Whatever your level of involvement in whisky enthusiasm - no matter how fanatical your hobby and passion has become – it’s vital that you’re mindful that your enjoyment, accumulation and behaviours remain healthy. It’s all too easy to find yourself down various rabbit holes – delivery vans arriving twice daily, countless hours spent scouring the Internet for a "must have" bottle, or even falling into the trap of fury of missing out when failing to obtain this month’s latest and greatest limited release. But whilst many of us, myself included, will openly admit to a degree of obsessivity about whisky – you need to be continually aware of what you’re doing – and what you’re tacitly encouraging through your actions – both to the wider enthusiast base, but perhaps more significantly potentially to yourself.
Last week I joined Roy Duff of Aqvavitae for a lively online vPub on the subject of ‘There’s always more whisky’. The timing couldn’t have been more appropriate – mere hours after the fun and friendly live stream session ended, many of the traits and behaviours we’d discussed the night before manifested themselves with the release of the 2021 Kilkerran 8 year old Cask Strength. Likely some of those who joined the stream as friends found themselves as competitors the next day – all chasing the dream of acquiring the same new shiny thing.
This bottle had “bun fight” written all over it long before Roy and I sat down to chat about the perils of hype, over-accumulation, limited editions and obsessive shopping behaviours. The previous incarnation of the sherried 8 year old – Recharred Oloroso Sherry Casks was rather the triumph – a big hitting juggernaut of a whisky that somehow managed to balance its heft with a soft, deft touch – and yet still came in at under £50 here in the UK.
Bottles shifted at a rate of knots and many spent countless hours scouring online retailers and subsequently auction sites to obtain this extremely well-reviewed and well-received edition. Plenty were opened and enjoyed. Plenty more were undoubtedly stashed away in cupboards. “Coming from the studio that brought you Springbank” is, nowadays a sure-fire guarantee of hype and all of the behaviours associated with it – both good and bad.
The 2021 edition came pre-packaged with a level of wall-to-wall hype that had some folks breaking out in a cold sweat of anticipation. Those who missed out last time were not going to be thwarted again...
The ensuing Friday morning scrabble was totally predictable. It lasted seconds with most retailers – the quality of the previous edition and a knowing sense of having to be quick on the trigger to secure a bottle, both undoubtedly driving an even larger number of enthusiasts to join this year’s hype-fuelled scrabble. And the accessible pricing meant that everyone could happily partake in the chase.
Not everyone obtained a bottle. And with losers the came the winners – many posting up photos of their arriving bottles to mark the success of their acquisitions - but in doing so only adding further fuel to both current and future hype fires. Folks don’t like to miss out – they want to be ‘part of the gang’. Photos of chased bottles on social media (particularly closed ones) might mark the crowning achievement of a morning spent hitting F5, but they also send a message to the wider enthusiast base – a message that implies that no matter the price of a bottle - that whisky culture is about exclusivity – “I’ve managed to get something which you haven’t” <blows raspberry>.
You can already see this with the dozen of bottles listed and all over RRP on Just-whisky. Despite there always being more whisky, people don’t just want a whisky – they want “that” whisky. Whisky jealous is a real thing – and rest assured come the next Kilkerran 8 year old Cask Strength, the furore will only be even greater. We’re all part of this problem. And it’s too easy to be blaming flippers and collectors alone. If you’re one of the people sitting behind your screen refreshing over and over until your mission has been completed, or raging that the bottle was out of stock by the time you hit the checkout screen – you’re fuelling the hype.
It’s a dichotomy that whilst we all believe we’re part of a wider whisky community, we often want to be treated and considered as individuals when it comes to our bottle purchasing. Old hands raging that they were appreciating whisky long before others, and the best intentions of “but my bottle is for drinking” aren’t possible to disentangle from the motivations of everyone else. We’re all, whether alone or as a community, attempting to purchase something that has a limited supply. And we aren’t always going to succeed. So, I'd posit, that sometimes – like Indiana Jones, just because you feel like your fingertips are touching the Holy Grail - it might be better to just let it go.
