I usually post a recipe on Thursday. I will have a recipe this week—I’ll post it on Saturday, probably. Today I have a post for the people who are not here primarily for the food, and it’s a simple question: do you still read whisky blogs?
I obviously don’t mean the question literally. If you’re reading this you’re reading a whisky blog (though for a couple of years now this has been a whisky and food blog). The better, though less catchy, question is really, how has your relationship with whisky blogs changed over the last few years? I’ll lead things off by answering for myself, both as a whisky blogger and as a reader of whisky blogs; then a poll or five; and finally, an invitation to respond more fully in the comments.
The whisky blogger part is easier to quantify. I started the blog in March 2013 and for the first 3-4 years this was very clearly a whisky blog. It was never at the top of the list of most-read blogs but I’d say that after the first year or two there was a reasonable awareness of it—thanks to a few posts probably (the Glendronach “single casks” one and the one on whisky bloggers and marketing, most obviously). Back then there was a lot more reader engagement on the blog. Though my page views and unique visitor counts have gone up steadily from year to year, the number of comments on my posts has gone down just as steadily, and in particular, comments on my whisky reviews have gone down steadily.
Now you might say that this is because the whisky reviews got contaminated by food posts and people who were only interested in whisky stopped showing up or showing up as often. I wouldn’t find that hard to believe even though the number of whisky reviews per month has stayed pretty steady since year 2 or so. In other words, the seeming drop in interest in my whisky posts may not be indicative of anything beyond the dilution of the whisky focus of the blog. It’s certainly true that, with a few exceptions, my whisky reviews are not read as much as they used to be. Even though there are more whisky posts each week than any other genre those posts are not the ones that account for the annually growing page view and visitor counts (that’s down to the restaurant reviews and meta food commentary posts).
But then I consider my own whisky blog reading habits. When I started the blog I was an avid reader of other whisky blogs. I checked Serge and Sku’s blogs daily. I’d look at WhiskyNotes every other day or so. There were at least three or four more blogs that I checked on the regular. Now some of those blogs are gone and others are not updated very often. The only ones I look at any more regularly are Michael K’s Diving for Pearls and Jordan D.’s Chemistry of the Cocktail. This is not a slam on the other whisky blogs—many of them very good—that continue. It really has to do with major changes in my relationship with the larger whisky universe.
For one thing, I don’t buy very much whisky any more and—not least due to rising costs and shipping hassles—I’ve barely bought any whisky from outside the US in the last 2-3 years. Many of the European blogs that I read religiously before I primarily read as buying guides—both Whiskyfun and WhiskyNotes fell in this category. Once I stopped buying whisky the need to keep up with new releases dropped away. Now I read Whiskyfun once a week or so and mostly skim looking for Serge’s notes on whiskies that aren’t available anymore—because when I’m not buying very much if at all, it’s more interesting to read about interesting whiskies than whiskies that are currently available. The “low utility” stuff is what I’ve stuck with, in other words; either because it’s entertaining or interesting or both. Good writing and interesting perspectives are now far more interesting to me than a lot of tasting notes. But that may be just me. Most other whisky drinkers may still be looking for buying guides and thus less interested in whisky blogs like mine that are predominantly focused on low utility whisky reviews.
But if I’m being honest, the larger part of why I don’t read very many whisky blogs any more is the reason I don’t read very many whisky sites any more: I’m not really as interested in whisky—outside of what’s in my glass—as I was when I first started the blog and certainly in the years before I started the blog. Some of this has to do with the fact that I’m no longer the relative newcomer to single malt whisky that I was 10-12 years ago (I started drinking single malt whisky about 18 years ago, started buying more bottles at a time about 15 years ago and then became a full-blown whisky obsessive about 10-12 years ago). The ins and outs of production methods and other more geeky questions don’t really get me going and I’m not rich enough to be a collector of esoteric or very old whiskies.
And unlike in the world of food, where there is a lot of interesting writing that isn’t just recipes or restaurant reviews, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot happening in the whisky world beyond tasting notes, hyping new releases, posting pictures of purchases and trying to flip bottles. (I’m not contributing anything against this tide either, of course.) On the one hand, there’s a resistance to talking about the social aspects of whisky beyond drinking it—see the sorry response on the Malt Maniacs Facebook page to the recent calling of Jim Murray to account for his tired sexism; on the other hand, there’s also probably not a whole lot of ground to really cover there—whether with history or social issues. (I do have some thoughts on the casual sexism of whisky culture, if anybody would like to read them.)
However, it’s at least as much the case that the whisky industry has made it hard for me to stay interested in whisky—outside of what’s in my glass—and has made it hard for me to be very interested in buying new whiskies to put in my glass. Yes, there’s still good and even great whisky being made in Scotland, and I’m always very excited when I happen on any of it, but the industry itself has gone down a road of premiumization and polish and bullshit that I’m not interested in following. I’m sure it’s a very lucrative road but it’s not for me. I have become increasingly skeptical of whisky marketing—and as my dear friends at K&L will tell you, I was not very into it to begin with. But is this really something unique to the present moment in the whisky industry (the last 2-4 years or so) or is it just a natural progression in the lifecycle of any whisky geek? You tell me. (I think I know what the response of Mr TH—who is one of those who no longer comments—would be.)
I do still very much enjoy drinking whisky, of course—and I’m fortunate to have enough good whisky socked away from the last years of the whisky loch to take me through the years before my nose and palate deteriorate. And I still very much enjoy drinking whisky with friends—though my interest in attending gatherings where large numbers of people drink 500 whiskies is still non-existent. But, on the whole, I find myself now to be a hobbyist seemingly at odds with the larger universe of his hobby; and writing a whisky blog that fewer and fewer of his fellow hobbyists seem interested in reading with every passing year. Neither my reduced interest in the wider whisky world nor my readers’ reduced interest in my whisky-related posts may, however, be representative (I’m sure Serge is still pulling in his 10 trillion page views a day).
