Black Friday will see millions scouring the Internet for a good deal. In many ways, it’s not really all that different to being locked inside a house for the best part of a year – only it has a name and there’s an underlying belief that there’s a genuine bargain to be had. The problem with any sale, offer or promotion is that it supposes that we’re making a saving on something we actually need or desire. Feverish new TV purchases (every year), fisticuffs in the aisles and an ungodly number of whisky offers - many of which don’t even amount to a pint of warm beer - all stand to establish the consumer reality. For the most part, deals will not save you money. They may help you spend less money – but when it comes to grand offers like Black Friday, the chances are, you’re actually looking at things that yesterday you had no interest in.
Humans are hardwired to have faith in the power of ‘the deal’. The nucleus accumbens is a key part of the brain that controls emotional and motivational processing, modulating reward and pleasure and serving as a limbic-motor interface (it has a significant function in addiction). When you seek out that latest bottle of whisky, or an incomprehensively good deal the regulation of dopamine is affected, and the release of the neurotransmitter is increased. In other words, you feel good about yourself and your decision. The converse is also true – if you miss what you perceive to be a potential reward, dopamine is inhibited – and you’ll feel sad.
Purchasing decisions are of course not always straight-forward and often other parts of your head will chime in for their say. The insula within the brain will tell you to exercise caution and not to pay for an item just because it’s on sale. The insula controls pain – and it associates paying as a painful exercise. Rightly so. The medial prefrontal cortex then jumps in and adopts a negotiator role – it takes the pleasure from the nucleus accumbens and the pain from the insula and balances out the two arguments into a decision. In real life terms we’ve all experienced (unconsciously) this happening…..you’re walking to the till to buy something and on the way, you change your mind. There, brain stuff. Fascinating. But we’ll move on…
For many years the immediate holiday after Thanksgiving which caused an explosion of consumer purchasing was called Christmas. However, this non-retail themed event was deemed insufficient in its abilities to line the coffers. And so, a new consumer ritual was born – the earliest recorded occurrence being in 1951 and here in the UK not until 2010. Its name stemmed from the day when retailers accounts moved from the red into the black. A righteous occasion to mark by encouraging shoppers to spend even more money. Honestly, it’s almost Ferengi in its conception.
The love of apparent bargains is what drives the Black Friday frenzy (which I’m interested to see in the rear-view mirror of a notably subdued 2020 event). And whilst almost everyone enjoys saving money – only roughly half of the consumer population are adequately prone to a deal to a level where it can break down the normal logical functioning of their brains. And Black Friday, where everything is a deal, offers the ideal environment for the deal-prone to get swept away. I.E. buying stuff purely because it is on sale. The deals themselves distorting the decision-making process.
Retailers and of course, us dirty marketeers, encourage and cultivate this behaviour further. “Last chance to buy”, “Today only” – or in whisky terms “Limited edition”, “Special release”, “Rare, hand-selected wotsit”. And this adds a frisson to Black Friday – it generates the excitement for those who cannot resist bargain-hunting and it also contributes to persuading consumers to act impulsively. Just the nucleus accumbens please – you can switch off the other bits for the time being.
The issue I have with Black Friday whisky deals is that most of them suck. £5 off a bottle (I've seen this 3 times already this morning) I have no interest in is not going to provide me with any form of temptation. But for some, it most certainly will. You only have to look at 2020s whisky frenzy – when folks were locked in, bored out of their minds and resorting to buying anything and everything (all of the time), to realise quite how potent a supposed good deal can be. I suspect a fair number of whisky enthusiasts will be going into today determined to buy something, come rain or shine….it is Black Friday after all.
Fortunately, some producers and retailers take a different view of the annual celebration of consumerism – at least in terms of what they’re offering. And as opposed to presenting drinkers with an identical £5 discount that’s just branded as a “Black Friday” deal – The Whisky Exchange’s decision to mark the occasion with a unique bottle gets my consumerist vote. Now into its fifth year (we’ve reviewed all of them – 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020) the series has provided a consistently high quality selection - all of which (to a varying degree) has possessed a sound value proposition.
This year’s bottling is perhaps the most mysterious to-date. And it’s also the most expensive – but only just. Gone are the hints within the press release that make guessing the producing distillery a mere matter of either geography or history. Indeed, there are a number of sites who potentially could fit the profile offered by this undisclosed bottling. 2021’s Black Friday Edition is – Speyside Distillery 22 year old. A release of 1,800 bottles vatted from an unspecified number of casks of an unspecified type. It’s bottled at its natural strength of 49.2% ABV and will be available online from 6am this morning (I.E when this piece was posted) until it sells out – which if history is followed again will be somewhere around breakfast time for most people. Then, from 11am the London store allocation will go live. I've no clue of the allocations of online vs physical shops - but you should expect the majority to be on the TWE website - whilst they last.
At £110 it’s £10 more expensive than last year’s 22 year old Ardmore and £30 more expensive than 2019’s similarly aged Glenburgie. So notionally it comes with a reasonable price, but not necessarily the obvious (relative) good price of previous years.
Those interested will find the product on The Whisky Exchange’s Black Friday page.
Nose: Opening with honied and polished fruits – pink apples, pineapple chunks and Comice pears – all muddled in rich juicy syrup. Nougat joins the party alongside golden sultanas, macerated orange peels and well-sheened oak. In the background – delicate asides of dried reeds, marzipan and Muller Banana Corner. The addition of water reveals buttercream and wafer biscuits alongside dusty wood.
Taste: The arrival is textural offering an equal amalgam of mouthcoating creaminess and oiliness. Fruit still leads with apple and pear fruit salad sitting alongside a glug of mango juice and a bowl of banana custard. The development offers a foil in the form of lacquered oak, milky coffee, espresso beans and cinnamon spiced chocolate. Dilution retails the fruit-led profile. Indeed, it lasers the focus purely onto it – reducing the darker notes of coffee and chocolate, and heightening the juiciness of the underlying distillate. Tangerines, quince and balled melon are most welcome additions.
Finish: Medium to long. Sweet and tart with lingering bright fruit and resinous with well-worn oak.
Whilst not exactly a steal on paper, the quality of TWE’s 2021 Black Friday bottling comes through clearly within the glass. The retailer has released a raft of fruit-driven distillates over the last month and this undisclosed Speysider sits amongst the best of that bunch. When proffered a reasonably aged mystery bottling, one of the key things I’m looking for as a reviewer is the interpretation of that age vis-à-vis the profile of the unknown distillate. And here the bright polished surfaces mingle outstandingly with the fruit-forward nature of the spirit. Exceedingly harmonious. There are far worst reasons to get up at 6am.
Review sample provided by The Whisky Exchange