Whisky Advocate

Is this the Golden Age of Whisky?

April 29th, 2013

John HansellI asked a veteran and well-respected whisky manager this question two weeks ago when I was in Scotland, and he said yes. He was looking at it from his company’s perspective. They can’t make their whisky fast enough, and to him that’s how he defines the Golden Age.

Scotch Whisky Association Chief Executive Gavin Hewitt posed the same question at the Keepers of the Quaich banquet, which I attended while I was in Scotland. His response what that the Golden Age of Whisky is yet to come. He described what we are currently experiencing as a “renaissance.”

Still, some whisky enthusiasts who have been drinking whisky for a long time (like me) believe that the Golden Age is behind us. One blogger in particular (Sku) argues that the golden age was from the late 1990s and lasted about a decade. Follow the link to understand his logic. I, for one, have a tendency to agree with him on most points. Whisky prices were reasonable, quality improved overall from the early 1990s, and rare whiskies were plentiful–and affordable.

However, if you didn’t start drinking–and buying–whisky until the late 1990s, you missed out on an era that was almost as good: the early-to-mid1990s. Many of the now legendary bottlings were from that time, including the Black Bowmores, some amazing Springbanks, and 1973/1974 Longrows, just for starters. Plus, whiskies were ridiculously under-priced. How about $300 for Black Bowmore, $65 for Springbank 21 yr., and Macallan 18 yr. (from the great 1970s vintages) for under $50. Many whiskies from that era are fetching up to ten times as much these days at auction. Good single malts like Dalmore 12 yr. and Aberlour 10 yr. were under $20. Plus, if you knew where to shop, independent bottled whiskies (like Gordon & MacPhail, for example) that were really nice and/or rare, were dirt cheap (albeit often at 40-43% abv and not chll-filtered).

The one main factor is stopping me from saying that the early-to-mid 1990s was also a Golden Age of Whisky: quality control. While it’s true that some amazing whiskies came from that era, I would have to say that the worst whiskies I’ve ever tasted also came from that era. These were whiskies so bad, that I dumped them down the drain. Many were from independent bottlers who should have known better. Many times industry reps told me back then that there are no bad whiskies; some are just better than others. They were wrong.

What about the future? Could there still be a Golden Age of Whisky in front of us? Well, there’s one main factor stopping me from saying yes: price. While I honestly believe that the overall quality of whisky will be better in the future than in any time in the past–and all the new craft distillers around the world will energize the whisky industry the same way craft beer has done for brewing–it’s going to come with a higher price tag.  The days of undervalued, under-appreciated whiskies (and whiskeys) are over.

That’s not to say that all this increased production and expansion won’t lead to another whisky glut (and bust) in the future. The industry is very cyclical. If we do end up with another glut from over-production and over-pricing, it could lead to another Golden Age. My gut feeling, however (and it’s just a gut feeling), is that this isn’t likely. At least not one as severe as the one we experienced 20 years or so ago.

One final point: I don’t want to dissuade new whisky drinkers from buying whisky now. Just because we aren’t in a “Golden Age” doesn’t mean there aren’t wonderful whiskies at a fair value. There are plenty. It’s just that the increased demand in whisky, diminished supply, and the proliferation of NAS (no age statement) whiskies makes it more challenging.

What do you think? When is/was the Golden Age of Whisky? And why?

112 Responses to “Is this the Golden Age of Whisky?”

  1. Neil Ramsay says:

    I would have to say the ‘Golden Age’ was around ’95-’05. Between those years, quality control was actually not bad. You had a lot of distilleries perfecting their staple lines, and prices hadn’t really skyrocketed beyond the affordable. From about 2005 onward, while there have been some very nice whiskies around, and some fun experiments (and some horrid failures), prices have gone through the roof of what I consider reasonable. It’s near impossible to find a single malt for under $35 a bottle these days, and even the 3-year old malts and blends are commanding a $30-40 minimum price, with some going for as much as 3-digit prices. As I do whisky tastings, I’m often asked where one can find such and such a malt, and the sticker shock when I tell them the price often results in a response of, “Never mind.” I’ve had people ask me where they can get good malts for under $30, and it’s hard for me to respond. Bourbon, once the bastion of reasonability in a world of Scotch gone mad, has also seen a staggering price increase lately, and Canadian whiskies are following suit. One is left with a choice of spending too much on what amounts to being a pure luxury, or simply looking at other options.

    There are some fun gems in the under $40 category still, but another five years may see those vanish altogether at this rate. It is no longer a good time to ‘get into whisky.’

  2. Jim Clarke says:

    It may not be a golden age for whisky everywhere, but I think it’s definitely arguable that it’s a golden age for Irish whiskey, and it could be set to get even better.
    There is, for the first time since the 60s, a range of single potstill whiskeys, multiple distilleries under multiple ownership for the first time since IDL was formed, and plans for an expansion of whiskey manufacturing that would bring the nation back to where it was in the 1920s or 1930s.
    It may not be long at all before we see distilling taking place in great whiskey towns like Dublin and Belfast once more.
    And from a consumer perspective, a lot of the whiskey is actually really good value for money. The days of wallet-busting single cask options are not perhaps entirely gone, but that offers choice to those who can afford it, while those who can’t are now well served by excellent value whiskeys like the Powers John’s Lane, Yellow Spot, Connemara, Bushmills 16 year old, and some of the new independent bottlings like the Teeling range.
    So, while I wouldn’t dare comment on the possibility of golden ages elsewhere, we may well be at the start of one in Ireland. I’ll raise a glass in hope, anyhow.

    • John Hansell says:

      Jim, I was speaking about whisky in general, and not one specific category. I must admit to being very excited about the new Irish whiskey releases lately–especially from Midleton.

      I also think that there’s still some good value in American whiskey (specifically, bourbon).

      • Sumo Goalie says:

        I’m almost afraid to say anything, but I think the best value out there today is in rye.

      • Jim Clarke says:

        I know you were. I was only responding in relation to what I know about. In fact, given the explosion in world whiskey distillation, and the boom in micro-distillation in North America (and if what you say about American whiskey being value for money is true), then it might be arguable that it is a golden age for whisky, everywhere except Scotland.

        • Danny Maguire says:

          You could be right, but as far as I know the Irish distilling industry is owned by the usual suspects, Diageo, Pernod-Ricard, Beam Global and William Grant. Don’t know if there’s any other company involved at that level but they’re the same ones involved in Scotland, the U.S. and just about every where else. As for Scotland, a lot of companies are spending a lot of money building new facilities, expanding existing ones and bringing disused ones back on stream. To me it doesn’t sound like an industry in the doldrums.

  3. Terry Lozoff says:

    You say this in passing, “and all the new craft distillers around the world will energize the whisky industry the same way craft beer has done for brewing,” but, personally, I’ve got to say this is the most important point in why I believe the golden age is still to come.

    • John Hansell says:

      Time will tell, Terry. It will depend on quality and price of future releases. Let’s hope so.

      • Lew Bryson says:

        I’m seeing a definite improvement in craft whiskies in the past two years that I’ve been reviewing them for the magazine. Remains to be seen how they get through adolescence.

  4. Thom says:

    It depends entirely on the criteria defining “golden age”. If price is the sole, or main, criteria then as a buyer the “golden age” is behind us. But as a producer this has to be a great time – prices keep rising year-over-year even for creative blends and NAS whiskies, and even more so for slightly older whiskies in the 15 to 18 year age range.

