Abhainn Dearg. Or did you just sit on the keyboard?

Abhainn Dearg

I have been meaning to write a few words about the newish Isle of Lewis distillery for a while, since their 3yo release last year in fact (October 2011). It’s called Abhainn Dearg. No clue how to say it? Join the club.

The reason why I didn’t write about Abhainn Dearg last year was quite simple, I didn’t get to try it. The price of their 3yo whisky has until now been prohibitive and the small scale of the operation means they don’t really distribute samples (well, if they do they don’t tell us). They also don’t seem to be churning out any press releases. And yet we have now heard from them. Well, from The Whisky Barrel to be precise. But it feels like Abhainn Dearg is finally doing some talking.

Abhainn Dearg cask strength

The Whisky Barrel folk are saying they now have limited Abhainn Dearg 3yo cask strength in 5cl bottles. Last year when the first 3yo was bottled in 50cl, the spirit came from four casks (numbers 4, 5, 6 and 7) and since they wanted to release 2011 bottles, there must have been leftovers and the 5cl cask strength Abhainn Dearg is just that (my best guess anyway). That’s cool, it would be a shame to let good whisky go to waste. Plus I can now justify getting some. And I think this is a good general tip; no excuses, let’s all get a miniature of Abhainn Dearg to support the underdog.

And yet I can’t just let go and be happy, can I? What raised my eyebrow is that the miniatures are £11.99 and the 50cl bottles of the same spirit watered down are £150. So if you don’t care much for the wooden box or Mark Tayburn’s signature, it’s actually cheaper to buy 10 miniatures and fill an empty juice bottle. I’m no marketeer and who knows, maybe there is a clever plan behind all this, but isn’t it just a wee bit strange? I understand the big bottles were the historic first release and all but the 5cl bottles apparently contain the same spirit, bottled three months later! It’s just as precious, or at least that’s what the email from TWB says*.

The conclusion is that either the original release was too expensive or the minis are too cheap. As a whisky drinker I’d like to say the former but as someone who works for the industry I have to lean towards the latter.

As cool as an average Highland coo

My other comment is about the overall feel of what Abhainn Dearg does as a brand. The unpronounceable name, the Highland coo, the claymore, the font choices from hell. It almost seems like they are trying not to sell their whisky but rather indulge in their vision of what a ‘proper’ bottle of single malt Scotch should look like. What a drama would it be if the distillery was to fail not because of the spirit or lack of demand for it, but because among all the costs of running the operation the budget for a big city designer got… dissolved. A new distillery, a whisky starting from scratch. Isn’t it the ultimate dream for most of us? I would certainly let them take one of my kidneys to be in that situation. Screw that, I would even move to the Isle of Lewis! I could create any identity I wanted; I could go the BrewDog way, the Innocent way, the Knob Creek way, the Compass Box way. My own way. I could show the world that small batch Scotch whisky can be exciting.

I know what guys at Abhainn Dearg are likely to say to this – build your own distillery smartass and then we’ll talk. I concede. Who am I to criticise their effort? But in all fairness all I want is to see them succeed. I want Abhainn Dearg to be recognised and appreciated. I want Scottish whisky brands to be as easily digestible as bourbon, as classy as cognac and as cool as rum. At the moment Abhainn Dearg is none of the above.

I’d be interested to read what routes would you take Abhainn Dearg if you were the newly appointed marketing director. Go wild.


* The email also gives all the prices minus VAT. WTF? Are you trying to trick me into clicking through or do you think most of your customers can buy whisky tax free? Taxes are high and the government is wasting the money anyway, I know. Get over it, The Whisky Barrel.

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