Wait... Did I say on the previous page of my liquid log that it would be the last log entry on this site?
Well, as you can see that wasn't the case after all. I've used a separate Malt Madness Blogspot Blog in 2010 and 2011, but
I stopped writing regular updates about a year ago. And some other parts of my whisky life have changed as well recently - like the fact that I've retired from the Malt Maniacs whisky collective. I've received a lot of questions by e-mail, Facebook and Twitter about these changes in recent months. Unfortunately, I rarely had the time to properly explain all the
reasoning and circumstances that brought about some of these changes.
I'd like to use my 400th liquid log entry to try and compose a few coherent thoughts
about my purely personal considerations and observations about my own life and the whisky world. That means that the contents of this page are probably not very interesting for the average whisky lover. So, they are advised to surf along to more suitable site sections like the Beginner's Guide, Distillery Data section or Malt Whisky mAlmanac instead.
In entry #400 I'll focus on 10 more global & personal issues;
- World Wide Web & Social Technology
- A Little Break
WARNING: While I still enjoy single malt whisky a lot, I do so in moderation.
Furthermore, there may be some sobering elements in the paragraphs below. Nevertheless, I still felt the need to write
them to explain some of the reasons behind my slightly decreased malt mania recently. Rest assured that I'm writing
this log entry powered by a dram: a lovely Tomintoul 12yo (40%, OB, early 1990's) from my reserve stock.
The main reason for my reduced alcohol intake is my health.
I used to greatly enjoy sitting in front of my PC all night, drinking whisky
and writing about it. But if you do that INSTEAD of exercising for fifteen
years (and enjoy good food in admittedly inadvisable quantities to boot),
your body starts to complain about the way you treat it...
frantically following 'the spirit' for a long time, I now need to
pay a little more attention to physical matters and get back into shape.
The fact that my current medication doesn't mix well with alcohol may be
a blessing in disguise, because these days weeks go by for me without
a single dram. And that has the added benefit that I only need a few
drams to start feeling REALLY happy these days... ;-)
In 1995 the scale at the rugby club already indicated a hefty 80 kilo's,
and by the end of 2010 all my drunken debauchery had pushed that
number to a whopping 112 kilo's. Those numbers mean that I've gained
an average of 2 kilo's of (quite flexible) body mass per year since 1995.
I tell you: sometimes it seems that it will take me just as long to lose it...
Ah well... The Calvinist in me sees all the time that I spend walking and
cycling these days as atonement for my past sins... ;-)
Anyway, I clearly needed a
lifestyle change and these days my weight
is hovering around 102 kilo's. So, I've already lost 10 kilo's, but still have
around 20 kilo's to go - and that will probably take a lot longer. (Unless I
decide to take the surgical route by having 20 kilo of legs amputated.)
The fact that I quit smoking tobacco a year ago doesn't help either.
I've discovered that nicotine was an important part of the fuel that kept
me dramming and writing past midnight on an almost daily basis. These
days my rhythm has shifted; I get up at 6:00 and start work at 7:00 AM.
Furthermore, if you're really used to enjoying your drink (or a few drinks)
with a smoke in the other hand, it just doesn't feel the same without the
regular roasting of your tongue, throat and lungs. I can now confirm from
my own experience that your palate and preferences really DO change
after you quit smoking. Arguably, one is able to analyse and describe
whisky much better as a non-smoker - but what if you've already written
notes and scores on +/- 3,500 single malts as a smoker? A quandary...
This is one of the reasons why I decided not to be part of the jury in
latest edition of the Malt Maniacs Awards - I wasn't sure my scores
would synch up with my track record and I didn't want to "pollute" the
results of the competition. I participated as a 'shadow taster' though
and I'm happy to report I agreed on all the winners I sampled so far.
Everybody who maintains one or more websites knows that the web work can take up a LOT of time.
I manage and maintain a bunch of different sites for myself and others, but Malt Madness and Malt Maniacs have
taken up the largest chunk of the 'webwork' I've done for almost two decades. Spending many hours of virtually
every day on whisky and our whisky websites left me with precious little time for other hobbies and projects. My
fairly sudden retirement from the Malt Maniacs collective could have been a little more graceful and better
organised I suppose, but I really needed to take a brake after 15 years. I plan to take it relatively easy for a while longer, but I already have some ideas for the Malt Madness site and other projects.
Another aspect of the issue 'time' is the sad fact that your nose deteriorates as you get older.