    If quality is the main criteria the golden age is yet to come – although now is a pretty great time. The choices of good quality non-chill filtered higher ABV whiskies has never been greater. The boom in new distilleries coming online combined with better information in the hands of buyers means that sub-par brands and whiskies won’t be able to survive for very long selling “over-priced dreck”.

    To borrow a phrase from surfing in describing waves – “you should have been here yesterday”. While I regret not being able to buy the ridiculously cheap excellent drams of the past, I’m also thankful that I missed out having to discover what was good or bad by one-off trial-and-error purchases. On balance now is a pretty great time to be into whisky – the innovation, availability and information have never been better. So this is probably my “golden age” but it may not be yours.

  5. @alligatorchar says:

    We are now in the Golden Age of Whiskey “Sales” from the viewpoint of producers. From a consumers perspective it’s now over as the selection of reasonable priced top shelf offerings is literally gone and being replaced with ever more gimmicky limited editions where marketing trumps quality. As a bourbon enthusiast, I can almost never find a bottle of premium aged bourbon that I must have on the shelf anymore.

  6. Tim Read says:

    I agree with alligatorchar’s assessment that this is a golden age only if you’re selling the stuff. Is it possible that 15-20 years ago, whisky was “undervalued”? Sure, why not. And while you say, John, there were bad bottles in there, there were most assuredly good and great bottles to be had.

    You imply that quality control is far beyond what it was. I’m not sure that I agree. Yes, I’ve had some memorably bad drams from the 90s (one rotten Bowmore comes to mind). But i can think of plenty of horrendous and putrid drams bottled in the last few years that should have been thrown out versus put in a bottle and sold for ever-increasing-prices.

    – Bruichladdich Chenin Blanc (memorably awful)
    – Glen Elgin ’91 DT, 19y Cask #6347 (bad cask? hope so)
    – Springbank ’95 DT, 17y sherry cask #83 (sour in a “am I going to get sick here?” way)

    So what are we staring at in the current marketplace? Well, apparently there is unrelenting pressure on stocks and any good cask is now seemingly reserved for a whisky that would make its way to market in 2043. Meanwhile it’s week in, week out of stunt casks (Glenlivet’s american white oak 17y at $300, presumably justified because bourbon barrels are in short supply worldwide despite being produced by hundreds of thousands annually) or ridiculous packaging schemes (Highland Park’s valhalla collection, again because my whisky needs to have some faux-art-piece presentation to justify charging $230 for a 15y whisky). Baseline malt prices are increasing regularly with multiple leaps in price over the last few years, getting to the point that I’m seriously scratching my head at the value being offered. I saw a Kilchoman for $110 this week! Macallan 12, produced in great quantities, is now $45 and unavailable in its home country. 18 is now pushing $180, which is about $50 more than it was even 3 years ago. Priced a Clynelish lately? $65 or so for the 14 year – a whisky that your average joe has never heard of.

    So, the contention is that:
    – Higher prices
    – Ability to sell questionable casks (either directly or via an elaborate “finishing” program)
    – Needlessly ostentatious presentation (how many times has the Dalmore 12 bottle been redesigned in the last 5-10 years?)
    – reduced availability of aged whisky

    is a better scenario than:
    – lower prices
    – ability to sell questionable casks (either directly or via dumping into large vattings of standard offerings)
    – low-key presentation
    – plentiful availability of aged whisky

    I guess if you’re a producer, it’s fantastic. In the old days, good whisky was good whisky because it was good. Now it’s good because it was finished in a first-fill Latvian Spruce octave cask for 3 months (which previously held a nameless Uruguayan Malbec), has a cartoony name with a ridiculous backstory, has a large silver plastic stag’s head glued to the bottle, is wrapped in a tartan and sold in a large box that also doubles as extra closet space when you’re done. No age stated – but hey, at least they didn’t put artificial coloring in it – yours for only $150.

    I can only speak for myself but 2013 has been one of my lowest years of spending because of the trend towards ever more expensive, ridiculous whiskies with absolutely nothing to back up the price (and the ever-present risk of questionable casks and sink pours – yes, I’ve dumped a bottle that was bottled & sold in the last 8 months). I’ll just turn to what I accumulated and enjoy it and wait for some form of market correction. No sweat: I’ve got at least a decade’s worth to coast on.

    • portwood says:

      “No sweat: I’ve got at least a decade’s worth to coast on.”

      That may ultimately be what kills the golden goose. I suspect many of the very people that have contributed to the boom in ‘premium” whiskies (single malts, straight bourbon/rye, etc) now have more bottles than they can drink. It will not take much of a shock in price &/or quality for them to stop buying. If the predicted (hoped for) escalating demand from the BRIC countries doesn’t materialize the industry will be in trouble.

    • alligatorchar says:

      I have little doubt I will spend far less buying whiskey the next few years than the past few years. Some of that will be due to the fact I’ve bunked quite a bit as I saw the supply shortage coming in the nick of time. But the main reason will be that I rarely find interesting bottles on shelf anywhere anymore. When I do buy I’ll likely be focused on single barrels aged 6-10 years with an eye to buy multiple bottles of that barrel when I find a tasty one. I’ll also branch out more and try things like aged rum to keep my sense of curiosity about new spirits moving forward. Lastly, I expect to spend more time with craft cocktails that can combine modestly priced labels with fresh ingredients and deliver and excellent drinking experience. I’ve already expanded my bitters selection, bought sugar cubes and natural simple syrup and I’m buying fresh fruits for zesting more often.

    • John Hansell says:

      I think the biggest advancement over the past 20 years (and I am generalizing here) is with wood management, the understanding of its impact on the whisky, and the use of better casks. It’s a slow and gradual process, and not every whisky company “got the memo”, but I am seeing more of it. Glenmorangie 10 year old is a good example.

      Will we still have dud whiskies? Yes, especially with indie bottlers, because many are getting squeezed with stocks they have access to.

      • @alligatorchar says:

        Sadly, I find lots of bars (some even in otherwise fine restaurants) only offer dud whiskeys. I will often not even order a drink if my choices are only in the range of Jim Beam, Basil Hayden, Evan Williams, Bulliet, Jack Daniel’s, JW Red/Black, Crown Royal, Wild Turkey, Dewar’s, Maker’s and Woodford.

        Well, I might order the Maker’s or even the WT 101 seeing them as the shining stars of most basic selections.

        • the layman says:

          That is why it is so much easier to stay at home, at least I know I will find something I like to drink.

        • sam k says:

          Really? REALLY? You don’t find anything in that list that would make even an acceptable drink? You and I live in two different worlds, and I’ll bet mine is much more contented.

          • @alligatorchar says:

            As I stated, I would order the Maker’s or Wild Turkey if the selection was limited.

            Would I order a Jim Beam, Jack Daniel’s #7, JW Red neat or on the rocks? Not likely. I’ve found even a cocktail with those labels is rather suspect.

          • sam k says:

            I guess I’m just not as discerning a consumer. I’d be satisfied with most, though not all of these.

            Go figure.

          • @alligatorchar says:

            It’s not that I haven’t tried all these lines on multiple occasions. How could I not….they are widely available in bars everywhere I go. I simply don’t care for them. Taste is subjective.

