...where distraction is the main attraction.

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.