Less than two years ago I was buying Aberlour a’bunadh for about $75 a bottle. Now…no less than $107. Lagavulin 12 sold for about $120 back then. I can’t grab it for less than $160 in most places now. Highland Park 18? Give or take a $30-$40 a bottle increase of late. Talisker 25 landed here about a year and a half ago at $225 or so. That same edition has been jacked up to over $400 in most local shops. Perhaps the most egregious example though is Glenfarclas 40 year old. Bottles here were retailing between $400 and $500. Now? $1,100. Same malt. Same packaging. And not even an attempt to convince consumers that there is a rationale behind the 220% increase during this time period.
Ok. The dollar is weak, some say. Not that weak. Barrels are in short supply and costing waaaaaay more. Nuh uh. Many from within the industry have spoken and written about this. Especially in regard to bourbon barrels. Rubbish. Producers can’t keep up to demand. Nope. Not even remotely true. I’ve spoken to many folk in production roles who say they are producing in surplus right now to ensure no future shortage of mature stocks. Ah, but mature casks have been decimated, right. Yes, probably. I’ll concede that. So it could be fairly assumed we’d see a bit of an uptick in prices for older malts. After all, scarcity often determines market, aye? But how does this explain the soaring price of young malts and non-age stated expressions? If you’ve been drinking whisky for a while – and know your stuff – your senses will absolutely and unquestionably attest to the fact that the malt in the bottle is young, young, young. You can’t hide that. The sticker prices we’re seeing though, are not out of line for what would have graced whiskies reaching the two decade mark just a couple dozen months back. Boiled down, this effectively means that many drinkers are priced out of older malts that were previously affordable to them, and are now being stretched even for what were, generally speaking, ‘entry level’ expressions.
So, knowing this, as we do, why are we not speaking up more? Why are we not writing articles and sending in notes to whisky publications? Why are we not asking questions of the ambassadors at the festivals or via social media? Are we that afraid of questioning an authority that seems to have no qualms about totalitarian pricing schemes? When we have questioned them in the past about other related issues such as NAS, we were haughtily put in our place or blacklisted. Ok, so be it. Dissent is never accepted with open arms. But think of it this way: a few months back the world went mad when the price of cauliflower jumped from $2.99 to $7.99 a head. Same with celery. The news reported it daily. Facebook and other social media was a seething hotbed of indignation. And now? Hey…I had $2.99 cauliflower for dinner last night. Not kidding. If the furor hadn’t gained traction I’d bet we would still be paying those prices even if there were some sort of agricultural recovery from whatever shortage or plight there had been.
The reality is that the less that is said in the public sphere, the easier it is for the brands to continue policies of escalation. Malt lovers have become the epitome of ‘bloody, but unbowed’. No matter what prices are thrown at us we seem to be unwilling to buckle and say ‘I can’t afford this’, or even more importantly in terms of making a case, ‘I won’t afford this’. Why not? Pride? Are we trying to impress someone(s) by continuing in the face of outright gouging? Or are we simply so enamoured and in love with either the spirit or the cool cache that comes with it that we refuse to knuckle under or bite the hand that feeds?
It’s been said before in the debate against NAS malts, the way to truly make a dent in this madness is to hit ‘em where it hurts. In the pocketbook. Vote with your dollar, in other words. I get it, but let’s be realistic. That only goes so far when the bottles keep disappearing from the shelves irrespective of a devoted few boycotting or simply disengaging from the madness. And why are they still selling? As I hinted at above, I think there are some folks out there that are simply keeping up with the Joneses and overreaching their financial stations. Hey, I’m guilty. I’ve done it. I also think there will always be non-whisky folk that ignorantly purchase bottles as gifts based on retailer’s suggestions or prestige name recognition. And finally…there will probably now always be those out there who see a perceived opportunity to turn their whisky buying into some sort of investment. They buy with an eye to the horizon for future values, not realizing (or willfully pretending otherwise) that they’re buying at the top of the bubble (or near it) and any profit made will be slim indeed. Showing up too late to the party, in other words.
I don’t know. Perhaps I’m simply speculating. I’ll be the first to admit that the logic of this current state eludes me. Even more confusing is that it seems to escape the understanding of every knowledgeable whisky drinker I know, and yet it keeps getting worse and worse. Anyone who has read Atlas Shrugged (Ayn Rand) should have some idea as to how I see this one playing out. The takers keep taking ‘til the rest of us have nothing left to give. Things only bend so far before they break. At that point the whole ruddy thing collapses. And then we’re back to mourning a new round of lost distilleries.
So what do we do? It’s simple, I think. Unfortunately it won’t make you any friends. The answer is that we start speaking up and asking questions. With honesty and intent. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Youtube, forums, comment sections, direct emails, face to face conversations…whatever tools and platforms you have. It’s time to start asking the tough questions of the owners and brands…’why are we paying the prices we’re paying?’ And when inevitably you get the infuriatingly condescending and dismissive response from some notorious reactionary such as Nick Morgan, be ready to walk away from the brand that can’t tell you why their pricing schemes are built to exclude you. It seems they don’t want you anyway if the cost is beyond your means. Let’s acknowledge it for what it is. Hey, I recognize that a Ferrari is not in my budget, but I have to admit that I love the hell out of my F-150. From the driver’s seat I can look down at the guy in his Ferrari that is racing to the next red light, where we’ll again be side by side. Life is full of checks and balances. Just sayin’.
So here I’m asking you to start throwing some questions around a bit. Start being a little bit louder. Do it with respect, but do it. You’re only going to make it better for all of us.