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The Balvenie DCS Compendium – An Example For The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy Of Luxury — Dramming
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The Balvenie DCS Compendium – An Example For The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy Of Luxury

by Oliver Klimek on October 14, 2015

The brave new whisky world has seen yet another big launch event for an expensive whisky set yesterday in London. Balvenie presented a series of single malts called DCS Compendium in order to celebrate the lifetime acheivment of “Malt Master” David C Stewart, a true living whisky legend.

There will be five sets of five bottles each with a total price of over £125,000. The first set was presented yesterday, ranging from a 9 year old for £400 to a 46 year old from 1968 for £19,000.

Now that’s some serious pricing indeed; not as obscene as the near megaquid for the Dalmore Paterson Collection but still at a multiple of the usual price of official single cask bottlings. So let’s hope that at least the whisky is of outstanding quality. According to Dave Broom, not really, apart from the 1968. Dave Broom actually presented the 1968 at the launch event, but I have no reason to assume that his scores are biased.

Browsing through Dave Broom’s scores for other whiskies it would not take much work to find a selection that he likes better – including the 1968 – and costs only a small fraction of the first DCS Compendium set.

Admittedly, this would be a bit like comparing apples and oranges since the Compendium is designed to be a true retrospective of David Stewart’s work and not a random selection. But the question remains if this really deserves such a high markup.

Until recently, Balvenie had been refreshinlgy modest in their pricing and marketing. Then in 2014 came the 50 year old for about £25,000 which already was quite a shock. And very obviously the pricing of that bottle was the base Balvenie used for the DCS Compendium.

Yes, I know, yet another rant about pricing. I myself feel like a broken record here. But some things just can not be repeated often enough. Which brings us to the second part of the headline.

High whisky prices are often explained by the rarity of the spirit or the amount of work and time that went into making it. But there are of course other factors involved, like for example the ballyhoo of the launch event itself. Some VIP guests even were flown from London to the distillery with a private jet. This alone costs a five digit amount of money. There also was a book written about the DCS compendium. In short, a lot of money was spent for this whisky collection that did not go into the whisky itself but only into its presentation.

If you spend more money on presentation, it will result in two things: Firstly the product will become more expensive, and secondly – of course supported by the increased price – the product will be regarded as something superior. If they had put the same liquid into standard Balvenie bottles and just sent them off to their distributors along with a press release they would probably only collect dust on dealers’ shelves bearing price tags like that.

There is a big difference between classic luxury brands and Scotch whisky distilleries that is often overlooked. For example Bentley cars, while being substantially more expensive than say simple Hyundais, do indeed offer objectively more in terms of equipment or driving experience. But in whisky you may well find Hyundai quality for Bentley prices. The price tag alone is no indicator of quality. You may be paying for a nice story, a nice presentation and the expenses of many people involved, but you could just as well pick up a better bottle for a fraction of the price, if you look around a bit. And if you actually want to open and enjoy your bottle of whisky.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Bob Clinton October 14, 2015 at 3:30 pm

Some people have a lot of money and want to spend it on what is presented as “rare” and/or “exclusive”. I just want good whisky. I can get what I consider to be good whisky for what I consider to be a reasonable price (these aren’t it). These special collections or special bottlings might be good promotion for the industry, but they can’t be what they rely on to sustain the business.


Gal Granov (@galg) October 15, 2015 at 10:54 am

Words of wisdom.

Kudus goes to D.Broom who can present the whisky and then write it’s quite bad (6.2!?)

i dont mind the 20000 quid version of unicorn piss distilled in 1965 or so, but charging 400 bloody quid for a 7 year old is pushing the boundaries of ridiculous. so what if this is a series of drams celebrating the master distiller. a single cask under 10 is not hard to come by, so pricing it as such, is rather silly.

I am a big fan of the Balvenie, and i drink their whiskies a lot. this makes me feel bad about doing that. shooting themselves in the leg as to speak.


Oliver Klimek October 15, 2015 at 11:23 am

I like Balvenie too and I have to admit it hurt a little having to write this…


Jeff October 15, 2015 at 4:34 pm

Yep, some people can’t admit overpriced whisky doorstops are a bullshit confidence game and some people who can’t defend NAS won’t admit that it’s an illogical cash grab (age only matters to a whisky’s character if it is discussed for marketing purposes/labeling determines age relevance) – I don’t find any ethical difference in terms of people lying, if only passively, about what’s true about whisky because silence indicates consent.


Jeff October 18, 2015 at 11:30 am

The silence, as always, is deafening, but the question remains: whether or not it’s a “good business move” – like rigging auto emissions if, or for as long as, you can get away with it – does NAS actually make sense in terms of what it says about whisky: “age maturation is only important where it’s discussed for marketing purposes, and irrelevant where inconvenient to sales”?


Dave Broom October 26, 2015 at 12:12 am

Actually the scores ranged from ‘good’ to ‘superlative’ my reasoning for the numbers was outlined in the comments and conclusions – please read the words not just the numbers (but do check out the http://www.scotchwhisky.com scoring system in which 6 is a good score!) I did speak at the event, to talk about David Stewart’s career, artisanship, knowledge, the cresting of ‘tone’ and by way of illustration commented on the final whisky of the evening. Thanks for realising that this didn’t affect or compromise my tasting.


Oliver Klimek October 31, 2015 at 11:46 pm

I am well aware that a 6.x score from you does not translate into a 60something score on the 100 point scale. such a score would indeed have been disastrous for such a bottle. I take it that it is a good 9 year old whisky. The thing that is disastrous indeed in my opinion is only the pricing.


BBQDad June 14, 2016 at 4:21 am

Hmmm… OK… A “6” is a “good” whiskey. “7” is “really good,” “8” is “great,” “9” is “superlative.”
IMHO, $560.00 US is too much to spend for a merely “good” whiskey.
At that price, I expect greatness.
I can get a bottle of The Macallan Rare Cask for $300.00 USD, or TWO bottles of The Macallan 18 YO for $520.00 USD—and (again, IMHO) TWO bottles of The Macallan 18 YO are much more to be desired than any ONE “good” bottle of whiskey. (In my world, The Macallan 18 YO is a great Scotch.)

By the way: I genuinely like and regularly enjoy The Balvenie, The Macallan, and several other Scotches.
Let me conclude my remarks by noting that my opinions are just that: Opinions, and humbly offered.


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