But hold on - I was focusing on the downsides of the 1990s. OK, well, early on the standard bottle size of a whisky
bottle dropped from 75cl to 70cl, information was scarce and the concentration in the whisky industry continued.
Also: the Spice Girls. Personally, I only felt that less than half of them (40%) could actually be considered spicy.
So, perhaps it’s not such a bad thing that the number of people that (re-)discovered
the single malt whisky category started to grow at the end of the 1990’s. Not only did
it help the malt whisky industry survive; at the end of the decade, the number of
different expressions from a particular distillery started to grow as well.
All things considered, the 1990s were not ideal, but it was still a pretty good decade to suffer from malt mania.
Self-medication (with malt whisky) was affordable, and few of us could foresee the horrors that lay ahead in
the new millennium. Wat horrors, you ask? Well, as you can see we’re out of space on this page, so I’ll get back to
that in my next liquid log entry - about the 2000s. Also, it will be weeks before you regret following me on Twitter.
During most of the 1990s, the Scotch malt whisky industry was
still pretty much ‘in the shitter’ after the whisky crisis of the 1980s.
Dozens of malt whisky distilleries had been closed, but the whisky
industry was still producing more (malt) whisky than ‘the market’
was willing to buy. So, prices dropped - which was bad for some...
Thanks to the blessed laws of supply & demand the relatively small number of
malt whisky consumers were able to buy a fairly large variety of malt whiskies for, in
hindsight, very reasonable prices. Those prices were arguably too low to maintain
the quality of the sort of malt whiskies that were produced in earlier decades.
Many liquorists decreased the shelf space available for malt whisky
and malt whisky lovers had to travel further to see a wider selection.
The fact that a growing number of ‘vatted malts’ and ‘bastard malts’ (like the Finlaggan at
the left) were struggling for a spot on the bottom shelf was a mixed blessing for consumers.
Sure, there were many whiskies with an excellent price/quality ratio - but you never knew
in advance when the character and style of a certain ‘brand’ would suddenly change.
Although the output of some individual distilleries remained as variable as it had ever
been, the single malt category as a whole remained fairly constant until the late 1990s.
While many ‘brands’ may have had only 2 or 3 different ‘official’ expressions available
around 1995 (like a 12yo & a 18yo), pioneering malt whisky brands like Glenmorangie
already had at least a dozen ‘age’ and ‘wood’ OB expressions around the year 2000.
Furthermore, the number of specialised liquorists and independent bottlers grew.
After the whisky crisis of the 1980s, malt whisky prices were at unsustainable
levels for a few years. Many (+/-) 12 years old expressions from the big brands
would cost less than 25 Euro’s, and if that was too rich for your blood there
were numerous ‘bastard malts’ and ‘vatted’ malts for roughly half that price.
Case in point: the ‘Vintage’ range’s 70cl of Lagavulin 7yo for circa 12 Euro’s...
... and because a lot of people liked it, we soon got websites and communities.
That was a win-win situation for me. Because I had never specialised myself,
I could do a lot of different stuff. Poorly, but still... As it turned out, this lack of
a pre-existing skill set made me perfectly suited for building websites.
So, it wasn’t long before I was building websites for fun and profit.
And so were other people, so during the second half of the 1990s we saw the
birth of a global malt whisky community on the world wide web. This meant
that you could suddenly share knowledge & opinions with other consumers.
(By the way: those 70cl bottles were a new ‘standard’ in the EU, introduced around 1991.)
November 11, 2014 - So, while I was taking a lengthy break from blogging (and
making large updates to this site), the whisky industry has changed quite a bit...
I will be taking a closer look at some of those changes in an upcoming entry, but
to celebrate the grand re-opening of my liquid (b)log, I’ll start with a ‘triptych’.
Some people call me a big fat baby - but I rather look at
myself as a child of my time. And my timing couldn’t have
been better, because I discovered malt whisky in 1991.
