Whisky Advocate

Whisky Advocate’s 19th Annual Award: Highland Single Malt of the Year

January 30th, 2013

Glenmorangie Pride 1981, 56.7%, $3,500/liter

Glenmorangie Pride 1981LRGlenmorangie was one of the originators of the concept of “finishing” whisky in casks that had held other spirits and wines. Indeed, the distillery was the first to bottle its own finished single malt, namely an expression that had been additionally matured in port casks. Many more have followed, largely due to the innovative and pioneering work of Dr. Bill Lumsden, head of distilling and whisky creation. Lumsden has a Ph.D. in biochemistry, and so brings scientific credibility to the art of developing distinctively different single malts within the Glenmorangie family.

With Glenmorangie Pride 1981, the craft of cask finishing reaches something close to its apotheosis. To create Pride, Lumsden took exceptional quality 1981 Glenmorangie spirit that had been matured in first-fill bourbon casks for eighteen years, and transferred it into Sauternes barriques from Chateau d’Yquem. A further decade of carefully monitored aging followed before Lumsden deemed the whisky ready to be bottled, having latterly sampled it every three months.

A number of distillers have discovered that the use of casks for finishing single malts that formerly held the sweet white wine from Bordeaux is very effective in creating attractive and harmonious aromas and flavors which augment rather than overpower distillery character. Indeed, one of Glenmorangie’s core bottlings is now 15 year old Nectar d’Or, which has undergone a Sauternes finish.

What makes Glenmorangie Pride 1981 very special, however, is the overall length of maturation, and with a total of 28 years under its belt, this is the oldest whisky currently available from the distillery. The result of all that aging and scrupulous marrying of spirit with cask is a truly original and spectacular single malt, and one that defies criticism of its undoubtedly high retail price due to its sheer quality.   —Gavin Smith

Whisky Advocate’s 19th Annual Award: Lowlands/Campbeltown Single Malt of the Year will be announced.

78 Responses to “Whisky Advocate’s 19th Annual Award: Highland Single Malt of the Year”

  1. Adam Glaser says:

    Hope the message here is that you need to spend $300 to $3000 a bottle to enjoy the year’s best…

    • John Hansell says:

      Maybe you haven’t been reading our awards announcements?:

      Corsair Triple Smoke: $45
      Four Roses Small Batch 2012 Limited Edition: $90
      Lot No. 40: $40
      Yellow Spot: about $100
      Millstone: about $100
      Blue Hanger: about $100

    • I agree with Oliver. As soon as I saw the announcement I felt the same way.

    • John Hansell says:

      Oliver, we never said that our chosen whisky has to be a new release. See overview here.

      • Well understood. In a way I appreciate that you have given yourself a big “manoeuvering space” for selecting the award winners. But then again, as the awards are annual I would expect the winners to have made particular impact in the last year. But maybe that’s just me ;)

        • John Hansell says:

          I understand where you’re coming from. Realize also that many whiskies are released in the U.S. months after they are initially released in the UK. As I recall, the press debut for this whisky was later in the fall of 2011, and the whisky may not have even gotten into circulation here until the end of the year, or possibly even in 2012 in some markets. So, to us, the release date really is a moot point.

  2. Eric says:

    This is very sad. What has become of this magazine? I have yet to come across any of these bottles in a store, even in the United States. Not even my friends have come across the Four Roses bottling anywhere, is all sold out. To see this is just over the top. Is this publication only for the well off and affluent? Perhaps picking a GlenDronach single cask which is affordable would have been more suitable for the average reader?

    • John Hansell says:

      Our awards are simply based on what we feel are the best, regardless of price or relative degree of availability.It’s always been that way, and it always will be that way.

    • RIck Duff says:

      Couldn’t agree with you more.
      I’ve not renewed my magazine subscription, and all but stopped reading the blog. Seems to have gotten out of touch with the average whisky enthusiast, and is instead concentrating on the high-income, high-spending folks the advertisers pay the big bucks for.
      Somehow I thought that might happen after they got bought by the wine advocate/cigar magazine folks.
      Pitty.

