There is a strange phenomenon afoot in the whisky world at the moment, and I don't think we have seen it reach its zenith yet.
This is of course the trend of über expensive whiskies in blinged out bottles. Now seriously expensive whiskies are not really a problem and are to be expected; in any luxury market these things are going to happen: carbon fibre racing bikes, super cars with exotic materials, handmade cameras or titanium watches.
However this trend is worrying because the emphasis is placed, not on the whisky, but on the packaging. It's all going a little Damien Hirst of late.
Recently the world's most expensive whisky (sic) was launched by the Luxury Beverage Company, and received a pretty hefty drubbing in the blogosphere, mainly because the price was pushed (rocketed more like) by the packaging.
The Isabella Original retails for £3.8 million ($6.2 million), and flaunts more than 8,500 diamonds, some 300 rubies and the equivalent of two bars of white gold all covering a fine English Crystal decanter and the Very Old Single Malt cask strength Islay whisky inside.
Each individual Isabella Islay is handcrafted to the buyer’s liking, and let's face it there are only going to be a handful of folk opening their wallets for this.
Also available is the Isabella Special Edition, which retails for £450,000 ($740,000), and boasts the finest British craftsmanship in crystal, white gold and diamond lettering. The whisky inside both the editions is also available in refills.
I just have one simple question: what is wrong with a decent decanter showing off the colour of the whisky?
Fair enough we have seen some fancy packaging recently, the Macallan Lalique, Highland Park's 50 Years Old and Glenmorangie's Pride, but the difference in all these instances, the bottles are designed to show the whisky off. Sure they had pretty impressive wrappings, but at the heart of each is the amber glow of quality liquid.
I had a meeting with Stephen Notman, our man in Shanghai, the other week and he brought news that a company is dressing up cheap young whisky in expensive clothes; bottles coated in gold, silver and other precious metals. Surely eventually this sort of marketing approach will end up tarnishing the reputation of whisky. It is time to pull back from the edge.
Interestingly none of these fancy packaged whiskies have been sent in for Whisky Mag’s new releases, even just 10ml samples of the liquid. This does make me beg the question: what is going into these expensive bottles?
To be perfectly frank this flies in the face of what I think whisky stands for, which is friendship, fun, memories and the places you drink it in. It's not about the what really, it's about the who and where. I have fond memories of drinking Talisker halfway up a hill late at night with a good friend of mine, sharing a plastic cup; not a diamond in sight.
So we have not seen the back of this latest trend, where this bottle dressing war is likely to go is anyone's guess. Let’s hope it will not come to someone releasing a moon rock encrusted, Roman period crystal bottle with four year old bulk blend in it.
Philip KirkWhisky Manager, Milroys Of Sohowww.milroys.co.ukWhat whisky have you bought to keep?
Ardbeg Provenance 1974. Folklore has it that the 70s Ardbeg were very different to today.What whisky will you sell or open soon?
Yoichi Single Cask 1991. A very interesting dram.