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For the 17th (or something) year in a row we do all the heavy spirit lifting for you.
We’ve been doing this review since almost as long as the BCL has been doing their Fall Spirit release, so forgive us if we revel in the tradition just a bit. In preparation for 2023, we wanted to check out last year’s version to see how we did. Awesome, is the answer. Awesome!
Remember we implored you not to buy Diageo’s trumped up “elusive expressions” line? Well, you listened, because the only thing elusive was finding customers willing to pay way more for classic malts that were way younger but with new labels. Many of last year’s “special versions” were being heavily discounted earlier this month to make room for their new,even crazier-priced bottles. Go figure.
Anywho, on with the show. Phase 1 is Scotch, next week we’ll deal with the “other” spirits in play.
Okay, I’ve scooped myself in the intro, but I like to start by putting the boots to the big, prestigious whisky company so you know I’m not for sale. I truly don’t know what is going on at this whisky powerhouse (whose classic range is absolutely the gold standard). This year it’s called the Special Release, but the M.O. is still the same: admittedly nice-looking new bottles, with younger whisky, for hire prices. To wit, the new “exclusive” Oban 11 is $225, compared to the classic Oban 14, which is $151, Lagavulin 12 is $230, the classic 16, $166. It’s a mind-boggling strategy that conjures my inner Walter Sobchak. If you really want these, then wait a few months when dollar for donuts they’ll be discounted.
It goes to Glenmorangie, hardly a scrappy up-and-comer, but their annual release has become legitimately sought after by collectors and tries to bring something unique to their line-up. Plus, they price it such that it’s an affordable splurge for those who love their core whiskies. This year’s offering is A Tale Of Tokyo, which looks like it was designed by Wes Anderson and uses some of Japan’s famed Mizunara oak casks (whisky nerds lose their minds over the word Mizunara) in the aging process. The fine print shows that they’re also using sherry and bourbon casks as Mizunara is really pricey, but this bottle just has it going on. Hard buy, RFN.
One only has to look at the stellar and jaw-droppingly expensive offerings in the release from The Macallan to realize just how “big business” the spirits business has become. So if you don’t have a spare $850 (or $11,000) but are still looking for a collectable, classic option from a distillery with a highly coveted pedigree, might we suggest the Cask Strength #4 from Highland Park? Collectors love cask strength (here’s it’s a whopping 64.3%), they adore Highland Park and at $169 it’s an approachable price… given that Highland Park’s 40 is $14,000.
I adore Laphroaig, the guardian of peat, the master of iodine. Their bottles are so classic, they don’t go in for a zillion different expressions and they’re not looking for celebrities to partner with to build their brand. Their old-school ethos is wonderfully summarized in Cairdeas, their yearly release for the friends of Laphroaig (full disclosure – I, along with everyone who has ever visited the distillery on Islay, am “friends” of Laphoaig). It’s always a deeply textured and smoky dram, and they always keep it real on the price—it hasn’t kept pace with inflation over the past few years, and it’s one of the few spirits in the release that’s the same price in BC as it would be at one of those big box liquor retailers in the States (It’s $100USD down there, $133 CDN here).
Ok, looking over my picks I can see that my tastes definitely skew towards the more established brands, but in my defence, the Scotch Whisky market isn’t exactly brimming with start-ups and new players. The one exception that seems to be gaining a real toe-hold, especially in Western Canada, is Lindores Abbey (or just Lindores, which is what everyone calls it). The distillery is both relatively new (the present incarnation opened in 2017) and fantastically old (the actual abbey has the earliest record of making Scotch Whisky in 1494). This cask strength iteration —official name Lindores Abbey Friar John Cor Cask Strength #1—uses French sweet wine Monbazillac casks, which I’ve not seen before, to help tame the high abv (60.2%)… and again, a very welcome price point ($126) for what’s on offer here.