      • John Hansell says:

        I have to disagree with you. The magazine is the best it’s ever been. If you hadn’t let you subscription lapes, you would also realize this. And I’m sure that others reading this thread who are subscribers will agree with me. Our most recent special issue on peat was something we were all very proud of here in the editorial offices of Whisky Advocate. And the magazine has never looked better, too!

      • Morgan Steele says:

        Folks, this is not a new development. Flip through your old issues of MA. In Spring 2011, the editors remarked “We’ve taken fire in the past for awarding Single Malt of the Year to whiskies that cost over $2,000.” That year, they awarded SM whisky of the year to the exceptional, and accessible, Glenfarclas 40. Going back further, you’ll see that award changes faithfully reflected changes in the industry.
        I see this no different from reading about Porsche GT3s or summer long distillery vacations. They’re out of my reach but I enjoy reading about them. (Frankly, I wouldn’t want to be in the same room with the winning Glenmorangie. It costs more than my insurance deductible.)
        I was also disappointed about getting shut out of the Four Roses despite an exhaustive search. But, I easily picked up a case of Bell’s Hop Slam last night and most of the country gets shut out on that exceptional brew. C’est la vie!

        • OudErnest says:

          I love Hop Slam but sadly it’s not sold in Connecticut or New York. I’ve read that Larry Bell dislikes New York and vowed to never sell his beers there but this is purely anecdotal. Anyway I digress, my beef with the awards is availability. Seeing this is an American blog and American magazine one would hope that at least the majority of the winners were available in America. Six straight award winners not sold here really stuck in my craw for some reason. You might as well write about your favorite unicorn or Bigfoot as I have as much a chance of seeing one of those than purchasing a bottle of these award winners especially the last one in the ridiculous James Bond case.

          • John Hansell says:

            The blog and magazine are both published in the U.S, but they are read internationally. Becaue of our global reach, we can’t bias our awards by whether it’s sold in the U.S. or not.

          • OudErnest says:

            I understand but you should also show some balance . Six if the eight winners aren’t sold here.

          • OudErnest says:

            I take that back I think one or two more were available in the US. I guess I’d just Luke to more available here but that’s an issue for the importers.I know it’s been discussed in prior years but perhaps it’s time to hand out first, second, and third places in each category. That way one or two are bound to be sold here and it would no doubt offer some more affordable options as well.

          • EricF says:

            Lucky enough to live in Kalamzaoo (3 miles from Bell’s Brewery) and with a couple of bottles of the 4Roses Small Batch LE in the bar. Picked them up from CASK in San Francisco about six weeks ago. As far as I knew they were still in stock and very liberal with shipping…

    • Rikin Patel says:

      The bottle is available at many stores in the Chicago area. Its even at my local neighborhood store called Best Value Liquors in Cicero IL.

  3. Mark S says:

    Perhaps along with announcing each particularly expensive award winning whisky you could include a synopsis of last years complaints and subsequent reply’s on the affordability, availability, merits, and so on of rare and expensive whiskies.
    It would save people the trouble of complaining and you from having to repeat the rules and guidelines of the awards.

  4. Pat says:

    Is spending 10 years in Sauternes really considered “finishing”? Seems more like double maturation perhaps? Ah semantics…

  5. John Hansell says:

    BTW, it’s about time someone started bitching about one of our awards. I was getting concerned. It doesn’t seem right without at least some debate. :)

    • smsmmns says:

      Hahaa… all good banter. If it can be cheap and still be the best then certainly it can be expensive and still be the best. No apologies necessary here, John… although someone I know might take issue with “first to bottle its own finished single malt”. ;)

    • Tom D says:

      I have been waiting for this since the Four Roses SB award. See my post that you needed more obscure and unaffordable winners to get all the complaints going.

      Relax everyone, it’s just the opinion of the folks voting on it. If you are interested, buy the bottle. If not, don’t. It’s out of my price range but its not a big deal. I will just buy something else that I like.

  6. Dr. J says:

    To all of you who complain: You protest too much!
    There are a lot of great Whisk(e)ys I will never get to try. But my cabinet has a number of them I will enjoy!

