Bacardi’s Move Into Single Malt: Don’t Celebrate Just Yet

Us whisky lovers feel misunderstood a lot. Especially by the big corporations. “Why is this whisky colored?” “Please bottle it at more than 43 per cent.” “NAS-whisky sucks balls.” “You never listen to me anymore!” I’ll just say it: we tend to feel somewhat neglected. And that’s why the news about Bacardi’s plunge into single malt waters was received with praise everywhere.

The announcement made by the big spirit company seemed tailored to please whisky lovers around the world. Aultmore, Craigellachie, Macduff and Brackla distilleries will no longer just be blendfillers, each of them gets a proper range of single malt whiskies. And while Aberfeldy was already a fairly well appreciated single malt, they now get a 16yo and 30yo added to the core range. But the details that were most exciting: every new Bacardi single malt gets an age statement and will be natural colored. And that’s not all, because as far as I can tell, most new releases are bottled at 46 percent (or higher). Yes, cask strength would be better, but let’s not stretch our good fortune too much.

Naturally this news was received well, to say the least. Finally a big company that listens to the little guy. Bacardi was doing everything right, going straight against the current worrying trends in the whisky industry. The internet was buzzing:

“Wow! Very surprising attitude towards age-statements and coloring. Obviously Bacardi has been listening when other big houses haven’t.”

And this:

“This isn’t a small craft distillery making that choice, this is a multi-billion dollar behemoth making that choice. That’s a great sign to me.”

I could copy and paste jubilant quotes from fora and social media all day. These two are just to illustrate the initial reaction. But some more skeptical folks were already warning others to not be too happy. And one of the quotes in the article on The Spirits Business was alarming indeed. “We realized we weren’t maximizing our assets”, said Stephen Marshall, global brand director for malts at Bacardi. In all our rejoicing, we (or at least I) completely forgot about the most worrying trend in the industry: retail prices.

Looks like the skeptics will get even more skeptical, because it turns out their fear was justified. Just a couple days ago retailer The Whisky Shop added the 13yo, 17yo and 23yo expressions of Craigellachie to their webshop. And Bacardi opted to take the pricing route of Mortlach, Diageo’s admittedly good but very pricey flagship. The prices for the 13yo (£50) and the 17yo (£96) are doable, but are also on the higher side of the spectrum, especially for a single malt that has yet to prove itself. But £385 for the 23yo is downright ridiculous. I’m confident Craigellachie will prove to be a fine single malt, but Bacardi is greatly overestimating the worth of their single malt portfolio.

Bacardi pulled us in with some great promises. But it seems they are pricing us out just as quick.

UPDATE (November 14th 2014): Something weird is going on with the price for the Craigellachie 23yo. The retail prices were first announced in the UK, but now the prices for the European mainland are here: some of the cheaper shops offered it for 150 euro. That is less than half of what the UK customer pays! If you want to read more on this strange phenomenon, read this article on Whisky Gospel.

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