New Longmorn Releases. Pictures courtesy of Chivas Bros.

The Mortlachisation of Longmorn

It was only a matter of time until someone tried to follow what Diageo started when they premiumised their Mortlach distillate, introducing a whole new range of half-litre bottles at excessively high prices and posh packaging. They even introduced a brand ambassador, responsible for Mortlach, Georgie Bell. Well, two years later, Georgie moved on to Bacardi and it seems the position of a Mortlach brand ambassador will not be filled again. Signs of a failed experiment of premiumising a distillery which is mainly used in blends and was virtually unknown to supermarket malt whisky drinkers? Maybe, we can’t tell for sure without knowing the sales figures. Personally I don’t know too many people who bought any of the new Mortlach releases…

And now there’s this: Longmorn owner Chivas Brothers just announced a new range of Longmorn bottlings. The “Distillers Choice”, which replaced the old (and up to this point only official bottling) 16-year-old a few months ago, will be joined by two new expressions: A 16-year-old and a 23-year-old.
Good news? Well, not so quick. Let’s take a detailed look here!
The old Longmorn 16 cost 56,90€ when I last bought a bottle a year ago, an adequate price for a good whisky. The last bottles of this expression can be had for about mid-60€ prices if you look around a bit. The new “Distillers Choice”, a weaker bottling (40% ABV vs. 48 for the 16-yo) retails for the same price. To us whisky lovers it’s obvious which bottle we buy, as long as we still have a choice. Well, that choice will soon be gone. Here are the prices for the two new whiskies:

  • 16-year-old: A higher proportion of first-fill American oak casks, with a regular retail price of £252.00 or $189 – depending on which source you look at. See update at the bottom
  • a new 23-year-old in a very fancy looking bottle (remember the Mortlach decanters – they also use silvery looking appliances for the 18- and 25-yo expressions) for, grab your seats, ladies and gentlemen, $1450 or $1087, again different prices stated in the two sources See update at the bottom

Well, I don’t know about you, but that sounds excessively expensive in my book. This looks exactly like the Mortlach rebranding two years ago. Replacing a previous 16-year-old with a four- to five times as expensive version takes some balls and is not resonating well with those who previously bought this bottling. Just take a look at social media – I have read countless negative comments, but not one single positive one. (Let me know in the comments section if you’re happy to buy one at this price. I’m serious!)
And, well, do I even need to comment on the price of the 23-year-old?

Here’s the thing: I’m sure both are lovely whiskies (and I’d love to taste them if I get the chance to), but this premiumisation of a simple brown spirit drink like whisky is getting more and more ridiculous by the month! Many whisky drinkers, myself included, feel priced out of the market and treated like cows on the milking stand. This is, in my opinion, a very dangerous road more and more whisky lovers leave, taking intersections to other spirits categories. Just recently at a whisky show, several merchants I talked to told me more and more previous whisky customers are now looking increasingly into categories like Rum, Cognac or Armagnac!

I for myself will enjoy that 50-something € bottle of “old” Longmorn 16, and when it’s gone, I’m going to look elsewhere – most likely the independent bottlers. There is no way you’re going to get me to shell out that kind of money for a 16-year-old standard expression. Not even if the stopper was solid silver. The proof for these new releases will be in the sales numbers.

At least there’s one positive note: The new bottlings are full-sized 700/750ml ones, not the reduced 500ml versions Diageo introduced when they rebranded Mortlach, which people took even more badly than the price!

//edit after publication: The official press release, which I found only after publishing, talks about 252$ and 1450$, respectively.

Picture courtesy of and (C) Chivas Bros.

16 thoughts on “The Mortlachisation of Longmorn

  1. Cam

    Fully agree with you. This is the latest example of all that is going wrong with whisky. Inexperienced whisky drinkers will not be tempted by an unfamiliar name at those prices, and long-time connoisseurs and fans will only be offended by the embarrassingly transparent marketing BS. Using words like ‘reinterpreted’ to disguise ‘rebranded’ and then justifying the ‘luxurious’ high prices by saying an increased proportion of ‘rare’ 1st-fill American oak?? WTF how is 1st-fill American oak -aged whisky RARE?? Isn’t it the most common type of barrel used these days? Offensive, really. Will only fool fools.

    Reply
    1. MaltKlaus Post author

      thanks for your comment, Cam! I didn’t want to comment on the wording of the press release, that would have made for a much longer article, but I agree with you – the section about American oak is something I would not have approved if I were responsible for the marketing. But it is what it is, never put too much emphasis on the wording of a press release 😉 I wouldn’t want to be the one having to come up with the wording praising such a rebranding 😉

      Reply
  2. manny

    I feel really lucky that my whisky bar is fully stocked and i wont have to buy anything in the near future with that prices.I remember well how angry i was with Longmorn when they replaced the 15y old with the 16y old giving it a 35% price hike.
    But the new prices are just ridiculous.

    Reply
  3. MaltKlaus Post author

    This story has quite a few more angles, but I didn’t want the main post to go on for too long.