  7. Sean says:

    Don’t so much have a problem with the price here. If its the best whisky you tasted then it’s the best whisky you tasted. Yes, most here will never taste it but so be it. It is what it is. I am however in agreement with those who don’t understand giving the award to something not released in this past year, rules or no. Not really understanding the point of a yearly award that allows you to reach virtually anywhere into the past to choose a winner.

    • John Hansell says:

      Each year, the inventory of whiskies for sale in the world changes. Even the whiskies themselves change. For example, you don’t really think that Glenmorangie 10 year old released in 2012 tastes the same as Glenmorangie 10 year old did a decade ago, do you? It doesn’t. It’s better than it was 10 years ago. Bill Lumsden, the man who oversees the brand, will be the first to tell you.

      Because the whisky inventory changes every year, and because the actually quality of whiskies changes from one year to the next, we really do need to consider all whiskies for our awards, not just new releases.

      • Jeff says:

        “For example, you don’t really think that Glenmorangie 10 year old released in 2012 tastes the same as Glenmorangie 10 year old did a decade ago, do you? It doesn’t. It’s better than it was 10 years ago. Bill Lumsden, the man who oversees the brand, will be the first to tell you.” – While this might, in fact, be true, John, I’ve yet to read ANY comments from industry people saying that quality is on the downturn, and would they think that’s their job and/or tell me if they thought so in any case? Maybe they leave that to whisky writers? Everywhere I turn, it’s supposedly the best and most exciting time to be a whisky enthusiast, even while, simultaneously, products get younger and younger, prices go up and up, and those with the option plan to sit out the NAS glut they’re boosting by drinking the good stuff they have salted away.

  8. AaronWF says:

    The whiskey reviews are what brought me to the magazine, but it’s the in-depth articles that are keeping me a subscriber. If I’m considering paying top dollar for a whiskey, particularly a malt whisky, as I have less experience with them, it’s nice to be able to go to the MA database of reviews and see what the team thought of the bottling I’m considering.

    I’m not very interested in reading about whiskeys I can’t afford, but I do appreciate the fact that if I had an extra $3500 to spend on booze, I’d know one way to spend it.

    • Eric says:

      Instead of relying on this magazine “buying guide” database, I’d trust more highly the notes/ratings of Whiskyfun’s Serge V. or the Malt Maniacs whisky monitor database. Many more bottles to be found there, with more collective expertise and experience to back them up.

      In this day and age there are so many online resources available, that I would not take anyone “score” as gospel. I fear that Whisky Advocate magazine is putting a nail in its own coffin by catering to the wine and cigar snob folk with overpriced items such as this Glenmorangie.

      • AaronWF says:

        I agree, there are many resources to go to for opinions on whiskey, and WA is one of them. I’d also add that while I don’t pay much heed to annual best-of awards, they are clearly important to the hype machine that the industry wishes to impress upon the uninitiated.

      • thebitterfig says:

        The funny thing about that, is that Serge reviewed this whisky. He reviews a pretty solid number of the wine-and-cigar crowd special bottlings. And the average age of whiskies reviewed on WF is probably higher than here at Whisky Advocate.

        I don’t say that to take away from Serge, but to point something out about our perceptions about forum as much as content.

    • Lew Bryson says:

      Aaron, I’d also point out that we’ve given low reviews to very high-priced whiskies, too. We’ve made it clear from very early on that we do not consider price when we make these awards (though apparently not clear enough). We do always have plenty of whiskies that are under $100 and rated in the high 80s and low 90s in every issue; in the upcoming issue, for instance, there’s a whiskey rated at a 93 that costs under $30 a bottle. But for some reason, it’s never the bargains that people want to argue about…it’s the expensive ones.

  9. Logan Mann says:

    Maybe people wouldn’t be so disappointed with the yearly awards if they didn’t try and view it as their new shopping list. Just a thought…

    • Tom D says:

      Best post I have seen in these comments.

    • OudErnest says:

      It’s human nature to think that way. When I read lists of the top 10, 50 etc music released of the year or the top new restaurants in a city my inclination is to buy some of the music or visit several of the restaurants.

  10. Pat says:

    It appears the online readership would be interested in a “Bang for your Buck” award category.

  11. MrTH says:

    So much for defying criticism of its price. In truth, I was a lot more upset by the price of the Lagavulin 21, which used to be reasonably affordable.