This is where you come in: whether you are a regular or occasional reader of the blog, please respond to the following polls and consider leaving a fuller comment as well below.
Thanks for responding to the polls; now please flesh out your responses in the comments.
“how has your relationship with whisky blogs changed over the last few years?”
When I got serious about whisky in 2013, you could read blogs to learn of new releases *and they would still be available when the blog was published*! Now, anything which is “good” – say >=90pts from WhiskyFun or WhiskyNotes – and is “reasonably” priced – let’s say <=US$500 – is basically sold out on release. E.g. the WhiskySponge Jura. A distillery everyone loves to hate, a release that cost GBP 350 and it was gone by the time I saw the review.
It's not only that prices have gone up (by my rough estimate, 4x since 2013), but that availability has gone down, something I think is overlooked. This is exacerbated by flippers – just look at, say, the volume of Waterford in recent auctions. If you miss a release, expect to pay 2-3x at auction the following month.
That was an interesting post, cheers. Personally, I became a fully-fledged whisky obsessive about 10 years ago and, contrary to the tide, my reading of whisky blogs has increased over the last couple of years. Part of it was probably laziness – I discovered Whiskyfun early in my whisky journey and didn’t feel the need to look elsewhere, either for a buying guide or for expanding my whisky knowledge. I stumbled across your blog after my trip to Balblair and Tomatin when I was looking for other impressions of recent distillery tours. I used to comment on your whisky posts more often, but you’ve touched upon the reason for that yourself: you rarely buy whisky from outside the US these days, and most of the time I’m only interested in reading about whisky I’m likely to try (or have tried before). This is probably reflected in my votes in your ‘Coming Soon’ posts. As for other blogs, I regularly read WhiskyNotes and The Dramble. Serge and his group’s response to the sexism conversation has turned me off Whiskyfun, and now I don’t go there daily any more.
In general, people I’ve interacted with on Twitter seem to support your view that blog readership (of individual blogs) has gone down in general. Maybe the proliferation of blogs has something to do with it too – there’s more dilution of readers perhaps across different blogs? Also there’s the opinion that people are moving away from blogs in general. I can’t comment on that – even though as I said I’ve been a whisky obsessive for almost a decade, I only started blogging about it a few months ago (and that was only after a friend’s repeated pleas for me to put my whisky notes on paper) and I’m lucky if I get 10-20 views a day, so it’s very much a personal diary of tasting notes. At the moment I’m finding it fun to try and populate it with enough reviews to reflect my whisky experience, but I have no idea if I’ll keep going after the novelty value of creating an archive as worn off. (yes. I’m aware I’m about 10-15 years late!)
Out of curiosity – since most people on your blog are mostly interested in your food writing, are they mostly local, as opposed to more international for the whisky reviews?
You’ve articulated very well how I feel about whisky. Basically, everything starting with “but then I consider my own whisky blog reading habits” applies to me as well. I do read your blog among less than a handful of others, but just like you my whisky interest and buying have reduced to a trickle. I don’t know how Serge and Ralfy are doing it. The first 500 bottles are fun, but what do you expect different from #501?
Thank god for brandy.
I read only The Whiskey Wash and your blog.
I don’t remember how i tripped across TWW; maybe looking up tasting notes of something I’d tried. It’s informative, to a point, and I’ve never felt compelled to compare it to other whiskey blogs. I suppose it tells me something that I can’t be arsed to investigate whether another blog would be of greater interest.
Actually, I skim-read TWW. I rarely open it as soon as it arrives, I click on only those articles that interest me (TWW: “Beam is making bourbon with an Easy-Bake Oven” Me: “How the hell do they do that?”), and, tbh, if I see that the price of what they’re reviewing is above $200, I quit reading about it in mid-sentence. Whiskey is not so much of an interest of mine that I would pay more than that for a bottle (assuming, as another commenter noted, it’s even available at all).
I read your blog partially for the whiskey reviews. I’m still relatively new to drinking whiskey. I appreciate that your palate is far more developed than mine. I’m not (currently?) able to tease out whether I’m tasting pear or apple. I’ve taken a couple of whiskey-tasting classes and have learned more about whiskey varieties and flavor profiles. Reading your tasting notes gives me an idea of what to sense when *I’m* tasting a particular whiskey. But I largely either like a whiskey or I don’t. I’m still developing the taste buds that tell me why — and whether I’d like a whiskey that’s new to me.
I appreciate the restaurant reviews, particularly because you aren’t reviewing just the latest openings of the latest rock star chef, and because you go to restaurants which are relatively close to where I live. And I like the recipes, though I will cop to not offering feedback on the ones I “borrow.” I’ve also very much appreciated your articles on writing about South Asian food — it has made me aware of how generic so much of food writing is. And I’ve applied that skepticism to writing about other cuisines. (Thank you.)
I will plead to being one of your disappointments for your cinema series; I’m not much of a movie-watcher anyway and don’t want to take the time to get into a new genre even if it’s really good.
Speaking more generally, though, and as I’ve mentioned in earlier canvassings, I’m a whiskey punter. I know what I like and what I don’t (though I haven’t tasted everything yet). I don’t have the budget to keep more than a couple-three bottles on hand at any given time — and not very expensive ones at that. The friends with whom I drink whiskey are across town so there aren’t many opportunities to share my finds or try new ones. My experience with “user groups” (for whiskey, the brand of car I drive, investments, etc.) has not been so positive that I feel the need to join one.
As for whiskey blogs, so many of them just seem to be press releases (or, worse, clickbait). I don’t care about a whiskey that costs $500 a bottle; I’ll never have access to it. Or one distilled in a little town in Arizona and not available ten miles beyond the distillery. Line extensions like the Game of Thrones line of whiskies just seem like obvious money grabs to me, kind of the way baseball trading cards moved way from being mini-documents for kids to multiple limited (but similar) editions as soon as they realized there were lots of completists with money out there who would squirrel away the product and never enjoy it beyond the bragging rights of owning it.
