Not a Special Release

Not a Special Release

August Outturn 2023 Article


Social media, across all mediums that it occupies, is a great way for brands and appreciators of such to connect up. A platform where groups form, interests converge, and people converse over recent whiskies, great events, and bars they’ve recently frequented.


I love this side of social media, and how it’s really taken off where ‘forums’ left off for this kind of discussion. I’m in a few of these groups, and a few I’m not in, but overall it’s a good chinwag online. There were, however, a couple of ‘vibes’ recently which really baffled me: Regular whisky punters posting photos of special releases from distilleries, both local and abroad, complaining a bit that they weren’t really “special enough” or “too close to the house style” or similar. One comment about a new release from a notable Melbourne distillery stuck out from a punter saying a new release “…seemed to not really vary in taste that much. Don’t get me wrong it tastes great but I was hoping for something really different”.

This got me thinking: how far can a distillery really stray from its ‘house style’ before either pleasing or upsetting its fan base? In this example, the buyer of this new ‘experimental’ release from this distillery was lamenting how this release wasn’t too far removed from their core range. What about if that was instead a peated release from an ex-mezcal cask that was extra-aged in a Calvados ash barrique and the spirit run was much wider in the cuts? So far from the house style that it didn’t resemble their spirit at all? You’d almost definitely have people complaining it doesn’t taste enough like their core range…you see the dilemma here?

I saw a similar discussion taking place around a certain Islay distillery as well on social media the other day: the buyer’s remorse over a recent ‘committee release’ that didn’t feel ‘special enough’ to be worth the premium above the core range. “Burned again” the post would read, followed by “I’ll stick with their main range in future”. Maybe some of this is being led by harsher economic conditions at present and that expectations are so high from previous iterations, but I suspect it’s more just escalating premiumisation and brand expectations. There’s no easy line to tread here, but sometimes they do get it right!

The same dilemma exists in most brands: stay too close to the line and enthusiasts will deride it for being “same as last year’s model” and not inventive/innovative enough. Go too far outside your lane and you’ll face the “Wow that’s ugly, who would ever buy that?” or “this is nothing like product X, would not buy again”.

Where am I going with this? I guess that’s one of the best things about an independent bottler and the mantra of never bottling the same whisky twice. We have no rules to that side of the SMWS. We stray so far from the “house style” of distilleries that we don’t really engage in that discussion. An unpeated 29? Sure! A peated 35? Yep! A peated column grain whisky? Uh, yes! The discussion should always be around flavour, enjoying single-cask moments with friends and shaping moments through a shared appreciation for the greatest spirit on earth: whisky.

This month is all about celebrating the pairings between chocolate and whisky, working again with our maestro of sweet pairings from BASIK, Krsna Rajalingam. Keep a keen eye out for events and, of course, the most popular virtual tasting of the year: our BASIK x SMWS collaboration with a full whisky & chocolate set in the comfort of your living room. I’ve had members tell me they are members for THIS set alone… say no more…

Cheers, Matt.


This article is featured in August 2023 Outturn — bottles will be available to purchase on Friday the 4th of August at midday AEST exclusively to members of The Scotch Malt Whisky Society. Not a member? Click here to learn more about the world’s most colourful whisky club.


About the Author:

Matt Bailey is the National Ambassador and Development Manager for the Scotch Malt Whisky Society Australia. He's tirelessly trying to meet every member and share a dram with you all.

Register as a Taster!