    I have much the same reaction as everyone else, but it occurs to me that I don’t put much stock in awards, anyway, so it shouldn’t bother me. Think of it this way: when Murray declared Old Pulteney 17 to be the bee’s knees, there was a huge run on the stuff, which certainly must have made the folks in Wick wonder whether they were charging enough for it. Maybe it’s better for us punters if these awards are taken up by ridiculous prestige bottlings like this.

  12. Louis says:

    But the fact remains that awards given to whiskies that are not affordable to most readers, or those that cannot purchased by US readers, make the awards themselves somewhat irrelevant. And yes, as a WA subscriber, I would like to be able to enjoy one or more of the magazines best drams of the year.

    So John, I have a suggestion. Why not have an alternative award in each category, as required. Something that’s a decent value (leaving a little bit of wiggle room on the price, the Lagavulin 21 wouldn’t be too bad at $200) and at least 2000 bottles available at posting time.

    • Lew Bryson says:

      2,000 bottles in all the world, or 2,000 bottles in the U.S.? And available at posting time? Impossible to know how many have already sold. We did a Best Buy award, but to be honest, it was almost always an American whiskey that won it — no surprise to anyone, they’re much less money — so we finally dropped it. And if we do a Best Buy Scotch whisky…should we do a blend and a malt? What about vatted — sorry, blended malt whiskies? A Best Buy in every category we award in? What if the “overall” winner is reasonably priced and available? That happens more often than most people in this thread would believe.

      Things like this sound simple, but…

      • Louis says:

        Yes, I mean in the US. The Four Roses SB sold out within 24 hours of the first post. As I said, there should be one ‘affordable, available, honorable mention for the masses in each category’.

        • patrick says:

          I will say that both Four Roses limited releases were mentioned as being stellar on here before ever arriving in stores. I read an early favourable review and bought a bottle when it arrived in my town. The ‘run’ on the bottles didn’t happen until several months later when the year-end awards were announced.

      • thebitterfig says:

        Best buy, to me, is fine split in two: North American, and Elsewhere. Now, it’d probably be Bourbon and Scotch, but Canadian and Irish stand a decent enough shot, maybe a good Japanese.

  13. Pat says:

    >>>We did a Best Buy award, but to be honest, it was almost always an American whiskey that won it — no surprise to anyone, they’re much less money — so we finally dropped it.<<>>And if we do a Best Buy Scotch whisky…should we do a blend and a malt?<<<

    Appears online readers are saying yes and yes.

  14. Stevely says:

    As soon as I saw the price, I wasn’t surprised at the number of comments so far, a renewed debate on the price of the whisky. I remember the debate that ensued after MacAllan Royal Wedding won last year as as the Speyside Malt.

    I want to say once again that these awards and whiskies themselves should not be downplayed of their importance or obvious quality, however consideration should be given to price and quantity available for consumers. An ‘Exclusive’ and/or ‘Rare’ category might be an option – not a ‘it’s cheap’ category. As the industry continues to grow, so will the number of products that are exclusive or rare as distillers compete for this prestigious category.

    I enjoy Whisky Advocate and the dynamic growth it has seen in recent years because of a being a quality publication and would never cancel or not renew a subscription due to a high price whisky review or an article I didn’t like. Keep up the great work. This debate (like many others) shows me how passionate the whisky community is and I appreciate reading all comments – it helps make us (and the whisky producers) better.

  15. BarrelChar says:

    John,

    Agreed, your magazine is under no obligation to only pick affordable or widely-available whiskies. I haven’t tasted this one, so I can’t comment on the quality.

    But this award made me recall a post of yours from back in September, 2012: “Ridiculously Expensive Whiskies Have Just About Jumped The Shark.” http://whiskyadvocate.com/2012/09/21/ridiculously-expensive-whiskies-have-just-about-jumped-the-shark/

    “I mean, every major brand seems to have thrown their hand-blown glass, silver-lined, diamond-studded hat in the ring, including Glenmorangie, Ardbeg, Balvenie, Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, Macallan, Johnnie Walker, and Dalmores (plural)…And this craze seems to be getting more prolific.”