I drink whiskey because I like whiskey. I don’t care about impressing anyone with my bar. And I’m not in it enough to be competitive about it. In fact, I’m a little subordinate. One of my favorite whiskies is Connemara because it’s a peated single malt but it’s not from Islay. I’m fine with buying a $12 bottle of bourbon if it sounds like something I’d enjoy. So why spend a lot of time reading blogs about whiskies I’ll never try? Kind of like reading a road test of the new Corvette when you’re a minivan buyer — maybe some of the Corvette halo rubs off on the truck, but will knowing more about the Corvette really inform you about the model you’re buying?
I used to have my own blog years ago and I know it’s a lot of work, especially if you’re posting 5-6 times a week. I thank you for your effort and the enjoyable writing and the window you provide to worlds I know little about. I certainly hope you find it worthwhile to continue. If you want to know why I’m here, though, this is why.
“I have become increasingly skeptical of whisky marketing…is this really something unique to the present moment in the whisky industry…or is it just a natural progression in the lifecycle of any whisky geek? You tell me.”
I got into whisky via independent bottlings where the trend of “premiumization and polish and bullshit” is a lot less apparent than in distillery bottlings.
While my cynicism has grown over the years, this has less to do with marketing and more to do with the trend toward whisky as an investment rather than as something you drink, share and enjoy.
Excellent post. For myself, I think it’s like many of other interests and their normal ebb and flow. I used to keep up with box scores and rosters to the nth degree. No more. A quick scan for the few players I still recognize and off to something else. If I was a professional in the spirits industry, maybe I’d be more interested in keeping up what the consumer side is saying. But I’m not. I’m a fan of a niche within a niche. And even niches grow beyond the need to know or read everything about them. Blogs including the one I’m a part of are a lot like talk radio, especially sports talk radio. The number of people calling in (reading blogs) and “yelling” is a minute fraction of the overall picture. Again, a niche within a niche. At some point we all probably hit blog fatigue but it may be our own fault. We’ve talked terroir, transparency, fake company stories, mash bills, distillery job descriptions, tasting notes, et al to absolute death, and for what? Does it really matter? The best part of the whisky community has always been the community, the people. I could care less about a person’s tasting notes but I do care about the person’s writing ability, personality, and humor; and if they’d be a fun person to sit around and have a dram with. Don’t get me wrong, I like to geek out about whisky too but it’s pretty far down the list of why I blog, read blogs, or like the whisky community. I’m as cynical about the industry as I am about many aspects of the world. I’m also pretty positive about the people whose blogs I read or those generally in the community.
Thanks for the thought-provoking post MAO! A lot of what you wrote hit very close to home for me, and I’m a keen reader of the blog, so I felt inclined to write a relatively detailed response – I hope I manage to keep it relevant and succinct(ish), and that it is at least partly informative.
You ask “how has your relationship with whisky blogs changed over the last few years?” In response, a short history of my experience as a whisky enthusiast, and more specifically as a reader of whisky blogs:
I started getting into whisky some time around 2014-15, and got quite serious about it pretty quickly. I started my reading with Jim Murray (is this a required rite of passage?) but relatively quickly got over his relentless self-aggrandisement, erratic scoring and sleazy writing, and graduated to blogs. Here are the blogs I read or have read:
– Whiskyfun (active reader: 2015-present, frequency: daily) – This has become my main frame of reference for whisky. I am much less interested in the scores than I used to be, and gradually learning which of the descriptors are useful to me and which ones I do better to ignore. I don’t find the possible conflicts of interest over luxury bottlings or the connections to industry to be quite as clearly explained as I might like – the fact is Serge has a huge amount of influence and there is no oversight or accountability. But then again Serge doesn’t owe us any of those things, and I continue to enjoy his notes and find them useful. Whiskyfun is by far the largest database of tasting notes all by one person, so once you have dialled in on what Serge likes and doesn’t like and how he uses his descriptors you can quite effectively compare whiskies “on paper”. I am more likely to dip in and out of it these days, rather than reading every post religiously start-to-finish.
– My Annoying Opinions (active reader: 2017-present, frequency: daily) – I am not sure how I came across the blog, but I get on well with your notes, and your selection of bottles to review overlaps sufficiently with my interests to keep me on board. But I also should say that I am a “mixed” reader – I can’t say for sure I’d have stuck with the blog if it weren’t also for the food writing.
– WhiskySponge (active reader: on and off 2017-present, frequency: less than monthly) – I find some of the satirical stuff a bit tiring, but the occasional serious post (there are the April Fools essays and some other bits and pieces) is usually very good and offers the only serious writing about history and social issues of whisky I have come across.
– Ben’s Whisky Blog (active reader: on and off 2016-19, frequency: monthly or less) – Seems to have gone dormant. I used to check in here from time to time because Ben was very good at doing Springbank and Cadenhead’s releases more or less in real time and I found his notes quite useful for those.
– Ralfy (active viewer: 2018-present, frequency: less than monthly) – I will watch one of Ralfy’s videos very very rarely. I quite like his notes, but I find the format very cumbersome.
Thinking it over I have changed very little in which blogs I read and how frequently – but I do read with a different interest now. I am much more sceptical (not to say cynical) about the industry as a whole, a lot less likely to be taken in by marketing guff, and much more interested in nuanced critical views (of which there are not many).
I should say that I’m sure there are other very good blogs out there than the ones I read, and I may be missing out. I do try to find new blogs about once a year, usually starting with the recommended links on here and on Whiskyfun and then working my way through google hits, but none have stuck. Some are too America-centric for me, in some cases I just can’t relate to the tasting notes, some don’t do enough reviews of bottles I am interested in… But by far the biggest disqualifier is that many seem very industry-adjacent (not to say sponsored) and corporate – in their appearance, their tone and (as far as i can tell) their intent. They look to me like shoddily camouflaged marketing material, which seems to me to reflect on the broader state of affairs.
