Heedless harbingers

Posted 26 September 2023 by Matt / In Tamdhu
The Dramble reviews The Bramble Whisky Company Tamdhu 8 year old

Bottle Name: Tamdhu 2014

ABV: 51%
Distillery: Tamdhu
Bottler: Bramble Whisky Company
Region: Speyside Age: 8
Glass Weight: 489g

I’ve written before about why I don’t believe that the growth of whisky is a bubble – at least not one analogous to the well documented crashes of financial markets and certainly not in any way comparable to tulips. Just stop. But, regardless of whether I’m right or wrong, I’m here to suggest to enthusiasts that the viewing the whisky market as some form of boil that requires lancing is an immense mistake.

No well-reasoned analysis of a market is complete without due consideration of the events that have both encompassed and encouraged its growth. Similarly, accurate prediction of future trends is spotty at best without a keen eye on the prevalent economic and social conditions of the time. Noting that whisky prices – particularly those of the most speculative and short-sell kind (I.E. *some* perversities of the secondary market) – have softened, is not akin to the sky falling in. Nor in my view is it equitable to any sort of notion that a whisky bubble is on the verge of rupturing. Regardless – wishing for an industry crash is not something that anyone should be celebrating, nor championing. And yet I'm increasingly seeing calls for exactly this.

For today’s exercise, let’s all assume I’m wrong and whisky is in fact a bubble. According to economist Hyman P. Minsky and his 1986 book ‘Stabilizing an Unstable Economy’ a bubble possesses five distinct stages: 

  1. Displacement : Participants become enamoured by a new paradigm
  2. Boom : Prices rise. Slowly at first, but then they gather momentum as more participants enter the market
  3. Euphoria : Caution is thrown to the wind and prices skyrocket
  4. Profit-taking : Cagier participants take selling positions and withdraw their profits, recognising that the market is heading towards bursting
  5. Panic : Supply overwhelms demand. Prices reverse course and descend as rapidly as they ascended.

We’ve undoubtedly seen stages 1-3 over the last two decades, with a notable acceleration into ‘euphoria’ over the last five years. Prices have indeed skyrocketed. So, if whisky follows Minsky’s pattern, up next is a steady exiting of the market – which, when taken to its zenith leads to a collapse of prices - and therefore by extension, the creation of that new whisky loch that I’ve recently seen some of the community clamouring for.

“Hoorah” you all exclaim in joyous, eager harmony. Cheaper whisky. Less flipping. Less fighting over bottles. Fewer investment wankers. It’s back to the 1990s.

Wait. Take a step back here.

Wholesale market contraction (or indeed collapse) would have far reaching consequences beyond the prices of your beloved bottles falling. And very few, if any of these would to my mind be positive. 

  • Those industry friends you’ve become fond of over the years – many would be looking for new jobs in other industries. A smaller market = a smaller workforce
  • The knowledge level of the industry (via those same whisky industry friends) would contract. A smaller workforce = a loss of vocational skills and expertise
  • The glut of diverse releases and thought-provoking combinations of distillates and casks – there would be less of these. A smaller market = more focus on core business
  • Those smaller distilleries you’ve always supported - some of them will go to the wall. A smaller market = tougher competition for niche products
  • Those regular festivals and tastings – there would fewer, smaller and they would be far more generic. A smaller market = less choice for everyone
  • Investment into R&D and innovation to make exciting new releases and push towards sustainable production – curtailed / postponed. A smaller market = efforts to cut costs
  • Those ultra-exclusive bottles you’ve always bitterly rued not being able to afford – you still can’t afford them. A smaller market = still no reason for businesses to give stuff away 

It is a folly to think that pricing can return to the age of whisky naivety without much of the industry itself reverting likewise. The two are synonymous – for better and for worse. I don’t disagree that price corrections (in some quarters…that £10K bottle was *never* for you) are required – least of all to ensure the long-term sustainability of whisky vis-à-vis encouraging new enthusiasts to join the journey we’ve all enjoyed so much ourselves. However, I rail – quite strongly in fact – against the belief that whisky fans should be gleefully embracing the end times. I’d posit that purchasing your 15 year old wotsit for 50% of its current RRP is in no way worth the wider repercussions that such a comprehensive price collapse would produce. indeed, that 15 year old wotsit likely would not exist and be available were it not for the growth and present shape of the industry.

As whisky fans, despite what you might think, we’ve all benefitted from the boom of the last 20 year – through greater choice, experience, friendship and fond memories. I’m as eager as the next person to not pay well over the odds for my whisky – but at the same time, it would be a lot of lovely whisky babies to throw out purely as a sop to better priced bathwater.

I don’t doubt that some of the fervour for “the collapse” is at least partially well-intentioned – a recognition that in many cases prices *have* become a barrier to both enjoyment and exploration. Equally, most folks are rightly reasonable with reasonable price rises and far more unreasonable with the unreasonable ones. Fair's fair. Advocating and championing ‘value’ – however you individually gauge that – is absolutely to be commended and encouraged. But it is a far cry from vocalising for industry prostration.

Be careful what you wish for, you may receive it.

 ………………………….

In far more cheerful reporting, today I’m diving into Bramble Whisky Company’s fifth single cask release – a 2014 oloroso sherry hogshead matured Tamdhu. I’ve had this sat on my desk for ages…but as you likely know by now, things have continued to be ’busy’. Anyhow, 340 bottles at 51% ABV and a notably loud label featuring what appears to be a three-eyed gorilla. Reasons. Bottles are still available via Mothership for £74.50. Let’s tuck in…

Nose: Surprisingly dainty. Toffee cups and marmalade sit with delicate hedgerow berries and a leafy, saline (rather divergent from the expected oloroso) sherry. In support - cloth sacking and freshly baked toast. The addition of water reveals yeasty bread and French crepes alongside dusty berries and dessicated orange peels.

Taste: Sticky on arrival and indeed quite oily throughout. Fizzing oakiness presents as orange sherbet whilst light, leafy sherry again presents salinity - blind, I'd be guessing this was matured in a flor sherry. Cream toffee and eucalyptus join cinnamon and mace, whilst lollipop sticks assert the cask's wood further. Reduction here emphasises the wood over everything else and as such results in a higher degree of dryness and grip - however it does also express minted berries and oily raspberry compote. Nevertheless, the presented ABV is really as low as I'd personally go.

Finish: Fairly short with gentle cinnamon, residual minty elements and freshly saw 2x4.

Bramble's Tamdhu is a rather divergent offering. Its delicate sherry (despite 8 years full-term) feels both unconnected to the listed oloroso cask type and likewise is expressed so lightly that one might wonder how much activity was remaining in the cask....and potentially what was filled into this wood prior to the oloroso. Nevertheless, the quiet cask influence is quite enjoyable from an easy drinking perspective and the bottling strength of 51% is well-suited to the presentation.

Action-packed sherried Tamdhu is certainly well available in the various OBs being produced by the resurgent distillery. This is rather different to that modern house style. A bit of unlikeness can be a fine thing once in a while.

Score: 84/100


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