Exploring the value of whisky
World Best Bar
Mar 02, 2021
26 November 2020
There are so many types of whiskies in the market that picking one of quality can be a challenging and confounding experience. What makes some whiskies pricier than others? Is it worth paying a premium price because a particular whisky is older? Can you judge a whisky by its label? Does an expensive price tag mean better quality? Let’s find out.
Warren Buffet, one of the world’s most famous value investors, once said “Price is what you pay, but value is what you get”. When it comes to whisky, the value – and indeed, the price – are determined in large part to its unique production process. Whiskies that are matured in “first fill” casks have a distinctly earthy tone with fig, cocoa, and raisin notes. Upping the ante, sherry casks are rare and more expensive to obtain, lending a subtlety to whiskies that is worth the premium price.
Whisky has a much longer maturation time than beer, wine or vodka, translating to a higher cost of production as well as time to produce the same volume of whisky compared to other alcohol. This gives whisky amazing value, even more so because it can be slowly relished over a longer period.
Is Non-Aged Whisky Bad Whisky?
The short answer is “not always” – less time in the cask doesn’t mean it’s a worse whisky. Instead of just focusing on age, choose a whisky based on its flavor and the assurance of the distillery’s reputation for producing quality products.
Why do people pay more for older whisky? Take the Glenlivet 12 and 15 year old French Oak reserve single malt, for example. Both are bottled at 40% ABV, both are distilled in the Speyside whisky sub-region of the Highlands, with the main difference being that the 15 is finished in new, uncharred Limousin oak casks (the kind used for cognac) for an additional 3 years.
The result of the extra aging and oak treatment is a whisky that invites you to take another sip because of its spice and new-oak notes and bourbon and apple flavor profile. Whether it is worth spending a little extra for these differences depends on personal taste and budget. It’s also worth noting that there are many excellent, non-age statement whiskies that will give the more expensive ones a run for their money.
So while looking at the age of a whisky will give you a good idea of the quality and complexity of flavors to expect, you should always try and taste for yourself, and let your nose and palate decide.
Are Special Editions Worth Paying Special Prices?
Many distillers release special editions, limited editions and commemorative bottlings, so it’s important to find out if it is a decorative bottle to add to your collection, or if the whisky itself is a new, different recipe. Whichever type of limited edition you’re looking for, it’s always good to find out what you’re getting for your money.
For example, do some research to see if a different maturation or vatting process was used, as this would have a direct influence on the nuance flavors of that particular edition.
At the end of the day, making an informed decision is the best thing you can do as you continue your journey as a whisky enthusiast.
Here’s a tip on how to discover great whiskies without breaking the bank: search for free whisky tastings in your area. They are relatively low-cost and risk-free!
It is good to note that the most expensive whisky may not be the one you like best, so always trust your taste, do your research and don’t be easily swayed by fancy labels and bottles, because it’s what’s inside that counts.