The big issue for me is not the blogs themselves but the industry, which on the whole (with some exceptions I’m sure) seems corporate and disingenuous – peddling fake luxury for profit with little respect for ingredients or integrity. For me the question begins to arise: if this is what whisky is like, then do I actually like whisky? I like drinking spirits and reading about them, yes, but is there any reason it has to be whisky? The industry seems almost to be doing its best to make whisky less attractive to the hobbyist spirits enthusiast, and alternatives are seeming more and more attractive to me (cognac, armagnac, calvados, pomace brandies, fruit eaux-de-vie…). I will probably continue to read the whisky blogs I follow because I think they are good spirits blogs by any measure – but whether whisky will continue to be the spirit I buy most of remains to be seen.
I still feel like a relative newcomer, so I can’t say whether the industry is changing and leaving me behind, or whether it has always been like this (or different but equally unpleasant). But your description “a hobbyist seemingly at odds with the larger universe of his hobby” aligns very well with my own feelings – and as such I suppose I am one of the fellow hobbyists who DOES remain interested in your blog. But I also wouldn’t be upset if the whisky element were further diluted, whether by focusing more on food writing or on other spirits.
I also agree on the history-and-social-issues black hole – would love to read more, but haven’t found anything other than the occasional Sponge. I would read your thoughts with interest.
I’ll end by echoing Steve above: “I thank you for your effort and the enjoyable writing and the window you provide to worlds I know little about. I certainly hope you find it worthwhile to continue.”
PS: Interesting that you mention the number of comments on reviews – to be honest I’ve been shy to comment on reviews as opposed to other posts on the blog. I didn’t really see them as the start of a conversation and am hesitant to comment too much – it’s your blog after all and not mine! But I would gladly comment more on reviews if that’s something you welcome.
Just to respond to your PS: I would very much welcome (more) comments on my reviews.
This is long; apologies to MAO and other readers. Some might rightly suggest that I should start my own blog if I want to go on so much.
I’m 20-plus years into drinking whisk(e)y at least somewhat regularly, 10 or so years since being given “101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die” and six or so years into hard-core semi-mania, sponging up the Reddit whisk(e)y forums, reading blogs and spending way more than I should on whisk(e)y both from local liquor stores and in costly overseas orders.
I am on the downslope of that hobbyist arc, where I recognize that I have have more than I can realistically consume, that my past impulses on what to buy or stock up on have not held up as my whisk(e)y journey has progressed, and that the cycle of lusting, hunting, vying, spending, hoarding and regretting (rinse, repeat) has taken much of the enjoyment out of the hobby. I’m more keen now on focusing on enjoying what I know I like, and what I can get (or have gotten) my hands on, and admitting that 1) there’s no point in mourning the thousands of amazing and legendary drams that I’ve not tasted and that I’ll never (likely) taste or be able to obtain, and 2) there will always be more whisk(e)y and much of it will be similar enough in style or quality to each other and even to past bottlings that I know there will always be something to satisfy.
I’m 52. Even though I work in communications, I am not a fan and avid user of most social media, especially Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. I find them useful at times. But for whisk(e)y news and conversation I prefer either blogs, where I can go at any time to consume information thoughtfully laid out at length, at my leisure, and easily find it again; or Reddit, where I can read or participate in streams of group discussion to help shape my opinions and understanding (or vent my spleen) in a like-minded community.
I am still eager to learn and enjoy reading whisk(e)y blogs and forums, but several years in, I’ve learned which authors share my tastes and have writing styles that I can enjoy. Those are the spots I keep coming back to, the way I’ll focus on a select group of Reddit posters whose palates and attitudes I respect.
My buying habits for Scotch whisky have changed in the last 18 months or so. Personal finances have shifted for the worse, which happened to coincide with a rougher period for the U.S. dollar vs. the Pound and Euro, and also a general cost and difficulty increase on shipping to the U.S. from the UK and Europe. At the same time, we’ve seen demand and costs skyrocket for many of the distilleries and types of releases that I find compelling, while many brands pump out new releases that are young (or NAS) and overtly wine-influenced or just cask-diddled to death. So many of the new products I wouldn’t buy at any price, and the ones I would are being snapped up in a flash, at prices that would have me hesitating even if the currency conversion and shipping were totally favorable. So as the acceptable options for new purchases have dried up or thinned, I’ve begun to focus more on affordable, available everyday bottlings (and my state is not great for Scotch whisky variety and pricing, though it’s far from the worst). And trying to muster the courage to open my hoarded bottles and drink them down, instead of contributing to a future estate sale that will make a great blog or forum post for some lucky person.
I still enjoy reading about long-ago releases, but I’ll admit that I’m ambivalent at best about the many MAO reviews of 80-89 point whiskies that came out four-plus years ago. Not only can’t I get them, but they’re not particularly thrilling (compared to the obnoxious but fun treasures that Serge and Angus get to taste and wax on about on Whiskyfun). It’s most interesting to me when an old whisky review might point the way for future exploration. Learning about less-hyped distilleries and their (supposed) distillate character, what types of casks the spirit plays well with, and the bottlers that seem to do them justice… that can help make the hobby newish again for a jaded enthusiast. Unless of course the whiskies profiled are not being made or released like that anymore, then it’s just more of the latter-day hobbyist’s frustration at having missed out on the “good stuff.”
I am down to really only reading Whiskyfun and Whiskynotes daily, and then reading MAO and Diving for Pearls 3-4 times per week, knowing that those two don’t post new whisky reviews every day. I used to hit two or three times that many, but narrowed down over time. I’ll still check on ones that are recommended to me by trusted sources.
