“Whisky isn’t for an elite, it is for everyone.” – Dave Broom, “Whisky: The Manual”
The above quote has become a favourite of whisky bloggers and drinks writers, but as time moves on it more and more appears like wishful thinking.
I have been dreading the day when I would have to write an article titled “Whisky – The Drink For The One Percent”. In a way, this is that article, but I am going to wrap it up differently.
Let’s go back to the good old days for a moment. I am not talking about the days of White Horse Lagavulin, Laphroaig Green Stripe and the Cadenhead Dumpy Ardbegs. No, I mean the very recent good old days around 2010, when I began to blog about whisky and started to dig more seriously into the whisky universe.
My spending limit for a bottle has alwas been a “soft 100 euros” which would mean I’d buy the occasional bottle for around €120 or maybe even €150. Back in the days, this money would buy me a 27 yo St. Magdalene (note my “quite expensive” remark, oh dear…), a 28 year old Port Ellen, a 30 year old Strathisla or a little later still a 29 year old Caol Ila. You could also buy two bottles of the fabulous Highland Park 18 and still get some change in return. In short, it still was possible to buy “the good stuff” for acceptable prices.
Of course the prices for whisky from closed distilleries are bound to go up over time. But if you take Caol Ila for instance, today you can find a 15 year old single cask for £100 (~€130) and just recently The Whisky Agency released an 8 year old that sets you back €120+ [Side note: Yeah, I know “age is just a number”. But especially in the case of Caol Ila, it helps].
I have a friends and family background where spending over €30 on a bottle of booze is out of question. But I could always counter this with the argument that the liquid in a €100+ bottle is worth it because it (usually) is so much better than a €17.99 Kirschwasser from Schladerer.
But with today’s whisky prices I have a hard time justifying to myself to pay this much for a bottle of whisky because once you leave the safe territory of trusty standard bottlings such as Lagavulin 16 or Ardbeg 10, you get less and less for your money every year.
We all know what has led to this development. Even though the total whisky market has been more or less flat for a couple of years after a massive growth especially in Asia, the demand for aged single malt continues to outstrip the supply. The whisky industry tends to be caught in the pork cycle, there is an oversupply when nobody wants it and a shortage when demand is high.
I am sure you can see my frustration that has only increased over the years. For “the good stuff” I have to rely on samples or on the generosity of friends now. But to just take a bottle from the shelf and pour myself a stiff oldie has become next to impossible.
Of course whisky is not dead. It just smells funny, to paraphrase a Frank Zappa quote. It is still possible to find good or even very good whisky for decent prices, and this includes dusty hunting at auctions. And by no means this means I will turn away from whisky.
But with the current situation on the whisky market I am feeling choked by a beast with multiple tentacles: Investors, collectors and whisky geeks with deep pockets that are willing to pay any price for a bottle they fancy have been helping to drive up whisky prices to ever more ridiculous levels.
Just the other day I stumbled upon a new release from Glenlivet for America with 14 yo single cask whiskies for $350 a bottle. And this situation is not restricted to Scotch whisky. A $300 new release of Booker’s Rye has blogging heavyweight Steve Ury seriously asking himself pretty much the same existential question as myself.
Indeed I have been pondering for quite a while now about how to proceed with this blog in the light of such developments. You might have noticed a significant slowdown over the last months, and eventually I decided to put up the “Hibernation Mode” banner. And here is why:
Along with the recent whisky boom went the whisky blogging boom. Today there is a small army of a few hundred whisky bloggers spreading the gospel. They are joined by a number of professional writers who publish books and write for magazines; sometimes you can even watch them on television. Also some bloggers have turned professional or do paid writing gigs along their day jobs. Many also host whisky tastings, and overall this army is doing a great job to spread the love for whisky.
This is not necessarily a bad thing of course, and I don’t want to personally blame any writer or blogger of pouring oil ino the fire. But with a whisky market like it is today it is only logical that the more people catch the whisky virus, the more the strain on the supply of aged single malt whisky increases. This in turn will ultimately lead to even higher prices as long as stocks in the warehouses continue to be low.
As long as your disposable income is high enough, all this doesn’t really matter. But for a whisky blogger on a budget the situation is becoming rather surreal. Now I have never been one of the most enthusiastically writing bloggers around, but I have been called influential by people whose opinions I value.
How big this influence actually is is another question, but I have decided to restrict my blogging in a way that I can have the feeling not pour oil into the fire myself. Some of you might say that I have been largely publishing just rants anyway, but if things won’t change dramatically I would just be repeating myself.
I will not shut down the blog completely. There is still a small queue of review samples to work through (let’s see how this will develop…) and I will post the occasional tasting note for other whiskies I have tasted. One immediate change is that there won’t be any affiliate links in new tasting notes. If I find the time and energy, I might also delete the older ones. There will also be more blog articles should any interesting topics come around. But you can expect the blog to remain low-key until the grip of the beast has eased at least a bit.