressed with the dollar-to-performance ratio of the whisky. Of course, I finished the bottle anyways.
Fast forward to the present day.
Galileo is selling on the secondary market now for upwards of $700, as I have personally seen in some forums. Other than receiving something of mild rarity, I see absolutely no value in paying that much for that bottle.
Good golly! I mean, you’d need one of Galileo Galilei’s famous telescopes to see the stratospheric prices of Ardbeg bottles these days.
I guess the spoils go to the hoarders.
As I ponder the prices in the whisky and whiskey worlds, I see some justifiable increases. Diageo just introduced a bunch of price hikes for their key brands; while I think some of those new prices are pretty outlandish, raising prices is just part of the game. Can you really argue with them when folks are spending $400 on Springbank 15? It’s true insanity that I have seen with my own eyes.
As many people would attest, my personality can veer into curmudgeon territory. Yes, this is an unseemly trait for someone so young and only in his thirties, but alas prices these days! [shakes fist in air!]
That said, I want to try and avoid that with this review. I’m diving into a different Islay bottle that has certainly stoked plenty of controversy among ardent whisky fans since its release in 2016: Laphroaig Lore. The facts: No age statement (minus points). Includes 20 year whisky (points!). Not cask strength (minus points). Above 46% ABV (points!). Colored (minus points). Not chill-filtered (points!). By its fact sheet, the whisky is almost perfectly neutral, so let’s explore its positioning as a “premium whisky,” considering both its American and European price points and reflective value.
Before I continue, I should note Mark reviewed the Lore and called it a “below average whisky”.
Laphroaig Lore – Review
Colour: Deep gold, as advertised.
On the nose: Profoundly lacking the pungency of Laphroaig 10 but much more going on. I wouldn’t necessarily say it is immensely complex, but it certainly has more than one overwhelming note. Honey, there’s definitely sweetness. Straw. The aromas of walking into a nice boutique store that sells leather goods and has a cedar candle lit in the corner. Depending on the glass, some heat shows up.
In the mouth: Peat, obviously. Baker’s chocolate that is unsweetened and has that particular texture. Ocean saltiness. On the finish, peat transforms into ashiness fairly quickly and expansively. More interesting to me than the 10 year for sure. The 48% unfortunately feels like a lie,s though; it’s missing heat and texture.
This is a very interesting whisky… and not because of its taste. I mean, I like it, I genuinely do. I think it definitely presents more interesting flavors than most entry level and Tier 2 core bottlings from most distilleries. Look, Laphroaig proudly calls themselves the “Most richly flavored of all Scottish whiskies” and furthest escalates the claim by calling Lore the “Richest of the rich.”
How do I feel about this? HAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Pardon me while I choke on my laughter. I won’t get into the broad strokes of the distillery’s overarching claim, that’s another discussion, but to call Lore the “Richest of the rich” among other Laphroaig Distillery bottlings? Have they tried their own 10 Year Cask Strength? That whisky is like if the Sylvester Stallone of donkeys was made entirely of peat and repeatedly kicked you in the face until you lost all bone structure.
This bottle sells in the United States for $99. On the Laphroaig website it sells for £61, which is £19 less than when Mark reviewed it six years ago for £80! (Please someone tell how we can get all whisky to age like that!) In the EU, it goes for €54 which is $58. Now, I don’t live in Europe (much to the dismay of my whisky budget), but both the Pound or Euro prices are just ridiculous to me. They seem incredibly fair. On the American side, $99 seems a little high, but in comparison to other whisky with the same positioning, as well those below and above it, c’est la vie.
In summary, this article is about me shedding my curmudgeon-ness and trying to bring some positivity, or at the very least neutrality, into what has become a fairly cynical world of whisky. It pains me to see flippers and auction prices. It pains me to see whiskies continuously stripped down to their lesser parts in exchange for meeting the war cries of an increasingly demanding Wall Street.
I may not be seeking out a bottle of Lore, but in this day and age of standard distillery bottlings, I applaud what it is trying to achieve, how it is trying to reach those goals (most of its compromises are not abhorrent), and the price at which it arrives on the market.