Whisky Advocate

The Dalmore Constellation Collection: the sky’s the limit

June 4th, 2012

Whisky Advocate contributor Ian Buxton attends the launch of the new Dalmore Constellation line, and then ponders.

I recently attended the launch of Dalmore’s new Constellation Collection. The venue for these events is generally carefully chosen: the distiller (or more likely the PR agency) managing the launch needs a location that reflects what they are trying to say about the brand concerned.

So, when the invitation directed me to a security check prior to proceeding to Heathrow’s Royal Suite, more commonly the haunt of Britain’s Royal Family and other heads of state, the message was clear. This was to be about privilege, luxury, and exclusivity.

And so it proved. The Dalmore Constellation Collection comprises 21 different whiskies of varying ages designed to showcase different aspects of the North Highland distillery’s character through various finishes.  Their ages range from around 20 years (a 1992 Vintage) to a venerable 1964 Vintage.

Many have been the subject of intensive finishing.  Take the 1966 Vintage, for example. It started life in an American White Oak Bourbon Cask; was transferred in 2002 to a ‘Matusalem’ oloroso sherry butt and then in 2008 to a ‘Distillery Run’ bourbon barrel.

Sounds fascinating, and the four whiskies I tasted were more than acceptable. But, before you get too excited, here’s the bad news. Prices start at around $3,200 for the entry level 1992 (yes, $3,200 for a 20 year old whisky) and rise to approximately $32,000 (not a typo) for the 1964. So you probably won’t be buying any, but Dalmore say they expect to ship 20,000 bottles over the next five years.

All of which raises a fair few interesting questions.

I found myself wondering how long this trend to extremely high pricing can continue. Who is buying this whisky and what are they doing with it?And how many times can you move spirit from one cask to another without distorting the original character? Why would you do this anyway?

I’ve suggested before in these pages that this level of pricing has an inflationary effect on all whiskies as envious rivals reach upwards to match it. So, though I enjoyed tasting the Constellation Collection, I left the Royal Suite reminded of the fable of the Emperor’s New Clothes.

Which is presumably not what the PR agency had in mind.

You now know Ian’s thoughts on the proliferation of new, very very expensive whiskies (The Dalmore Constellation, Glenmorangie Pride, Diamond Jubilee by John Walker & Sons, etc.). How do you feel about it?

No Responses to “The Dalmore Constellation Collection: the sky’s the limit”

  1. Jim Clarke says:

    Ian is absolutely right, and furthermore a brave and honest journalist for risking his relationship with the PR industry by telling the truth. Well done!

  2. pat says:

    I guess if they sell out then it’s good business. I’m not interested in any dalmore products, however.

  3. Andrew Ferguson says:

    There are as always two sides to everything. On the one hand, if they can get people to buy these whiskies at this price, all the power to them. We live is a capitalist society and the market will judge them right or wrong. On the other, charging $3200 for a 20 year old whisky is pushing the collecting bar awfully high. I’ve certainly not tasted a 20 year old I’d pay $3200 for. That said if they’d see fit to sending me a sample, I’d be happy to try it…

    This issue seem to crop up from time to time on this blog, how much is too much for high-end whiskies. Higher price generally equates to older, rare and hopefully better taste profile. I guess the bottom line here is whatever the buyer is willing to pay is fair game for the seller. Everyone else can continue to enjoy the core Dalmore range, at very reasonable prices.

    One final comment on collecting, if the entry level price is too high, what reasonable prospect of return on investment is there?

    • John Hansell says:

      Andrew, that’s sort of how I feel about this situation. As long as the company continues to offer good whisky at a fair price, then what the do on the high end doesn’t bother me so much. I just say to myself, “Wow, that’s a lot of money for a bottle of whisky.”

      But, if someone is willing to pay $3,200 for a 20 year old whisky, then can you blame the owners of Dalmore for selling it at that price? That’s capitalism at work.

      I just won’t be the one buying at that price.

      • pat says:

        “As long as the company continues to offer good whisky at a fair price, then what the do on the high end doesn’t bother me so much”


        but the 12yr has doubled in price the past few years, and the new cigar malt is double what it was previously, so I’m not convinced they’re holding the line on affordability.

        • John Hansell says:

          Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s just Dalmore whose prices have outpaced inflation. This seems to be across the board.

          There was a time, however, when Dalmore 12 (and Aberlour 10) were the best values in single malt scotch. These days, “value” is a moving target. Straight up.