        • Lew Bryson says:

          I’m with Sam to a certain extent; I know I am, having been in this situation a couple months ago. I was an alumni function, and was faced with a choice of wine — always my last choice — Bud Light, a clutch of vodkas, and JW Black. I drank Black all night, and actually came away with a renewed appreciation of it. Had a similar experience with Newcastle Brown Ale not long before that.
          I guess my takeaway is that I won’t write off something until I’m forced to give it a fair shot over two-plus drinks. Not that I’m going to go looking for it…

      • Tim Read says:

        @John – It’s an interesting thing, and certainly wood management has been the big go-to phrase in marketing these days, but I can’t say I look at new whiskies these days and think, “my god, these are so much better on average than they used to be”. You can trace kind of a slow meandering path on some of the Macallans and not really see a clear path of improvement. Oh, it’s good, don’t get me wrong, but one glance at (for instance) Serge’s ratings and you’ll see a gradual slope down. LAWS has a similar kind of negative slope (though less drastic) seen on the 18 year old. Yes, perhaps the 18s are still moving through transitional stock, but at some point here, if wood were truly raised across the board, you’d expect to see the tide rising for most bottles in general. If that’s what the future holds, then I’m excited, though I haven’t seen much to empirically support it. It seems that the good wood is held for “premium”/”limited” expressions, which are then graciously passed along to us at double the going rate for a “standard” cask, whatever that may be.

        Perhaps the tide is about to break, but say we assume the industry started to get religion with regards to high quality wood in 2003 (since not everybody clued in on day one), we’d expect in the next 2-3 years that people would really start noticing a change for the better. Certainly, Glendronach, Glengoyne, Glenfarclas and BenRiach among others have a healthy single-cask program that produces some phenomenal whisky, but these are generally offered at premium prices and obviously in limited runs. If a distillery *wasn’t* able to cherry pick five or six world-beaters a year, I’d be concerned about everything it did.

        Prices are unfortunately here to stay for the time being (though I’m less inclined to partake). Given that we agree that duds still happen, I would have rather paid $60 for it than $120 or more I’m being asked for today. I certainly don’t wish economic ill will towards the distilleries as that’s counterproductive to all of our desires, but at the same time, what we see is pricing that is driven in part by a desire to lead to a “premiumization” of the category. It seems like this is bolstered lately with garish redesigns, silly packaging, and ever-more-severe typography, and not with what’s inside the bottle. If, as said above, this was a natural equilibrium being reached, that’d be one thing. A 20 year, $3000 port-finished whisky is not a realization of past-due inflation. Of course, that’s a gimme. I would also suspect that a lesser-known 14y malt at $75 is also a bit high. I mean, really, how many people are beating down the doors for Oban that the price is that high?

        @Nathan – yes. I also remember the days of $29 Laph 10. $44 now. In three years it’s added 50% to its asking price. If the industry is really seeing that kind of demand, good on it – but yet, every chart I remember seeing doesn’t support that sort of volume growth. Who knows, though, I’m just the sap in the audience who’s expected to buy and not an industry “name”. Well, I’ll vote the way I can: by purchasing less. And maybe, as you said, prices will come back to earth.

        It’s odd that I don’t have any qualms paying $45 for Yamazaki 12 (though I wish it were still $35). Same old bottle, same old box. Same great whisky inside. Meanwhile, I keep looking at the ever-increasing prices and bottles bedecked with ridiculous trinkets coming out of Scotland and I can’t help but think they’re losing the plot.

        Fortunately there’s a whole world of whisky out there and while we’re certainly seeing prices on the category rise, there are fair values to be found if you branch outside of Scotland (as noted above with the Irish comments, where I’ve had a number of Irish whiskies recently pass my personal laugh test).

        • John Hansell says:

          The quality improvements in wood, naturally, will be seen in the younger whiskies first. That’s why I mentioned Glenmo 10 as an example. I think it’s going to take a while to penetrate the older whiskies. And I think the improvements will be subtle, and not across the board.

        • Jeff says:

          Tim’s point (admittedly paraphrased) of “Hey, this isn’t really any better than it used to be” IS the “Emperor has no clothes” moment in this discussion. If, after years of “miseducating” the public on what drives quality (and, apparently, misunderstanding that issue itself), the industry now “has it right”, where is the quality?

          Ardbeg Galileo, the Yuri Gargarin of single malts, recently won World’s Best Single Malt Whisky in the World Whiskies Awards 2013. Reviews? 80/90 from Whisky Magazine (Nouet/Allanson), 80 from Whisky Advocate (Broom), 87 from Maniacs, 84 from Serge, B- from LAWS, 87 from Whiskybase. This is the best the industry can do in its “Renaissance”? The industry is not simply “going to have” dud bottles, it is actively trending toward them – while gathering awards!

          The sad truth is that, no, the industry has NOT reinvented the whisky wheel – except to give it more angles, making for a rougher ride, while charging you more to get onboard. “Wood management” and “wood extraction” are not substitutes for wood maturation, many age statements are in decline (or slated to disappear altogether) and NAS is a big-margin/declining quality money grab supported by tall tales, spin and hype – buy into it at your own considerable risk. The ONLY reason you’re not being told what’s in these bottles is the high probability you would not buy them if you were (at least NOT at the prices asked) and, contrary to what the industry would tell you, that sales choice WOULD be driven by consumer awareness, not consumer ignorance.

          Overall, quality and value are trending down, not up, and until there is a correction (however derived) of many of the assumptions and motivations that are driving this trending, there’s no reason for the consumer to expect a Golden Age any time soon.

      • Danny Maguire says:

        I said some years ago, on a different site, that the independents were going to have to get a tie up with a distillery or go under as stocks were going to get more difficult to procure. I was told then I was talking rubbish, I think its happening even more quickly than I expected.

    • Nathan says:

      Hear, hear! I’m a relative newcomer to this whole business (I bought my first single malt in late 2010), when Laphroaig 10 was still $29. While I may have entirely missed the Golden Age, I did get about 12 months of reasonably-priced, age-stated bottles, and even a bottle or two of Pappy. Then it all exploded, and I’m staring at “entry level” distillery bottlings of 12 year-old whisky at $70+! I think the majority of whisky aficionados (which is decidedly the minority of whisky drinkers) will turn their attentions elsewhere, to their own collections, or to the few remaining good deals in the market. Unfortunately, they will be (or are being) replaced by a new wave of consumers who are happy to pay $65 for Laphroaig 10 and $120 for Talisker 18. I guess we can all just hope that the market fails again and value comes back… then we can all sit around in 10 years, drinking the glut being produced now and laughing.

      • Danny Maguire says:

        The whisky market is predicted to continue growing for the next 20-30 years, at least for Scotch, so we’re looking at that time before there is a market correction, probably be in my box by then.

  7. RN says:

    For conglomerates, distilleries, distributors, advertisers, and retailers: Roaring Gilded Age of Whisky Prices. For reasoned, value-conscious consumers: Protofeudalistic Dark Ages of Whisky Prices.

