I started out on Burgundy and then hit the harder stuff.

abraham lincoln said that

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A Time to Pause

With the recent ban on high-alcohol shipments to North America from the United Kingdom via non-freight airplanes, American whisky buyers have been left with a bit of a quandary.  Or a challenge.

We have many great Scotch whiskies here in The States, though the great majority of them are official bottlings.  The wider, varied, more colorful whisky world lay beyond, in the multitude of independent releases, most of which await our dollars in Europe.  But even their variety of official bottlings seem to be two- or threefold that of the selection here.  On top of all that, their pricing on many whiskies can be much better even when taking into account the price of shipping from the UK to the US.

That very shipping is now gone.  When it does come back, those freight prices will not be amusing.  But for now, it's quiet, aside from The Whisky Exchange.  Their US shipping rates, never the lowest to begin with, have gone up nearly 50%.  Why the Civil Aviation Authority thinks a few bottles of Ardmore is a safety risk, while their planes carry thousands of gallons of jet fuel every day, is a curiosity.  And how almost every UK online shop was caught without shipping options mystifies me.

But why doesn't concern me much right now.  The issue is present and we should think about it while it is.



Because, as Jean Renoir once said, everyone has his reasons, I will dispense with the "we" and talk about the "I".

Frankly, I'm uncomfortable with the state of the whisky market.  And I've been making many of my purchases based on that unease.

I've witnessed prices launch like a slew of bottle rockets.  Highland Park 18 was $80 in late 2011, then $100 in early 2012.  Yamazaki 18 went from $90 to $100 to $130.  Laphroaig 10 went from $33 to $40 at Trader Joe's in less than a year.  Glenfiddich 15 has done the same over the same period of time.  The Willett ryes went from $35 to $40 (a 14% jump, four times inflation, without anyone blinking) last year; I thought it was due to the ages going from 5 to 6 years, but now even the 4 year is at the higher price.

When I see one of my favorite malts holding its price for a long period of time, I start to anticipate that the price is going to go up 20-30% at any moment.  So I buy a bottle.  I see a sale that brings an overpriced bottle almost back to its previous year's price.  I buy a bottle.  I find the one liquor store that hasn't raised the price on a prized whisky.  I buy a bottle.

Then there are the whiskies that are disappearing.  Johnnie Walker Green and Gold Labels.  The Macallan Fine Oaks.  Longrow CV.  Talisker 18 (it's dead to me).  The old-style Glen Gariochs.  Wild Turkey Rye 101.  Bowmore Tempest.  I want to catch a bottle before it's gone.

And like the pricing issue, it has caused me to purchase out of fear.

Since I started my job four months ago, I have bought a lot of booze.  I love my whisky stash, probably a bit too much.  There are a lot more bottles than there used to be.  Sometimes, when I have the rare moment of clarity, I ask myself, "Am I anticipating the end of the world?  Because seriously, at maybe five drams a week, how long will it take me to drink this?"

It isn't just fear that drives me.  It's desire.  There are old whiskies, new whiskies, odd whiskies, rare whiskies, popular whiskies, famous whiskies, infamous whiskies, unknown whiskies, Irish whiskies, Japanese whiskies, Dutch whiskies, Indian whiskies, Welch whiskies, Oregonian whiskies, fancy finished whiskies, third refill whiskies, organic whiskies, cask strength whiskies, blended malt whiskies, East Highland whiskies, unchillfiltered whiskies, brash whiskies, soft whiskies, autumn whiskies, winter whiskies, spring whiskies, summer whiskies, experimental whiskies, and there are your whiskies that I can't have.

It's gorgeous and terrifying like any drug lust.  There really is no end, only mortality and credit card limits spell the boundaries.

Last year at this time, I posted this bit on my personal history of collection habits.  The paragraph near the end, on whiskies, is of particular interest as I look back.

Simply, I love collecting and I LOVE finding a bargain.  And I love whisky.  So I consume.  Not drinking so much, but absorbing massive amounts of information then purchasing and purchasing and purchasing.  If my life was full of spiritual joy, would I still be doing this?  Probably not.  In that pretend life, I would probably zero in on a whisky that pleased me unconditionally and keep that bottle on hand until it ran out.  That's what I used to do.  But not anymore.  In fact, I'm having an awfully difficult time stopping.

One of my most intense habits is scouring the many European stores, assembling the dream shopping cart gradually over a number of months, then pulling the trigger.

But now I can't.  So this is a good time for me to halt and gauge my next step.  I really love whisky, every part of it.  But perhaps the value of those 750mL bottles has gotten out of control.

4 comments:

  1. Wow, I just looked at TWE - 38GBP for delivery per bottle! Yikes!

    I hear you on the rest of it. I've gone down this same train of thought as you. I don't have the answer, but I have to continuously stop and refocus my attention to what is important when whisky is involved. Whenever I'm about to pull the trigger on a whisky purchase, I stop and review a few verses that help me:

    (Proverbs were written by King David - a Jew!)

    Prov. 15:16: "Better to have little, with fear of the Lord, than to have great treasure and inner turmoil."

    Prov. 21:17: "Those who love pleasure become poor; those who love wine and luxury will never be rich."

    Colossians 3:5: "Don't be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world."

    1 Timothy 6:6-10: "... If we have enough food and clothing, let us be content. But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction ... "

    Generally after reading these verses and maybe a couple others, I am refocused and can pass on the temptation for exciting whisky.

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    1. Wow, great Timothy verse. Right on.

      I've never been a good consumer. Stuff only makes me happy for a short period of time, then the joy is gone and I'm left with a bunch of things. The bliss that lasts exists beyond the material.

      The great joy with whisky is in the sharing. The exploration is grand, but it's better with company.

      Thank you for your comment, Ryan!

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  2. Ryan's beautiful and moral advice is at least partially responsible for saving my marriage - but that's another story. Now, I must tell you of my own whisky collecting obsession. I am there too, in a big way. The business of Limited Editions and single cask bottlings are a goad to me, as well as the rising prices that you note. I picked up a bottle of Great King St. New York Blend, less because I really wanted to drink a bottle than just because it was scarce and going fast and I wanted to try it. I got a bottle of Old Pulteny 17 despite having samples because one local store had it at last year's price. I have way too many open bottles, now I have too many closed ones. The 2004 bottling of Inchgower 14... just because it was the last one. Like Pokemon (Gotta Catch Em All) except that's madness. Lunacy. It's greed. Lust. Avarice. It's destructive - except the part where I'm having wonderful drams. A lot.

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    1. Thank you Josh for your comment. I agree wholeheartedly and am in a similar place. I've been fighting the urge to buy more every day now. It starts with the GottaHaveItGottaHaveItGottaHaveItGottaHaveItGottaHaveItGottaHaveIt voice, then a few minutes later the No You Do Not voice cuts it off. It's bizarre, I've never been lured so much into consumerism. It really is lunacy and lust. And not the good kind.

      Buying samples allow me to further the exploration. It's a broader spectrum. And also cheaper and takes up less space. I don't feel as guilty about it.

      As far as bottles go, man, I'm still working this through.

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