I love those gift packs where you get a few (usually three) 20 cl bottles of whisky in a nice box. The cost is usually not much more per cl than you would pay for a full size bottle, but you get to try out multiple expressions. They’re especially great for a new whisky enthusiast. I was browsing through The Whisky Exchange (TWE) web site Special Offers a few weeks ago, and a Diageo gift pack stood out at me because it included five 20 cl bottles instead of the usual three.
I noticed that it was an “Islay” gift pack (Islay whiskies being my new obsession), so I clicked on it. They called it the “Islay Collection 2007″, and I couldn’t believe what I saw: Caol Ila 12, Caol Ila 18, Lagavulin 16, Lagavulin 12 CS, and…wait for it…Port Ellen 28 year ‘7th Annual Release’! The price was marked down from 97 GBP ($146) to 70 GBP ($105) [Actually, that's including VAT. Outside of the UK it's 61 GBP ($90)]. They now also have the 2006 version of this same gift pack, which includes, you guessed it, the 6th Port Ellen release.
Are you kidding me!? One of the Port Ellen Annual Release original distillery bottlings that I’ve been reading great things about, but was scared off by the $400+/bottle price? I had to get my hands on this gift pack. I couldn’t believe that they would stay in stock very long. On the contrary, six weeks later they now have both the 2006 and 2007 versions of the gift pack available. How is this staying on the shelves? Let’s consider the price and value:
Spending over $100 on a liter of whisky is still a considerable purchase. However, let’s take a moment to rationalize this for ourselves. What would 20 cl of these five scotches go for if you calculated it based on the full bottle price? I’m going to go with current TWE prices for reference:
- Caol Ila 12: 70cl = 25 GBP, so 20cl = 7 GBP ($10.50)
- Caol Ila 18: 70cl = 45 GBP, so 20cl = 13 GBP ($19.50)
- Lagavulin 16: 70cl = 40 GBP, so 20cl = 11.5 GBP ($17.50) [This would be much more in the USA]
- Lagavulin 12: 70cl = 49 GBP, so 20cl = 14 GBP ($21) [This is the 2008 price; might be more if you can find 2006/2007]
- Port Ellen 6th: 70cl = 299 GBP, so 20cl = 85 GBP ($128)
“Fair Price” Total: 130 GBP ($205)
Another way to look at it is that you’re getting nearly 30% of a bottle of Port Ellen at a discount price, and they’re throwing in the other 800 ml of Islay goodness for free. Yet another view is that a fair price for the four non-Port Ellen bottles is 45.50 GBP, so this is a chance to get 20cl of the elusive Port Ellen for a mere 24.50 GBP ($36). A final consideration is the flat monetary outlay that we’re talking about here in order to taste an OB (original distillery bottling) Port Ellen: Approximately $100 to $135 depending on tax/shipping vs. $400+. This is a significant lowering of the barrier to entry.
So, if you’re in the UK, or someplace that allows mail order of this gift pack from TWE, what are you waiting for? You might also still be able to find this in some specialty shops in primary whisky market areas in the United States. This is your chance to be a part of a rapidly disappearing piece of history; a chance for us middle/working-class scotch lovers to exchange tasting notes of a rare, expensive malt with the rich and famous. You’re also armed with convincing numbers to explain to your significant other why it would be like throwing away money NOT to buy this set. Isn’t it great to turn the tables around now and then?
Update: I forgot to mention another tip if you’re having this shipped to the United States – They charge 32 GBP shipping for this gift pack, vs 26 GBP for a single bottle. However, you can add up to five 50ml miniatures to your order and the shipping cost will stay the same. So go ahead and try out some new malts while you’re ordering the Islay gift pack, expanding your horizons and defraying the shipping costs.Cheers, Jeff