    There’s an argument to be made that giving this award may unintentionally encourage LVMH and other big leaguers to continue hawking these rather exploitative, comically-priced whiskys to plutocrats and VIP rooms at velvet-draped night clubs. At some level, it validates the most extreme industry venality that, in my opinion, is a pernicious trend for the long-term, across all pricing levels.

    Sure, prices on the latest limited releases of Port Ellen, Brora, Lagavulin, etc. have gone up dramatically, partly due to market forces, partly due to Diageo and others squeezing out every dollar. But they’re still under $700 or so, depending on your retailer. It’s not completely apocalyptic, yet. Then there’s the category of the hyper-premiumized bottles that reach the absurd and beyond: the 28 year-old Glenmorangie for $3,500 is a stone’s throw away from the $11,000 Dalmore 50 with the crystal decanter.

    Such prices induce eye-rolling, but may serve as a sort of absurdist warning of things to come. If LVMH can sell 2,000 bottles of a 28-year old whisky for $3,500, its corporate directors may start wondering why Ardbeg Uigaedail is still selling for under $65 in the US, while Diageo’s board of directors may feel compelled to raise prices on the next PE even further, seeing lost potential profits. Granted, this would take time, but it’s a legitimate risk.

    And one award from Whisky Advocate won’t single-handedly set this in motion, obviously. But an award like this carries major clout, so I can understand the frustration of other posters here.

    Of course, I’d argue a bigger problem is the latest wave of more moderately-priced but cynically-marketed bottles like Highland Park Thor, Ardbeg Galileo, or the various Col. EH Taylor releases, where the price has little to do with quality and is more related to intricate packaging, a cartoonish backstory, or sheer marketing hype. But in many ways, it’s all part of the same general tapestry.

    • Rick Duff says:

      Excellent post!

    • Jeff says:

      I agree with Rick, it is an excellent post. It does make me jaded to read about how distillers are perpetually always JUST about to “jump the shark” on pricing and then see the old line about “we call ‘em like we see ‘em, regardless of price” coming from the same source. On the other hand, how can price be an object in the vast majority of these reviews, as the reviews are based on free samples and people have no problem recommending whiskies that they will not buy themselves?

      Yet Gavin Smith’s review of Glenmorangie Pride 1981 is a different animal, because he says that, in his opinion, it’s actually worth the money as drinkable whisky, “one that defies criticism of its undoubtedly high retail price due to its sheer quality”. Well! It’s actually worth $3.50/ml? Such opinions are, of course, in the eye of the beholder, but I give Gavin a lot of credit for going on the record, because, if you’re going to support these prestige bottlings, that is exactly the kind of statement you should be making, not falling back on “we only evaluate quality/ what constitutes a high price is different for everyone”. Gavin’s statement acknowledges that, in the real world, price is indeed an object and implies an “advocacy” that would warn consumers away if the price were not justified. While, strangely, we’ve yet to see any prestige bottlings reviewed as, simply and directly, being vastly overpriced, I do hold some hope that this will now be forthcoming. If it is not, the magazine might want to re-examine just what, and who, it is an advocate for.

    • Tadas A says:

      Excellent post. Would’ve not said better!

  16. John, you weren’t particularly emphatic about this whisky when you first reviewed it. If memory serves you thought it was too wooded. Have you changed your mind, were you outvoted by a panel, or were there simply no other better Highland whiskies out there?

  17. Joshua says:

    I’m not complaining. I got bottles of FR, Pappy 15, and George Stagg this past go around. I wouldn’t mind being able to afford these babies listed from the past few awards but hey, maybe save it up and get one down the road in coming years…

  18. Peter T. says:

    Opinions by nature are subjective. As such though, I would expect that many “best of” awards would include some rather expensive and obscure bottlings. I do not expect to dine at a 3 star michelin restaurant for cheap either. Who would? I probably will never try many of these whiskies (although I did crack open that blue hanger…great pick!) but just like reading about some beautiful far off exoctic place in National Geographic that I will only visit while I’m reading of it or only encountering a particular 3 star Michelin restaurant while purusing the red guide, I still find myself better off for them piqueing my interests and dreaming a bit.

