There’s a common assumption that older whisky is more expensive because of the costs of maturation for additional decades. This my friends is utter rubbish. Whilst there are of course outlays involved, the cost of storing a cask over a long period is negligible. It sits in a warehouse (which the distillery has already built) quietly, occasionally being assessed both structurally and internally. The price of older whisky is based purely around the opportunity cost of not bottling that liquid earlier, the notion of it being a more limited commodity and, most importantly, the cachet of those who want to buy something ‘old’. So when Aldi releases a 29 year old whisky for less than £40, folks might start to wonder what witchcraft is at play.
Over the last 5-10 years older whisky has become much more expensive. Take a look at most well-known distilleries and you’ll see that whilst their entry-level bottlings have remained broadly within the same price brackets, at the top end, many premium and well-aged expressions have jumped in price at a staggering rate. Bunnahabhain 25, HP 30 - whilst these were never cheap, they’re now at nearly double the prices they were only a few years back. Out of the range of many consumers, even the whisky-loving ones. Whisky is booming, but the price of success is being paid solely by the consumer. And that’s not even to start to talk about the raft of ‘limited editions’ bottlings that flood the market every month – someone at HP is giddily laughing at the profits returned from their near-daily single cask series. There are of course a few distilleries bucking this trend and I regularly turn to the likes of Glen Moray for what I see as good whisky at a fair price. But, these are sadly becoming outliers in what is an increasinly profitable endeavour.
Aldi’s Glen Marnoch 29 year old was released last November as part of the supermarket’s now (seemingly?) annual selection of bonkers priced pre-Christmas spirit offerings. It was joined by Irish Reserve 26 year old (similarly outlandishly priced compared to the competition) and a much less interesting peated Highland blend - though again – it was priced at £13.49 – so beggars should not be choosers. The Glen Marnoch range doesn’t state which distillery it hails from, nor even a region (though it seems our website requires me to specify one on every posting I make so I'm guessing at Speyside!) It’s quite possible that the previous bottlings released by Aldi (12, 18, 24 and 28 year olds) have all come from different sources. The latest Glen Marnoch, which is delivered in a pointless, but very solid open wooden frame box was a release of 9,000 bottles. The price point of £39.99 turned heads and there was a near stampede at some shops to obtain one – when I was buying mine, three other chaps were all in line to nab theirs.
Given the Exchequer tax take, it seems bemusing that Aldi could possibly make a profit from this offering. Indeed, I suspect that they didn’t – but in terms of achieving headlines and brand visibility it’s a clear winner for the supermarket. Whilst there are some quarters of the whisky world who seem to think that achieving the highest possible price is something to boast about (honestly I find this behaviour quite repulsive), Aldi is playing a different game. And in doing so they’re appealing to more parts of the market than just the die-hard whisky enthusiasts. Rest assured, in a few weeks’ time when they unveil their 2018 offerings, interest levels will be high.
But, in terms of the liquid, at less than £40 for a 29 year old – surely this must be 4th fill wood juice. Despite the low cost, this was one of my most nervous purchases….
Nose: Expressive aromas of polished lemons and orchard fruits (apples and pears) – freshly picked, stewed down in to buttery crumble and served fizzing as cider/Perry. There are hints of tropical juice here too – mango. It’s all very fruity and lively at the top level. Deeper – cereals – Honey Nut Loops, mint leaves and pine needles and an interesting ‘greenness’ – part bell pepper, part mowed lawn. In the background an interesting suggestion of minerality – salt water washed shingles. All-in-all rather impressive and quite lovely with it.
Taste: Ah, it couldn’t last could it? Alas not - this is a particularly thin one. Old lemon juice, honey and oaty cereals meet with some rather tired tannic wood that has introduced plenty of vanilla into the equation. If there was ever any doubt that this was an ex-bourbon composition, doubt no more. The development is brief, but does provide a touch of shoe polish (the only real hint of the true age of this whisky on the palate), as well as slightly strange salinity – Andrews Liver Salts. Dusty peppers come in force in the back palate – building and merging with hefty tannins. It’s totally pleasant, but exceedingly wood led at this point.
Finish: Reasonably short with honey, dusty pepperiness, green herbals and dryness.
Glen Marnoch 29 year old is probably not going to replace any of your coveted three decade old whiskies – it’s thin, it lacks development and it feels rather over-exposed to ex-bourbon – particularly on the back-palate and finish. However (and it’s a big however), not only is the price ludicrously low, but the actual liquid is both pleasant and, importantly for a sub £40 bottle – stimulating. Supermarket whiskies are generally just not that interesting – this one is. Whilst you’d not guess this was 29 years of age, it does possess aromas and flavours which do suggest a longer term maturation – particularly on the nose which reminds me of some bright, fruit-driven 70s distillates. And remember – this is a supermarket brand whisky – and in those terms, it utterly slays most of the competition. It’s almost November – I’m intrigued what Aldi will be releasing next.