  8. alligatorchar says:

    I find it understandable and quite reasonable for producers to raise prices in response to increased demand for current supplies. It’s economics 101 and I don’t begrudge producers for making higher profits. Seriously, good for them. However, I detest that many producers have become less transparent about what’s in the bottle. Dropping age statements, lowering ABV, dolling up packing, bizarre limited editions and tweaking their labels is irratating and insulting to knowledgable consumers. It obviscates our line of sight to what we are accustom to consuming. I would have more respect for producers at largel if they simply said demand is greater than our stocks can supply and we’re going to raise prices until demand and supply are aligned. And we’ll continue to give you the labels you know and love while bringing a few new products to market.

  9. Matt L. says:

    Maybe it’s time we take some more advice from Sku and start looking at some of the amazing brandies out there as a secondary option when the whiskeys we want are either unavailable or too darn expensive.

    • sku says:

      That’s definitely the song I’ve been singing. Brandy right now is the equivalent of whiskey in about 1995. Consumers are just starting to get interested in smaller grower/producers using unadulterated products, producers are experimenting with cask strength, single barrel offerings and prices are fantastic, including for really old stuff. Armagnac is the new Islay!

      • Tim Read says:

        And if brandy isn’t your thing (not mine, just misses the spot), there are some interesting rums to be found. Not perhaps as transparent or bang-for-the-buck as brandy, but there’s some good stuff.

        Bonus: you can actually afford Samaroli bottlings of rum. 😉

      • John Hansell says:

        Definitely agree with you sku. I don’t discuss it much, but I’ve been an armagnac fan for many years and have even toured distilleries. They are a great value.

      • AdamH says:

        I’m way ahead of you. For Sipping: 5 bottles Papá Von Wittmeyer 23yo Armagnac!

      • Danny Maguire says:

        I must admit I prefer Armagnac to Cognac.

    • Edward Willey III says:

      Too true. If a person is not totally put off by the Grangestone sales pitch at Total Wine, they do offer Delamain’s thoroughly delicious XO Cognac named “Pale and Dry” for about $80. Pale and Dry is a magnificent spirit produced entirely negociant-style from the eaux-de-vie from specially contracted producers. Two cousins – descendants of the original family – run the business and ensure that quality remains consistently high. Talking about wood management, these guys do a terrific job managing the casks. Delamain proofs down the XO grade spirit before bottling with older, lower proof spirit, which should remind some people of a certain Springbank. A scotch of comparable quality would be well over $100. I also like the Marie Duffau 30 yr Argmagnac. It’s major league stuff for a bit over $100. Compare that to what, $500, for Laphroaig 30? How much is Macallan 30?

  10. Louis says:

    My vote would definitely be for 1995-2005 as the most recent golden age of scotch whisky. In addition to all of those wonderful bottles blissfully ignored on the shelves, there was the re-opening on Ardbeg and Bruichladdich, both with large amounts of mature stock. And lets not forget the formation of Compass Box Whisky. Today, everything is about maximizing profit. Quality control and wood management has been dramatically improved, but that does not constitute a golden age, IMHO. I actually hope that there is a scotch whisky glut in the next few years, so maybe they’ll be enough older stock a few years later to keep prices reasonable.

    Bourbon is really a quality dram across the board today, bit I think that they need more than the annual BTAC, Four Roses, and Parkers heritage releases to qualify as a golden age. Perhaps some of these craft distilleries will break through in some way to set the direction for the next golden age.

  11. Matt L. says:

    See some of those prices at today’s Bonhams auction? Come on now! Ridiculous.

  12. kallaskander says:

    Hi there,

    goodness John, you are asking for a novel to try and give an answer.

    I think we have seen the best times of whisk(e)y in general and we are in the middle of a decline.

    I say so because for me whisky has lost much of its soul with developments of malt distilleries like Roseisle in Scotland and a steady increasing output of almost every whisk(e)y distillery in existence.
    It is an industry and we have to get over that fact.

    Quality control is but another word for ever increasing uniformity – a feature of every industrialised manufactured product.
    Cask management to enhance quality is one thing – the odd one cask out is another. Mass production is the enemy of quality. Whisky maturing is much mure structured and planned than it was.

    Whisk(e)y is on the way to become boring. Individual traits are more and more levelled out – especially with the trend of NAS whiskies.
    For many of those you have a very uniform whisk(e)y profile because within a category all too young whiskies taste and smell the same.

    There is no need to talk about pricing – it borders on the insane and the overstreched bow will break. There is hardly a connection between price and value anymore. Here is uniformity again. Young and old whiskies are far too expensive.

    And all the things said above.


  13. Jeff says:

    Great topic and comments. Is this the Golden Age? As others have said (and often better), only for producers. Sku nailed the four current main problems with the industry in his blog: young whisky and dropped age statements, inflation and overpricing, availability (scarcity) and gimmicks. Producer contempt for consumer intelligence is palpable – the insult added to the injury of price increases which no one can confirm are driven by increased demand alone. The perception of this currently being a seller’s market has made producers arrogant, and even logically sloppy in that arrogance. Macallan, for example, should be laughed out of the industry and off the shelf for the transparent ploy of advancing colour, but not age, as somehow significant for its NAS offerings, given the continuing premium pricing of its aged expressions. That they try to characterize selling this hypocritical silliness to buyers as “consumer education” is the height of arrogance because, no matter what you think of age or the lack thereof, Macallan will have you paying more for both – all the while saying that, if you see a problem, it’s with you and your “lack of understanding”.

    Yes, demand is up – and so, exponentially, is greed and spin – and I suggest that full content disclosure may be the only possible start to a remedy for a business relationship which has been so degraded by a growing lack of respect and trust.

  14. kallaskander says:

    Hi there,

    another voice another warning.

    Like the KL Wines comment this was published today.

    Seems there is a growing concern about whisky and quality and many things connected.


  15. JeremyE says:

    Unfortunately, I can’t attest to many whiskies available prior to year 2K, but I believe a golden age is on its way, but yet to come. For me that golden age revolves around transparency. I’m fine with NAS whiskies. I’ve had many that I’ve enjoyed and will continue to. But I still like to know what I’m getting (not just with age, but finishes and barrel types, etc.). Transparency tells me that a producer believes in their craft and they’re proud of their product. For me personally, price matters less when I have a better idea about what I’m buying. And when consumers know more about what they’re buying, they have a stronger hand in driving the market. So I think that as producers become more transparent (and many are already) than consumers will see that golden age. (Not that I want anyone spilling trade secrets, but you know what I mean.)

    That said, isn’t it a golden age for new whisky enthusiasts? There are so many varied and interesting products to try, and each one holding mystery and promise. They’re spending less time comparing and more time experiencing – and there is so much out there to experience now. I think if you’re just getting started in whisky, now is an excellent time.

    • Jeff says:

      I really don’t know if current trending IS toward transparency (as much as I would like to believe this is the case), particularly with regard to age – and age and related cask times are the key to transparency. New NAS offerings are announced weekly (if not daily), all wanting to discuss wood/cask type in place of age which is meaningless doubletalk. If the reader is not a whisky expert, they probably have no idea, or context, to judge whether the use of any given cask type is important, much less beneficial. Yet if the reader is an expert, knowing cask types, but not time for cask influence, really tells you nothing if all you can do is guess that the time is likely less than 10 years (in some combination), otherwise the bottle probably wouldn’t be NAS – and in cases where NAS bottles are said to contain some whisky older than 10 years, that information, without any mention of concentration, is equally worthless.