All of these facets and behaviours present an skewed view of whisky to the outside world. A view which I believe particularly affects those newer to the hobby – where the acquisition and associated social ‘show off’ of ones treasures has become seemingly more important for social acceptance than the simple act of sharing a dram in good company. Lockdown has only heightened this further – there’s no opportunities to share a dram – at least not in person – and as a result, the volumes of bottle peacocking have grown exponentially. To the newbie – the search, the chase, the hurried acquisition and the resulting photo parade have becoming normalised. "Look what I got."
Brands know how to leverage our overzealousness and our tendencies for FOMO all too well. The number of supposed ‘limited editions’, single casks and ‘special releases’ is ever on the rise. But at the same time, there’s never been a better time to be a whisky fan – the volume of releases is huge – there’s always more whisky. But if all of these releases are denoted as somehow rare, producers and retailers are ensuring that folks fall down the rabbit holes for compulsive purchasing – believing rightly or wrongly that they could be missing the next big thing. And it's a super easy formula for companies to rinse and repeat. Potentially insidious stuff that that fashion world knows only too well.
But whilst I don’t ascribe to those who suggest that the only way to climb back out of the rabbit hole is to walk away (we’re all passionate whisky lovers and just leaving your passions behind is potentially just as unhealthy a solution), a sense of level-headedness is often surely lacking across the fandom.
It’s easy to get caught up in the next big thing and to be captivated by something new and shiny – and hell, given current times, some escapism and something to look forward to is frankly well needed by us all. But at the same time, we mustn’t let the product define who we are to a point where our sense of self (and self-worth) is only associated with further acquisition. For all the time spent scouring the web, hitting F5 and continually hunting out limited releases – think about what you’re potentially missing out on. Remember - whisky is not when taken as a whole particularly limited - there's always more of it. But what is truly finite - what can't ever be replaced - is time.
So, a long-winded introduction to get to the point that some of you have no doubt ventured here for – Kilkerran 8 year Cask Strength 2021 is it any good? Can it possibly live up to the hype?
The release is composed of 1st fill oloroso sherry casks and is bottled at 56.8% ABV. Released last week for a shy under £50 at good retailers and more than £50 at the bad ones – alas you’ll now have to be scouting the auction sites to find a bottle. Or maybe....not.
Nose: Chocolate-dipped BBQ short ribs alongside vegetal asides of wet leaves and moist soils. Dark fruit – blackberries and lingonberries join spent espresso beans whilst balsamic, burnt toast and bicycle inner tubes provide a selection of highly reductive aromas. Peat smoke pervades but never dominates – fireplace cinders and smouldering leaf mulch. Alongside – brown sugar crusted tart cases, tobacco leaves and rancio. Dilution offers a combination of nutty and umami aromas – dry roasted peanuts and miso paste.
Taste: Instantly volcanic on the arrival – salt peter and lighter flint striker – alongside powerful charred sherry wood. A selection of black and red berries are reduced into jams and preserves, whilst dark high-cocoa % chocolate sits alongside expressive cinnamon, ginger and pepper. Earthiness is revealed in the development – damp cellars and potting sheds – before a return to richness with burnt sticky toffee pudding. The addition of water offers old fashioned dry, nutty oloroso sherry - but with a tangible sulphidic vein running throughout.
Finish: Extremely long, berries and chocolate gradually sour alongside persistent ashy smoke.
The 2021 Edition of Kilkerran 8 year old Cask Strength offers things to be excited about – there’s a profound, dense flavour and intensity throughout, coupled with more than enough of a helping of both sherry and peat smoke. With a retail price of sub-£50, you’re getting quite a lot of whisky for your money. However, those expecting the same levels of accomplishment as the previous edition might well end up feeling pangs of disappointing with this follow-up – especially if purchased on the secondary market at a premium over and above the frankly reasonable (on paper) asking price.
There’s a discernibly sulphurous edge that runs throughout and is particularly expressed on the arrival to the palate. This is both a detraction and an obvious imbalance. Whilst it provides the whisky with a dirty edge that many will be looking for, it does so in a jarring fashion that presents as an addition, not as an amalgamation. Don’t get me wrong, there’s tons of impactful tastiness here – but for me, this is not in the same league as its forerunner.