My new Malt Advocate editorial: You spoke. I listened, and I’m spreading the word!November 28th, 2009
The new issue of Malt Advocate just mailed. Over this past year, I listened to your concerns and gripes, summarized them, and wrote them up in my “From the Publisher” column. You DO have an impact. Don’t ever forget it!
For those of you who still are not subscribing (don’t forget that I offered my “two for one” deal here recently), I have included my column below.
You’re Mad as Hell…
It’s the perfect storm for whisky. A full-throttle whisky boom that’s decimating the worldwide whisky stocks confronts the nastiest global recession in our lifetime—head on!
The aftermath? Skyrocketing whisky prices at a time when whisky enthusiasts can least afford it.
The bloodshed is splattered all over my blog, What Does John Know? (http:/blog.maltadvocate.com) with pages of gripes and frustration. Sure, escalating whisky prices got their share of the ire. But there’s more.
The best whisky you’ll never have…
There’s nothing like reading about a whisky you can’t buy and you’ll never see (outside of pictures on whisky companies’ websites and whisky blogs, that is) to get your whisky-deprived blood to boil. It’s happening a lot these days. Caveats like “Travel Retail Only” and “Committee Members Only” are appearing a lot these days in press release. Sure, it’s nice to have access to a really nice whisky when you’re traveling overseas, but the majority of us aren’t traveling anywhere except to our local retailer.
And the only committee we’re a member of is the one our boss volunteered us for at work (assuming you’re lucky enough to still have a boss).
Then there’s the issue of bottle size and labeling approval. The U.S. bottles at 750 ml, while the rest of the world bottles at 700 ml, and label approvals (and associated fees) are required for individual states in the U.S.
The consequence? Many whisky companies outside the U.S.—especially those with smaller production runs—won’t even bother exporting their whiskies to the U.S. They’ll just stick to 700 ml bottles. In case you’re thinking about it, don’t even try to buy one of those bottles from an overseas retailer and have them ship the bottle to you here in the U.S. Our Customs officials will stop those shipments at the border.
Even if a limited-edition whisky does find its way to the U.S, if you live outside of a major city, good luck finding a bottle. You better start scouring the internet for retailers in big cities and become good friends with the spirits manager at one of the stores lucky enough to get a few bottles.
…And can’t afford
Dalmore “Sirius” will only cost you about $16,000. The new Macallan Lalique 57 is listed at $15,000. Gold Bowmore will set you back a mere $6,250. That makes the new Highland Park 1968 Vintage look like a steal at $3,700!
Sure, there will always be “trophy” whiskies on the market like these that only Wall Street executives can afford. As long as the whiskies that we commoners buy stay reasonable, right?
Well, unless you just started drinking whisky last week (poor soul); you know that prices, across the board, have far outpaced inflation over the past several years—and much more than your salary increases. In fact, prices have gone up so much lately, I’m struggling to determine what a whisky “value” is anymore.
…and may never even know about
Is it that whisky companies are so busy with bottling, labeling, distribution, and calculating their profit margins that they neglect telling us about the whisky they are trying to sell?
In all fairness, some companies do a great job of informing—and educating—their sales staff, press, retailers and consumers about what’s inside the bottle, what it tastes like, and where you can buy a bottle. Still, I still think it’s the minority of producers, not the majority.
The more a whisky company can tell us about their whisky, the greater the chance that we’ll buy one we like, which will increase their sales. Hello out there whisky industry! Are you listening?
…or is adulterated
Why make a whisky taste worse or blander just so it looks pretty? Drinking the whisky the primary objective? So why chill-filter it (stripping out flavor) just so it doesn’t get a little hazy when you add ice cubes or cold water? Why pollute it with caramel coloring just so every bottle looks identical? Fine leather, hand-crafted woodwork, and even my favorite hand-rolled cigars all vary in color and texture. That’s part of the charm. It’s not a disease!
…with marketing-driven names instead of age statements
At the same time prices are going up, many companies are dropping their age statements and giving the whisky (sometimes thoughtful, sometimes quite silly) names instead. Why?
One reason is to cover for gaps in production. For example, during difficult economic times (like the 1980s), many distilleries cut back on production or stopped altogether.
Another reason is to blend in the young new whiskies that are coming on the market with older stocks. Selling a three year old obviously has its risks, given that it probably isn’t fully mature yet. Blending it in with some older whiskies can breathe life into an older whisky if done properly. But, they’re not going to put a 3 year old label on a whisky that has a lot of 10 or 15 or even 20 year old whisky in it, are they?
So, there’s much to be frustrated about. Hopefully this is just a phase. It probably is, as a brief look at history will suggest.
Looking for the silver lining in this cloud, there are still a few things to be grateful for. Selection is better than it’s ever been, and I honestly feel that the overall quality of whisky is the best it’s ever been.
So be patient. Savor what you have. Look for the bargains. Most importantly, realize that you are more powerful than you think. Ultimately, whisky companies will listen to your pleas—and your purchases—and adapt. That is, the successful ones will.