A disruption in the #whiskyfabric

This cask needs a medic...
This cask needs a medic...
I’ve used this picture a few times before, but it never gets old…

“Don’t feed the beast that chokes you”. A blog post under that title paired with a new site banner with the words “Hibernation mode” by Malt Maniac Oliver Klimek sparked many responses, questions and similar statements by other whisky bloggers all over the world. Long-standing, respected whisky bloggers are putting blogging on the backburner or calling it quits:

But you can expect the blog to remain low-key until the grip of the beast has eased at least a bit.

What’s it all about?

The biggest issue at the moment, amongst others, which I won’t touch since Oliver has already laid them out in detail, is the price of whisky. A topic which I have written about in the past as well. As whisky bloggers, when we can no longer afford the whiskies we want to try, and share them amongst our peers and friends, we run into trouble. We either have to depend on the generosity of distilleries and distributors, wealthy friends, the purchasing of samples or, begging. Begging for samples, if you don’t mind me digressing, but it has to be addressed, is a recent phenomenon. That small but vocal and nagging sub-group of bloggers is dragging the whole online whisky writing community through the dirt. This results in rolling of eyeballs when you mention what you do, as I’ve experienced myself and my good friend Johanne has also written about (which has triggered me to write about it too). It’s a shame. We don’t need that. Stop begging, people! You’re not only hurting yourself, you’re hurting all of us and make us even more frustrated! I for myself have a written code and that includes never asking for samples and giving my honest opinion without sugar coating on those samples which are offered to me. If it comes with strings or expectations attached, I don’t take it, period. And neither should anyone else. That’s the journalistic ethic code, and journalists is what we are. End of digression.

I went on a trip to the Spirit of Speyside whisky festival exactly a month ago. One thing I couldn’t help noticing was the extreme number of extravagant, fancy, glitzy and exorbitantly priced bottles of whisky I encountered – either on sale or still in cask with an announced 5-figure future selling price. At the same time the “daily dram” category gets flooded with younger, no-age-statement releases at higher prices and not always better quality than we previously got.

Whisky used to be a brown spirit for everyone. If you had a “normal” income, you could afford a (really, really) good tipple, if you wanted to. Whisky is not only a brown spirit, it is also an aged spirit. All the fancy cask voodoo so popular these days can only bring the spirit so far – age is more than a number, it is a prerequisite. Some distillates are great at a young age (Talisker, Ledaig, Kilchoman spring to mind, a non-exclusive list) while others take a long time in cask to mature to perfection. The sweet spot for many whiskies lies between 15 and 25 years. That, however, is a diminishing category. Continue reading “A disruption in the #whiskyfabric”

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Highland Park ICE or: Where’s the ceiling?

This cask needs a medic...

This cask needs a medic...

I don’t often feel inclined to post a short opinion piece, but I just had lunch and sat down with a cup of coffee in front of my computer to look at new arrivals at whisky shops. That’s when I saw the new Highland Park ICE on offer. Let’s put it that way: Coffee stains on my keyboard and screen when I saw the price.

Highland Park ICE. The latest instalment of Highland Park’s highly collectible series of whiskies. There are 30.000(!!!) bottles worldwide. That’s hardly “limited” by any standard, most distilleries have much smaller batches with their regular bottlings.
In essence it is 17-year-old whisky, selling at 350€ a bottle. 350€! Their very good standard 18 year-old is already sold at a steep price – and it’s “only” 100-125€. If you’re lucky, you can get four bottles on offer for the price of one bottle of this new limited edition.

I am scratching my head here. Did I miss something? Is Highland Park a lost distillery, closed for 10 years or longer? Is there a pure gold stopper on the bottle? Or did the queen sign them? Or perhaps the queen’s poodle sniffed the vatting tank? What’s the heck is going on here?

In my opinion this bottling is displaying everything that’s wrong with the whisky industry right now. It will be talked about not only amongst whisky enthusiasts (heck, I’m even giving them publicity here, even if it’s more of a rant so I too fell into the trap…).  It is one of many puzzle pieces as of late changing public perception of whisky being that of an elite luxury, a dream only rich can fulfill, worse, a snobist’s tipple. Whisky used to be a tipple of which nearly everyone could afford a “special” bottle for special occasions. These days the market is increasingly divided.

I have to congratulate Highland Park and their marketing team for pulling it off, though, and I’m dead serious about this. It takes skill, a great reputation, a large following of collectors and devotees, predecessor bottlings which are highly sought after and a superheated market to be able to place a bottle of whisky in pretty high volume at such a price level. Not everyone can do it and I’m sure it will be a quick sell-out.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure it’s a lovely dram and if you head out to buy and enjoy it – good on ya, no envy involved, enjoy it with a few mates as intended. But, in the end, it’s still “just” a very big batch (30.000 bottles amounts to roughly 150(!) barrels at 200 bottles each) of 17yo ex-bourbon matured whisky that isn’t any more expensive to produce than the standard expressions (except for a few additional coins for the admittedly very nice packaging – which you can’t drink).

But, in the end, when you look at it from a distance, it’s just another sign of how superheated and completely over the top a portion of today’s whisky market is and it makes me wonder whether we’re getting close to the ceiling or if there’s still loads of head space to trump it in the upcoming years…

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NAS vs age statement whiskies – what it’s all about

NAS vs. Age Statement
NAS vs. Age Statement
A random selection of whisky bottles carrying or missing an age statement

Which side of the “NAS vs. Age Statement” debate are you on? Do you boycot NAS whiskies? Do you buy everything you find tasty regardless of what it (doesn’t) say on the bottle? The heated arguments have been cooking for quite a while now and I’ve been meaning to write a blog post about this minefield for quite some time. I’m a bit late to the party, I know, but I really wanted to make a post painting the whole picture about the topic. In case you’re new to the scene: “NAS” stands for “no age statement” whiskies.

1. Why NAS Whiskies?

First and foremost: Whiskies without an age statement on the label are not a new thing. In the area of blended Scotch they make up the vast majority and have been on the market ever since the first Scotch was bottled (or sold by the barrel to the consumer in times long gone). As far as Single Malt Scotch Whiskies are concerned, we’ve had a long timespan now where almost every bottle carried an age statement and the marketing people wanted us to believe that older is  better (and thus has to be oh so much more expensive). But there have been NAS whiskies long before the current flooding of the market. I’m thinking about Ardmore Traditional Cask, the Springbank/Longrow/Hazelburn C.V. mixed-vintage bottlings (now replaced by similarly good NAS bottlings) or Laphroaig Quarter Cask. These are just three examples of whiskies without an age statement that offer(ed) a quality product at an affordable price point and there are many more. Continue reading “NAS vs age statement whiskies – what it’s all about”

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