I come here to praise the BCL, not to bury it. For years, they’ve crafted a legit exciting event with their spirits release, complete with overnight lineups and people doing things like buying $74,000 bottles of The Macallan. But as the success grew, so did the pressure to keep the dream not just alive, but growing. Last year, they split it into a Summer and a Fall Spirits Release, and this coupled with the worldwide appetite for rare whiskies means that there’s less of the good stuff to go around.
Which leads us to this Saturday’s release. It’s not great. The dominant theme seems to be catching the wave of the ascendant category of premium bourbon, and I suppose if you just landed on this planet from another solar system then maybe you might be able to embrace the idea of paying $72 for a bottle of Heaven’s Hill Bottled-in-Bond that’s aged seven years. But for the rest of us who remember paying $15 for the same bottle (to be fair it was six years then) at a flipping Walgreens, it’s tough to get super psyched.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some special items here, including one bottle that is a legitimate no-brainer in terms of speculation. So here’s a few landing spots if you’re hell-bent on diving in.
The Aforementioned No-Brainer
The one bottle that is legitimately worth lining up for will almost assuredly increase in value is Ardcore from Ardbeg. This is what is called a Committee Release (the Committee being the 120,000 strong Ardbeg fan club), and in the past it’s been very tricky to get Committee releases in Canada. And a look at past Committee releases such as Alligator, Supernova or Grooves is a look at some of the most collectable whiskies out there. If you secure a bottle of this and stick it in your basement you’re almost assured to make money (assuming you have a place to sell it which, in B.C., we don’t). The only possible wrinkle is if Ardbeg decides to make Ardcore part of their permanent line up—then its collectability will plummet, but its price will likely stay the same so pretty easy downside.
And what about the actual whisky? It’s classic Ardbeg—bold and smoky and “like chewy on a spiky ball.”
The 'Buying-Tesla-at-$33' Option
Starting a new single-malt distillery is a tough game. It takes forever for you to start seeing any income at all, and whisky nerds are quick (maybe too quick) to jump on any little flaw. But Lindores Abbey seems poised to buck the trend with a combination of history, marketing and really good whisky. The history is key here—the Abbey is possibly the birth place of scotch, some 523 years ago so resurrecting something here has an air of authenticity. I also like that they’re proudly a Lowland distillery, an under-loved area for distilleries but one with great potential. The actual bottle/package looks amazing and the stuff inside—a really compelling mix of warm custard and caramel notes with some serious counter-playing citrus and crisp apple notes makes for a very interesting dram. There’s no age statement on it—though it’s clearly young—so paying $100 for it seems a bit rich, but I understand it’s selling briskly in the U.K., so what do I know?
The Plug-Your-Nose Conundrum
There’s no Pappy van Winkle in this release, so immediately all eyes go to the myriad of Pappy substitutes, chief among them, WL Weller. Like Pappy, it’s a wheat-dominant bourbon with a storied history. And like Pappy—which, to be clear, is now not a distillery but a marketing company—it’s made at the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky. Part of me wants to kvetch about the price increases of Weller whisky like the Heaven’s Hill above, but the truth is, $80 for a 12-year-old bottle of well-made bourbon is a good deal, regardless of whether it used to be $45. And given that the cult of Pappy seems to have no end, I predict this will be a $100 bottle by next year.
The Fool-Me-Twice-Shame-on-Me Offering
Ah Diageo, you 500-pound Gorilla—why do you torment me so? I lovingly buy your Lagavulin 16 and your Talisker 10 without fail. So when you came out with your Game of Thrones-inspired whiskies, I was first to collect them all and they’re in my basement as we speak waiting to become collectable. The only problem? The flipping “collectables” are still languishing on the shelves three years in! And that’s for Game of Thrones! This year's “Special Release” are, I’m sorry, ridiculous. As in, “If you like a classic Lagavulin 16 for $145, might we interest you in a whisky we age for 4 years less for $55 more. No? What if we put an incredibly gaudy watercolour of a flaming lion on it?” For the Talisker, it's two years less age, $25 more and a purple sea serpent. For the Oban, two years less, $46 more and a fox. For Cardhu, you actually get two years more of aging at the bargain price of only $124 more. Plus a red tree. And to add insult to injury, these are last year's "special" releases—the 2022 ones were announced months ago.
Just brutal, Diageo.
Also, while I have you here... anyone want to buy a mint set of Game of Thrones whisky?