The late, great, American film critic Roger Ebert once opined – and I paraphrase here – that no good movie is too long and no bad movie too short. Can such a principal, however broadly, be translated to whisky? Can a rip roaring, 9 out of 10 (or above) whisky ever be too expensive? Can the most awful trash that’s ever come off a still and found its way into a bottle ever be too cheap?
Of course, a great whisky can be too expensive; if only the price of whisky was a meritocracy, but sadly it isn’t. You can tell me that the finest bottle of whisky I’ll ever taste is selling for $500 and that’ll be the end of the conversation; I’ll never buy it. Roger may have been upset that a terrible movie ran three hours, but at least the ticket price remained the same.
Those Macallans I see fetching the highest prices at auction here in Australia aren’t going for thousands of dollars because they are cracking drams. Chances are the bottles will remain sealed and the purchasers will never find out. There is no one size fits all quantifiable link between quality and cost of whisky.
My personal ruminations on the cost of whisky spiked recently when I was offered the chance (sample generously provided gratis) to review the subject of today’s article – a cask strength Càrn Mòr 17 year old Bunnahabhain Moine (the version of Bunna peated to medium levels). When I found out the cost of this bottle – $380 – I gave a small nod and thought, “Not bad….not bad.” This stacks up versus other comparable bottles in Australia.
And that’s where we are in 2023: a bottle of 17 year old whisky selling for $380 seems reasonable, if not within the financial means of 99% of the whisky buying community. Some congratulations, then, to the collaboration responsible for this release for delivering at this price. My thoughts later on whether, for those financially well endowed, it is worth paying that price for the liquid experience, not as a collectable.
This bottling is a joint effort between retailer Select Scotch Whisky, Melbourne’s Elysian Whisky Bar, and Ralph Louis Frederick, a soon to be opened whisky bar in Adelaide above existing bar Hain & Co. Simon Spier, proprietor of Select Scotch Whisky, had more information about how this Bunnahabhain came to Australia’s distant shore.
Malt: A bottling like this isn’t completely unheard of in Australia but is by no means common. Can you detail how the Elysian, Select Scotch Whisky, and Ralph Louis Frederick came together initially to partner up on this release?
Simon Spier: We’ve all known each other for a few years now, and like all good ideas, the seed was laid over a few drams. Being honest, this collab mainly came about because we love the idea of working together, and of course we love great whisky! We also all love the Càrn Mòr releases (particularly from a bang-for-buck perspective), and were keen to work with them on a release.
Malt: A 17 year old Moine Bunna would be a coveted release in any market. We understand Select Scotch Whisky is the Australian importer for Càrn Mòr. Tell Malt about the process of acquiring this release for Australia?
Simon Spier: My wife and I used to live in Scotland, and some friends from Glasgow put us onto the Càrn Mòr Indie Bottlings. After we moved back to Australia in 2016 I began an 18 month pester campaign to be allowed to import the Càrn Mòr brand. Since then, I’ve been fortunate enough to secure a few Aussie exclusives. With this Bunna, we began talking to Càrn Mòr in 2021 about an Aussie exclusive for a collab release, and when I was visiting friends and suppliers in March 2022, I was plied with many cask samples to bring back to taste with the Kelvin, Yao (Elysian) and Marcus and Cody (Ralf Louis Frederick). There were some heavy hitters in the sample set, and some more “quirky” whiskies, but overall the Bunna was a no-brainer. A distillery we all really love, and a quality that left us all super impressed.
Malt: Time to talk specifics: how many bottles are making it to Australia, where are they being distributed for sale (or just a dram!) and how was the price determined?
Simon Spier: We bottled 240 bottles for this collab, which we have split equal parts, three ways. We decided early on that we want to make this as affordable as possible, so we made the call to not wholesale this release, so there is only the retail markup which has meant we can sell at $380. We are all really proud to be able to offer something of this quality at this price!
Malt: We’re always excited to see a new whisky bar opening in Australia. What can you tell us about Ralf Louis Frederick and when it will open?
Simon Spier: I’ll have to defer you to Marcus on the timing on that one! But certainly, all of us in Adelaide are really excited to see what Marcus has imagined for the space. I’ve had a couple sneak peeks and it’s going to be incredible! But on new bars, I’ve got to mention our new venue in collaboration with Big G from the Odd Whisky Coy: Spier & Wright Whisky Merchants. We opened our whisky bar and bottle shop just south of Adelaide (Unley) just before Christmas 2022. We’ve built a comfy, un-pretentious space for whisky lovers to come for a chat over a dram. We also host monthly (or more often) events. Obviously when G and I do things we tend to shine the light on the Independent Bottlers, and this project has been fantastic for that!
Malt: Finally, in my around 15 years of following whisky down here, it seems the Australian whisky community is as vibrant and bursting at the seams as it’s ever been. How would you describe the whisky scene in Australia?
Simon Spier: I couldn’t agree more that the scene is pulsating with enthusiasm more than ever before, with seemingly new people coming to whisky all the time. And with this growing interest hopefully we will see even more brilliant Australian exclusives! It’s also brilliant to see how friendly and collegial the whole industry has become. It seems like everyone has grasped that if we all work together, we can bring more and more people to whisky, which is so exciting!
Thanks to Simon for his time in responding to my queries. I was thrilled to hear Graham Wright mentioned in Simon’s responses as he was the subject of one of my favourite articles here at Malt Review. I was over in Adelaide recently and am regretful I didn’t get a chance to stop into the new venue. After that much hype in the build-up, I am eagerly anticipating breaking open my sample and trying this out.
Càrn Mòr Celebration of the Cask Bunnahabhain Moine 2004 17 Year Old – Review
Colour: Warm gold
On the nose: I am not the biggest fan of the heavily peated Bunnas on the market, though they do have their time and place. Here, the milder peat and sherry cask, after 17 years of exchanging pleasantries, create a warm welcome. I get fermenting apple, struck flint, candle smoke, and dried seaweed. More coastal notes drift across and also old belt leather, a wet forest floor, ashes, sticky chargrilled pineapple. I do appreciate when peat interplays and provides depth, being a co-star rather than the whole attraction. More time in the glass brings out further vegetative notes and a dense meaty stew.
In the mouth: A soft, velvety mouthfeel that comes from 17 years of cask/peat integration. I get notes of warm, wet asphalt, roasted capsicums, dried and cured meats. Flint and salty hessian bags containing a day’s catch from the ocean, some seaweed. Then smoky barbeque sauce and grilled prawns. Steak marinade. The finish is long with salts and brine.
Well, that was as terrific in the mouth as it promised to be on paper. I can’t underscore enough the smooth mouthfeel this provides, coating the mouth with a lovely balance.
This brings me back to my thoughts from earlier. Clearly this whisky can’t be for everyone. This isn’t socialism; the cost provides a barrier to entry that will exclude most. On the bright side, you could always stop in for a more economical dram at any of the partner bars that helped bring this release to market. If I had my druthers, I’d be pouring one out with Simon and the Big G in Unley right now, but there you go. The Stones were right (and rarely wrong): you can’t always get what you want.
It’s not always that a high price will equal a stonking good dram. Fortunate, then, that this is the case here.