The British apparently spend nine months of their lives bargain-hunting. That equates to two hours a week, or four days and 8 hours a year, spent solely in pursuit of a good deal. I’d posit that this figure is likely much higher for whisky enthusiasts – hours whiled away searching through auction listings (where bargains are now far rarer than they used to be), days spent scouring online retailers for discounted or end of line listings – or even just the tease of free shipping. It’s an entirely predictable thing – for some people, it’s simply the love of the chase. But, for others, hunting out the next deal is likely a far stronger addiction.
The Internet is regularly bemusing – and never more than right now. You can clearly see that folks are spending a far greater volume of their time online – video calls, social media and bargain hunting. We’ve all seen some odd consumer behaviour these last few weeks, but whilst the upper end of whisky purchasing seems to be (understandably) quieter than normal, at the entry-level, where discounts and offers are more prevalent, people are still behaving like ninnies. An entirely palate of Balvenie Caribbean Cask (I kid you not) for a £5 a bottle discount - there’s a person who really should have investigated a trade account. The caption of “in case they discontinue it” solidifying my sense of boggled bewilderment.
Nevertheless, good deals drive a significant volume of traffic and business within the industry. You don’t have to look far to see it. Currently, retailers are fire-selling all of the Game of Thrones bottlings (I did try to tell you they weren’t limited both here and here). Even the recently released Mortlach 15 year old ‘Six Kingdoms’ is available for substantially less than its RRP – the responsible product manager failing to realise that no one was going to fall for the same trick twice.
Amazon deals regularly flash across social media – blink and you’ll miss em'. A handful of cases cut down in price, not to shift the product as quickly as possible, but to gain customer traction from elsewhere – and to persuade buyers of the wealth of other bargains which could be put into the shopping basket at the same time.
We’re all somewhat predisposed to look out for good deals – but equally, we’re susceptible to believing that we’re spending less than we actually are. A reduction in price can make things tempting which were otherwise not on our radar. But at the same time, there’s a danger of focussing too much on the supposed discount, and not enough on the actual price. You have to remember that the margins in whisky are huge – whilst we all know the tax take is by far the biggest chunk, when you see the discounts which bottles are still able to be offered for – you can quickly realise quite how much money producers and retailers are (were?!) making. £150 reduced down to £100 – yeah, there’s quite a lot of slack built into that system.
So with that pre-dramble out of the way, you’re likely wondering if today’s review is something of a bargain.
I hate to disappoint…
Glasgow-based North Star Spirits are a very welcome addition to the independent bottling scene. Good cask selections, a willingness to push blended malts, and a keen eye on value for money. Tick, tick, and tick. Whilst an increasing number of newer independent bottlers have struggled to persuade the marketplace that £100 for a fairly random 10 year old cask pick is worth anything more than disregarding, North Star recognised from the outset that whisky budgets vary. Some of us are in a different bubble to others – and there is a large swathe of the market for whom £100+ bottlings are simply cloud cuckoo land.
Their mind-set of offering products which cut across the wide range of potential boozing coffers is, to my mind a key driver of North Star’s quick ride to wider recognition. Where other bottlers have struggled to make an impact North Star has taken a ‘for all seasons’ approach. Bargain hunting is one thing – accessible pricing is another.
Sirius is not the bottler’s first blended malt rodeo – before it came both Vega (in various aged guises) and Spica. Released as part of the bottlers’ 009 Cask Series (batches of 6-9 new expressions roughly every quarter), Sirius is formed of a selection malts from highland distilleries (noted online as having a core of Clynelish) all aged in 1st fill ex-bourbon barrels. So far so tempting. But, it’s the age statement which might turn some heads – a core of 31 year old Clynelish? (sign me right up). But – a 31 year old whisky drawn from 1st fill barrels?!? – you don’t see that every day of the week.
3582 bottles were produced and released in July 2019. It seems that not all retailers have kept to the RRP of £115 - 8 months after its release, you’ll see Sirius being offered by several outlets for between £125-£135. Are you ready for your bargain now?
Nose: Coconut and teak oil alongside tree resin, wood polish and candle wax. Orange marmalade is up front supported by stone fruits (peach) and balled melon, whilst caramel wafer bars are joined by vanilla buttercream and royal icing. Lovely stuff. The addition of water expresses the stone fruits further, adding emphasis to apricots and nectarines – bright, fresh and naturally sweet.
Taste: Oils and resins combine in a weighty arrival that brings with it some immediate cask impact – pepper, wood sugars, old kitchen tables, and polished panelling. Orange essence and citric powder merge into a tarter grapefruit, whilst vanilla cookie mix and honey spread on toast end with a dusting of cocoa powder. Reduction is less constructive to the palate, bringing with it dry and tannic (yet still oddly ‘green’) plankiness.
Finish: Long and interplaying between sugars and sourness – fading fruits, steeped green teas and lingering oak-forward pepper.
North Star’s Sirius is notable for several reasons: it possesses a memorably glorious nose packed full of aroma and poise; Its heart of Clynelish doesn’t dominate, but its presence can be detected, and appreciated throughout; and, somewhat remarkably, its managed to hold up extraordinarily well to three decades of 1st fill ex-bourbon maturation. And there within lies the talent – I suspect that none of these constituent malts would present in quite so well-adjusted a manner when sampled alone – their coming together (for the vast majority of the experience) has resulted in something both level-headed and quite possibly grander. When you consider the RRP of £115 Sirius represents solid value – at £76.95 it’s an outright steal that’s well-worth your consideration.