I have come to really enjoy the full range of posts on MAO, as I do love Indian food and have been trying to cook more of it at home over the last couple of years. I also like astute equipment suggestions for a home cook like myself, and even though I can’t try the restaurants reviewed, they’re still interesting to read as it makes me think more about my own experiences and expectations with prepared food, and the food industry generally. Most of all, I guess I came to feel sympathetic to the voice, tastes, thoughtfulness and writing style of MAO, and that keeps me coming back. At least until some crazy, unexpected political rant scares me off. ; )
As for the sexism in whisk(e)y topic: fire away! Who knows what might go viral and help create some change? Obviously (or it should be obvious) there are many social equity issues that are finally getting deeper consideration by the public at large, especially by those who have been largely unaffected (or benefited from) the status quo. It’s natural for people to resist change, but those who are throwing out the “it’s just harmless locker room talk! Free speech and all!” justifications really should take a breath, look around and think about the bigger picture in light of societal shift. What earthly reason should there be to alienate more than half the population from this hobby (and lucrative industry) to protect people’s choice to be lazy writers or marketers? If more women were brought into the whisk(e)y fold there would be way more people that I could potentially share my drams and enthusiasm with, and that’s just one selfish angle. I’m setting aside the clear business motivation that should exist for all the producers.
Sorry for the length, but I hope this provides a sense of someone who does read regularly, and who came here for the whisky but stayed for the chutney.
Thanks for your long, considered response—and apologies that it’s taken me so long to respond to it (and other comments). I made the mistake of making this post at a time when I was getting swamped at work and by the time I came out of that I’d run out of steam a little bit.
I completely understand your ambivalence about my “reviews of 80-89 point whiskies that came out four-plus years ago”. I have been somewhat bloody minded from the beginning about wanting the blog to not be of very high “utility” and more of an archive of my tasting notes. I fully grant that there is no reason these notes on a decade+ old stash of samples and bottles should be of interest to other people given the lack of availability or in some cases, as you point out, intrinsic interest. At best I’d guess I’d hope that my reviews of three 1991 sherry cask Ben Nevis—to take a recent example—none of which are still (readily) available might be of interest to someone who is curious about accumulating more data points about the Ben Nevis profile. Or that there might be something useful—in the aggregate—in my comments about whisky styles, cask types etc. that are embedded in my reviews and so forth. If nothing else, maybe someone might be convinced to take as long in drinking a whisky as I do—it takes me two hours to take notes on 2 ounces of whisky (a waste of time, some would surely say).
I may still write a short piece at some point on the issues of sexism raised by Becky Paskin’s critique of Jim Murray.
Hi there MAO
I won’t be/ can’t be as articulate as the previous responses but I can say that I find your writing inciteful and useful. In the past 10 years I’ve gone from an occasional drinker of standard Islay malts to exploring a wide range of (predominantly Scottish – I live in Glasgow) whiskies and your blog has been one of the most reliable sources of info to help navigate my way through the usual industry puff. This evening I’ve just finished a really entertaining and informative online loch lomond tasting at the twe whisky show which I only participated in because your reviews got me to try croftengea and inchmurrin. Please continue to inform and entertain.
I dip into all the other whisky blogs listed above but yours is the only one I check daily.
PS I have even tried some of your recipes.. The chicken curry went well. I bought Usha’s pickle book and my 71 yo Punjabi mother has stolen it.
pps the loch lomond peated grain at <£30 at twe is a fruity delight (pears/ blackcurrants)
Cheers! And I hope your mother is enjoying Usha’s Pickle Digest !
The only prices that have gone up 4x (or 2x for that matter) are the whalez – the stuff reviwed and gushed over by the popular bloggers (MAO included). Most of the whisky 95% of the population drinks have gone up perhaps a bit more than inflation. As crazy examples, Ardbeg 10 and Aberlour a’bunadh (two of the darlings of the blogersphere 10 years ago) are the same price today as they were 10 years ago at my local liquor monopoly (Liquor Control Board of Ontario).
My thanks to everyone who has commented so far—especially those who have had the good taste to praise me. It’s been a busy day and Friday will be too but I will be responding soon to much of what you’ve already said. And I’m also hoping other readers—regular or irregular—of the whisky content will chime in as well.
To your point about whisky that 95% of the population drinks — I think it’s important to note that while prices might not have changed, quality has almost certainly gone down. If you look at a vertical of a standard release (e.g. Laga 16, HP 12, Glendronach 12 or 15), quality has got consistently worse over the years.
Re: “The only prices that have gone up 4x (or 2x for that matter) are the whalez”, that’s fair enough and my claim might reflect what I was buying in 2013 and can no longer afford! : ) However, I note that one of the few distillery bottlings I care for (Laga 12yo Special Release) is up ~50% in seven years.
Slainte! Hope the Ontario liquor board is better than the one in BC…
Yes, I was going to mention the Laga 12 as well. It was routinely found in the neighbourhood of $85 in Minnesota until a couple of years ago. Now it’s $120+. Certainly many distilleries have held the line on their entry-level bottles; but they’ve raised prices on the middle of the range—well, before you get to the “whales”. Consider the HP 18, for example. Four years ago, the lowest price on Winesearcher in the US was $100. Now it’s $120.
But it’s not just the official releases; there are few steals to be found in the indie world anymore. Not all of this is greed, of course: indies are doubtless squeezed for supply. But it all adds up to higher prices in the hobbyist market, which is the context of my post. And as TW notes, the bang for the buck has gone down.
Whisky blogs are only a reflection of the thinking person’s interest in whisky. Has the thinking person had much to celebrate in terms of the value of new and exciting releases? Does the thinking person have much to celebrate in the opinions of bloggers whose personal experience in and of whisky increasingly bears little resemblance of their own? Did so and so find this or that whisky a little woody compared to how his email buddy found it? Maybe so, but…
“Good writing and interesting perspectives are now far more interesting to me than a lot of tasting notes.”- strangely enough, you’re not alone; it’s the lack of the former and the proliferation of the latter that’s killed my interest in reading most blogs. I still watch Ralfy because he’s one of the few who has active opinions on whisky as a whole rather than just opinions about this or that specific whisky.
Current trending in price, quality and whisky value may have hurt the whisky blogs, but did the whisky blogs hurt whisky price, quality and value as well?
Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, but many bloggers were “ambivalent” about the “age doesn’t matter” nonsense that consumers have been fed for more than a decade now. “NAS wasn’t going to affect the market as a whole”, or so the argument went. But the cheap stuff got worse, the good stuff got more expensive and then even the worse stuff got more expensive to keep pace with stuff that, for a now higher price, would at least tell you what you’re drinking. Market pressure? Sure, but all under the guise of the messaging that, where convenient, the product was suddenly no longer a result of its age. Many bloggers either played along or simply didn’t care while they reviewed whiskies that were nice to read about but that most people could no longer find and/or afford anyway. Then you had the people who would try to tell you that the downward spiral in whisky wasn’t really “all that bad” while, elsewhere, they would assure you that the quality of THEIR future drinking was well defended by all of their bunked bottles, put away in days now long past and not, for some reason, in the “optimistic” present.
Production trending stopped most new whiskies from being interesting topics of conversation, but many blogs missed the boat as this was happening as well, so now we’re left with little product worth talking about. Some people are “skeptical of whisky marketing”? It could well be that’s it’s a case of too little and too late for it to really matter now. Realistically, whisky blogs may not have had any chance to stem the tide, but many couldn’t even bother to acknowledge the water. For many average consumers, whisky was a hobby that committed suicide on a couple of fronts while most bloggers were looking in a different direction.
Most whisky blogs did whisky, and whisky consumers, few real favors since whisky became popular and now enthusiasm in both the hobby, and the blogs, have declined together. Or maybe it’s just me.
Wow, Jeff, some really cutting digs in this comment. Good work!
And yes, not a day goes by when I don’t regret that I did not organize all the other minor whisky bloggers into a militia to take down the dread scourge of NAS.
“But, on the whole, I find myself now to be a hobbyist seemingly at odds with the larger universe of his hobby” – me too, but it didn’t happen overnight so, as it was increasingly becoming the case, I also found myself increasingly at odds with blogs that watched it happen but concerned themselves with other things. There will probably never be a lack of more whiskies to buy, more tasting notes for them and a demand for both, but opinion is not necessarily analysis, certainly not of the larger picture – and it’s in the latter where I find many whisky blogs have run out of things to say, or had little to say in the first place. People can argue that the blogs were never written for the average consumer, but when the blogs and their whisky geek target audience are also falling silent and losing interest maybe it is a result of trends that people should have been more vocal about earlier.
On NAS, organizing a militia might have been a good idea, or at least as good as writing postmortems on the present state of whisky and its blogs because blog writing was never about only “picking battles you can win”. There are some good NAS-labeled whiskies produced every day, but simple avoidance of producers discussing their age isn’t really an argument for the idea that their age doesn’t, or never did, matter to the product – and this was precisely the nonsense that bloggers should have shot down and many didn’t. Was NAS a scourge to whisky? It was, in some ways, to whisky logic and commentary – when people are winking at the idea that age doesn’t matter to a product that’s aged and tracked during production BECAUSE of the difference it DOES make, it becomes difficult to take much of the rest of it seriously.
Expansion of NAS was, pretty transparently, pushed as a way to create an underclass of whisky that would be “good enough” to service the masses of the great unwashed that whisky was successful in calling to its cause when quality was higher, while premiuminzing undisclosed young product in the process. Many bloggers showed very limited interest, maybe because the new crap wasn’t really anything they were going to have to soil their hands with on a regular basis anyway. It didn’t matter whether what the industry now said about “label-dependent age” – it matters here, but somehow not over there – actually made sense or should have been called out just on the basis of honest dealing and simple cask physics because, somehow, it really just “wasn’t” many bloggers’ fight compared to whatever else they happened to be doing. That being the case, many bloggers damaged both whisky commentary and their own credibility as well, whether speaking out would have made the industry more truthful about market trending and resource dilution or not.
I guess it speaks to a central issue for me with many blogs: I was just never sure who or what they were committed to serving. They were never the whisky “press”, although much of their content constituted the majority of writing that stood any distance apart from the industry marketing line. Many blogs seemed interested in creating a wider readership yet, again, didn’t seem to be written for the average consumer, or worry about them very much. I always found it a somewhat strange world, but I find it stranger that even the people who created it are starting to lose interest in it; if blogs don’t serve me, why don’t they at least serve them?
On the plus side, though, the blogs did, and still do, some vital good: they let the industry know that some people are watching what it does, and not always with uncritical adoration and, in general, blogs still foster free discussion of these issues. It’s quite possible that we’ve moved on from those discussions on the basis that “the industry’s gonna do what the industry’s gonna do”, yet that was always the case anyway, so control or influence was never really the foundation of industry criticism in any case. Blogs that fight may well die just as surely as the ones that don’t, but how you go out probably matters as much as anything else.
As always, I think you overrate how much there really is to say about the whisky industry’s practices: they like to make money and make stupid stories up to that end. You can say it over and over again, of course, but unless you actually write a blog with a very large readership it’s not going to have much effect. Since my goal—not the one you perhaps had for me and other bloggers—was not to be a quixotic crusader against the whisky industry I maintained a skeptical distance from it and mostly did what I wanted to do: write tasting notes that tried in their own way to resist the excitement and hype of the industry and its consumers. A very minor undertaking but it’s what I chose and continue to choose to do. And as I said in the post, as much as I enjoy drinking whisky I don’t find very much interesting in the culture or history of whisky—unlike food. And so my blog evolved to become a food and whisky blog.
But given that my blog—and those of others—failed long ago to become the blog you would have liked it to be, I’m surprised, Jeff, that you never started one of your own to fill this critical gap. We could have rallied behind your flag!
“I also found myself increasingly at odds with blogs that watched it happen but concerned themselves with other things.”
I’m sorry, this framing just makes me laugh with its self-importance and the self-importance it wants whisky blogs to have. As much as I love it, it’s just whisky. Nothing very terrible has happened while bloggers like me have “concerned themselves with other things”. Whisky is more expensive and more of it is shit than before. We will indeed be judged for letting this happen on our watch while we were writing tasting notes. The shame!
