EXPLORING THE MYTHS AROUND THE VALUE OF WHISKY
There are so many types of whiskies on the market, so picking a quality whisky can be a challenging experience. Quite confusing. What makes some whiskies many times the price of others? Is it worth paying a premium price because a particular whisky is older? Can you judge a whisky by its label? Does being expensive mean better quality? Let's find out.
Warren Buffet said "Price is What You Pay, but Value is What You Get", and he is someone who certainly knows a thing or two about value. The value and indeed the price of a whisky is determined in large part to its unique production process. Whiskies that are matured in “first fill” casks have a distinctly earthy tone with fig, cocoa and raisin notes. Also, sherry casks are rare and more expensive to get your hands on. Such casks lend a subtlety to whiskies that is worth the premium price. You get what you pay for.
Whisky has a much longer maturation time than beer, wine or vodka, which translates to a higher cost of production as well as time to produce the same volume of whisky compared to other alcohols. This gives whisky superb value, not least because it can also be enjoyed slowly and steadily over a longer period.
Is Non-Aged Whisky Bad Whisky?
The short answer is "depends" – less time in the cask doesn't mean it's a worse whisky. Instead of just focusing on age, choose a whisky based on its flavour and the assurance of the distillery’s reputation for producing quality products.
Why do people pay more for older whisky? Take the Glenlivet 12 and 15 year old French Oak reserve single malt, for example. Both are bottled at 40% ABV, both are distilled in the Speyside whisky sub-region of the Highlands, so should be the same right? Well, the main difference is that the 15 is finished in new, uncharred Limousin oak casks, the kind used for cognac for an additional 3 years.
The result of the extra ageing and oak treatment is a whisky that invites you to take another sip because of its spice and new-oak notes and bourbon and apples flavour profile. Whether it is worth spending a little extra for these differences would depend on personal taste and budget. Up to you. It’s also worth noting that there are many excellent non-age statement whiskies that will give the more expensive ones a run for their money.
So while looking at the age of a whisky will give you a good idea of the quality and complexity of flavours to expect, you should always try and taste it for yourself and let your nose and palate decide. Don’t be so quick to judge.
Are Special Editions Worth Paying Special Prices?
Many distillers release special editions, limited editions and commemorative bottlings, so it's important to find out if it is a decorative bottle to add to your collection, or if the whisky itself is a new, different recipe. Don’t simply buy. Whichever type of limited edition you’re looking for, it’s always good to check what you’re getting for the money.
For example, do some research to see if a different maturation or vatting process was used, as this would have a direct influence of the nuance flavours of said edition.
At the end of the day, making an informed decision is the best thing you can do as you continue your journey as a whisky enthusiast.
Here's a tip on how to discover great whiskies without breaking the bank – go for free whisky tastings to taste and find out more about different whiskies. The best thing is that it is relatively low-cost and risk-free. That’s music to the ears for any Malaysian.
To wrap up, the most expensive whisky may not be the best whisky for you, so always trust your taste, do your research and don't be easily influenced by fancy labels and expensive prices, because it's what on the inside that counts. For more whisky mythbusting, head on to Busting Whisky Myths in Asia.