    One thing I can’t wrap my head around is “why Longmorn?” Just like “Why Mortlach” two years ago. Both distilleries are virtually unknown outside of whisky geek circles, not to be found in supermarkets, not posh or desirable to the masses. Why turn them into luxury brands? If you’re a rich, label-drinking kid trying to impress your friends, you’re going to buy Dalmore or Macallan. You’re going to buy something people know to be expensive. But Longmorn? Mortlach? I’m enough of a marketer myself to know that won’t fly, not without years and years of building a brand and serious, I mean SERIOUS campaigning. Heck, not even Haig Club managed to do that with comparatively cheap bottles and someone like David Beckham! The bottles are on clearance pretty much everywhere you look at…
    I don’t get this at all.

    Maybe there’s another story behind it? Premium Blends taking a sales dip, with surplus stock getting available for single malt bottling? Followed by a desperate try to recoup money lost in the premium blend market? This is only pure speculation, one would have to take a look at current numbers to back this up. But then, again, why not take a well-regarded brand like Chivas Regal and come up with a new ultra-rare, luxurious blended malt version? Now that’s something rich kids might be able to use for showing off.

    I work in marketing myself. I have absolutely no clue as to why and how this rebranding – the way it has been announced at the moment – would make sense or could be successful. Maybe there’s a new marketing strategy yet to be launched. Maybe they got a pop singer superstar for a marketing campaign to be launched next month, but I honestly don’t think that’s going to happen either, they would’ve launched this in one big bang, not like this.

    This is leaving me completely puzzled. It doesn’t make sense at all.

    Reply
  4. Jim Walton

    Chivas Brothers have just realised a new Malted Blend utilising 5 of their distillery’s. I think the Retail price is meant to be about £160! NAS!!!

    Very strange. Their Strathisla 12 is a loverly summer whisky (leagues above Glenfiddich 12) for about £32, that’s a sensible price. But you won’t find it in the supermarket.

    Reply
    1. MaltKlaus Post author

      Thanks for pointing that out, Jim, I was not aware of that blend! The Strathisla 12 is very nice, at a good price point, even though the old version at 43% was slightly better 😉

      Reply
  5. Barry Bradford

    Nice piece Klaus and an interesting read. The only common connection I can think of is that both Mortlach and Longmorn had notable followers/fans in the whisky community (bloggers, authors, connoisseurs, etc) which may have overinflated their importance in the eyes of their parent companies marketing departments? On an entirely positive note my Sons ASB of Longmorn will be 3 years old in November valuing it at ~ $80 a bottle already . Perhaps I have a career as Longmorn ambassador ahead of me yet!

    Reply
    1. MaltKlaus Post author

      Thanks, Barry! Well, only they know their reasons behind this move – a very bold one, I might say. You (err… your son) has a barrel of Longmorn? Cool! I like their distillate, a nice whisky to get a cask of! Keep it safe, that’s going to buy a house in 15 years if they keep increasing prices at this rate 😉

      Reply
  6. Neil MacKinnon

    David Beckham and Haig I can understand the purpose of introducing a light whisky to a new market, as a whisky drinker I couldn’t justify the price for the actual product, but in marketing terms it was a show of luxury with a global icon particularly of a younger generation who were probably drinking Grey Goose vodka anyway so a little more and they are associated with Mr Beckham. Mortlach was different to me as it was a steady and solid produced malt whisky for the blends but while working in a whisky bar was the easiest to sell as it was not to expensive to buy for me around £32 for the 16 yr F&F and with the standard 60% mark up more importantly was affordable to the majority of old and new whisky drinkers. It opened a lot novice drinkers to a new level of quality at affordable prices. I appreciate stock levels might not be sustainable for mass sales at that level but it certainly provided Diageo confidence to change the branding to luxury. While I appreciate high quality whisky at high prices it generally means slowerpace moving off the bar shelf and possibly not being replaced due to cost. For whisky drinkers who spend more on average bottles then they do so to enjoy more on occasion along with the other high end bottles they enjoy so probably buy it perhaps only once rather than a couple. If the market is aimed out with the EU then again while enjoying whisky a luxury whisky is not always on the monthly repeat list as there are plenty of other expensive whisky to drink. So how all the marketing costs and packaging gets recouped I won’t be surprised if after a couple of years there might not be so many so called luxury priced whisky, but what do I know.

    Reply
    1. MaltKlaus Post author

      That’s an interesting angle, looking at it from a bar perspective! I can’t see anyone stocking these in “normal” bars as, including markups, this would compare very unfavourably to other whiskies on a price list. You also touched on another subject: Repeat purchase. There might be a wave of initial sales, but will it be a sustainable flow of steady orders? I have my doubts. If it was a one-off it might work, but as a standard range item? Time will tell!

      Reply
      1. Neil MacKinnon

        Exactly what I mean limited repeat purchase. Who talks about Mortlach now other than Independant bottles or like me miss the F&F. Luxury whisky on a commercial level are for show and dust really.

        Reply
  7. kallaskander

    Hi there,

    and a Happy new Year.

    It goes to show how the concept of Premiumisation is working for the drinks industry.
    They sell less quality for more money and the customers seem only too happy to follow the lead – or on the leash?

    Premiumisation is a thing of the price point. In the USA a premium product is something that has exceeded a certain price level and super premium is the next level and is defined by price as well.
    Only by price.
    Americans know that but Europeans seem to think that something sold as premium with a price to match is really of superior quality. Far from it.
    But for the drinks industry this mechanism is working… till they have priced too many loyal customers out of their market. In the category whisky you can see the effects already.

    Greetings
    kallaskander

    Reply

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