    I will say though that when I opened this page I thought for a second that you were hocking the new Bose stereo system. Pretty elaborate presentation there.

    The sautern finishing sounds very interesting too. Has there been any experimentation with finishing in armagnac or cognac casks?

  19. Danny Maguire says:

    The price of this is rediculous, way beyond what I can afford, but I’ll still read about it. Who knows, one day I may come across in a bar and may feel affluent enough to buy one.

  20. Lawrence says:

    Some Costco in California have this bottle for $2600 :-)

    • Morgan Steele says:

      Awesome. Costco has a great return policy. Hope they don’t mind if the returned product is Clan MacGregor.

  21. CBrown says:

    As soon as I saw this come up (being a long time reader) I said to myself. “The bait has hit the water….” and in no time at all the zing of the reel sounded as the line screamed out with the outraged cries of elitist! ;)

    I’ve lucked out on some of the more affordable highly rated bottlings but of course this is too rich even if I could afford it.

    I would second some of the suggestions that you include a duel rating whenever the winner is what is for all intents and purposes a dream category by selecting a mass market selection that has risen above it’s pay grade.

  22. Tadas A says:

    What about including pricing in the rating system? After all it is an art and a lot of effort to make something great and affordable.

    • Danny Maguire says:

      How would it work?

      • Tadas A says:

        One suggestion: make it part of the score (lets say 10%) dependent on the price. In a scenarion of 100 point system it would make upto 10 maximum points. 10 points for $0-$20 price, 9 points fro $20-$40….. 0 points for >$3000.

        • Jeff says:

          I’m not sure that I’d adjust the marking system to account for pricing, as that would make it difficult to compare old and new marks with the current system speaking only to quality alone. And, as we see, quality and price are often quite independent of each other, which is part of the problem in the industry that needs to be addressed. Yet an expert’s opinion on an expression’s pricing, just as that same expert comments on nose, palate, etc., would not be out of place. It would only be one person’s opinion, but that’s all you get in any case, and it would be from someone who knows about both the quality and marketplace of whisky.

          The real problem here is that no one wants to bell the cat or to tell the Emperor that he’s naked. The magazine might not be dictated to by industry pressure, but it is an industry in which it must function to survive – and that industry is about making money, not cheerfully fielding negative reports. If two whiskies score a 95, but the first costs 300 times the price of the second, It’s almost impossible to comment on price at all without either calling the first a rip-off or the second the bargain of the century (and given that you CAN, EASILY, manufacture a 95 for far less than, say, $60,000, it’s not hard to see what the verdict should be). On the other hand, not saying as much does, in the end, speak to credibility – it’s like trusting a weatherman to tell you about the fine points of tornado formation when he’s claims to be undecided about whether it’s currently raining outside.

  23. Lazer says:

    Take that Donald Trump!

  24. Jeff says:

    By the way, what was the mark on this whisky (and some of the other whiskies)? I’d hate to shell out my $3,500 to find out I’d bought a 91/100.

    • Jeff says:

      Whoa! Given that Gavin Smith’s 93/100 for the Pride (found in the Buying Guide) only ties it with Glenmorangie Original, with the latter being only about 1/78th the price that of the former, I’d expect that, if Pride is the Highland Single Malt of the Year, the Original must be the Highland Single Malt of the Century.

      • Danny Maguire says:

        I think you’re relying too heavily on someone else to rate it for you. All that really matters is (A) Do you like it? (B) Can you afford it? I the answer to A is no then B doesn’t matter. If it’s yes then the answer to B comes into play, if the answer to B is yes then buy it, if it’s no then join the club, very few of us can afford that sort of whisky. When you read what some one else has rated a whisky as, treat it with caution; your nose and palate are unlikely to be the same.

        • Jeff says:

          Thanks for the reply, but, to me, the value of a review (movie, book, whisky) is to provide an opinion on something that the reader has not experienced firsthand. If I know whether “I like it”, I must have already sampled it, and I’ll then be able to form my own opinion about whether I want to shell out $3,500 for a whisky that scores no better than its 10-year-old expression.

