Whisky pricing is not an exact science. But in some instances, it can get pretty close. Whilst some smaller bottlers might seem to take the cost of a cask, divide it by the number of bottles produced and then stick a finger into the air to decide on the sticker price – most don’t. Though some of the prices I've seen lately do make you seriously wonder. When it comes to the larger players, well those guys have whole departments pouring over sales figures and competitors’ pricing to ensure that bottles their end up feeling reassuringly expensive – but still at the same time sell.
I’m extremely interested to see how enthusiasts respond to some of the near vertical price increases that are coming down the pipe in 2022 for a wide range of, well-loved, well-purchased, and up until now, well-priced bottlings. There are going to be some mouths agape and many a blog post written. You ain’t seen nothing yet, believe me.
When it comes to bottle pricing, a playbook (in the most abstract and simplistic terms) like this might have been employed previously:
a) Cost price of the bulk liquid
b) x number of years of maturation
c) x premium when not drawn from ex-bourbon
d) + Fancy packaging
e) x premium if the brand is popular (ala Macallan)
f) - regional market variations
g) Total up and add as much to this figure as you think you can get away with
But over the course of my whisky journey, and particularly within the last 5 years, price has largely been separated from the equation above. Assuming you’ve purchased or produced a cask at a cost which you feel is reasonable, bottle prices are now either what the market is prepared to pay or what the market is prepared to pay + a squeeze on top. Yes, there are calculators and matrixes in use of course – but really, when you boil it down, pricing is a construct, not an absolute.
There are only a few distilleries and bottlers remaining who are bucking this trend of rapidly escalating pricings – indeed, a factor less when this piece was originally posted 2 years ago. But when you look at the enthusiast niche of the overall market, it seems we’re all still prepared to spend more on our whisky than we were in previous years. Whilst entry level pricing has risen over the past decade (starkly if you look at it in pure percentage changes - £25 to £40 is quite the increase), it doesn’t compare to the magnitude of the increases that have been seen at what was around the £100 end of the market – these desirous, but still notionally affordable bottles have jumped up to £500+ (or in some cases far far higher) over a similar space of time. And that’s not really the cost of the bulk liquid, the years of maturation, the premium packaging or any real semblance of raw margin – that’s what the market has proven itself to being prepared to pay. We do it to ourselves.
And so, here we are again with a Boutique-y whisky that I had a right moan about when it was released in 2019.
Speyburn 10 year old Batch 3 is a release of 1,540 bottles and it clocks in at 49.5% ABV. When this piece was originally posted it was priced at £77.95 – and I thought Atom Brand had lost their minds. Folks turn to indy bottlers for numerous reasons – sampling whisky in ‘purer’ forms, eschewing OTT producer packaging, finding more spirit-forward examples of their favourite, often nowadays wood-forward whiskies. And pricing. Indy pricing is still by and large better than OB pricing.
And yet here we have a Speyburn – a distillery that, let’s be charitable, has not really captured the imagination of the market quite yet – priced at factors higher than its OB equivalent. I guess I should feel happier now as the bottle has been re-pitched down to £64.95 on Master of Malt – but honestly I still think this is a pretty fanciful ask when there are numerous equivalents (many delivered at a higher strength) costing closer to £50. Sorry Boutique-y I still don’t understand where you’ve plucked the costing on this one – has the market decided that this is what enthusiasts are willing to pay for 10 year old Speyburn? Cripes, I sure hope not.
Both Sorren at OCD Whisky and Brian at Brian's Malt Musings are undertaking the 24 days of Boutique-y this year – so after you’re done here, go check them out for some alternative views.
Nose: Bright and fresh with pear juice and creamy fudge alongside sunflower and olive oils and porridge oats. Running throughout, golden syrup, gingerbread and crumbled biscuits. The addition of water results in some rather different and thought-provoking aromas – cream cheese with tequila, lime zest and a leafy quality of basil with mint.
Taste: The arrival is quite sharp and biting – there’s an acetic tang as well as a rush of wild pepperiness. Apple and pear compote with tart gooseberries sit with toffee and crushed almonds. The mid-palate offers a slight salinity with a fizzing quality akin to a ginger infused spritzer. Reduction lessens the attack and adds a much more juicy, fresher outlook – sweet with confectionery sugars and estery fruits.
Finish: Medium and expressing pear sorbet against yoghurt creaminess and a final zing of zesty lemon.
Boutique-y’s Speyburn 10 year old Batch 3 possesses a balanced and pleasant complexion – and it’s well in-keeping with the distillery’s character. The cask hasn’t overpowered the spirit and it has to be said, that the nose is really quite moreish. However, the pricing of this thing still feels rather merciless for what it is. Whilst the reduction from £77.95 back in 2019 is certainly welcome, I still can’t see this shifting quickly. Expect further inclusions in future Advent calendars.
This piece was originally posted on 12th December 2019. It has been heavily edited.