Thursday, October 3, 2013

Whiskey Becoming a Young{er} Man's Game?

With the recent swift rise in popularity of whiskey (American in particular), there is a growing scarcity (artificial or otherwise) of quality whiskey.  Whiskies which once regularly lined shelves have become seasonal; whiskies which were once seasonal rarely see the light of day (or the neon inside liquor stores) before being sold. And along with this rise in popularity comes a new breed and generation of whiskey drinkers.

In the past few weeks I've read several well-known, highly-respected whiskey bloggers lament the current state, and the probable trajectory, of whiskey in the US.  Tim Read over at Scotch & Ice Cream recently bemoaned the hoarding nature of whiskey drinkers given the scarcity of limited release whiskies, ultimately deciding to pull out of the rat race altogether this year, even opting to pass up rare whiskies should he stumble upon them.  His blogging will consequentially be dialed back as well.

Steve Ury over at Sku's Recent Eats echoed some of Read's sentiments (as well as re-tweeting Read's post).  Though, for Ury it seems to be less the frenzied nature of the whiskey market that's got him down as much as the fact that simpletons (such as myself) are asking stupid questions (like where can we score some Pappy? -- we've heard it's good!), and some even questioning his tasting process to account for his clearly (in their opinion) errant views on some well-known recent releases.  His sarcastic explanation clarifying his tasting process is downright snarky (to hilarious effect).  Note: per Sku's comment below, the issue he takes is not that people would disagree with his review, as will inevitably happen, but that they would presume some confounding factor which would cause him to disagree with what others have so clearly concluded.  Unlike Read, Ury will continue writing, but now, it seems, he'll be doing so with a fair-sized chip on his shoulder.

And while Read retreats and Sku stews, Jason Pyle over at Sour Mash Manifesto seems content to quietly drink his whiskey while tweeting about football (go Volunteers!).

Conversely, Pops Garrett at Bourbon and Banter, perhaps sensing the chance to capitalize on this whiskey-writer vacuum, is doubling down, recruiting a hoard of new contributors (eleven to be specific -- eleven!) who are creating an onslaught of new content.  Sadly, their collective content (and there's a lot) seems to be more directed at marketing (cool new bourbon wallpapers!) than to discussing and promoting whiskey-craft.  They're even creating content about how much content they're creating (Twitter toast results).  Pity -- because I don't know how much I'll be willing to sift through the fluff to get to the substantive posts.

As for me? The hunt is still fun -- regardless (maybe even because of?) the rat race; what good's a treasure hunt if you don't have to hunt?!  Tasting new whiskies is still fun.  Hanging out with friends while trying new whiskies is really fun.  And writing about the whole experience is still fun -- even if just my friends and the few saps unlucky enough to stumble upon this blog will ever read it.

Maybe someday I'll become disillusioned with the whole game too.  Whiskey, sadly, seems like rock-and-roll, college football before the BCS, and most other things; those who were there "before" typically end up lamenting the loss that invariably accompanies change.  Maybe when I've been around the whiskey world long enough to see it change I'll resign myself to the fact that "it's not like it used to be," hunker down, and quietly drink what I will know to be good whiskey.

Still, here's hoping that the old-timers get a second wind or at least fight through the pain, because while I love reading Chuck Cowdery and John Hansell (who will never stop writing), they're like Master's-level professors, reveling in the minutiae.  That's great, but I also need the likes of Read and Ury who are like the adjunct Community College professors, teaching the Whiskey 101 class to those of us who are still cutting our teeth (or, you know, soaking them in whiskey).  It is largely thanks to their taking the time to dumb down their vast knowledge that I have any idea of where to start on this whiskey journey (ironically, further depleting the whiskey available to them, and further annoying them with my stupid questions).

Now, seriously, where can I find some Pappy?


  1. It's so interesting how accessible the whiskey authorities are. I often see Hansell and Cowdery pop up on the major bourbon blogs, not to mention all the stories of how approachable and down to earth the actual master distillers are. If only the non distiller producers weren't so shady. Hope you come across some pappy soon.

    1. To clarify, Hansell and Cowdery often comment and respond to comments on blogs. So it's not as if they're above us riffraff.

      On another note, do you think it's possible that there really is a whiskey "bubble", and that at some point in the future whiskey prices will drop again?

    2. That's a good question. My knee-jerk response is that part of the recent spike in prices is due to bourbon and rye being trendy right now. Unfortunately it seems like more of the spike is attributable to 1.) an ever-increasing population creating ever-increasing demand in the US, 2.) increased demand from abroad (particularly from Asia), and 3.) the realization among whiskey drinkers in the US that better whiskies (than what they're used to drinking) can be purchased for less money.

      I don't see the price of whiskey dropping anytime soon, sadly.

  2. Nice post! I think it's a fair point that experience does indeed breed some cynicism. For those of us who have been whiskey fans for a decade or more, it seems foolish to pay double or triple what we once paid and to have to go on a hunt for things that were easily available just a few years ago, but for the new whiskey fan, that's just the way things are. So is life, I suppose.

    I'm not sure where you got that I am upset about people asking "stupid questions." I've got no problem with people trying to find Pappy, particularly if they haven't tried it. I always enjoy bringing newbies into the whiskey world. What I don't like is the hype and those who try to take crass advantage of it (say by trying to flip current Pappy bottles for triple the price) but that's not the fault of newbs. In fact, I'd love for every new drinker to get their hands on a Pappy. In fact, I no longer have any Pappy because I've given much of it away to new whiskey fans.

    And one more clarification, I don't have any problem with people questioning my taste. In fact, that's what I was inviting people to do in that post instead of trying to think of other reasons that I might not like something others do.

    Keep up the good work,


    1. Steve's being kind. He rated an Ardbeg a B- and I said I thought it might be a C+, and he shot me nine times.

      This kindness is just a trap to get your defenses down.

    2. I got a similar gracious response from Tim Read via Twitter regarding the validity of seeking out Pappy - for enjoyment rather than for profit. I was seizing on the tendency of whiskey drinkers, and maybe especially the new generation of whiskey drinkers, to bypass the dozens of other very good options, figure out what the "best" is, and do anything necessary to get it. I was probably projecting that this would be annoying, when, while it would be annoying for me, you both were helpful in your responses. (I was annoyed at myself while typing the question).

      And I understand your other point; the nature of publishing a review online, where comments are permitted, necessarily invites other opinions. I've edited my post to try to better state your concern.

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