ca. 1500 AD
malted (germinated) barley
copper pot still
Lower yield than column stills
ca. 1850 AD
Any type of grain
Higher yield than pot stills
November 15, 2014 - Looking back on things, the malt whisky market was still a cosy
‘niche’ market around the year 2000. At the time, I could still stock up on the fantastic
Laphoaig 10yo C/S (a litre of the ‘Green Stripe’ version) for 49,95 Euro’s - and I had
the foresight to buy five boxes of the stuff. That’s 30 bottles, so I still have some.
Mind you, in hindsight I should have bought even more, because the going rate for
that particular bottling is between 300 and an even more whopping 400 GBP right now!
That is almost 500 Euro’s in real money (at the current exchange rates).
But please note that most of the bottles I bought at the time did NOT increase in
‘value’ by 1000%. What’s more, malt whisky prices at the shops had already started
to increase around the year 2000.
One of the basic principles of
making a profitable trade is
‘buying low and selling high’.
Since whisky prices are quite
steep at the moment, this might
not be the best time to invest
your idle capital in whisky.
So, as it turns out that I may have been a little too far ahead
of my time when I wrote “whisky prices are crazy right now!”
over a decade ago. Compared to today, the whisky prices of the
early years of the 3d millennium even seem quite reasonable...
But ‘crazy’ and ‘reasonable’ are relative terms in free markets;
especially in free-spirited markets like the whisk(e)y market.
The ‘right’ price of a bottle of whisky (at a certain point in time)
depends on various factors. In the end, if a whisky producer is
able and willing to produce the Glen Git 3yo at a street price of
50 Euro’s, and if enough whisky consumers are willing and able
to buy it at that price, the market has spoken. The laws of
supply and demand tell us that 50 Euro’s is the ‘right’ price.
2014-10-17 on Twitter via @Globe&Mail
Are you a "high net worth individual"?
Good for you! Now there's yet another
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The South African price: $200 000.
So, there were many upsides to the fact that malt whisky became
more popular than it had been during the 1990s. Prices were moving
upwards as well, but for a long time they were ‘small prices to pay’ in
exchange for the fact that whisky lovers got access to more malts.
However, increased demand also meant that the single malt whisky
category became a more important segment of the whisky industry.
That sounds cool - but it’s not necessarily good for everybody...
So, rather than applying the ‘best practices’ from malt whisky
to other parts of their portfolio, the whisky industry started to
apply the stuff that they had learned with the production and
marketing of blended whisky to single malt whiskies.
Scotch malt whisky may have been growing more important for
the bottom line of the large whisky producers, but even at the
end of the 2000s, malt whiskies were responsible for less than
10% of all whisky sales. Most whiskies by far were still blends.
In 2008, the Scotch Whisky Association announced that vatted malt whisky (a mixture of single
malts, also known as pure malt whisky) would henceforth be designated as ‘blended malt whisky’.
(Check out log entry #326 and beyond for details.)
And then the Scotch whisky industry started to blur the lines between malts and blends further...
The Scotch Whisky Association prefers the
abbreviation SWA - but in the light of their
recent actions I think that swASS would
be a better fit. After all, they consistently
act like ASSES about Scotch whisky.
At that point in time, I experienced my first
little ‘whisky credit crisis’ - the SWA didn’t
even try very hard to convince te public, but
just pushed through their proposal for a law.
The interests of the whisky industry and
the public seemed to diverge on this issue.
But that didn’t give those in charge pause...
The sour taste that this left in my mouth might have been one of the first symptoms of a
progression of my malt madness from stage 2 to stage 3 - where patients become less gullible.
Because malt whiskies and blended whiskies are mostly produced by a few large corporations,
these companies also control most of the whisky information that reaches the general public.
For many years I didn’t question most of the ‘facts’ that I learned about whisky, but after this
example of the cavalier attitude of swASS towards the truth, I re-examined some issues...
For instance, does it make sense to put malt whisky and grain whisky in the same category?
The number of internet users (in the ‘developed’ world) shot past
50% in a few years time. Financially speaking, that was a very nice
development - plenty of companies required my kind of expertise.
So, I could afford to expand my ‘reserve stock’ of spare bottles,
whilst enjoying a growing number of other whisky websites..
A few liquorists gave customers the chance to sample a whisky befores buying a big bottle.
These were exceptions though - most clients had to take their chances when investing in a new bottle of whisky.
With a growing number of whisky lovers finding each other on the web or in real life, it wasn’t long before people
got the idea of swapping samples (filled from their big bottles) with others. With every swap, both parties would
double the number of different whiskies that they got to sample - without the need to increase their budgets.
In hindsight, the most recent ‘malt whisky boom’ probably started in the early noughties.
More expressions of more whiskies became available in more liquor stores and webshops
in more countries. This meant that more potential customers got access to more whiskies.
Initially, those were mostly Scotch whiskies, but towards the end of the decade, so-called
‘world whiskies’ (made in countries like Japan and India) became more prolific as well.
The more different whiskies you sample, the easier it becomes to identify and compare
different characteristics in a whisky. By 2010, I had sampled over 3,000 malt whiskies.
Granted, the first ‘malt maniacs’ already published a few E-pistles in the 1990s, but it
wasn’t until the early years of the 3d millennium that things really took off. We became
a global community and our membership grew from a handful of whisky lovers (mostly
located in Europe & the US) to 3 dozen certified malt maniacs from all over the world.
This gave us a ‘global’ perspective - and access to a wealth of whisky knowledge,
So, grain whisky is produced from (mostly) different ingredients, using different equipment in a different process.
From that perspective, it’s odd that the Scotch producers used the name ‘whisky’ for both spirits. Well, it does make
more sense if you are willing to assume for a moment that the whisky industry isn’t necessarily always aiming for
maximum transparency. But during stage 3 of my malt madness I would find out more about that...