So far the ravaging effects of time on my own shapely nose seem to have been limited, but it's absolutely true
that it becomes more difficult to analyse and evaluate whisky if you don't 'train' regularly - say at least once or twice a week. So, whisky is a demanding mistress
who demands constant attention. Since my handicap of very frequent bad nose days due to chronic sinusitis hasn't improved, this leads to frequent scheduling conflicts.
So, not having to taste whisky quite as regularly frees a relatively large chunk of my calendar.
As I grow older, sadder and wiser, I start to appreciate simplicity
more and more. Don't get me wrong: I still greatly enjoy complexity
in a whisky or whiskey (or most other drinks for that matter), but I
like to keep my life as simple as possible these days. Granted, that's
already easier for me than for most other people; I'm a bachelor,
I am working only part-time and I have fairly few responsibilities.
Nevertheless, I want to strive for maximum simplicity in my life.
I can update Malt Madness and my Twitter tweet feed whenever it
suits me, but the responsibilities that I felt came with the position
of editor of Malt Maniacs weighed a little heavier on me. Part of my
simplistic lifestyle is speaking my mind as much as possible, but in
some cases I felt constrained by the fact that some people might
mistake my own personal opinion for that of the MM collective.
So, I've been struggling with the difficult decision to step back and retire as editor of the Malt Maniacs.
However, now that I've taken the plunge I've freed up a big part of my mind and my calendar for new projects and improvements to the Malt Madness site. I'm happy to see that various other malt maniacs have now picked
up the different responsibilities and at least one fresh E-pistle has already been published by Oliver Klimek.
So, it seems I don't need to 'worry' about the future of the collective - which makes my life even simpler.
After 15 years I think the community can be considered 'mature' enough
to stand on its own feet...
One of the things that attracted me to single malt whisky in the first
place was the authenticity & simplicity of a product that showed so
much complexity and variation. Because single malts were still a small
'niche' market of just 2 or 3 percent of the total Scotch whisky market
in the early 1990's, there was relatively little attention for marketing
in this category - as opposed to the world of blended whiskies. This
situation has now changed considerably. Sophisticated marketing,
PR and advertising play a crucial role in today's malt whisky world.
At the same time, there's an ongoing trend of homogenisation.
While age old traditions and regional characteristics are emphasised
in the window of the store, progress takes place in the workshop. The
last few decades have seen significant changes in the whisky industry,
like the abolishing of direct heating or the use of only a few different
barley and yeast strains. Most of these changes at the production side
of the whisky industry were aimed at eliminating the factor 'chance'
from the process. Granted, there are positive developments as well
(like the growing availability of unchillfiltered malts), but on the whole
it doesn't seem enough anymore to let the product speak for itself...
Now, here's an issue that somehow seemed to become the focal point of a few discussions after I announced my decision to retire as editor of the Malt Maniacs. However,
I don't think there's THAT much of a gap between my own convictions on independence and those of many other malt maniacs. In fact, I'm sure that Malt Maniacs is still
among the most independent whisky groups in the world - and I hope that this will never change.
At the same time, I can't deny that the Malt Maniacs collective has grown a long
way from its 100% amateur roots. Over the years, a growing number of (semi-)
professionals has joined the team - and some team members who used to be
amateurs became commercially involved in the whisky business. All of them are
great, knowledgeable people who want to share their passion for malt whisky.
At the same time, it's a sad fact that depending on whisky for part of your income
could potentially cause conflicts of interest - even if only in the public perception.
That's why I've always tried to maintain a respectful distance between our
Malt Maniacs collective and the whisky industry. At the same time, I see how
having friendly relations with members of the whisky industry is not only civil,
but also necessary for stuff like actual whisky news and the Malt Maniacs Awards.
So, it's probably inevitable that a group like Malt Maniacs gradually grows closer
to the industry. But where's the border between amateurs and industry these
days? The whisky marketing machine is growing larger - and PR and advertising
techniques are growing smarter. In my perception this would be a reason to try
and remain that healthy distance from the industry. I still feel that the main
added value of a group like the malt maniacs is a critical and fiercely independent
perspective. At the same time, I personally feared that it would grow ever more
difficult to remain completely unbiased if most of our members worked in whisky.
I finally realised that over the years my own sentiments about independence
and the value of a group like the maniacs were no longer shared (as strongly)
by all members of our team and our audience. Since I've grown too old to
change my sentiments, I finally decided to step back and retire in early 2012.