After the economic crisis of the 1980’s, demand for Scotch
whisky had dropped significantly and the industry suffered.
But it has finally arrived - and from this end I can tell you it’s glorious!
The downside of all this glory is that I now realise that I may not have been entirely
right on some issues I wrote about on the old site. I’ve now entered a new stage of
‘malt madness’ that comes
with a different perspective.
That’s right, suckers! I now know what the word ‘triptych’ means!
This wasn’t the case in the 1990s, and as it turns out it was just one of many
things I didn’t know at the time. In retrospect, I really was quite ignorant at the time,
but the problem with the wisdom of hindsight is that it always comes too late...
Dozens of whisky distilleries were closed, but that did not
immediately solve the mismatch between supply & demand.
Most malt whiskies need to mature for at least a decade,
so there was a huge ‘whisky lake’ - and prices dropped.
During the eary 1990s, you could get a 75cl bottle of my
beloved Lagavulin 16 years old (depicted above) for as
little as 25 Euro’s here in Holland. As ignorant as I was
at the time, I understood that this was a pretty sweet deal.
PUBLIC WARNING FOR WHISKY NOVICES
The fact that I love smoky, peaty whiskies
does not mean that you will love them too.
I just got an e-mail describing Laphroaig
10 years old as ‘the worst experience ever’.
But on the other hand, I often opted for another, even cheaper
‘bastard’ malt whisky instead in those days. At first hindsight (let’s
say during the first years of the new millennium), I probably would
have allocated my funds differently. And today my perspective has
changed yet again - so I might make an altogether other choice.
Part I of this ‘triptych’ looks at the earliest stage of my malt madness.
2014-10-01 on Twitter via @HuffPost
Meanwhile, even the Huffington Post
wonders if the Japanese make better
#whisky than the Scots. Yeah, at the
moment that seems to be the case.
Especially in some of the older bottles that were available in the 1990s, you could still detect the
craftsmanship of the malt whisky distiller producing a singular product in an oldfashioned pot still.
Over time, the hand of the blender shaping the product would become ever more dominant.
The ‘concentration’ trend in the Scotch whisky industry was already in full swing in the 1990s.
For example, in 1997 old drinks giants Grand Metropolitan and Guiness merged to form the even
more giant Diageo. But in the whisky world it usually takes a decade or longer for changes on the
work floor to be expressed in the bottles of malt whisky on the shelves of liquorists world-wide..
The great thing about advertising campaigns in mass media is that ‘social drinkers’ don’t have to
explain to their audience that their brand has values - the brand has already done that for them.
So, while the number of brands and expressions of malt whisky was
much lower than it is today, the spectrum of fragrances and flavours
was broader. Those were exciting times; for every Macallan 10yo CS
or Springbank 21yo you would find, there would be an Isle of Jura or
Loch Dhu lurking behind it. For years, I randomly picked up bottles...
Granted, most of the Scotch malt whisky distilleries offered only one or two expressions (and only a few liquorists
could provide a decent selection), but on the other hand it was still possible to distinguish typical regional traits and
even some ‘house styles’. There was much more variety than today, which came with the occasional crap whisky.
Malt whisky wasn’t ‘hip’ yet in the 1990s, so there were no whisky hipsters spoiling the rustic scenery.
Most people that became (or remained) interested in single malt whisky in those years were usually
inspired by the intrinsic values of the whisky (fragrances, flavour, alohol contents), rather than the
‘extrinsic value’. The people that drank alcohol in order to express a certain lifestyle of affluence had
hundreds of blended whiskies to choose from - and most of those brands had advertising campaigns.
I had little choice, actually - the malt maniacs were not born yet and
my liquorist recommended pretty much every single bottle of whisky.
Granted, you’d get an ever better glimpse of the past from bottles that were produced in the 1980s.
But until the 2000s E-commerce didn’t really take off and E-bay was still a glint in a fraudster’s beady eye...