      I would agree with now being an excellent time to get started in whisky, at least in this sense: the less context one has, the more likely one is to be impressed with the current state of affairs – and the potential, if not the likelihood, for improvement in the industry IS massive. Those capable of making quality whisky and willing to share vital information with consumers WILL have a huge market advantage as the age of NAS (Nonsense Adjective Selling) continues to take over.

  16. mongo says:

    i’m pretty sure this is the golden age of whisky blogs.

    • John Hansell says:

      What do you think that means?

      • mongo says:

        john, i’m not sure what it means per se but it demonstrates the huge shift in not just the availability of single malt whisky in the 1980s compared to the 2000s, but the availability of information and conversation about single malt whisky. the problem is there hasn’t always been a matching growth in knowledge about single malt whisky or its history, however. blogs, which mostly echo each other and help market the industry, are read instead of books that might better historicize these questions. there’s a lot more conversation now–including on topics like this one–but i’m not sure that it isn’t more impressionistic than substantive. and bloggers, as a whole, have not i think spent much time thinking of a code of ethics for what it is they do (or even considered whether they should have one). i recently posted about this on my own blog but feel free to remove this link if it crosses the line into advertising my blog:

        • mongo says:

          before anybody asks, let me clarify the seeming contradiction between my saying that, on the one hand, there is more information available about single malt whisky and that, on the other, there isn’t always an accompanying growth in knowledge: for example, we know far more now about cask/wood types but we don’t really know what that information means, and are mostly happy (professionals and amaeurs alike) to just recycle what the industry tells us it means.

        • RN says:

          Linking to your personal blog, from another’s blog, whilst disparaging Blogs and Bloggers?

  17. Tadas A says:

    I wonder if single barrel bottles are getting worse. They are selling so many of them it could be that they do not have enough good barrels around that are good on its own without blending with other barrels. Or just doing less thorough job selecting them.
    I have bought few single barrel bottles this year. One was Evan Williams Single Barrel 2003 (barrel #68, distilled 5/9/2003, barreled 12/20/2012) and another Four Roses Single Barrel 100 proof (warehouse RS, barrel #81-1F). Both of them I would rate at low 80 rating. They had metallic and dusty flavor to it that was not enjoyable. Just for perspective, I would rate regular Evan Williams and regular Four Roses higher than these two single barrels.

    • Danny Maguire says:

      Don’t drink a lot of bourbon, what I would say to the distillers is, if a single barrel is not as good as your regular bottling; don’t bottle it.

  18. Eli says:

    The term ‘Golden Age’ has always been a bit funny to me. As a fan of boxing and baseball, both filled with rich history, you hear old historians talk about Walter Johnson, the 1927 Yankees, DiMaggio, Mays or Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis and the mid 80s welterweight champions. And each historian talks about a ‘Golden Age’ that is now gone and one can’t help but imagine what it must of been like to be there and seeing those legends.

    Then I take a step back and realize that today’s athletes are probably better trained, more physically talented and in all likelihood are providing a more competitive and entertaining game/fight. It’s just that allure of the past that’s missing.

    I feel people in general like to have a sense of nostalgia. We tend to think some things (not all) were better before. So I think whiskey is no different, just like with sports, music, movies, etc people will feel things were better ‘in my day’

    So I can’t say for sure if were living in a golden age of whiskey or if it’s pasted or if it’s yet to come. All I can say is there is a wide array of high quality whiskeys available today and yes the prices have skyrocketed but that goes for anything. Chances are you won’t find to many things priced the same as they were in the 50s, 60s or 70s.

    • Jeff says:

      The problem with your sports analogy is that, with whisky, we have exactly the same people rating the new stuff AND the old stuff, essentially seeing and comparing the “new game” and the “old game’, and the former is generally being found wanting. This is not just nostalgia for days past – it’s desire for quality past. People are seeing this stuff slipping, and it’s not just a figment of their imagination. The “wide array of high quality whiskeys” available today is narrowing, and quality is falling off, even as prices rise. Reading above, those with the option say that, in seeing this, they will be turning to quality products already purchased instead of supporting the new, increasingly substandard, market.

      • mongo says:

        yes, but the exact same people are not comparing the old stuff and the new stuff head-to-head (in fact, it’s impossible to do so, as even an unopened bottle of an older version of a whisky will not taste the same now as it would have when opened 25 years ago). so, the sports analogy works, but with a more compressed timeframe: there are people who saw elgin baylor play in his prime and insist that he was better than the high-flyers of the 80s, 90s and 2000s (the late great chick hearn was one of these people). on the other hand, there are people who insist that contemporary athletes are better simply because they’re bigger and faster.

        somewhere between nostalgia and presentism is where the truth lies but it’s finally elusive. all you can do is be sceptical of all claims, but especially those made by people trying to sell you things (and even more so if those people couldn’t be trusted when they were telling you that chill-filtration makes no difference etc.).

        • Jeff says:

          But, in whisky, those who don’t think “the oldtimers know what they’re talking about” do have the option of seeing the old game (if they want to pay the money) – and it IS the younger generation which lacks perspective on this question and so cling to what they are told by the industry about “all the recent improvements” in hopes that they aren’t increasingly being shafted.

          It is, in fact, the younger generation’s lack of context which the industry is currently marketing to by touting wood and colour over age, conveniently changing the rules about quality to emphasize those things producers can provide cheaply over that which costs them dearly in profits in today’s market. Those who have seen the slippage in quality that results from this, because they have the context to have experienced it firsthand, are turning to bunkered bottles, hoping that the spin bubble soon bursts and we return to conventional sanity – albeit a somewhat more expensive version.

          I would agree with the point raised about the generally pessimistic psychology involved in the idea of “the Golden Age” – that things were better (and will never be as good again) back in the mists of time – but the Golden Age we’re talking about isn’t a candidate for a Ken Burns film, it’s in recent widespread living memory. To dismiss the perceived slide in quality as mere pessimism and nostalgia just doesn’t fly. Unlike producers, respected reviewers aren’t really selling me anything but their opinions (and many give them for free) and they possess the context to render an opinion on the question – and, in general, the news isn’t good.

          Maybe this would be good blog topic in itself: “Is quality slipping?” I’d certainly be interested in the responses.

          • mongo says:

            as i said, the sports analogy doesn’t have to involve the mists of time. there are older people who saw wilt chamberlain and shaquille o’neal play and insist that wilt was more dominant. the younger people who saw far more of shaq do have the opportunity to watch recordings of wilt chamberlain as well but are more likely to insist that shaq was more dominant. in these kinds of disagreements neither side has objective truth on their side, as both sides (not just the younger people) are making broader generational claims.

            back to whisky: all kinds of contradictions emerge from this situation. when we read david daiches’ book we see that three or four decades ago a 12 yo whisky was considered very old, and that past that age people worried that the wood would “rot”. one way to read this is to say that the bias towards older whiskies that now exists is largely a result of the industry selling that to us as a feature since they had oceans of older whisky lying around in the 1980s. but others will counter that back then they didn’t have the “wood management” that the industry does today and that today’s older whiskies are much better. the problem, of course, is that the same lot who insist that the preference for older whisky is due to qualities intrinsic to older whisky and not simply to a current cultural bias will often be the people who tell us that the very best whiskies were whiskies either bottled or distilled back in the era when “wood management” was non-existent and who give very high scores to teenaged whiskies bottled in that era.

            we have to reject presentism (“everything is better/managed now”) but we also have to reject the idea of a golden age in the past that very few in the conversation experienced and most of whom who do only remember the high points of.

