Alright, Drammers and Dreamers. something to talk about.
Let’s beat this dead horse like Negan on a noggin'(*). It’s a subject that seems to be getting a lot of play in almost every whisky conversation I’m a part of lately. Let’s talk about the price of whisky. yes. That again. I kinda think everyone needs a public forum to air it out. The comments section below, I imagine, is about to become just that.
There seem to be two schools of thought (of course there are more nuanced approaches, but for the sake of simplicity, bear with me). The first suggests that whisky is a luxury item and that any price is fair on a luxury item. Especially in light of the fact that many of the same individuals who are now complaining about the stratospheric (and still soaring) price of the precious fluid are the ones that have helped push it there via the laws of supply and demand (and disposable income). The second suggests that no matter what your personal druthers are, there is no fucking way that the current climb is justifiable in light of the very small change in conditions that supported prices which probably came in about 40% lower (more in some cases) just a year or two back.
Are these two arguments balanced? Do they offset? Well…I think you know where I’m about to weigh in, aye?
Here’s the thing. Shit gets more expensive over time. We know this. Just ask your parents who trudged uphill both ways in the snow to see a ‘picture’ at the cinema with no more n’ a few bits in their pocket. Of course, that covered popcorn and a wee dip into the sweet shoppe on the way home too. The reality is…the times they are a changin’. BUT…typically this happens incrementally. Small hops and skips that mostly go unnoticed by a population that progressively earns more and more and a dollar that continues to morph into an entirely different beast than back in the day when a home could be bought for tens of thousands.
As regards whisky though (before we start to ramble too much)…in the last couple of years where we’ve seen spikes that look like towering t-rex teeth or stalagmites in some Journey To The Center Of The Earth spinoff can we reasonably explain away such drastic increases? Uh…nope.
Barley is about on par with 2010 prices (source); barrel shortages we heard so much about have been claimed to have been BS by many industry sources (forgive my refusal to name names of the good people who share insider secrets, but even so, let’s face it…much of the industry’s move to ‘sherry-seasoned’ barrels must be a cheaper option than the old ‘ex-sherry’ butts); fuel costs are on the decline (source) so transport should be cheaper; it would seem median salaries in the UK (home of all this glorious malted gold) have held pretty steady in recent years, right around £26k (source); and…let’s name the pet elephant in the room: “hello, Brexit!”
So…why the hell has the price of whisky shot through the roof? It’s simple really. Because it can.
Let’s return to the other argument for a moment. The one that says whisky will cost what whisky costs because it is whisky, not bread. The point: it’s non-essential. It’s a luxury item that we don’t need, so if we’re gonna be that indignant about it, we can always just walk away. At the end of the day, this argument really is sound as a pound when you think about it (a pre-Brexit pound, that is ). Vote with your wallet. Simple message. We don’t need this stuff, so shouldn’t we be saving our breath to fight the good fight elsewhere? Yeah, probably. But life is rife with shit in so many ways. That’s a simple reality. In our few short rotations ’round the sun we hunt out the things we love (and that make our lives better) then we cling to them like life preservers. The more we learn to love them, the more we become covetous and protective. It’s only right that we should fight to hold onto what we hold dear, don’tcha think?
Anytime there is an illogical leap in expense, should we not as consumers question it? Caveat emptor, aye? If not are not implicitly responsible for the act of gouging? Look what happens when fuel costs spike. Or automobiles. Or when Cauliflower doubled in price last year. Or bacon. The internet went batshit. People wanted answers. And for the most part, they got ’em (excepting fuel, that is…we’ll never get answers there). Why, therefore, can we as consumers not question the rising tide of malt prices without being villainized? It’s a bullshit old world mentality that is telling us to suck it up and not question the status quo. And I, for one, will never buy into that (pun intended).
And here’s the real rub for someone like your faithful author: I love this stuff. I mean…I fucking love it. I have dedicated vast tracts of my life over the last decade or so to pushing it to the fore. To publicizing the greatness in it. To sharing the word and helping elevate brands (even in my own small way). I have started massive whisky clubs, written hundreds of reviews, shared countless experiences and bottles, led more tastings than I like to admit and supported businesses near and far. And yet, I’m one of the ones struggling to stay in the game. That is…well…lemme be honest here…it sucks. A lot. It’s caused me a bit of an existential crisis of late. (I know, I know…sounds melodramatic, but do realize how much of my life I’ve dedicated to this.)
So where do we go from here? Hard to say. If you’re like me – and you maybe squirrelled away a bit of a store for rainy days – you hunker down and wait. And you plug your ears when the bubble bursts. You also scour for deals, share the word when you find them, and sew enough good karma that others share their hoards throughout these lean times. Oh yeah…and you learn to fall in love again with the younger, cheaper malts you started with. If you’re not like me…well…you pay grossly inflated prices and live large now, but recognize your dollar is working harder for you than it ever has before, and that you…are…being…fleeced. If you’re okay with that (and to a degree, we all must be right now, or else we wouldn’t be drinking some of the drinks we do), let’s simply smile and move on.
In short…consider me on record as saying that the current state of whisky valuation is bullshit and it simply comes down to what the market will bear. Supply and demand, and all that. The question now becomes, are you ready to walk away or are you going to continue playing, knowing that the metrics have changed in favor of the other team and you’re playing on their turf? Who knows…maybe it’s gonna be a true David versus Goliath story.
Either way…the next few years are gonna be hella interesting, I’d say.
(*shameless Walking Dead reference)