How much is too much?

I was privileged a few weeks ago to attend the launch of Pride 1981, the new glittering gem in the Glenmorangie crown.  I say privileged because at R30 000 per bottle, and with only 1000 bottles available worldwide (and – at this stage – only one in South Africa), I am destined to be amongst the rare few ever to taste this whisky.  It’s my guess that this is a big part of what Pride is about: making people feel special.

Hot chicks. Is there anything they can't sell?

I can, with little persuasion, wax lyrical about this wonderful whisky and I will be doing so.  It is without a doubt magnificent.  But, let’s not deny it, its single most remarkable attribute, jumping out at you suddenly like sixteen men in the dark Scottish night, is its price.   It’s bloody expensive.  Insanely expensive!  But then any whisky costing what I’d anticipate spending to refurbish a bathroom seems excessive to me.  Sadly, I’m simply not in this league…or anywhere near it for that matter.  Nevertheless, in the pursuit of objectivity, to give Pride and its hefty price tag a fair shake, I decided to cast myself in the role of a realistic potential buyer.  As a suave Bugatti driving, supermodel dating, beachfront habitating, yacht sailing, island owning, whisky loving billionaire, would Pride get me reaching for my Hermes wallet?

Wow!

To answer this question I had evaluate how the whisky stacks up against its peers.  This required a little twenty-first century window shopping (Windows browsing?).  Strap yourselves in.

I based my review on an analysis of the following criteria:

Style and scarcity – Pride is a vintage, single malt Scotch whisky.  This means that all of the liquid used in the bottling of Pride was distilled in the same year, specifically 1981.  The typical single malt will usually combine whiskies of different ages from distillations having occurred in different years.  This is done to ensure consistency of flavour from bottling to bottling.  Vintage whiskies are unique in flavour, and usually very limited in quantity, hence they attract a premium.  Pride – with a release of 1000 1L bottles – is indeed limited, but not really limited enough to justify its price.  Other heavyweights punching in this class – such as the Dalmore 1974 Aurora and the Talisker 1973 – were limited to 200 and 100 70cl bottles respectively, so considerably more exclusive.  It should also be noted that many of Pride’s contemporaries are single casks, a style that appears to command an additional premium.  I personally don’t see the justification.  In commercial terms a vintage is by definition equivalent to a single cask (or maybe not: I guess there’s always the possibility of releasing more of a vintage, whereas once a single cask is done, it’s done).   Whichever, the fact is that these further diminish Pride’s claims on the basis of this criterion.  If we were to stop the analysis here this wouldn’t seem to be such a clever purchase.

Age – Older whiskies are typically more expensive.  Pride is a 28 year old whisky, old but not that old.  There are equivalent and older whiskies available which represent much better value for money purely given their age.  For instance I came across a Glenlivet 1965 – a 40 year old whisky – at £999.  Pride at the same outlet sells for £2450.

ABV – Ok, so now the momentum starts to swing.  Cask strength generally fetches more than standard bottling strength, because it’s the undiluted real deal.  Pride, at a whopping 56.7%, would significantly stretch my billionaire persona’s per bottle drinking pleasure.

Volume – Pride is bottled in litres.  That warrants a bottle price of up to 43% more than if it were 70cl.

Brand – Glenmorangie is single malt aristocracy, and it should be priced accordingly.  It is the natural order that a prince would be ransomed at a higher price than a peasant.  Sorry, that’s just the way it is.

Packaging – Ultra-premium products are intended to impress, and packaging has a big part to play in this regard.  Pride has some of the most elaborate packaging that I’ve ever seen in the category – the Baccarat crystal decanter and the cantilevered box set a new standard.

At this stage I was still hesitant.  There may after all be no need to reach into the pocket of my Saville Row suit.  One important bit of information was still to be considered however, and here’s where Pride really comes into its own.

Maturation – Pride is double-matured, having been accommodated for the latter iteration, a duration of some 10 years, in some very special Sauternes casks from the legendary Chateau D’Yquem vineyards.  I doubt that there’s anything out there that’s even remotely similar.  To make the matter even more compelling double-maturation (and the specific instance of it known as finishing) is unusual in older whiskies.  I’m guessing that as a whisky ages there’s increasingly more value at stake, and it becomes less and less sensible to fool around with it.  High risk deserves high rewards.  Once I’d taken into account this interesting, highly unusual ageing process and the exceptional casks in which it was executed there was only one possible conclusion: Pride is a standout.

It is this alone – the quality and rarity of its maturation – that seals the deal.  It might be expensive, but justifiably so.

Now that that’s settled onto the whisky itself.  I’ll keep my musings down to two impressions:

–        Firstly, this is a rich, intense whisky.  It is magnetic, commanding of attention, all-consuming.  It brooks no distractions.  Perhaps it was the hype, perhaps the dramatic pre-amble, or even the knowledge that this would be my first and last dram of Pride, whatever it was, and I believe that the flavour had no small part to play, I was fixated on it with single-minded focus, drawn to it like a moth to a flame.  The experience was almost spiritual.