From my perspective on NAS, I wasn’t really doing anything more controversial, or that should have been more controversial, than debunking the whisky equivalent of flat earth theory. I also saw NAS as somewhat of a logic gatekeeper issue – to entertain the notion that the industry somehow “decides” where and when age matters on a magical label-by-label basis was just surrendering too much rational real estate. People are surprised that I didn’t start my own blog? I was surprised that it would ever be vaguely necessary over something so fundamental and universal, given all the oh so super smart whisky commentating people around. The funny part was that most of these same people found the importance of age suddenly “debatable” simply because the industry said it was for its own purposes, which was even more concerning. I can’t say that, as NAS expanded, I could really predict that things like “color based” and “Viking” whiskies would follow, and which seemed more sensible if only by comparison, but I wasn’t surprised either; once people can supposedly suspend cask physics with labels and press releases, pretty much anything else goes.
Why it was ever apparently a “choice” for others between writing tasting notes and opposing NAS still eludes me. The industry’s minor falsehoods and foibles were constant blog fodder, if often usually only in passing, in ways that its single most glaring, ridiculous yet market-shaping road apple very seldom ever was – but such was the evident judgment of general whisky expertise and discernment between the insightfully witty and the merely quixotic that fortunately surrounds us all. Almost everyone else did the notes while I did the other and we all just have our own roles to play in the tapestry that is whisky, I guess. The same bloggers who tell me that blogs have little to no chance of changing anything also tell me that I should write my own blog, maybe because being extraneous, like misery, somehow loves company.
“We will indeed be judged for letting this happen on our watch while we were writing tasting notes.” – perish the thought, because every blog is beautiful in its own way and successful by its own standards and occasionally calling bullshit on industry nonsense is tedious and time consuming compared to making to some more tasting notes that not even the writers care about reading anymore. Blogs used to host interesting topics, many of which, yes, contained industry criticism that bloggers are too tired to engage in now on the basis of the insightful observation that the industry “just is what it is and does what it does”. Blog readership has changed, but blog content has changed just as much if not more so and marketers must love what they’re now seeing, if not reading, in any case.
Your blog, love it or leave it? Sure, but people have already been voting with their feet – that’s what generated this entire topic in the first place and it’s probably just as well because the keynote blog post here is the most readable thing that has elicited any responses of evident general interest for some time. Maybe it needs to be buried by some more tasting notes before too many people are engaged. It’s probably a lot easier to “keep up with comments” on those notes in any case – and just when WAS the last time a blogger, any blogger, had THAT particular problem over a whisky blog post? Is current whisky blog readership in general being undercut by the ready availability of sleep aids in most major markets?
But maybe it’s true: whisky blogs, certainly as most stand, were perhaps never important to whisky in any real sense, including the quixotic defense of simple truth, so their irrelevance, intended or not, is probably the reason for their decline after the initial novelty created by consumers thinking some blogs were originally trying to say some things that should simply be said. Mystery solved.
You make some excellent points. (I haven’t read them but I’m sure they’re excellent.)
remember the post where I said that whisky is dead but it needs an announcement to make it public?
You replied that yours is not the blog to make it an issue etc…
I read less blogs or furoms because there are less to read. Many trusty old fellows who have accompanied my journey into whisky have shut their shop or are lying dormant.
the whisky industry managedto kill the euphoia that casm with whisky until 4-5 years ago. The enthusiasm is gone that went with it for a long time. Whisky has become boring as a subject and as a drink. The more the industry cries innovation the more boring their offering s are.
The new Highland Park Cask Strength for example. Much ado but liitle quality in my book. But tastes are different.
Here is what I posted in a German whisky blog when the blooger announced it was time for a break.
Understandable. From my point of view stagnant dying or already dead whisky blogs – or rather whisky content pages – are a dime a dozen and the frustration with whisky is spreading.
The Whisky Magazine has canceled its forum and others are barely alive and still others are nothing more than sample swatch exchanges.
It is true that a steady stream of whisky bottlings is turned out by distilleries and independent bottlers.
But the overall quality and despite all claims of “innovation” the novelty of many of those bottlings are mediocre at best.
Internationally I think whisky has run its course and is dead – the only one not knowing is whisky.
The flurry of activities from marketing departements and agencies all over the world can not gloss over the fact that the more they cry innovation the more all is the same old tired story over and over again.
Whisky has turned into a totally arbitrary business where it is of no great matter what is in the bottle as long as the brand turns out cash.
So it is to be expected that more and more people will walk away and leave whisky behind for good.
The only pitty is that good old discussion or argument about whisky and the virutal meeting of friends and acquaintances will suffer as well.
This is not an original thought but I think it is true that the Golden Age of Whisky that could be said to have started in the mid-1990s and ended in 2015 or so was an aberration, one brought on by the whisky loch of the 1980s which made a lot of high quality whisky available at (relatively) reasonable prices; and that once it ran out there was no going back. It was useful for the industry, however, in that it created the romance of single malt whisky which is now continuing to help justify ever-increasing prices of new releases. Whisky bloggers play(ed) a large part in this by serving as an unofficial marketing arm, either in their genuine enthusiasm for the whisky of the prior era or for the promise of access in the new. In the early years of the blog I posted about this a little bit. There was some conversation but it was clear that these issues were not really of interest to most whisky blog readers. I guess I could have banged on about it all a lot more—and at least got some points from Jeff. But, on the one hand, I was/am pretty aware of the limited scope of my “reach” (even when this was primarily a whisky blog). And, on the other, I suppose I was/am not invested enough in whisky for it to become my “cause”. I find food to be much more interesting culturally; whisky, when it comes down to it, is an industrial product made and sold by large corporations. I try to point out industry/retailer folly—especially around prices—whenever the opportunity arises but I’m realistic about how little any of that amounts to or how little influence it’s ever had on any but a very small number of bloggers and drinkers.
Excuse me as I slowly try to catch up with responses to the comments above. It’ll take me a while to get to them all.