  4. sku says:

    I would like to thank Dalmore for providing this service to the average drinker. There has been a lot of attention lately focused on auctions and “collector grade” whisky. It appears that a certain number of wealthy speculators have entered the whisky market with an eye to good investments. The danger here is that these collectors will find some whisky that we all love and drive up the price, hoping that it will become a valuable investment vehicle. Dalmore is bravely protecting the regular whisky drinker by offering something shiny to these collectors which they will undoubtedly snap up and which will distract them from buying up and raising prices on the whiskies that people actually drink. The best thing about these whiskies is that Dalmore need not even use good whisky since no one will ever drink it. And extra kudos to them for making up terms like “distillery run bourbon barrel” to entice these wealthy know-nothings.

    Thanks Dalmore! Keep up the good work (though next time you might want to consider a diamond engraved bottle or something like that).

  5. EricH says:

    Paying $250 for a 21 year old Rosebank suddenly doesn’t seem so bad.

  6. Tim Read says:

    More Dalmore that I don’t need to buy. When you can get a 30y OB of Brora or Port Ellen at 1/6th to 1/8th the cost – distilleries that are closed and will never produce again! – it really shows how silly this is. Heck, you could go for the ultra-rare and probably walk away with a Killyloch AND a Glen Flagler for that cost, and those are quite difficult to come by.

    I’m glad they’re able to get what they’re asking for this but I hope it’s not central to their survival as a distillery. Once it’s proven that there’s no real secondary market for this beyond the other ultra-wealthy who bought this as well, it’ll be time to get back to brass tacks: making good whisky that differentiates itself on quality.

    Quite impressive for something to make the average Macallan releases look downright modestly priced though.

  7. Ryan says:

    This is so ridiculous that it doesn’t really bother me. If there’s ultra-rich people who want to spend their money like this just to show off, whatever. I don’t think the release of $1000+ whiskies will have direct impact on the price of my bottle of Talisker 10. I’m more worried about releases like Ardbeg Alligator all costing $100 now, which is almost the same as costing $3200 from my point of view. It seems like those are the releases that are dragging up the cost of all the affordable whisky.

  8. Mark says:

    I’m going to do a bit of a mash up of a couple of posts:
    Andrew stated that “Higher price generally equates to older, rare and hopefully better taste profile.” Okay, fair comment. But when you consider, as Eric pointed out, that a bottle of Rosebank 21 year old goes for $250 you’ve got to wonder if this new Dalmore 20 year old is really 12 times better than Rosebank 21 yr or Dalmore 12 yr old for that matter.
    There’s a point where “you get what you pay for” no longer applies, and it seems like that line being crossed more and more frequently.

  9. MrTH says:

    About what I expect from Paterson’s favorite distillery–whisky for narcissists. Hey, people spend silly money on watches and cars for no other reason than that they can. Why should whisky be any different? If you want to pay for a badge, Dalmore’s your dram.

  10. H. Diaz says:

    More whiskies for the oligarchs and plutocrats crowd.

  11. Chris says:

    The problem I have with this, is it provides Dalmore with an excuse to jack up the prices on all their whiskies, which they have done. Dalmore seems to be trying to out-do Diageo in coming up with inane reasons to charge outrageous prices for whisky. Diageo had the Manager’s Choice, and now Dalmore has this. I don’t mind them asking a lot of money for something that was extremely expensive to make/age, but like the Manager’s Choice the price here has absolutely no relation to the actual cost of the whisky. I wouldn’t care at all if the absurd profit they make on these PR stunts meant that the standard malts didn’t keep getting more and more expensive, but no such luck.

    • Jordan says:

      While I’m pretty sure it’s not always the case, there is one justification I can see for the cost of some of the special release whiskies: anything that gets bottled on its own can’t end up in their other whiskies. Almost all distilleries blend older whiskies into their younger age dated products. If you’re pulling out all the best barrels for their own bottlings, they are being taken away from the standard products, which may end up suffering a loss of quality. Now this is a pretty complex thing, so I’m not sure how much that matters, but I’m willing to pay a bit more (though not nearly as much as these Dalmores are going for) for something special.

    • MrTH says:

      I don’t mind them asking a lot of money for something that was extremely expensive to make/age, but like the Manager’s Choice the price here has absolutely no relation to the actual cost of the whisky.
      Let’s get something straight–the cost of a bottle like this has absolutely nothing to do with the cost of production. The only difference between a 10yo whisky and a 20yo whisky is ten years of storage, and it should be pretty obvious that that’s a mere fraction of the difference in price. It’s market forces alone that account for the difference in the real world.

