In no real surprise to anyone, this year’s Black Friday looks a lot more like a Cyber Monday amid COVID. More toilet paper or another discounted TV? Tough call. And as such, throughout the wider world of retail, what was previously a short pre-Christmas fire sale has morphed into near month-long series of mini promos. But whilst one never expects snaking cues and stampedes for whisky (except when one does), chase-y online bottle sales have been part and parcel of the whisky world for some time. Indeed, they seem now to be an almost daily occurrence. And to my mind the events of this year have both heightened and exacerbated this phenomenon.
2020 has disrupted the competitive landscape and market dynamics of world whisky. The last time I ventured through the weirdness that is global travel retail was back in February. Seen any travel exclusives being announced recently? It was a sizeable, lucrative market segment (and it will be again in time). And that’s saying nothing of friends in the beleaguered bar industry. But the economic forecasts and projections don’t paint quite such the gloomy picture when the whisky market is looked at as a whole. Whilst some parts of the industry have been significantly deflated over the past nine months, sales projections – particularly of higher end (you might call it premium, or ultra-premium, or ultra-mega-extra-special premium) still seem exceedingly buoyant across a variety of territories.
There seems to be a small army of you sat at home (because you have to) – spending even more hours of the day scouting out and purchasing whisky bottles. What was solid progress for some distilleries and product ranges has been transformed almost overnight to double digit growth. And producers have capitalised on that through re-brands, re-positionings, price-rises and an increased emphasis on FOMO-inducing limited editions.
In some ways the customer response to this feels even beyond FOMO – with some stepping dangerously close to compulsive purchase disorder. Either way, I’ve witnessed a lot of whisky purchasing taking place as an anathema to the circumstances of the times. A quick retail fix to make life at home feel a little bit more interesting. Over the course of COVID, I can see that a fair few people have amassed more bottles of whisky than it has taken me my entire adult lifetime to accumulate. Woah. Easy there.
Sales have started early in 2020 – for some an attempt to make up the ground lost earlier in the year. For others – the opportunism of the captive (literally) audience. Amazon was, in no shock, flogging “Early Black Friday” deals at the start of November. But ‘a sale’ or promotion still needs to offer the consumer a tangible benefit. There are a limited number of people out there who will only buy a £100 product when its advertised as “£200 reduced to £100”. And, hands up – I bit. £125 delivered for a Redbreast 21 year old is not to be sniffed at nowadays.
But what happens after? After the continuous sales that have seen November and December merge into one block of wall-to-wall purchasing? After whisky drinkers are let outside to play once again? Will they continue purchasing at the high intensity pace we’ve seen in 2020? And can/will the distilleries and bottlers keep on leveraging new releases and offers to persuade them to do so?
I dare say that both these things are likely to continue. Except in the cases where an unsuspecting partner has found what was described as a “few new bottles” but is in actual fact a scale replica of Pink Floyd’s wall. Irrespective of the current season of promotions and Christmas specials, the market for whisky seems to grow ever keener – to the point where a retailer such as The Whisky Exchange can put an ‘exclusive’ release up for sale at 6am knowing that it’ll be long sold out before Sukinder has tucked into his breakfast. Both things a good start to any day.
It’s likely that a few of you are reading this *after* having purchased your TWE Black Friday bottling. And I’d posit that the fact that this bottle is put up for sale at such an antisocial hour is partly what makes it such the draw for those who have set their alarms. Its butt-crack of dawn sale slot, amenable price, profile proposition (and the proposition offered by TWE’s long-standing reputation) and its limited nature when all combined are like honey to the whisky bee. Its become something of a ritual to some, and four years in the series is showing no signs of diminishing interest.
Sales and deals are perennially useful tools. But understanding how to appeal to your your audience is real power.
The fourth annual TWE Black Friday Edition is a 22 year old single malt that hails from a “…distillery near the Speyside borders…known for its distinctive smoky style…” Maps at the ready and answers on a postcard. 1308 bottles have been produced at an ABV of 50.5%. They’re available as of right now (and likely not for long) and cost £99.95 each directly from The Whisky Exchange website.
Nose: Fruit, resinous, vegetal and rather polished. Apples and peaches alongside confectionary sweetness – crunchy toffee with green and orange Starburst chews. Alongside pine – both needles and tree spa – together with a bundle of freshly fallen autumn leaves and damp soils. Herbalness follows – mint and lightly seasoned mixed salad leaves with a scattering of more floral potpourri. Lemon zest grows after a period of resting, whilst smoke runs across – both delicate and at the same time somewhat greasy. The addition of water reveals a more substantive peat influence – spent wood fires – together with citrus-led fruitiness – orange liqueurs and yellow jelly babies.
Taste: Opening with tart apples and trimmed grass, relaxed and refined earthy, vegetal peat smoke puffs across the palate. Ferns, bracken and mossiness sits with leaf mulch whilst brass polish is joined by sharp and tart lacquered oak. Sweetness develops with meringue, cider and lemon gel, set against a backdrop of light spice – anise and angelica – and dryness. Reduction offers both additional smokiness with felt roofing and residue tarriness, whilst also presenting more of a cask – dusty, but prominent, nevertheless.
Finish: Medium and featuring spent firepit kindling, damp soils and pleasantly lingering orchard fruitiness.
This year’s TWE Black Friday Edition is quite possibly the most intellectual release in the series to date. And as such, unravelling all of its mysteries takes a little patience. Age has treated the spirit kindly, tempering what was once a pronounced peat influence into a sympathetic, but supporting role. And this in turn has allowed more of the natural fruity qualities of the distillate to take centre stage alongside the influence of a largely amiable selection of ex-bourbon casks. This said, the back-palate presents dryly, so for me it’s not quite a complete slam dunk of a vatting. But I’m quibbling here – this is arguably very good and well worth your time.
Fans of this well-aged and therefore relaxed variant of the vegetal Highland peated style (myself included) will find much to enjoy here – and, true to the spirit of this TWE series, the asking price represents solid value when compared to other similarly aged bottlings of this type and quality. Like the three years preceding it, I doubt this will hang around all too long. Off you pop.
Review sample provided by The Whisky Exchange