As the French novelist Gustave Flaubert (author of Madame Bovary in case you were wondering) once wrote – “There is no truth. There is only perception.” Value is in the eye of the beholder – as consumers we evaluate the merits of a product or service based on its ability to meet our needs and expectations, as compared with its peers. Any concept of value is an entirely personal assessment – open to variance, open to discussion. Not fixed in stone. Nor fixed in time. We purchase ‘stuff’ because a products’ proposition (which includes the price) aligns to our individual perceptions of value, worth and importance.
Long before The Dramble was as you see it now today, webmaster Danny and I were discussing the various merits of different whisky scoring methodologies (the long and the short of it being that regardless of what anyone might tell you, there is no faultless method for benchmarking an opinion). In our discussions we dug into how we might mark the price of any particular whisky we write about – would we remove points for it being expensive vs the quality on offer? Would we add points for it offering excellent value for money? Our decision was to do neither.
Whilst we note in our summaries our perceptions of price vs value, we recognised that they are just that – perceptions. Our perceptions. The purchasing power of our readership (you guys) varies greatly, as does the propensity and frequency of bottle purchase – honestly, some of you must be looking at hiring storage units by now. What seems like great value to one person might simply be out of budget for another. Similarly, changes in the marketplace over time will modify this discernment further.
As humans, far from being rational machines, we’re prone to background noise and biases. We can’t help but judge things relatively. There’s a raft of interesting consumer research that indicates that if you compare a products price to that of a more expensive competitor (I.E. the cost of the BMW 5 series to an Aston Martin) that the lower price will seem better value than if you make the same comparison to a cheaper competitor (the cost of a BMW 5 series vs a Ford Mondeo). I’ve seen the same comparisons made in the whisky world again and again. And likewise of folks seeming irrationalness when it comes to market changes and perceived rarity - a few weeks back I saw a thread about a bottle of Yamazaki 18 which suggested that £300 was great value. Whilst, this relatively might be the case compared to some of the insane prices that you’ll see for this bottling, I’m longer in the tooth and remember it costing £60 (not all that long ago). My personal assessment of the value of this bottling is probably somewhere in the region of £100-150. But, that’s laughably far from what the market thinks and is prepared to pay. Whisky’s value is not only personal, it's ever changing and far from immutable.
Talking of value for money….
Malts of Scotland Classic 18 year old is the ‘adult’ expression of the bottlers’ unfortunately named ‘basic’ line (a partnership with UK-based supermarket Sainsbury’s seeming like a shoe-in). The other bottles in the range consist of a 10 year old ‘Peat’ and 15 year old ‘Sherry’ – which, it’s worth noting are priced the same, and are just a few pounds less than the Classic. Age is but a number. The Classic is a blended malt composed of whisky from all five regions (Speyside, Highland, Lowland, Islay and Island). There’s little to indicate which distilleries the five spirits have been drawn from, but the Island entry is noted online as being from ‘Orkney’ so no prizes for that one. As to the other four – your guess is as good as mine.
The Classic is a direct like-for-like replacement of the previous ‘MOS 18 year old’ bottling, but now moved into the chunkly style glassware that the Malts of Scotland has taken to using for all its releases. It’s delivered unchill-filtered, naturally coloured and at 46% ABV. It’ll set you back £49.95 from Master of Malt – and as of this morning is being offered with free shipping too. Timing is everything.
Nose: A strong backbone of fruitiness with apple and pear compote reinforced by fresh mango and guava juices. Heathery honey and gorse flower are joined by soft puffs of inland hillside smoke – green, grassy and vegetal – whilst golden barley and toffee sit with lacquered tables and polished teak flooring. In the background, an array of chopped nuts – cashew, hazel and almond. Dilution adds some creaminess with milk chocolate whilst emphasising red berries, leather and a touch of varnish.
Taste: The arrival is bright and vibrant – orange liqueurs, tangerine segments and mandarin peels meet old library armchairs (polish and leather), whilst raisins and sultanas, milk chocolate and ginger develop in the mouth. The back palate reveals a dash of rawness with brassiness and overt booziness before an interesting floral/herbal concoction reveals itself – violets and lavender sprinkled with oregano. Unusual. Heading towards soapiness, but not going quite that far. The addition of water brings forth yet me orange sherry notes whilst wood chips are joined by an increasing sense of dryness – it does however tame the edges of this blend – especially after a short period of resting and integration.
Finish: Medium with plenty of ginger, pepper and aromatic cedar and charred cask ends.
Malts of Scotland Classic 18 year old offers a characterfully sherried middle-weight profile that favourably expresses the level of maturity of its individual components. The delivery is a touch hot, an there’s some out of kilter amalgamations (particularly in the back palate), however these should not put you off – there’s enough ABV here for you to find your personal balance with some measured dilution. It’s light enough to commence an evening with, and heavy enough to consider as an after dinner finisher. Value-wise, I find this pretty excellent – most other similarly aged blended malts come in around 50% more expensive, or in the same ballpark, but then presented in smaller sized glassware. Bang for buck – tick.