Mind you, once again: I'm not saying that my own ideas and philosophies are any 'better' than those of some
other malt maniacs - they are just a little different sometimes... And apart from the personal advantages for me
like the aforementioned 'health' and 'time', this means a fresh chance for the maniacs as well. Me stepping down and back will allow a new generation of malt maniacs
with fresh ideas of their own to shape the future of the Malt Maniacs website, the MMMonitor whisky database and the Malt Maniacs & Friends group on Facebook. I'm proud of what we've accomplished in the first 15 years and look forward to future projects of the maniacs.
As long as they are able to remain independent and transparent, the whisky world needs them...
World Wide Web & Social Technology
Phew... I'm only halfway through all the issues I wanted to discuss - I'll try to pick up the pace... ;-)
There used to be dozens and sometimes hundreds of e-mails
flying back and forth every day between the malt maniacs, our readers and myself. These days the role of e-mail has been taken over in part by Facebook and
Twitter. In the past I've been able to predict future developments quite well, but I have to admit that I'm a bit
foggy on the next few years. So, that was another reason for me to retire from the maniacs; I used to feel that I was able to lead and guide the team a bit, but now I'm not quite sure how things will develop.
And worse of all: all this 'technology' has nothing to do with whisky itself!
One thing seems inevitable; the world wide web will become increasingly mobile and 'social'.
I'm not even sure yet if and how I should adapt the Malt Madness website - let alone the old Malt Maniacs site.
One thing is certain: the tool that I've used to maintain the sites for over a decade (NetObjects Fusion) won't be
up to the task, so I have some strategic thinking to do over the next few months. I have to say I'm a bit disenchanted with Facebook at the moment (like many investors ;-), but things will probably evolve in a more
social direction anyway. But now I'm starting to blabber a bit - on to the next issue;
After the big crisis that hit the whisky world in the middle of the 1980's, the
malt whisky world was a small niche market. Of course, the whisky industry
already existed, but there were more 'players' and they focused on blends.
After the crisis of the eighties the whisky industry was confronted with a lot
of surplus malt whisky in the 1990's, so consumers could pick up great single
malts for great prices. These days, the malt whisky segment has grown much
more important and profitable for the whisky producers; I've been told that
single malts now represent more than 10% of the total Scotch whisky market.
Of course, nobody can really blame whisky producers for asking higher prices
if there are enough whisky lovers out there willing to pay them - and at the
moment there still seem to be plenty of them around to warrant the release
of bottlings that cost hundreds or even thousands of euro's. With so much
money at stake, it makes sense that the modern whisky industry wants to
use the most modern business practices and techniques. That means that,
just like most other industries around the world, the whisky industry wasn't
isolated from the ideas and practices that lead to the credit crisis of 2008.
A large part of the whisky industry is owned by by large corporations that
often finance part of their business with credit. One of the results is that
it is often no longer enough to make a modest profit. If a company doesn't
make the absolute maximum amount of possible profit, it is often being
punished by shareholders and 'the financial markets'. However, this also
means that, on the whole, we as consumers have to pay higher prices.
I guess that it just the price we have to pay for a more popular product.
Large whisky producers like Diageo, Bacardi and Pernod Ricard have lots
of interests in
other drinks industries besides whisky as well. Employees
in these large corporations move freely between brands, categories and
countries, so the tricks and 'best practices' that are working in one area
are quickly copied to other area's as well. I imagine that might be why I
feel that many single malts are now marketed in a way not unlike the way
blends were marketed in the 1990's. And the dynamics have changed on
the consumer side
of the spectrum as well. There now are many more malt
whisky collectors than there used to be, and there's a significant segment
of the malt whisky buying public now that is more susceptible to advertising
that focuses on themes like 'luxury' & 'status'. Some grumpy old men like
myself might not like this development, but there's now a new generation
of malt whisky lovers in Europe and the USA that is willing to pay dearly for
their drams - not to mention new markets like Russia, Asia & South America.
When there's an industry there's often also a lobby - and I have to admit
that this is an aspect I'm not too comfortable with. The lobby organisation
for the Scotch whisky industry is the
Scotch Whisky Association. They of
course claim to defend the interests of consumers, but closer analysis of
their positions and actions often suggests that they are really defending
the interests of the Scotch whisky industry and their largest contributors.
So, now we have to live with silly stuff like the very annoying and pointless
on many alcohol related websites, while the SWA secretly
fights against useful legislation to reduce alcohol abuse behind the scenes.