          • Jeff says:

            “… but we also have to reject the idea of a golden age in the past that very few in the conversation experienced and most of whom who do only remember the high points of”. In what sense did the majority (?) in the conversation not experience it – they weren’t in whisky at that time, or were and have no idea what others are talking about? Also, who are “we”, and how did you become our spokesman? Take this back to where it began – Sku’s blog (link above) – the times discussed are not that far in the past – and how do you know that anyone (let alone the majority) is only remembering the high points (?) – maybe they were just simply there to see it. If other people have a different reading of this very recent era in history, let them make their case (and some have). And again, there is no need for this to rest on bookish arguments – people can spend the money for older bottlings (those bottled years ago, not just higher age statements), try the whisky, and find out. Those who do so won’t have any greater or lesser claim to objective truth, but they will have a basis for comparison.

          • mongo says:

            i’m sorry to have upset you. i’m not speaking as anyone’s spokesman more or less than anyone else in this conversation.

            as for what people experienced in an era and how they talk about it later: there’s always a discrepancy there. golden ages (wherever you locate them) look golden because people forget/ignore the things that aren’t so golden about them. so, my point is that our scepticism should be aimed not only at claims for the present as a golden age (which i don’t think it is) but also at any other period as a golden age. i agree with you that whisky marketers are changing the “rules” to sell younger whisky massaged with wood experiments to a new generation of drinkers. but the rules they’re changing are themselves of very recent vintage. this is not to justify the b.s they employ to sell the latest version of the rules.

            and while there’s perhaps more crappy whisky on the market now (and talked about as though it is anything but) there’s also far more whisky available now: distilleries that weren’t available at all to most drinkers in the 80s and 90s now are; small distilleries are making a comeback; more and more independent bottlers are making more and more iterations of whiskies from most distilleries available. there are things to like about the current era even as we (that pronoun again) critique the marketing b.s of the big producers/players.

          • Jeff says:

            I’m sorry if I created the wrong impression; I wasn’t upset, I was mystified – in the absence of evidence of either royalty or allies, I wasn’t sure of just how many of “you” there were.

          • mongo says:

            my use of the “we” is meant to locate myself, with humility, as speaking from within a community of whisky geeks, not as speaking on behalf of it.

          • Jeff says:

            But then, with humility (?), you say what “we” have to reject – that was the mystifying part.

          • mongo says:

            jeff, i don’t really know why that’s so mystifying. i am suggesting a direction for a community i see myself as part of–not commanding anyone or expecting that my positions will be universally shared.

          • Danny Maguire says:

            An interesting thread, my tuppence worth is that we have to treat everything the marketeers say with a healthy dose of scepticism.

          • Jeff says:

            I think far too much was made of the label “Golden Age” here – and far too many arguments and observations dismissed without real counterpoint simply on the basis that no period can claim to be a Golden Age in the sense of literally being a perfected state. Sku, John and Neil Ramsay were, collectively, talking about the years from the mid-to-late 1990’s to late 2000’s as a candidate period (with personal variations and provisions) for whisky’s “Golden Age” – not the ancient past, or the present for that matter. I have to wonder if the label “Golden Age” were removed from the equation whether or not their observations and arguments would magically have some measure of veracity and validity restored, particularly in the continuing absence of counter-argument about the same era(s) or any detailing of what “downside” might have been forgotten about.

  19. kallaskander says:

    Hi there,

    some very revealing quotes in this article.

    “Bob Dalgarno, whisky maker at the Moray distillery, said the move would allow it to take a more “flexible approach” in production.
    “Using colour to drive and define a whisky differs dramatically from the conventional age approach, allowing us to explore different casks and take a more flexible approach to our stock”, he said.
    “We have been able to work creatively with the full range of matured stock available, rather than working to a predetermined character based on age.
    “For me, the key thought in this range is that a great single malt doesn’t need to be 30 years old to taste like a 30-year-old.”

    Colour is so much easier to apply than maturity – not that Macallan for example is using artificial colour in their new NAS series. Dig this… a whisky need not be 30 years old to taste 30 years old. Iam still not sure what to make of it.

    “Ken Grier, director of malts at Edrington, which owns Macallan, along with Famous Grouse, said: “The 1824 Series has resulted in us being able to use casks when they are ready, as not all whiskies benefit from being left to get older, some mature earlier – much like some people.”

    Casks when they are ready to create cash flow and improve turn-over who caresfor age anyway?

    What I see over the range of Scottish single malt is that we are now in the valley of dearth after the whisky lake has been drained.

    1983 ff not only saw the closure of about 30 malt distilleries up to as late as 1996 in some cases but also the reduction in production. The whisky taht has been produced and matured has been swallowed by the beginning boom that now seems to be at its height. Try and find a bottling of single malt from vintages 1983 ff. Bigger supply starts from vintage 1990 on war again but anything before is hard to find I feel.
    So yes the whisky industry is hard pressed to feed the demand – in blends! Let us not forget that in talking about malts we talk about only about 5-7% of the world whisky market of Scotch whisky. But that is no reason to cheat customers with obscurity and dishonest NAS whiskies.


    • Jeff says:

      Yes, I love the buzz phrases used here: “flexible approach”, “explore different casks” and “work creatively”. There’s a lot of “creative work” going on here alright – in the areas of logic and sales.

      “For me, the key thought in this range is that a great single malt doesn’t need to be 30 years old to taste like a 30-year-old.” – why is it important, or desireable, for a malt to taste like a 30-year-old if age is no indication of quality in the first place?


      • kallaskander says:

        Hi there,

        yep especially in the light that the current general pricing level would never have been reached without 30yo+ bottlings of rare and scarce single malts.

        The industry rode the vehicle of aged and rare bottlings to drive the prices skyhigh and now they think they can abandon the vehicle and go on air alone. But the only way is not up not by a long shot.
        Nor by all means. I am not sure that the same is the case with bourbon but for Scottish malts I think it holds true.
        Reminds me a bit of the fight of independent bottlers. They made single malts great now the industry tries to dry them up.

        “The moor has done his duty, the moor can go,” says a character in Friedrich von Schiller’s play, Fiesco’s Conspiracy at Genoa. Anyone who has read about the history of major revolutions will come to the same conclusion: The initial revolutionaries are all being destroyed by the latter-day power takers. The former are the foot soldiers-turned cannon fodder, the cogs of the revolution, the latter are the new leaders. Once the cogs have done their work, they can be dispensed with.”


    • B.J. Reed says:

      Ken’s a good guy and I like him but we disagree greatly on how marketing links into the production decisions and who really determines when and how whisky moves to the market these days.

    • RN says:

      Is color a meaningful standard to apply for the MILLIONS of adult consumers with vision loss or color blindness? Will distilleries now begin testing and terminating employees, or turning-away potential employees, based on color vision or vision impairment? And of course there’s now no need to be a connoisseur or collector of whiskies if you have color vision loss or vision loss.
      And why arbitrarily limit colors submitted as de facto standards to just 30 years? Why not NAS products that “taste” 40-to-4,000,000,000 years old? After all, the right color makes anything possible. Well… as long as you aren’t blind or color blind.

  20. kallaskander says:

    Hi there,

    viewed over many blogs and forums an increased uneasiness can be detected over whisk(e)y policy and prices.

