The whisky world is changing. Indeed, I fear that its already irreparably changed. Whilst in some ways we’ve never had it so good with an abundance of new expressions from an incredible diversity of distilleries and countries, on the other, a large (and steadily growing) contingent have entered the market with a voracious appetite for little more than turning a quick and easy profit. Whisky has become like a Wall Street – primarily driven by two emotions – fear and greed. Fear of missing out on a new limited release, or of having to pay the steep toll of the secondary market – greed made possible through the ability to generate wealth in an incredibly short space of time. A Ferengi without profit is no Ferengi at all.
As of writing there are 72 bottles from Daftmill up for auction on SWA and Auctioneer. For a distillery that only released its first product less than a year ago, that’s both ridiculous and to my mind depressing. The Fife-based distillery is frankly tiny, producing just 20,000 litres of spirit during two three month seasons each year – meaning everything that Daftmill does now, and barring expansion in the future (which strikes me as unlikely) is going to be inherently limited in size. This plays perfectly into the hands of the wolves of whisky world – three releases have been issued so far – snaffled up in no time, with an appreciable number reappearing on the secondary market within days. The next summer batch is due later this year – and I can see no reason why it won’t play out in exactly the same way.
Several of you are no doubt thinking I should get off my soapbox – “It’s just the market, and if people are prepared to pay the prices, that’s signs of a healthy market”. Of course, economically, you’re right, but that doesn’t mean that I find it any less exploitative, nor unethical. There’s a raft of interesting economic analyses of price gouging occurring during natural disasters – humans be humans. The thrust being that whilst asking people to pay exorbitant prices for items necessary for survival seems immoral, on the other hand, higher prices incentivises sellers to continue selling even though it may be either risky, or difficult for them to do so. The whisky world is suffering no such crisis or disaster – indeed, it has never been easier for a seller to sell – auction houses help buyers alleviate their fears of missing out, whilst helping the Ferengi continue to turn their profits. In many markets there’s a fine line between what’s acceptable and not – whisky is far from finding a balancing point. There’s plenty of clamour, but buyers are not, as yet, talking with their feet.
Like many of you, The Dramble has been following Daftmill for some time. The distillery stands in stark difference to many other new sites, who have taken a more usual route to market – namely of releasing products throughout their lifetime in order to fund their activities. Daftmill, as a working farm have operated their distilling as a side activity, not as their primary business. As such, they’ve waited since 2005 for their first single malt to be ‘ready’ for release. Admirable stuff – but in essence, over a decade of patiently waiting has only made demand even more buoyant. We’ve tried several of the expressions from the distillery when we’ve caught up with owner Francis Cuthbert – like many, we’ve been impressed. But, obtaining a bottle has been a much less easy task. I’m rarely one to sit at my computer hitting F5 on the morning of a release day – unlike some, I’ve actually got things to get on with. However, in not doing so, I’ve missed each of the three releases from the distillery so far. My bad entirely – compounded by not being willing to pay double the price the following week when the sea of bottles hits the auction houses.
Fortunately, Dramble webmaster Danny sometimes has more patience than me, and managed to secure a bottle of the most recent Daftmill release – the 2006 Winter Batch. And, <round of applause>, has opened it.
The bottling was distilled in December 2006 and matured for 12 years in six 1st fill ex-bourbon casks (080 to 085). 1625 bottles were released last month at 46% ABV and a price of £95. Taken in isolation, this seems expensive for a 12 year old – but, when you consider both the tiny output of the distillery, and the price of other recently released ‘new’ whiskies (pretty much the same, but for three year old spirit), the proposition seems somewhat improved.
Nose: A fresh and crisp combination of orchards, gardens and fields. Ripe peaches and fizzing lemon sherbet sit with honeysuckle, lemon verbena and golden barley. Sitting astride are aromas straight out of a bakery – flan and tart cases and plenty of puff pastry – vanilla too, but in a quite modest amount rather than a more modern onslaught of 1st fill. In the background, batter mix and a touch of sharp almost coastal minerality. Light reduction adds herbalness with nettles, whilst also adding some umami aromas to the bakery – crackers and shortcrust.
Taste: A nicely viscous arrival at the midpoint between creamy and oily. The nose is transposed to the palate well, with peaches being joined by tart pineapple and bakery infused with buttered popcorn and oatcakes. Vanilla is more perky than on the nose, but still well in check – it bounces off both sharp grapefruit and citrus, and a similar like of minerality as detected on the nose. Dilution is far from required – this is pretty perfect at 46%, but should you wish to experiment, I found that it ups the sweetness levels with more sugared and buttered pastries, whilst emphasising sweetened preserved lemons.
Finish: Medium in length with a pang of drying bitter oak that fades pleasantly.
Daftmill’s 2006 Winter Release is fresh and crisp whilst being sharp and precise. It marries up a wide array of geographic memories for me – gardens, fields, bakeries, even a walk along the coast. But, the whole time, it retains excellent balance and rarely feels like being as cask driven as most 1st fill expressions. That said, it is to my mind a whisky made for drinking – there’s nothing explicitly ‘special’ about the liquid itself which necessitates its current inflated secondary value. Relatively, it’s RRP is fair for its quality, which is very high for just 12 years of age. It’s my hope that in the future the market can pivot itself to a new equilibrium – one where folks can ably purchase releases from Daftmill without paying batshit secondary prices, and, even more importantly, then feel comfortable actually opening those bottles to enjoy the distillery’s well-made spirit.