Crashing whisky websites and queues outside bottle shops: these are the two surest signs of the release of a unicorn dram, so-called because they are almost as rare as their mythical namesake. These blink-and-miss-them whiskies sell out nearly instantly, their rarity causing enthusiasts to fume.
Why do whiskies become unicorns? Currently, the most significant driver is the whisky resale market. The rarity – unicorns are all limited batch releases – and the perceived quality of these drams can see them go for several times their original ticket price at auction. And quick financial gains drive investors to great lengths to ensure that they can get their hands on these assets.
Daftmill may be among the ultimate of these unicorn whiskies. Since 2018 when the first Daftmill hit the market, the 2005 Inaugural Release, stocks have routinely sold out in minutes. It isn’t unusual for a new distillery’s inaugural limited release to be a unicorn. However, not many distilleries can boast the same interest for every subsequent bottling. After four years of releasing whiskies, there is no sign of Daftmill’s popularity abating.
There could be a good reason for this: all Daftmill’s releases are limited batches because the distillery is tiny and operates seasonally. Brothers Francis and Ian Cuthbert set it up in 2005 in an unused building on their farm, on which they continue to grow their own barley (incidentally, they tell us that the 2010 Summer Batch Release contains Optic barley from their South fields). Despite the whisky’s success, they continue to be farmers first, distilling in the less busy parts of the agricultural year. Another contributing factor to Daftmill’s popularity is the lack of early or young bottlings: the Cuthberts waited until they were sure that their whisky was ready rather than run the risk of reputational damage associated with bottling spirit as soon as it legally became whisky.
Small distillery, single farm, and a focus on quality over profit: these are some of the ingredients for a great whisky. It’s easy to see why Daftmill has become impossible to find. But does the dram live up to its mythical status?
Daftmill 2010 Summer Batch Release
Lowland Single Malt Whisky
46% ABV; matured in first-fill ex-bourbon barrels procured from Clermont Springs Distillery
Natural colour, non-chill filtered.
£100 (Luvians.com – out of stock). Currently available at auction for around £120.
Nose: Fruity and complex. There’s lemon, apple, pear, and even something a little tropical – mango or passionfruit. There’s also a sweetness and creaminess, with vanilla, cookie dough, butter, and a hint of almond.
Palate: Again, fruit leads the way, with lots of zesty lemon and ripe plum, followed quickly by pepper and lemon sherbet. There’s a good balance between sweetness from honey and butterscotch and bitterness from ground almonds.
Finish: Truly stunning. The flavours from the palate gradually fade to leave butter pastry, almond, and a slight pepper and ginger warmth.
Opinion: The Daftmill 2010 Summer Batch Release showcases everything a great Lowland Single Malt can be: light on the palate but still fruity and complex with a genuinely brilliant transition to the finish.
Let’s address the elephant (or unicorn) in the room. This is an 11-year-old single malt that sold for £100. Sold is the key word in that sentence, as it sold out everywhere in a matter of minutes. For those unwilling to pay above the odds at auction, the price in money of this whisky is only a part of the cost to acquire it. However, buying at auction, and providing sellers with their quick profit, does contribute to the wider problem in the long term. For me, this cost also included weeks of poring over suppliers’ social media accounts to find out the precise moment of release (and much disappointment at just-missed opportunities), half a day of desperately refreshing a website, and then a nervous hour while processing the purchase on an online shop that excess traffic had rendered nearly unusable. This was not an easy dram to get my hands on. This begs the question: is it worth all this effort?
On balance, this is a great whisky. It is worth every penny of the £100 original price, and maybe even a bit more if you’re lucky enough to find it at an affordable price at auction. However, hunting unicorns can be a lot of effort. While the result can be highly worthwhile, there is no guarantee of success, and repeated failure can be extremely demoralising. Until Daftmill’s batches become significantly larger or less popular, finding a bottle will be a case of luck, effort, high prices, or maybe even a combination of the three. And I’m not sure I’d happily go to as much effort more frequently. Because of this, I may wait until Daftmill is slightly easier to find before buying another release. I think I may have scored the whisky half a mark higher if it had been easier to get hold of.
The positive news is that Daftmill’s releases have been larger and larger year on year, which should hopefully begin to deter investors, even if it takes a little while longer before they lose interest entirely. There are signs that this is beginning to happen: while previous releases sold at auction for as much as £400, the 2010 Summer Batch release can currently be found for £120 – a much less marked increase.
The Daftmill 2010 Summer Batch Release is excellent, with its quality living up to the expectations of its unicorn status. However, it may be worth waiting a bit longer for later and larger releases, which hopefully will be much more straightforward to acquire.