  12. kallaskander says:

    Hi there,

    coming back from one week of vacation in Northern Wales and Southern England it happens that I read the above and the following the same day.

    I have always admired Johannes for his insight and what he writes under the headline Industry in this statement seems to address many of the questions your original post above causes.

    Personally I tend to think that the whisky industry and business are only about outdoining and losing grip anymore.

    And it reminds me of the big electronics company of which it is said they have a much better marketing than developing dapartement.


  13. John W says:

    I agree with Ian Buxton and also agree with Chris: there are echoes here of Diageo’s spectacularly miscalculated (much more reasonably priced) Manager’s Choice series, which are still widely available, often at discount. The timing of this with all the special Diamond Jubilee bottling and all…..I think there is now a major glut in the ultra expensive “collectable” whiskies–even too many for the Oligarchs to soak up. No one wants crowded exclusivity.

  14. Gary says:

    I find plenty of whiskey to drink that is priced from $15 to $100. Well within my budget. And plenty of new whiskey’s coming on the market all the time. So if they have a market at the high end, good for them. I can’t afford it, but someone can and that is all that really matters.

  15. RN says:

    This stunt reminds me of Snidely Whiplash:

  16. Rick Duff says:

    Not only do I not support the companies that do pull this kind of crap anymore, but I’m also questioning the journalists that cover it. You know, if they’d not take the free trips, samples, or write about it, there would be no market for this. The whisky world is getting out of control and way too expensive for normal folks. I got into bourbon from wine because it was a great value. I then learned to enjoy Scotch as a sometimes affordable luxury. Now most Scotch has gotten too expensive to be affordable, and bourbon seems to want to move into the former Scotch price range. Truly sad.
    Perhaps it’s time to find the next up and coming thing. Brandy anyone?

    • Lew Bryson says:

      Not to get too defensive, Rick, but keep in mind that for everyone who feels the way you do, there is likely another enthusiast who feels that we’re “not doing your job!” if we fail to cover a launch like this. I’m not complaining, but there’s a balancing act. (And as for the “free samples,” well, a bottle of whisky, even a very expensive one, just doesn’t mean much when everyone sends you one; we feel VERY free to speak our honest minds about it, as you see Ian doing here. That’s not bragging, that’s just the other side of the coin.)

      And I think you also have to blame — at least a little! — the people who’ll pay the money for a bottle like this and either sit it on the shelf, or never even pick it up; just leave it at the sellling establishment until the next “investor” buys it at auction and never touches it either. I’ll keep drinking my whisky instead of looking at it, thank you; my “collection” is all open bottles.

  17. Ian Buxton says:

    Thank you everybody for the kind comments.

  18. Nice for Ian nailing the emperor. I wonder how much the other distillery companies has paid Dalmore, sorry THE Dalmore, for making their far-too-expensive bottlings look cheap

    I predict I will drink bourbons for a few years, then retire with beers the way the price explosion is going. I also wonder why noone has tried package a liter of milk in diamonds…


  19. H. Diaz says:

    Richard Paterson has been a busy man, no?

    “intensive finishing”, that’s a new one.

    Was this Vijay Mallya’s baby/idea?!? Ever since he brought back the new and improved Dalmore — I’ve convinced myself I can’t afford the new prices — when reflecting on the old prices.

  20. james Colville says:

    20,000 bottles… Are they serious. That is not a small release in relation to the prices they are charging. Seems like they will rake in hundreds of millions from these casks. Is there any truth to the rumor the United Brewers Group are raising cash by emptying the warehouses before selling The Dalmore on? I heard some of Vijay Mallya companies are struggling financially.

    This super deluxe, ultra premium category of whisky is not sustainable. Prices are rising too fast. Releases like this may attract a small number of new temporary customers, but I feel like it damages normal customers affection towards the distillery. Personally I think these will go down in value just like Diageos Managers Choice whiskies.

  21. Jonathan says:

    Some folks buy labels and have more money than brains…….

  22. Mindy Flitch says:

    As Tattie says, if you want to pay a premium for labels then Dalmore is your label. Most serious whisky drinkers think Dalmore to be pretty ordinary stuff, yet their high end consistently outprice all their competitors. That’s a combination of some nice packaging, some guff about exceptionally old whisky stored in glass jars being in the mix, and the chutzpah to stick the price tag on in the first place. Some people just want to buy the most expensive whisky in the world and Dalmore has nobly volunteered itself to meet their needs.

  23. B.J. Reed says:

    Do I here BUBBLE???

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