Luxury means different things to different people. It could be brand heritage. It could be artisan craftsmanship. It could be attention to detail. It could be about rarity. It might even be about the feel good factor you get when you treat yourself.
But what luxury definitely is not about is the price tag. And some whisky companies in particular could do well to remember that expensive doesn’t mean luxurious.
Before I continue my very personal view on the unjustified pricing of many whiskies, I must come clean and admit a vested interest. I am partly responsible for creating this price led madness because I used to work for The Dalmore and I was instrumental in creating hype like this and like this.
The Dalmore is a truly amazing brand and liquid. It has a genuine history and heritage that most luxury firms would kill for – or pay a marketing agency vast sums of money to fabricate. And the whisky is nurtured and cared for by one of the best master distillers in the business, Richard Paterson.
But despite this pedigree, The Dalmore has become synonymous with expense, ostentation and crassness rather than the true luxury brand it so desperately wants to be. And perhaps even worse, those in the sector who truly believe in and deliver luxury view the “king of malts” as the malt which wears the emperor’s new clothes.
Take their collection created for Harrods which retails at £987,500. From concept to completion it took a matter of months not years, and the price tag seemed to be plucked out of thin air, purely designed to grab attention rather than being representative of the care, commitment, craft and attention paid to making real luxury feel real.
And then there was the exclusive Dalmore expression created for Schiphol airport which eventually sold for £250,000. To justify that price they added a 1.83 carat diamond to the bottle. It sat spinning in its glass sarcophagus – a whisky expert’s description not mine – for nearly two years before being sold. I can’t think of many truly desirable luxury items that sit on the shelf that long.
True luxury whisky brands do exist – The Macallan, Glenmorangie, Johnnie Walker, Chivas Regal – and if the uber rich are willing to part with a six figure sum for a bottle of whisky, who are we to criticise? Fair play to them. Somebody needs to meet that demand, but it should be brands that genuinely live in that world with real substance, not just ridiculous price tags.
With real luxury brands, pricing is the last piece of the puzzle – almost an afterthought – because the focus is on creating the very best product available without compromise. When price becomes a starting point, then that product does not deserve to be classed as luxurious. It is nothing more than an opportunist brand riding on the coat tails of those that do commit, invest and make the effort to be luxurious in every sense of the word.
So if you can afford to pay thousands for a bottle of whisky, all power to you. Just make sure you choose the brands that really do understand, invest in and care about the things you care about. And I guarantee that the one thing you won’t care about – and they won’t either – is price.
And if you can’t afford to buy the top of the range stuff, take comfort from the fact that some brash oligarch somewhere is getting ripped off for a trophy bottle that will never be opened. All the while you are sipping, savouring and enjoying your favourite affordable dram. Now that is true luxury!