Smart Shopper/Dumb Shopper

I saw a funny thing the other day. Or perhaps it was a scary thing: the Bonham’s auction results. I’m not going to beat up on Bonham’s this time, but the high bidders are going to take a hit. Scotch, and more recently, American whiskey prices are climbing for some reasons that are legitimate, and others that involve speculation and idiocy. I see a lot of bottles sell for hundreds or even thousands of dollars and prices from store to store vary a lot. Now if you can save five bucks on Jack Daniel’s by driving 10 miles, you probably won’t bother; but if you’re searching for a 1955 Glen Ambrosia , then perhaps you should sniff the air before dropping your money like a teenager in Tijuana.
I’ve collected some pretty bad rookie mistakes from the recent Bonham’s, New York auction. Keep in mind that auction or private sale prices should always be less than retail. Note: European VAT removed.
Macallan Anniversary 25 year old

Retail: $1099 – Holiday Wine Cellar
Bonhams: $1428
Balvenie 1971- 33 year old

Retail: $720 – Sendliquor.com
Bonhams: $833
Macallan Select Reserve
1946- 52 year old


Retail: $4016 – Lion’s Whisky
Bonham’s: $7735
Glen Grant 1958- 49 year old


Retail: $435 – Arkwrights
Bonhams: $773
Springbank 25 yr- Millennium


Retail: $1002 –  The Whisky Exchange
Bonham’s: $1011
Bowmore Bicentenary 1964
Retail: $1596 – John Gordons Wine
Bonham’s: $3094
Mind you it did not take me long to find the retail prices.  The internet is a marvelous thing.  The world is interconnected, so use it.  I’m not sure how many specialized drink “searchers” there are out there, but my friends and I use http://www.wine-searcher.com/, and spring for the Pro version.  Search anywhere in the world immediately.  Cripes, this sounds like an ad but it’s not.  If you buy whisky and value your money, use it or something like it.
TIPS
• For Americans, some of the big shops like The Whisky Exchange, Royal Mile, Master of Malt, and WhiskyBase will remove the 17% VAT and ship overseas.  Some smaller shops won’t remove VAT or won’t accept credit cards.  Also, bottles are 50mL smaller in Europe than the US.  It’s a 7% penalty but often worth it.
• Don’t assume that a shop with traditionally bad prices won’t have good deals.  The whisky shop near my home has some prices that make me laugh, except when wine-searcher.com finds a bottle that’s the best price in the world.  That makes me happy.
• If an online shop lists in checkout that they are out of stock and can restock in 3 days, then forget about it.  They’ll never get that Laphroaig 40 in stock again, no matter what they say.
• The best gauge in the world for current whisky prices is whisky-auction.com.  Their “past auctions” search is difficult to use but the data is golden.
Please, please, please don’t be an idiot and drive up prices; unless of course it’s with a bottle I’m trying to sell myself.  In fact I think I might auction off that Macallan 1946 I’ve been sitting on for a long time.  I just hope that Lion’s Whisky can ship it to Bonham’s before the next auction starts.

Great Buys for New Scotch

One of my quests in life is not only to find great whisky but to find good whisky deals. Of course there are the classics, like the $32 (£20) Laphroaig I get down the street, but there are some new players too. I’ve found three bottles that have piqued my interest in the last few months. I was about to write about how these reviews were completely unbiased, but then remembered that two of the three were poured freely at events for my club, and the third will do the same this week. Honestly, I like the folks who offered these free tasting events. How can I not? So is it a coincidence that I’m only listing scotch I’ve gotten as freebies? No, these guys are out “pushing” these whiskies because they are worth it and they know it. The distilleries have put in the effort to produce good bottles and they are sealing the deal with top ambassadors and even a master distiller to make sure the world knows what they have. I tip my hat to them and thank them for a job well done.

Low Range – Tullibardine Aged Oak
Tullibardine was quite recently a discarded distillery. Its stills lay cold for 8 long years when Whyte & Mackay lost interest in it in 1995. Under a new independent ownership the distillery revived the brand and did their best with what stocks they had, hoping to rekindle interest in a name that was only recognized by the most ardent of scotch enthusiasts. Although they’re selling older stocks of Whyte & Mackay-made whisky, the Aged Oak is their first major and mature release under the rebirth, and is impressive for the price. In a tasting that involved a lot of teenaged Tully bottles and this young whipper snapper, youth won out. The victory wasn’t decisive, but when we learned the price difference there was no doubt that it was the best deal on the table and likely one of the best deals in any whisky store. It was relieving for all of us that the malt quality had improved, unlike many major brands that are clearly coasting with whisky that isn’t nearly what it was decades ago. And to top it off, as of 2011 Tullibardine has a new owner, Picard Vins & Spiriteaux, who came in and decided that the distillery needed an update and facelift. Picard, one of the most popular employers in France, had enjoyed success by using Tully in their own Highland Queen brand. They believe in the spirit and company and are willing to make the investment needed to bring the distillery to the top of the game. I imagine that by the time my son is old enough to drink with his dad, there will be plenty of Tullibardine on my shelf for him to choose from.

Tullibardine Aged Oak – known (non-blind)
Price: $38 US, £23 UK.