When I pay 50 Euro's for a bottle of whisky at my liquorist, I've come to
accept the fact that the liquorist makes a profit and that the government
takes a chunk in taxes
to spend on the common good (hopefully) before the
rest of it ends up with the bottler and/or producer and their suppliers. But
perhaps I'm not so OK with the fact that even a small part of my money ends
up with lobbyists and lawyers who are often essentially paid to lie to me... :-/
Anyway - these were just some assorted thoughts on the current status of the whisky industry. I could have
gone on for quite a bit longer about whisky industry and SWA issues that can still raise my blood pressure (like the 'blended malt' blitzkrieg
of a few years ago, or the lack of action against whisky fakers) - but I won't.
Instead, I'll swiftly proceed with the next item on my list;
We Dutchmen pride ourselves on our thrifty nature (well,
let's face it - there's not much else to pride us on at the
moment ;-), and I can prance around pretty proudly as
well in that respect. I have fairly limited needs, so I can
sustain myself with a fairly modest income. (Well, modest
by Dutch standards - not compared to the income of an
African kid I suppose). I don't mind spending part of my
income on luxuries like single malt whisky now and then,
but when the price of a bottle exceeds 100 Euro's I start
to think of all the 'better' things I could also do with that
money instead of buying that bottle.
Besides, I earn part of my income as a free-lancer, so
I'm starting to feel the pinch of the crisis as well. That
means that I rarely visit the liquorist these days. And
when I do drop by it is to pick up an affordable old
favourite like Glendronch 15yo or Lagavulin 16yo. For
further dramming material I rely on my reserve stock.
I have to admit that it is now diminishing though... ;-)
Another aspect of economics or finances is the fact that
I feel they can 'muddy the waters' around a hobby a bit.
Many amateurs & collectors have now invested sizeable
amounts of money in their whisky collections. I feel that
this has lead to a 'whisky bubble' - fortunately not so
much in the Bang-For-Your-Buck segment yet, but in the
area of collectible, limited & older bottles in the higher
priced segment. If that bubble bursts, it will hurt not only
the whisky industry, but everybody with a large whisky
collection as well - provided they don't plan to drink all
their whisky themselves and with friends at some point.
So, they have an interest in keeping the bubble inflated.
I'm just happy that I've laid down a reserve stock to keep me sedated for a few years to come...
It's still possible to find very good malt whiskies for reasonable prices, but many of the REALLY EXCELLENT malt
whisky bottlings are priced well outside my financial comfort zone these days. I'm happy that I got to try many of them through the Malt Maniacs Awards, but I've only bought a few of the gold medal winners myself.
Biological evolution takes millions of years, but it
seems social and technological evolution go faster.
Malt Madness (est. 1995) & Malt Maniacs (est. 1997)
were founded in the early years of the internet when
our only 'tools' were websites and e-mail. Nowadays
mobile devices and social media are just as important.
The new possibilities are great - but it has also lead
to a certain 'fragmentation' with people having to
divide their time and attention across many different
platforms and media. In the early years of the web,
the easiest ways for malt maniacs to share ideas on
whisky with others was through e-mail en e-pistles.
These days there are many other ways, so the
discussions became rarer and more fragmented.
This was one of the developments that I watched with some concern when I still was editor of Malt Maniacs,
but I also could think of no way to solve it. This is very
frustrating and one of the reasons I decided to retire as editor and focus on this website - a project where I have much more control. I really hope that the new team that
has now taken over various responsibilities will be able to build on stuff like the MMMonitor whisky database and the Malt Maniacs & Friends group on Facebook. I intend to revise the archive that covers the first 15 years of our writings on www.maltmaniacs.org - but I want to wrap up a few items in Malt Madness first. First of all the
eagerly awaited Advanced Beginner's Guide and the Deviant Drams section, but some fresh stuff too.
Besides, there's a very sunny side to the development of things like WordPress and social media.
These days there are literally hundreds of websites and blogs about whisky - and some are excellent!
No mortal being has enough time to keep track of all of them, but there's a wide range to choose from.
So you won't have to be bored while I take...
A Little Break
... well, at least from blogging - and any large expansions to this site.
I need to spend some more time on training to bring my weight down to healthier levels. That will give me plenty of ways to think of ways to combine a healthier lifestyle
with ways to let Malt Madness evolve further. Judging from the e-mails I receive, the Malt Madness site still serves a purpose, so I intend to keep it in the air as long as
possible. While I won't expand this website for a while, I will keep updating it with fresh data.
Meanwhile, I'll keep informing followers via the tweet feed on Twitter.
PHEW! I'm sorry I droned on for so long, but I wanted to get these things off my chest before I take a break.
If you are now calculating how long it has taken you to read it, imagine how long it took me to write it!
Definitely more than one dram - so I hope my doctor doesn't read this... ;-)