–        Secondly, the fruity, jammy, treacly flavours reminded me, quite strikingly, of a delicious, dense, dried-fruit compote that was part of my Mom’s culinary repertoire back in the day.  I was transported to my youth as I nosed and sipped, and nursed the precious dregs.  All that was missing was the “crème à la vanille” by which that compote was usually accompanied.  Mmm, I’m licking my lips as I’m writing this…

The long and short of it, as I mentioned at the beginning of the post, is that Pride is magnificent.  If you’ve got the dough then I strongly recommend that you don’t miss the show.  If you don’t got the dough, then you may want to try Nectar D’Or, the budget version of Pride, 10 year old Glenmorangie Original finished in Sauternes casks for some 2 years, a fine whisky that I’ve often enjoyed, but poured for me immediately after my dram of Pride had expired it lacked its usual lustre.  How easy it is to become accustomed to the finer things…

Photos are courtesy of David Lazarus, with special thanks to Patrick Leslie.

Our charming host and hostess, Niel Hendriksz and Karen Fullerton from Glenmorangie.

Fiona MacDonald from Whisky Magazine and some guy whose name I don't know. Wait, hang on, it's Marcus.

SA whisky legend Bernard Gutman. Seems he prefers his whisky with a twist 🙂

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10 responses to “How much is too much?

  1. Another great read. And an extremely flattering description of me! Summer is here and I will be enjoying many a whisky cocktail – a nice light whisky with ginger beer and slices of orange.

  2. Such a great post, Patrick! You have a great outlook and there’s an easy flow to your writing makes it really fun to read while also being educational. Thanks for the info & the laughs!

    • Thanks for the kind words WW – I’m very flattered and I’m glad you enjoyed it. Stay on goods terms with the Glenmo people in your part of the world, this is a whisky really worth sampling.

      • I will do my best! 😉 Hope it comes here… (not that I could afford it). On a slightly different subject but in the similar ball park, I had a chance to taste the Louis XIII cognac by Remy Martin this week (retails either $2300 or $3200 USD … or 19 000 or 26 000 R to you … I know, big difference but I’ll have that confirmed before I blog about it later) 😛 Quite exceptional and a few interesting nosing/tasting techniques that I’ll be writing about. They just did another bottling (apparently done once per year) so if you can go to one of their events, I strongly recommend that too!

        • I have a mate who’s constantly raving about the Louis Treize. I guess it’s one of those iconic products. Really look forward to reading your post about it. Cognac is becoming increasingly popular over here, so with luck we’ll get some tastings too. Fingers crossed!

          • Not sure it’s as good as the Pride but definitely worth experiencing. Oddly enough, I went into my favorite wine & whisky shop last night and somewhat out of the blue they started telling me about the Pride and that they were getting 1 bottle to sell! I just started laughing – I felt so “in the know” thanks to your post, which I promised to email to them later on today.

  3. Another great write-up Patrick, nicely done.

    As much as I would love to try the Pride, and I’m sure its awesome, I think the asking price is total madness. Just as a comparison, I own an independent bottling of Caol Ila 30yo, distilled in 1980, 51.9%, finished in Amarone wine casks, limited to just over 1000 bottles, selected by Jim McEwan for his Celtic Heartlands series. It ‘only’ cost me R2000 which included shipping to SA. It even comes in a decanter and smart leather presentation box (although of course nowhere near the Pride’s packaging.) Very similar characteristics, but the prices are completely incomparable.

    I know there is market for these sorts of whiskies and that Glenmo will sell all 1000 bottles, but I think its shameful. Although it may draw many uberrich to the brand, I think it creates even more detractors.

    • Thanks Marc, and thanks for taking the time to post such an interesting comment.

      It’s understandable, when people out there are starving and living in dire poverty, that one might find a certain perversity in charging R30k for a bottle – any bottle – of whisky. However these whisky brands are businesses like any other and they’re motivated by the god of this imperfect world: profit. The whole concept might be objectionable but personally I don’t really see cause for shame in this specific instance. There’s a market to be contested and Glenmorangie is staking their claim, along with Macallan, Dalmore and others. I’m guessing that they’re working on the hypothesis that for every detractor, there’ll be dozens of potential consumers (of the lesser-priced range) who’d be positively influenced by the creation of Pride (I know I was).

      The example you mention is a good value buy, no doubt, and there are similarities, but I would suggest that Pride is on a whole other level. Rightly or wrongly, as a general rule, the market seems to value proprietary bottlings from big name distilleries like Glenmorangie at a significant premium to similar spec products from second tier (am I being uncharitable?) independent bottlers like Murray McDavid. I know that you’re just trying to make a point about the extent of the disparity, but I reckon that their pedigrees are just too substantially different for comparison. I’d also venture that Pride’s maturation is considerably more “special” – that to me was the clincher in my analysis. I don’t think there’s much like it out there. There’s risk and a large opportunity cost involved in taking a thousand plus litres of Glenmorangie 18yo and putting it into expensive, exotic casks for a further 10 years, and that deserves reward.

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