Not all whisky releases were born equal as some of those releases are highly sought after for various reasons such as excellence, investment, collectability, distillery preference, etc. But setting price to such whiskies is a tricky job. Take the new Springbank Local Barley 16 YO as an example.
The Springbank Local Barley series has a great reputation, and Springbank has a large group of loyal followers and since the last LB bottling was in 2001, it’s understandable why it flew off the shelves in a matter of hours, even with quite a large batch size of 9000 bottles and a RRP of £95. But that price tag caught my eyes and invoked the musings in the next few paragraphs.
If you look at that price, isolating it from the hype parameters (distillery name, provenance, etc), you’d instantly think it’s too expensive. Come on, you wouldn’t pay that sum for a 16 year old ex-bourbon whisky from an anonymous distillery, right? I know I’d pay maybe £50 or £60 for such whisky but no more. But instead, we faced a price tag £35-£40 higher than what reasonably expected.
I’ve seen a couple of threads on the internet where people were trying to justify the pricing of the local barley release:
- Extensive labor due to 100% floor malting – I Can’t believe it was raised as an excuse as it’s totally irrelevant. Springbank have always done some floor malted barley, so it was a matter of having a dedicated malting run (or two) to this whisky instead towards other expressions, but the labor is the same so no real extra cost.
- Compensating the local farmers that grew the barley instead of more profitable crops (a hearsay from a Cadenhead person (without delving into extract details, have the same owners as Springbank) – Hmm, that might means something, right? Let’s check the facts. To produce 9000 bottles at cask strength, we need 6300 liters from the casks, factor in the angels share and extra overhead and a 8000 liter base figure makes sense. Based on a avg yield of 410 liters of alcohol from one ton of malted barley, means we needs 20 ton of barley. 1 ton of barley costs about £82-£85 and according to my back of the envelope calculation comes to about 30 acre that supplied it. Just how much more can we expect the farmers to get for other crops on that land size? 30% more? 50%? so extra £500-1000 which means less than 10 penny per bottle! Even taking it to the extreme means no more than £1-£2 per bottle.
But you know what I think? I think we shouldn’t try to rationalize the Local Barley pricing at all!
Springbank didn’t raise their core line up prices in the last two years (a fact they publicly protested following Michael’s review on the local barley), but that means that when it comes to special editions, the gloves are off and it’s a whole new game so they can charge us whatever they want to and it’s up to us to agree and buy it or leave it on the shelves.
But I think Springbank has played their cards here perfectly. They managed to set the price at a reasonable level as it hovers on the high-end limit of the VFM scale and below the £100 price tag which is a psychological barrier to shoppers. They knew it will be a sought after bottle, even if the limited edition is quite large and that it will sell like hot cakes out of the oven so they went ahead and set a price which will bring extra profit and won’t be (too) questioned by shoppers.
Remember: Distilleries can do whatever they want, it’s up to us to decide what to buy and drink.
Springbank 16 Year Old Local Barley (54.3%)
Nose: You can’t mistake this for something else with the Campbeltown dirtiness that is all over the nose. It’s oily with engines fumes, wood smoke, sweet honey, vanilla pods, a bit vegetal (green tomatoes), sweet peat, and overall a classic Springbank.
Palate: Sweet and that dirtiness, barley sugar, honey and vanilla, sweet peat, engine oil. Once again, a Springbank.
Finish: Medium length, lingering spiciness and dirtiness, sweet sugar and honey.
Thoughts: It’s a lovely and classic Springbank whisky with all that dirtiness and vegetal notes. But it’s definitely not a whisky that will cause an epiphany. If you got a bottle (or two) at RRP, you have a very good whisky and you weren’t quite robbed. However, if you buy it at the secondary market or at higher price, I hope you know what you are doing.