    Or, to refer to the following, the plot thickens.


  21. Jazz Lover says:

    I saw the Dark Cloud forming and they called me Crazy..

  22. A. Borracho says:

    $100 to fill my car – “The Golden Age of Petrol” – but for someone else.

    The Golden Age with a Scotch single malt centric view was 1995-2005. The beginning of the Golden Age is debatable but the end is not. The door slammed shut in 2005 due to the steep escalation of prices that continues to this day. If you weren’t in by 2005, sorry kids, you missed the boat.

  23. Chris says:

    I must admit, I am disappointed by the sense of entitlement present in so many of these comments. Whisky companies are in business to make money. Suddenly, their products are in much higher demand, and they get slammed for taking advantage? If you don’t like what Macallan, Dalmore, and others are doing, don’t buy their whisky. It’s unfortunate, but it seems certain that prices will never return to levels seen 10 years ago. Those hoping that the current increase in production will lead to a glut and cheap whisky again are sadly mistaken.
    On the subject of improved consistency, especially as regards wood, leading to fewer great whiskies, this is only to be expected. The great variations between casks that used to occur has lessened. There are fewer truly awful casks, and following a normal distribution curve, we should expect a similar reduction in truly exceptional casks. It’s the price we pay for fewer terrible casks of whisky.

    • Jeff says:

      Entitlement is exactly the issue – demand is up, and producers are entitled to make a profit, but that doesn’t translate into entitlement to gouge the consumer while spouting nonsense about how they’ve reinvented the wheel simply by concealing production information and saying age doesn’t matter while wood and colour do – all the while claiming that their hands are tied and they have no options in the choices they’re making. As for my sense of entitlement (subjective as it is), yes, I think I’m entitled to a good product at a fair price and that I’m entitled to know what I’m drinking. I would prefer to find those things within scotch, but I’m willing to leave it if I can’t.

    • Tadas A says:

      In most industries with a mass production came lower cost to produce per unit, more competition which drives prices lower. Currently whiskey demand outstrips supply, so manufacturers can get away with hiking prices significantly. But high prices eliminates some of the demand. People just go to buy something else – rum, beer, wine, brandy or whatever. And I do not see any exclusivity in whiskey to command high prices. There are so many manufacturers. So I think the table will turn back to normal a lot quicker than most people think.

    • A. Borracho says:

      Do the comments on this thread reflect “entitlement” or an honest discussion of long term trends in QPR? With very few exceptions, the best distillery expressions from one to two decades ago were better quality and with no exceptions much more affordable than the best expressions now. There was an astonishing selection of great bottles from the indies. The corporations that produce whiskies can weather this discussion and so long as they can sell NAS dreck, they will. If you concerned about the well being of the producers, give your $100 to the nice whisky company for your bottle of Ardbeg Galileo.

      • Chris says:

        I’m not concerned about the producers. I never buy Ardbeg, because if I wanted to drink motor oil I could do it much cheaper. I agree that there are troubling long-term trends within the industry. But my point was that producers are entitled to run their businesses however they please, whether I like it or not. The only group they are responsible to are their shareholders. Macallan has raised their prices every quarter for at least the last 4 years and they still can’t keep up with demand. They exist to make a profit, and they can make more profit by raising prices. If you, like me, do not feel that the quality supports the increased prices, then do what I do, and don’t buy from them.

        • Jeff says:

          “The only group they are responsible to are their shareholders.” – interesting thought. Now if the shareholders could only provide the profits as well, the system would be self-sustaining and there’d be no need for the customer at all. These businesses were built not only by decisions made in boardrooms, but also by customers and their loyalty and, through fundamental changes to both, these businesses will fall the same way. While I’m well aware I’m not obligated to buy from those trying to fleece me, I’m not impressed by the “just buy somewhere else and shut up about it” approach to this topic. If the industry doesn’t want criticism, it should reduce doing that for which it can be criticized. And if they have the right to run whisky into the ground for profit alone, I have the right to comment on it – just as you have the right to defend them if you see my criticism as some sort of attack on free enterprise (which, from my perspective, it is not).

  24. kallaskander says:

    Hi there,

    it is a small world and a tight knit community – or not.

    “Lagavulin isn’t a small, proud, family-owned business run by traditional Scotsman using techniques passed down from generation to generation. It’s owned by one of the largest, most powerful corporations in the world. Corporations exist to make money! As much of it as possible. As fast as possible. As cheaply as possible with as much profit as possible.”

    Right David, and that is the basic flaw. It is all about the money for anonymous shareholders who give a damn for valuables dear to true fans or collectors. It is all about the investors willing to pay 2.1 Million $ for one baseball card – 2.1 Million $ earnt with Diageo shares.

    There is no connection between the product whisky and the money behind it anymore. As fast as cheap but as profitable as possible. That’s the credo. Who cares for loyalty to customers or for quality in general.

    Take Bell’s whisky a fine Diageo product. If it does not sell well is carries “8” years old as an age statement. As soon as it sells well the 8 vanishes.


    • Jeff says:

      But as Dave says: “There’s been plenty of whisky blogging over the past few years about the increasing cost of whisky. I think I went on a month-long rant about it at one point.” – why did he do that if those who do so now are wrong on the issue, or, as he says now, “a bit misguided”?

      • Jeff says:

        Even funnier is how Dave begins his next blog: “Did I say that big brands were money-hungry vampires sucking the soul out of the whisky industry? Sorry, I forgot about Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy. I love LVMH. They’re always there when we need them. They love making a deal.”

        He just got through telling me how the industry doesn’t care about me, but now I’m told LVMH is giving me some love – is this selling out or schizophrenia?

        • Matt L. says:

          We can’t forget that David runs a blog for a spirits retailer and they(the two Davids) are very good at selling their stuff. And that’s their job, they are supposed to be. And I, for one, am a happy customer. I just have to remind myself sometimes that they aren’t regular bloggers, they’re also salesmen.

          • Danny Maguire says:

            Didn’t know what this thread was going on about so I followed the link to have a look. Seems to me he was having a rant about anything and everything with a few references to whisky and distilleries thrown in for good measure. Couldn’t see the point of it.

          • Tadas A says:

            I find David’s post interesting and informative. His blogs and John’s blogs talks about real issues of running whisky business while most other bloggers got into weeds.
            For example, David did a great job of bringing up hush hush subjects of widespread use of boise in cognacs and God knows what additives in rums.

          • Jeff says:

            I’m not sure what Dave’s success as a salesman (and that “that’s his job”) or that he has happy customers, has to do with this – unless it is to say that salespeople are allowed to say anything, even to the point of taking contradictory positions, to serve their immediate ends. Are these comments being presented as honest opinion, or as some kind of PR/salespitch? It does matter, because there is a difference.

    • nathan says:

      whats the problem? that diageo cares more about profits than “collectors?” that’s always been the case. otherwise diageo would be a charity, and they aren’t.

      • Jeff says:

        You mean Diageo isn’t a charity? You could have fooled me with their pricing levels. The problem is that Dave reads the industry in two opposite ways in two blogs – and calls other people misguided.

  25. B.J. Reed says:

    I would have to agree with you John on most points. I didn’t get really involved in collecting (and drinking) single malts until the early 90s but I think of the whisky I did purchase and wonderful prices (Longrow 74, Straithisla 55, Royal Lochnagar Select Reserve, Balvanie violin bottle) and I must say those days are long gone.