          Also, it’s not just a case of being able to afford it or not – the most valuable part of a review of a $3,500 whisky is an assessment of whether it’s actually worth the money, which to Gavin Smith’s credit is present here, but is sadly lacking in reviews of most prestige bottlings. Even people who might buy prestige whiskies with only as much thought as I have buying Highland Park 18 might want to know that they are not just buying “a good whisky”, but actually getting their money’s worth. If that’s the case, as Gavin indicates with Pride, it should be easy enough to say so – and if it’s not the case, it’s even MORE vital to say so, given the money involved.

          *** Also, I forgot to figure in the 1-liter size of the Pride vs. 750 mls for the Original. At $3.50/ml for the Pride and $0.06 for the Original ($45.00/750mls), the Pride is only a little more than 58 times more expensive.

          Cheers!

          • Peter T. says:

            In a sense I agree with you about the “worth it” part but who is ultimately to say if its worth it? “Worth it” may be totatlly different for a russian plutocrat compared with a high school teacher. One may only find the worth in the liquid another may find the worth in it as an investment another may find the worth in the bottle or prestige of just having it on a shelf in their bar. Basically you can not expect a reviewer to determine if something is worth it for every single person out there but they can review the whisky and give their assesment as to the liquid inside the bottle. I’ll determine if it’s worth me buying based on that. Personally, I would never buy a $3,500 bottle of whisky. You’re right in that you can find just as highly rated bottling for much, much less but that doesn’t mean for some people it’s not worth having it.

          • Jeff says:

            Thanks for the reply. An expert personal assessment of the bottle as drinkable whisky is all I’m looking for, and all, I think, that the magazine and its staff can provide, as to assess these bottles as investments or collector’s items falls outside its focus – even though, on that basis, admittedly, some of these prestige bottles might well be “worth having” regardless of other qualities. As drinkable whisky, however, the bottle must first be purchased to be opened and its price is no less intrinsic, or often any more negotiable, in that sense than the expression’s age, casking, or quality.

            Personal assessments of scents, flavours and score, no matter how expert, are no more objective than one of price, yet some feel the former are somehow valid and relevant, while the latter is not and somehow impossible to render because everyone is different (yet we’d all be united on what constitutes a 93/100 and on finding a subtle note of heather). If a reviewer can’t tell me whether a whisky is worth my money, they can certainly tell me, in their opinion, whether they think it’s worth theirs – and that opinion is rendered by an expert. When that opinion is positive, as is the case with Gavin and the Pride, no one objects, least of all the distiller. But how is that positive opinion any more relevant, expert, or objective, than a negative one would be? I fear that the real problem with negative reviewer comments on the pricing of prestige bottles lies not in a lack of relevance, expertise or objectivity, but in the perceived presence of these very qualities, and in the trouble such comments would cause within the industry as a result. If an acknowledged expert says that the $60,000 price tag on the new “Super Deluxe Islay Mariner’s Legacy” is, in his opinion, unjustified (or that you’re essentially gouging), there is probably far more tension going forward than if the review is “fantastic, well worth the money”.

            Again, I commend Gavin on his review and on commenting on the price, which I would argue is the most prominent, and least subjective, quality of prestige expressions. We need more of this. Commentary on pricing is far from irrelevant, as the vast majority of readers don’t sample whisky without paying for it, and it is far from unfair, as distillers assert the high quality of their prestige offerings through both their pricing and PR copy, and should be held accountable for the value of the product they provide for the money they ask (as should be the case with all distillers and all expressions).

            Cheers!

          • Danny Maguire says:

            Fine if you are using the score as a guide, provided you know that you share the reviewers tastes in every way. if not it could be an expensive mistake.

          • Jeff says:

            It could be an expensive mistake in any case, which is my point, if a reviewer rates a whisky well, but knows it isn’t worth the price and says nothing.

          • Danny Maguire says:

            How well do you get on with the manager of your local whisky shop? Could be worth cultivating a relationship so that you know when they’ve got particularly nice whiskies in, and let you try the shop demo bottle.

          • Jeff says:

            Bar and shop tastings are fine, and I do take advantage of them when the opportunity permits (I did a really nice group of six just a while ago). I agree that you’re better off sampling for yourself rather than taking someone’s word and I do appreciate the thought and the spirit in which it was offered.

            Cheers!

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