Malt Maniac Oliver Klimek wrote a sincere article about him not (being able) to buy much whisky anymore in the current pricing climate. He talks about prices being on the rise, something he has actually shown in a ‘study’ he started many years ago and recently updated.
The result is that with the same budget as a couple of years ago, you can only buy about half (or less) the whisky you used to. This isn’t particularly well represented in his study, since this focuses on bottlings that were available on both points of time. That loosely translates to the single malts of bigger brands.
However, I don’t think anyone will deny it when I state that the price hikes of Original Bottlings are rather comparable to those of Independents. There is a difference, of course: OB bottlings start in a lower price bracket but end way higher, where IB releases usually have a fairly high entry level but don’t rise as much (generally).
While such price rises are fairly normal in a climate where you sell your bottles anyway, I do feel for the long time whisky aficionados. I don’t count myself among them because I’ve only been ‘collecting’ for a decade or so, but those guys that have been gathering obscure bottles since the 80s or 90s will sure feel a little betrayed by the industry they helped set up.
I’m not saying that they built distilleries, but they kept the flame alive when nobody actually cared about single malt whisky, and single cask, cask strength releases were all but unthinkable.
Where my direction with this differs from Mr. Klimek’s is that he’s looking into the so called Malternatives. Other booze that has not risen in price as much but offers the level of ‘interestingness’ as Single Malt whisky, such as rum, gin, cognac and all kinds of other distillates.
I have thought about this too. I like mostly anything that comes from a still and has a certain level of depth, layeredness and flavor. My preferences go to certain rums, calvados, some vodka, some gin, absinthe, you name it. I could even go on about beer for an hour now.
While I do occasionally buy something that doesn’t come from a pot still and is made from barley, wheat, corn or another cereal, I tend to not spend a significant amount there. Why is this? I simply prefer whisky. Or whiskey. And even though I cannot buy nearly as much bottles as I was used to some five years ago (having two incomes and a really cheap house then, an expensive house now, with only 1.6 incomes and a kid with a second one on the way does that), I still prefer to save up for some nice bottle(s) of whisky and go for that. I simply get the most joy out of that. Buying other stuff gives me even less to spend on whisky. Counterproductive, I think.
The biggest drawback is that when I started my whisky hobby I lived really close to De Whiskykoning in Den Bosch, and since he then had 1400 different bottles on the shelves, I had to go there every two weeks or so, for some three years, to buy something. I dived into the deep end and got spoiled for choice, availability and I got used to playing with the big boys.
That, as said, has changed. I still like playing with the big boys, but I am torn between buying some bottles of very good whisky every few months, and saving up for that one big cracker instead. There’s the difference between really good and absolutely stunning. The difference between buying the newest Arran Cask Strength, Clynelish Masterpiece, Benromach 10 and saving up for a 1968 Ben Nevis.
What doesn’t help is that I really enjoy buying whisky. If I go for the really expensive ones I can indulge three, maybe four times per year. If I don’t act out like that but behave slightly more ‘normal’ (my wife’s term for it) I can do that once every month. An argument for the opposite way of doing things is that I have more than enough whisky to last me a decade, if not more, so saving up for that cracker might even be more sensible from a stock level perspective.
I did try to go with bourbon and rye whiskey for a while though. That was relatively affordable some two to three years ago and you could get really obscure stuff from auctions at low prices. Unfortunately, that has changed too and everybody else has discovered that too. Where I could buy a bottling of Old Crow from 1970 for € 30 some years ago, that is rapidly approaching € 100 now too. Let alone everything that resembles the name ‘Van Winkle‘.
So, in the end, I’m still torn between sides. I love buying whisky and I believe that bottles of around € 75 give you the most value for money if you are picky. Those are more than good enough and you can keep buying interesting stuff in that price bracket for years to come. On the other hand, I also like having truly exceptional whisky and I don’t mind scaling down size-wise a little bit. I should stop buying bottles for half a year and save up some money to spend on better stuff. Quality over quantity and all.
I discuss this very often with Gal, I guess about every week at least. We both keep coming to the same conclusion, as above. But we both like buying bottles too much. We also are more than happy with that great € 50 find that tastes awesome and is so affordable you can buy something again next month. Of course, after a couple of months of doing that we feel like crap since we both can’t afford that great 1982 Clynelish that comes out (or whatever).
So thanks to Oliver for some new perspective and food for thought.