To TW’s point: yes, the other phenomenon that seems to have accelerated in this time period (roughly the last 10-12 years) is auction frenzy/flipping. And hype seems to come pre-manufactured now. As you note, there’s no lag anymore between a whisky being released and people waiting to read reviews before deciding to buy them. This doubtless takes the air out of a lot of people’s balloons: it must be hard to be interested when it’s so hard to even buy interesting whiskies.
To Alex’s point: I do think that the demise of older modes of internet discussion—blog comments and especially forums—is really down to Facebook, especially once Facebook groups became popular. Reddit seems to be the only community that has survived the exodus to Facebook. As for my food posts: the interest in restaurant reviews is entirely local; the posts on food media are read more widely; not sure who reads the recipes—those don’t get massive views either.
As I catch up with all these comments, I should say that the loss of interest in whisky blogs is probably restricted to us minor whisky bloggers. I’m sure Serge is pulling in the boffo page view numbers he’s always pulled in—and on Twitter, Ruben chimed in to say that WhiskyNotes’ readership is growing from year to year as well. People are still looking for buying guides and the blogs that primarily offer those are still extremely popular. 51% of the 70 people who responded to my polls above said they’re reading fewer whisky blogs now but that’s probably more a reflection of the fact that malcontents like myself are over-represented in my readership than a reflection of the larger situation.
I would agree with this. While whisky overall is at a worse place now than 5-10 years ago in terms of buffs being able to afford good quality expressions, interest overall (of which we are a tiny percentage) is at an all-time high. So of course there’s going to be disillusionment among some (or even most) of the whisky geek community, but the rest of the world is looking for buying guides more than before.
the other day I watched a feature about the Dutch Tulip Mania on TV.
The bubble burst when customers realised that the prices paid for tulip bulbs had no coresponing worth in the real world.
“Tulip traders could no longer find new buyers willing to pay increasingly inflated prices for their bulbs. Some were left holding contracts to purchase tulips at prices now ten times greater than those on the open market, while others found themselves in possession of bulbs now worth a fraction of the price they had paid. Thus, the tulip mania finally ended, with individuals stuck with the bulbs they held at the end of the crash. No court would enforce payment of a contract, since judges regarded the debts as contracted through gambling, and thus not enforceable by law.”
Substitue tulips by whisky and you will find amazing parallels.
The situation today is differen from the 1980s when the general interest in whisky and brown spirits was swiped by clear spirits especialy vodka. The situation today has more in common with the Tulip Mania.
I am happy that I do no own or operate a whisky distillery.
I think the comparison with the tulip bubble is an interesting one, especially because of the role of tulips as a luxury good and status symbol, which was partly driven by novelty and exclusivity – clear parallels to whisky there! And also (more frivolously) because of the silly names, e.g. Admiral of Admirals. Could also be the next Old Pulteney NAS release, no?! “Naming could be haphazard and varieties highly variable in quality” – that sounds very familiar to contemporary whisky drinkers… (from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tulip_mania).
However, there are two ways in which I think the comparison is limited. Firstly: One specific feature of tulip mania is that it became all about trading futures contracts – selling bulbs before they existed. I do believe you can buy whisky futures, but I don’t think (though I may be wrong!) that they play a major role in the trends being discussed here. The buyer of a bottle of bland but hyper-branded NAS malt still ends up owning a physical object – in that sense the whisky market remains much more connected to the real world. Secondly: You say that “the prices paid for tulip bulbs had no coresponing worth in the real world” – well I think this is true of almost anything we buy or sell. What is “worth in the real world”? I think economic value is always socially constructed. Almost nothing we buy or sell would be valuable unless people thought it was valuable – even (or particularly!) classical signifiers of intrinsic value, like precious metals or gems. So my interpretation would be that tulip futures stopped being valuable because people stopped thinking they were valuable, not because of their “real world” value. Whisky is only in danger if the same is true of whisky, and despite the grumbling of the whisky geeks on the fringes it seems to me that whisky as a status symbol is very much alive and well.
Of course, I am not promising that there won’t be a whisky crash in the coming decade or so. (I personally think it might be more likely to come from a reevaluation of the meaning of luxury products in the wake of a pandemic and ongoing ecological collapse, but that’s just my personal favourite version of the apocalypse.) And I certainly agree that the way value is (mostly) constructed by the whisky industry at present – branding, exclusivity and artificial rarity – is not aligned with my values or wishes. But: Doomsday prophecies are easy to make and very attractive, but they rarely come true.
I would love to own or operate a whisky distillery, because I love whisky, and that would put me in a position to actually put my money where my mouth is and make it in a way I would be proud of. And if Daftmill is anything to go by I think it would be a popular and profitable enterprise.
I agree with you that there is not a 100% correspondence to the Tulip bubble.
“The dirty little secret of the Scotch industry is they’ve become addicted to high prices, but they’ve run out of old whisky,” says Ian Buxton, the whisky expert and author of 101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die.
How very true IMO.
Where I live I see a tendency by the whisky industry to try and push the price for standard OB botlings towards the 50,. € mark. And too many have pushed their 18 yo offerings beyond the 100.- € mark with 21 year olds and older to suit.
IMO a 10 to 12 yo standard bottling should not be priced over 30.- €. In some cases even less, but that is opinon.
What they are achieving is two things. They shrink their market by pricing potential customers out of it and they force customers to think about the value of whisky in general.
I think that we are in a phase were the attitude of comom whisky drinkers toward their favourite drink is changing. Marketing and pricing whisky as luxury will not compensate for the losses of a diminishing customer base for an everyday drink.
Lean back watch and enjoy is my attitude at the moment. The Macallan Red Collection anybody?
>> What they are achieving is two things. They shrink their market by pricing potential customers out of it and they force customers to think about the value of whisky in general.<<
Thinking about this, I realize it's true for me. Much as I like Scotch whisky, more and more I'm enjoying (and buying) bourbon as a whiskey that's nowhere near Scotch on the price curve. Not that I rate whiskey by quantity, but I can buy two or three bottles of decent bourbon for what it costs to buy one decent bottle of Scotch and I'm pretty much as happy to drink it. I can do the math.