My Whisky Buying Strategy: A Rethink

Apologies for the long delay between posts – we were so busy this Christmas that even though we had taken on several extra staff,  I was still relieved of my normal duties and spent most of the last six weeks of the year running around in our warehouse and showroom picking orders for dispatch.  I hope you all had a great festive period and wish you all the best for 2009.

Anyway, now that the horrible first week back at work is out of the way and most of the Christmas backlog is sorted, I can get back to a bit of blogging.  One of my New Year’s resolutions is that I’m going to try and get something up on here at least once a week.  It won’t necessarily be a big long post, maybe just a bit of news to stimulate discussion, but it should keep the blog ticking over.

Most of you will probably have bought yourselves something nice for the holiday, so I thought I’d share my thoughts on my Christmas whisky purchases this year, and how they have forced me to rethink my strategy on what whiskies to get each month.  I tend to buy for myself as most of my friends are a bit nervous about getting me whisky in case I don’t like it.  This year, though, I managed to make the wrong decisions all by myself.

I feel that I should confess here that, since I spend at least half of every month in a state approaching penury, I’m not really qualified for much discussion on buying top-end malts and the ins and outs of whisky investment. In the interests of fairness and proper disclosure, I should also point out that my impecuniousness is due entirely to my own profligacy rather than a meager wage packet.  I’m fairly paid; it’s just that I have an active social life, expensive tastes and very little self-control.  In other words, I’m terrible with money.

Karuizawa 1971 and Nikka Yoichi 1987: Mmmm

Karuizawa 1971 and Nikka Yoichi 1987: Mmmm

To this day, I have only ever paid three figures for a single bottle once, and that was just a few months ago – a bottle of Karuizawa 1971.  I’d already tasted it and I knew it was wonderful, but blowing more than a day’s pay on one bottle was a new experience for me. It felt good, but in a naughty way; I felt the frisson of an acceptable transgression. I haven’t opened it yet, but I may have to soon – it’s been showered with plaudits since I got it, and I’m worried that if I keep it too long it might get so valuable that I couldn’t drink it with a clear conscience.  I’d make a terrible banker.  This is why I have no savings.

Now, I would guess that my average spend on a bottle of whisky is around £25-£35 (including my staff discount!).  However, in this price range if one is buying new releases, one is always taking a risk.  The last two bottles I’ve bought in this price range (Campbeltown Loch 30yo and the Bruichladdich Bourbon Cask 16yo) have been pretty disappointing.   Neither were really bad whiskies, but they just weren’t as good as I wanted them to be.   It’s not a disaster, as I will probably end up doing a bit of experimental blending with some of my other open bottles to pep them up a bit (see a very interesting discussion on this subject here), but it is a bit annoying.

Bruichladdich 16yo & Campbeltown Loch 30yo: Hmmm

Bruichladdich 16yo & Campbeltown Loch 30yo: Hmmm

On the other hand, on the few occasions when I have spent more than my normal top limit (about £50), I’ve ended up with really tremendous malts, worth every penny.  At the same time as I bought the ‘Laddie and the Campbeltown Loch, I also bought a single cask Yoichi 1987 at around £75 as a special Christmas pressie for myself (I never normally spend so much in one month, but I was due a healthy bit of overtime in December so I felt justified in indulging myself).  It is fabulous.

Now, I accept that this is the risk one takes when buying whisky without having already tasted it, but it is all rather galling: for the price of the first two whiskies mentioned above I could have had another really decent bottle, and it’s made me wonder if I’m perhaps sacrificing quality for quantity in my whisky collection.  Certainly if I had the choice again, I’d swap both of the cheaper bottles for another bottle of that Yoichi in a heartbeat.

It’s made me really think about how I spend my whisky budget in future.  I don’t drink huge amounts of whisky at home, normally waiting until I have friends round; and I already have about 15 bottles open that need drinking up.  In these financially gloomy times, I’m going to experiment with a new policy of ‘House’ and ‘Guest’ drams.

I have a few bottles in reserve of what I consider to be my ‘house’ whiskies; these are well-priced drams (not all of which are single malts) that won’t break the bank and which I would always enjoy at home without feeling guilty or selfish, but which I would also never be ashamed to give to guests.  If anyone’s interested, my current house drams are Laphroaig Quarter Cask, Glenlivet Nadurra and Redbreast 12yo.   I think I’ve got most bases covered with these three, and if I have a big night with friends it’s not the end of the world if one of them gets finished: they are affordable bottles and are frequently on offer somewhere if one looks hard enough.

Laphroaig Quarter Cask, Glenlivet Nadurra and Redbreast 12yo: Sorted

Laphroaig Quarter Cask, Glenlivet Nadurra and Redbreast 12yo: Sorted

So, I have the house drams in place.  Starting from this month, instead of buying two £25-40 malts to bulk out my collection, I will spend the money on just one ‘Guest’ bottle at around £50-£80.  This way I will always have my house drams to fall back on, but still have something a bit special to offer to friends.  Also,  I should survive the recession without having to compromise on quality (or cut back on my consumption!).

Does anyone else use this system, and if so, how are you finding it?  What should I put in my underperforming purchases to liven them up?  To my mind, there’s very few things that couldn’t be improved with the addition of a dram of Talisker 10yo (I include myself in this statement) and I have a nearly-full bottle open, so that’s probably my first experiment.  Please feel free to share your malt-buying strategy or vatting experiments in the comments section below.

I’ve also added a poll on the right hand side of the page: how much have you blown on a malt for drinking?  Please note that this does not include drams that you thought were investments but then later decided to open!  You have to have always intended to drink it – we’re only interested in deliberate, unashamed hedonism here, not foolish mistakes.

Slainte,

Tim F

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