    I also found in those days that whisky was being produced and sold without the “over the top” marketing that permeates almost every distillery brand (Glenfarclas being one of the few exceptions) today. This that marketing comes increased costs and often not comparable quality.

    Even late into the 90s and early 2000s one could get exceptional whisky at reasonable prices. Now, while I love to taste exceptional whisky I am not purchasing many of those bottles. I, instead have moved into independent bottlings offered by folks like Binny’s in Chicago and D&M in San Francisco because the quality is good and the price affordable.

  26. H.Diaz says:

    Hipsters, you see, ended the Golden Age of Whisky.

  27. Danny Maguire says:

    I think it’s time I put my thoughts on record. A golden age is best judged in retrospect by future generations and not by its participants. Based on that I think all we can say is that we have benefited from some very good, even excellent, whiskys but a golden age? Let’s wait a couple of hundred years for that.

  28. Briggs says:

    Of course it is unfair, but a company in the business of making money will never go to great lengths expected of them (entitlements to the consumer) to satisfy the less than 10% of the market the hardcore whisky geeks represent. Never ever going to happen. Basically saying, your lobby is very small. What are we doing to bring new people in? Starting up another ego driven look at me….sorry, blog?

    • Jeff says:

      Just wondering where you stand, outside “our” small lobby, or inside, concerned about what “we” are doing to bring new people in? Similarly, I’m surprised at your participation in “another ego driven look at me blog” when apparently it’s useless in the larger sense, but you have no suggestions of your own – or is that, in itself, just egotism? People are clueing in to the games being run, and discussion facilitates this, much to the dismay of the industry and its defenders who really can’t say much more in response than “if you don’t like it, don’t buy it” or “you’ll never change anything” or “it’s just business”. It IS just business, and if producers care little about the welfare of the customer, they care nothing about the welfare of the competition – voting with dollars DOES matter.

      • Briggs says:

        Mr. Jeff,

        My answer to your first question would be “outside.” In fact, miles away. However, bringing new people on board the whisky boat is everyone’s job, lets just hope we point them in the right direction. Secondly, don’t be surprised at my participation in this blog, for it is not among the type that I criticized. I know the difference, hopefully you know the difference as well. And you are right, discussion sheds light on less than optimal business practices. To borrow from your last sentence, voting with your dollar does matter. Indeed it does, sir. But it is about the only thing anyone can do with this issue. Good luck to you.

        • Jeff says:

          Thanks for the reply and the clarifications (I admit, I did need them). As for bringing new people in, I do approach it with provisions these days. Simply adding mass to the market is the industry’s job, which it approaches in its own way to serve its own ends, not mine. Partisan as it is, I too try to point people in the right direction by showing the growing number of consumer pitfalls to those getting into whisky, but cannot honestly encourage anyone TO get into whisky without saying they should be aware of what these pitfalls (many now created by the industry itself) are. This isn’t to accuse any whisky enthusiast of leading lambs to the slaughter, more just to be clear about my own growing reservations about recruiting for a hobby which I could endorse more fully even just a few years ago. Unfortunately, I think the first lesson in the Whisky 101 of today is that there is a growing gap between the interests of producers and those of the consumer, and it is not the consumer who is changing – except maybe through greater awareness of the divergence.

  29. Morgan Steele says:

    Golden Age or not, I believe the present represents the best of times for whisky. Let’s not wax too nostalgic for the bottlings of the 1990’s. The reality for me was that many scotches were hard to find and not available in the US. And, you could only look for something if you knew it existed.

    Today, I can (and do) use the internet to find bottles from around the world. Add in the proliferation of whisky blogs (good and bad), the rise of world (including American) whiskies, the advent of craft distilleries, the presence of whiskey festivals, etc. Scotch is one area where I don’t miss the good old days. More expensive? Sure. But, to me, a worthwhile downside.

  30. BFitz says:

    I think it will be in eight years or so for U.S. whiskey. Supply for the highly sought after, longer age products will catch up to current demand. Maybe “the antique collection” and such will last a week in stores rather than a day. But I’m afraid distillers will learn from the aftermarket prices of extinct best kept secrets like Elijah Craig18 and Jefferson’s 21 and prices will rise. (I guess they already have.)

    Also, the craft distillers launching now will have product coming of age. Think about the craft beer boom in the 90’s.

  31. Jeff S. says:

    I agree we have passed the Golden age of Scotch, Demand has increased so much that prices are sky high, distilleries are releasing more much younger products, crazy finishes are put on very good pruducts to get people who have tried “everything” to buy one more special edition/limited release. Plus overall taste profiles have gone to the lighter side to apeal to the mass market. Bourbon is exploding right now and rye is right behind it. All the “micro” guys are releasing mixed quality products all very young and some very good some very bad. Flooding the market with too many “flavored” whiskeys also make shelf space harder for the quality brands to compete with the Mass marketed products.

  32. Paul Matthews says:

    I am looking forward to a “golden age” of American whiskeys. I recall great scotches from the 1990s, and I still have a few, but no more. I put it simply. The minimally acceptable (to me) scotch in my local area is priced at about $60, and comparable quality (although obviously different) American whiskeys are priced at $30-$40. Having, at my peril, consumed hundreds of different whiskeys over the years, I can judge quality against price, and hurrah for the better value provided by the Americans.

  33. mark says:

    I mostly agree with all the above & will strive to not waste everyone’s time by restating yet again what has already been eloquently said by others. I only share my comment & personal experience so my voice has the slightest chance of being tallied by the manufactures and other price setters.

    I decline to purchase whisky industry at the current time and for the indefinite future while prices remain absurdly high.

    My backstory: I returned to SMW in the late ’80s after a teenage exposure to too soapy Glenlivets & frittered more than most acquiring whiksy far faster than I consumed it over 20+ years. There’s enough whisky handy to last the rest of my life if the open bottles don’t spoil too soon and enough still sealed bottles to mostly outlast prohibition if they do.

    Finest regards,

  34. Jack Bettridge says:

    Based on prices, current epoch would have to be called a platinum age.

  35. Fred Vinson says:

    Hi John,
    I did not read all 111 responses, but I did read several and.
    found all intelligent and well written. I will address your article rather
    than the bloggers.
    I agree with Gavin Hewitt that we are expericing a “Renaissance “.
    There are more quality whiskies available now than ever before
    The burgeoning distilleries of the “new world” and Asia are outstanding ..

    Sky’s statement that rare whiskies were plentiful and affordable defies the definition
    of rare. A ’57 Corvette is rare , not plentiful or affordable.

    Regarding pricing, prices always go up with time. Gas prices when I was in high school
    were 25 cents per gallon, 19 cents during a gas war (“What’s a gas war Grandpa?”).

    I totally agree about wood management. Glenmorangie portwood and sherrywood finish were mediocre
    before they were purchased by Mort/Hennessey. They resourced the barrels
    and the resulting spirit is wonderful.

    Those bloggers who responded saying they would be purchasing less whisky in the
    future, sorry for your loss, but that leaves more for me.

    We did not have Whiskey Advocate Magazine in the early
    nineties either. Yes,we are, indeed, experiencing a Renaissance.
    Thanks for the soapbox, John.

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