How much is whisky worth? / by Jason Hambrey

Whisky is going through quite the boom right now - supply is going down, prices are going up, and we have an interesting mix: all sorts of new products being released, younger whisky no longer being held to an age statement, distillate being covered up with cask finishes or the vanilla and caramel of new oak - and, at the same time, great new whiskies being released. My little gem, Canadian whisky, has been largely protected from a lot of this for the time being (beyond taking part of a worldwide micro-distiller boom), and, in fact, has had some new and fantastic whiskies being released.

It raises the question, however - how much is whisky worth? Whisky is, after all, just whisky - a fact I have certainly felt after tasting many of the best Canadian, American, and Scotch whiskies over the past year. They're terrific, I love them, and there's little else I enjoy more - are any of them worth $200? $1000? The mix of hype, pride, and marketing are certainly appealing. I certainly think there are better ways to use the freedom we have with our money. Paying hundreds of dollars for run-of-the-mill whisky is a little crazy.

Two terrific blog posts from the last few weeks worth seeing, if you haven't- Sku's Is Whisky Over?  and Malt Maniac Oliver Klimek's Don't Feed the Beast that Chokes You. No need for me to reiterate those words - there certainly are issues in the industry for connoisseurs. However, I wanted to do something to reflect prices (and how outrageous they can be), so I have decided, in addition to my overall score, to include a value score. Granted, not all of us buy for value, but I certainly think something should be said for a whisky like Lot No. 40, one of the terrific ryes of the world, retailing for under $40 when other whiskies retail at two to four times the price for something similar in style but worse in quality.

Since I'd rather not keep a value score subjective, beyond taking my own rating into account, I thought - what is the price spread for whiskies I rated a certain value? Taking 300 whiskies that I have reviewed, across many ratings, styles, prices, and distillers:

As you can see, it doesn't seem far fetched to fit a line to the data (which I did) to give an indication of the market value for the price of a whisky based on how good it tastes (a concept, certainly, that the industry does not operate by) - and came up with the following fit, which also more or less represents what I would pay for a bottle that "good". Any whisky under the line has better value, while any whisky over it has worse value.

My value score is calculated by taking the standard deviation in price for a given rating ($39.10 in my data set, meaning that 68% of the bottles for a given score are within that range of the average price), and then applying a normal distribution to a whisky to see how it does relative to the average price for that rating. Then I square root it and multiply by ten, because no one who reads about whisky and sees a 50 thinks "average", but a 70 seems more in that vein (it also helpfully spreads out the numbers at the lower end of the value function). So, for instance, the Lot no. 40 batch that scored 90/100 and cost 40$ has a value score of 99/100, but a Highland Park 18 Year Old which I rated at 94 and cost nearly $200 only has a value of 43/100. That's an expensive bottle. Of course, this means I have a price I'd pay on average for a perfect bottle (never encountered - my highest rating has been a 94 to date) - and that is $300 for me. I might be tempted to pay more for a perfect whisky, but then I'm certainly not buying for value, am I? Of course, people have different values, and all prices are adjusted to what they would cost in Canada in 2016. My tasting score will still be kept completely separate from my value score, which is simply calculated from the score and approximate price.

Before we all jump ship to armagnac, rum, and mezcal (not a terrible idea....) - let's keep drinking and supporting reasonably priced whisky.