• Nose: Rubbing alcohol and toffee. Not so great.
• Palate: Vanilla, olive oil poured from a leather cup. Nice mouthfeel. The finish has a bit of lemon too.

Mid-Range – Tomatin Decades
Back in the days of bell-bottoms and peace signs Tomatin was the biggest beast in Scotland with 23 stills cranking out booze for blends in fantastic quantities. Like the pants it fell out of fashion with the blenders, thanks in part to conglomeration, and is now just a morsel of what it used to be. Realizing they could no longer rely on blends to keeps the lights on, they polished up the ol’ Tomatin logo and started producing more single malts in a strategy to rebrand itself. Gone is the crummy black label Tomatin I bought 7 years ago, which got demoted to lighter fluid. Their new lineup is solid and can stand proudly in the pantheon of single malt brands. Emphasizing how serious Tomatin is about getting the word out, we were being poured by none other than the master distiller himself. Douglas Campbell wasn’t above visiting a rec room in the less fashionable corner of Los Angeles to speak to 20 lowly scotch lovers. Douglas has been with Tomatin longer than some of the mortar, and to commemorate his resistance to leave, casks from every decade he’s worked at the distillery were vatted together to make Decades. This was the bottle that immediately stuck out as the winner of the bunch, even before I knew what it was. The casks used are written in the fancy box, but not the formula, which he had scribbled on some paper:

One 1967 sherry hogshead
Two 1976 refill hogshead
Two 1985 refill hogshead
Four 1990 refill bourbon barrels
Three 2005 1st fill bourbon barrels (peated)

Now let’s see how they celebrate the secretary who’s been around since ’58.

 

Tomatin Decades – Known (non-blind)
Price: $85 US, £65 UK

• Nose: Sugar plum candies (yes, it’s Christmastime)
• Palate: Watermelon jolly rancher with a faint hint of rubber band. The long finish leans toward fresh cut hardwood. Good scotch.

High Range – Balvenie Tun 1401 Batch 3

Balvenie’s not going to sneak up anyone.  They’ve been the epitome of consistency and quality for years.  Everyone likes it because there’s nothing to dislike.  Unfortunately, universal approval comes at a cost because it avoids the polarizing flavors that puts the ‘love it or hate it’ fun into scotch.  Balvenie’s the best friend you ask to the prom after your first choice shoots you down.  Good ol’ Balvenie.   Actually, great Balvenie can be readily found if you crank your head up to the tip top of the shelf, behind the locked glass.  Balvenie 30 will set you back £350 in the UK and over $600 in the US.  Want the 40 year old?  Multiply that price by 6.   Fortunately, while running the corked gauntlet with Balvenie’s Sam Simmons at the Nth Tasting, I came across this champ.  Granted, everything in the room was good, but when told the price on the Tun 1401, I wasn’t expecting scotch nirvana in my glass.  It matched the 30 year in quality, at less than half the price.  Batch 3 is a US release but I’ve heard Europe’s Batch 2 is very similar and mostly sold out.  Tun 1401 is a vatting of 7 bourbon and 3 sherry casks into a tun, a very large 2000 liter cask that looks like something out of an old winehouse.  The different malts “marry” for three months into a new cohesive whisky before being pumped out, which you can see in this video (try to find the Balvenie ambassadors.)

Actually I think I’m going to buy a few more  bottles before I hit the ‘send’ button on this article.

Balvenie
Tun 1401 Batch 3
– Known (non-blind)

Price: $240 US

  • Nose:
    Dark fruits.  Plums, Cherry snow cone syrup.  Rich, strong, andfantastic.
  • Palate:
    Flash of sweet candies.  Cherry and licorice sugar plums. Hints of mint.  The mouthfeel could be thicker, but the flavor isoverwhelming enough as it is. The finish leans toward orange wedge candies andthe slightest hint of Spanish cedar.  Not a scotch for dessert… a dessertin itself.

Balvenie’s not going to sneak up anyone. They’ve been the epitome of consistency and quality for years. Everyone likes it because there’s nothing to dislike. Unfortunately, universal approval comes at a cost because it avoids the polarizing flavors that puts the ‘love it or hate it’ fun into scotch. Balvenie’s the best friend you ask to the prom after your first choice shoots you down. Good ol’ Balvenie. Actually, great Balvenie can be readily found if you crank your head up to the tip top of the shelf, behind the locked glass. Balvenie 30 will set you back £350 in the UK and over $600 in the US. Want the 40 year old? Multiply that price by 6. Fortunately, while running the corked gauntlet with Balvenie’s Sam Simmons at the Nth Tasting, I came across this champ. Granted, everything in the room was good, but when told the price on the Tun 1401, I wasn’t expecting scotch nirvana in my glass. It matched the 30 year in quality, at less than half the price. Batch 3 is a US release but I’ve heard Europe’s Batch 2 is very similar and mostly sold out. Tun 1401 is a vatting of 7 bourbon and 3 sherry casks into a tun, a very large 2000 liter cask that looks like something out of an old winehouse. The different malts “marry” for three months into a new cohesive whisky. You can see them filling the tun in this video (try to find the Balvenie ambassadors.)

 
Actually I think I’m going to buy a few more bottles before I hit the ‘send’ button on this article.