The headline talks about plural, I am of course mainly talking about one annoyed whisky drinker: me. But I’m convinced that there are others who feel the same. Why am I annoyed? Let me just say that if there are producers out there looking to annoy consumers, below is the modus operandi on how to do it.
Have you ever heard of Sculte Twentse Whisky? If you’re from the Dutch region Twente (where I live), then you probably have. Even if you’re from Holland, there is a chance that you know about the Sculte distillery. But if you’re from another country it’s highly improbable that you know what I’m talking about.
One Man’s Dream
Sculte distillery is basically the dream of one man, Gerard Velthuis. For years he used to have his own advertising agency, and from what I understand he was good at his job and made a comfortable living. Ten years ago he decided it was time for a career change, and that’s when he founded Sculte distillery. At first he distilled only fruit distillates. As with his previous job, he made a succes of this new venture. His distillates have won awards at the prestigious spirit competition Destillata in Vienna, Austria.
But with Velthuis being an avid fan of Scotland and Ireland, it surprised nobody that he also wanted to distill his own whisky. About two years into his new passion, he came up with the idea for a whisky from the region Twente. A Twentse Whisky, if you will. And he has done everything right. It is a 100 percent regional product. Even the oak used for the casks is from Twente. Seeing as I’m from Twente, this definitely peaked my interest.
Then Jock Shaw became involved and he pushed my interest level to new heights. Jock is a respected whisky connaisseur in Holland. He tasted the spirit at various stages of maturation and he was very enthusiastic. In one of his vlogs he praised the spirit and called it “full of promise”. He encouraged people to buy it once it would be released to the market.
I myself had the opportunity to taste the spirit (almost at three years of age at that point) during Whisky Weekend Twente in March of this year. I was impressed! I gave Sculte distillery a quick shout-out in my report of the event. Gerard Velthuis told me that he was going to bottle it in the summer of 2014, so I quickly put myself on the waiting list. The bottle was going to cost 65 euro for 50cl. I remember thinking that was pushing it a bit for a three year old whisky from an unproven producer.
Last week the moment finally came: Sculte Twentse Whisky was launched! What a joyous moment, right? Not really. At least not for me and, I suspect, also not for other regular consumers. In an article in the local newspaper they mentioned the price: 150 euro. Excuse me? That’s not what I was told just eight months ago. The first bottle was actually presented to entrepreneur Dik Wessels. His reaction when he heard the price? “150 euro?! Is that with or without VAT?” You know you have a problem when a billionaire thinks your whisky is too expensive.
So here is a guy who does everything right. He has passion, he uses local ingredients, he has a good product and he bottles his whisky at 51 percent abv. And then he screws it up at the last possible moment. It doesn’t feel kosher to reel people in, tell them a product is going to cost a certain amount, get them all excited, have them subscribe to a waiting list and then decide to double the price. I said as much on the Sculte distillery Facebook-page. The explanation I received for the high price? The luxury packaging, plus you get a certificate with your name on it. And the fact that the whisky wasn’t bottled at 40, but at 51 percent.
Expensive Piece of Paper
The luxury packaging argument is BS. Velthuis himself told me about the luxury packaging in March, using it as an explanation for the 65 euro price tag. A certificate? I refuse to believe a piece of paper is that expensive. And then there’s the matter of the high alcohol percentage. I can only applaud Sculte distillery for that, but there’s no way that is the sole reason for the extreme price.
There is actually a lot of similarity with the launch of the new Craigellachie range. Bacardi chatted up the whisky geeks. They said all the right things: age statements are important, chill-filtering and caramel coloring are out of the question. And oh yeah, we bottle most of our whisky at 46 percent or higher. In short, they made us fall in love. And then came the price of the Craigellachie 23.
So what does it say about the state of the whisky industry when a small, unproven distillery has the balls to ask 150 euro for a three year old single malt? I’m not sure, but I do know that most people I’ve talked to about the Sculte Twentse Whisky are shocked at the price. And even though they are on the waiting list, just like me, they won’t be buying a bottle, just like me.