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Defining Rarity

如何評估威士忌的稀有度

The word ‘Rare’ is used by many distillers to position, reassure and reinforce the quality of their whisky. Today, many brands ranging from Chivas to Glenmorangie use this adjective to describe a range or to stand out from the crowd of the whisky category.

Many consumers may directly relate rarity to age. Some others look at collectability or even evaluate cask significance and yield. So how should one define and determine the mechanism to judge rarity?

Scotch whisky is the most heavily legislated spirit in the world. This is part of the formula that continues to make Scotch so respected and enjoyed the world over. From ensuring a 12 year old blend actually holds such age or above, to implementing new legislation, the industry is closely monitored. However, it may come as a surprise that the word ‘Rare’ is not covered in such industry guidelines leading to a greater interpretation of this adjective. 

Ultra deluxe blend Johnnie Walker Blue Label who holds the adjective at the very heart of its branding is first under the spot light.

Johnnie Walker’s Global brand ambassador Jonathan Driver acknowledges that rarity can be achieved in a variety of ways that include defining it by availability and limited quantities. Driver however goes further by emphasising ‘Rarity can be about the flavours of character that for unknown reasons are one of a kind.’ In order to achieve this, Blue Label places Craftsmanship, Character and Rare casks at the very heart of their case for noting that one in only 10,000 contain sufficient character to achieve the overall finish.

Glenmorangie’s latest release treads similar boards to that of Blue Label. The distiller agrees that age does not fully define rarity but it is the selection of rare and coveted casks that truly defines it. The new release, Glenmorangie Pride 1981 is matured in Chateau D’Yquem Sauternes barrels (the only wine to be awarded the Premier Cru Superieur rating in Bordeaux). Unlike Blue Label that holds no age statement and is also found globally in the vast majority of duty free outlets, Glenmorangie Pride is a vintage from 1980 and is limited to 1,000 bottles.  

“The word ‘rare’ can be, and is often, sloppily and inaccurately applied to give an impression of rarity where it does not actually exist’ is a strong opening statement from Director of Fine & Rare Whiskies for the Macallan David Cox. The Macallan which consistently sits at the number one spot for whisky collectibles & auctions only applies the word ‘rare’ to expressions outside of its core range.  Rare is only placed on such products that are in limited supply or often the product of a single cask or a vatting of a few casks that by definition may not be repeated. 

The Macallan Fine & Rare collection made of 48 different vintages is one of the most extensive ranges of vintage single malt whisky. Scarcity of certain vintages even led to the distillery buying back in bottles from a private collector reinforcing Cox’s remarks that “The Macallan will only apply such an adjective to a product that is in fact, genuinely scarce. ”

Like many whisky commentators this is the point where I would be examining my notes and concluding that ‘Rarity’ is open to interpretation… but on this occasion, I have my own analysis of what is Rare! The selected examples in the article are ‘rare’ in their own right. I would also like to state that there are different levels of rarity.

Experimenting with different casks, running heavily peated new make spirit, or altering the fermentation times are just a handful of examples of experiments from thirty years ago.  Today these experiments have delivered phenomenal results that can be marketed as rare craftsmanship or cask selection. Whilst I agree this is unique, this is only a part of the overall equation in gaining the highest form of rarity.

In order to give such honour a unique quality is a pre requisite. One that creates real value that is often associated with collectability. In my view, Vintage Single Cask bottlings from silent stills (Closed/ Demolished Distillers) offer such remedy. A Single Cask can capture cask experimentation and only yields small quantities; a vintage can capture a historic occasion of the distillery’s past and coming from a demolished distillery you are assured that overall scarcity will increase as years go by. This is also the reason why ‘The John Walker’ (the most premium Blue Label offering) is priced so expensively containing a blend of 9 silent stills.

Clearly this philosophy is open to analysis and with Macallan, Bowmore & Springbank fetching the highest prices at auctions is a testament to that!

So whether we define rarity for investment, drinking or reinforcing purchase we all have different motivations and views of how well we truly define a whiskies rarity!

 

「稀有」一詞經常被蒸餾廠用於市場定位、或加強品牌形象等。不論是芝華士或格蘭傑,都樂於運用「稀有」來描繪旗下某些系列的產品。

部分飲家可能將「稀有」跟威士忌的「年齡」掛勾,有些則以「收藏價值」、木桶的質素或生產量去評價。究竟我們該怎樣去定義「稀有」威士忌?

蘇格蘭威士忌是世界上受法例規管最嚴格的烈酒。這是蘇格蘭威士忌廣受青睞和尊重的原因之一。從威士忌年份到草擬新法例,整個行業都受到嚴謹的規管,可是偏偏沒有守則規範使用「稀有」二字,因此酒商可以任意演繹和延伸「稀有」的意義。

尊尼獲加旗下高端系列藍牌威士忌就是其中一個將「稀有」二字發揚光大的產品。

尊尼獲加國際品牌大使Jonathan Driver坦言,「稀有」形象可以經限量版等方式塑造,但強調口味和個性也是重要元素。藍牌威士忌集工藝、個性和罕有木桶於一身,確實只有萬中選一的威士忌能合乎此標準。

格蘭傑最新的系列跟藍牌威士忌有異曲同工之妙。品牌認為年齡不是「稀有」的同義詞,「稀有」的精髓是來自珍貴的木桶——格蘭傑Pride 1981就以Chateau D’Yquem酒莊的甜酒桶陳年。跟沒有年齡標示的藍牌不同,格蘭傑Pride 1981是1980年單一年份原酒,只限量生產1,000瓶。

麥卡倫高端威士忌總監David Cox認為,「稀有」一詞經常被濫用來塑造品牌形象。長期以來,麥卡倫都是收藏家和拍賣行的頭號追逐目標,而品牌只會在核心產品以外的酒款,如限量生產系列、單一木桶等不能複製的產品用上「稀有」二字。

麥卡倫Fine & Rare珍稀系列是由48個不同年份的原酒混釀而成。由於當中某些年份原酒極為珍貴,蒸餾廠甚至需在市場上向私人收藏家回購,這印證了Mr. Cox所言,當麥卡倫冠以威士忌「稀有」,必然是當之無愧。

像許多威士忌酒評人一樣,或者我該得出結論——「稀有」的定義還是有待討論……但我想點出自己的看法!文章中的例子確實是「稀有」,但是「稀有」也有程度之分。

用不同的酒桶熟成,超重泥煤的原酒或調整發酵時間,這些甚具實驗精神的釀造方法,並早於30年前已開始盛行。 這些實驗為威士忌帶來獨特的個性,可以定位為「稀有工藝」或「特選酒桶」等,這對銷售起著顯著效果。我同意這是獨一無二的,但這只是構成稀有度的一部分。

能稱為「稀有」,獨特的品質是先決條件。能創造真正價值,就能引起收藏家的興趣。 在我看來,一些已關閉、拆卸的蒸餾廠的單桶年份威士忌當然合乎資格。 單桶可以展現實驗性,而且產量必然稀少;至於特定的年份可以反映蒸餾廠的歷史。你可以預計,一個已關閉的蒸餾廠,其出品的稀有度只會隨著年齡增加。 這也是尊尼獲加(最高端之藍牌系列)價格如此昂貴的原因——它包含9個已關閉酒廠的原酒。

當然,這門哲學仍有待討論。Macallan,Bowmore及Springbank屢次在大型拍賣會中最高價格,就是一個證明。

因此,無論我們從投資、品飲還是購買角度分析,我們都有不同的動機和看法去定義威士忌的稀有度!