Is There a Whisk(e)y Bubble Forming?

I'm definitely not complaining about the big boom in whisk(e)y sales, whisk(e)y drinking, and whisk(e)y production.  As we've expanded our selection and broadened our horizons over the last two years, David OG and I have been met with nothing but open arms.  Demand has gone through the roof.  We sent out an promo email for our Oban 18 stock yesterday and the RWC store sold more than 100 bottles of a $100 whisky in a matter of hours.  Our pre-arrival campaign continues to flourish with little advertising other than word of mouth and this blog, and the money we're taken in advance helps balance the books so that we can go and get even more casks than the thirteen we've already secured.  Our most expensive cask, a 1974 Ladyburn, was the first cask to sell out even with a $300 per bottle price tag.  That's simply amazing.  Our stocks are moving faster than ever and I'm under more pressure every day to fill the holes on the shelf that continue to form throughout the business hours. 

The whisk(e)y companies are not blind to what is happening either.  They've been steadily raising prices every month for the last few years because they can (you may not notice it as much because David and I would rather eat the cost than have to constantly raise our prices too).  With the value of whisk(e)y reaching extreme heights (ten year old ryes are selling for $70+!) and new distilleries popping up every where, when is the bubble going to burst?  Maybe there is no bubble and we're just living through the enlightenment where the world woke up and decided it wasn't going to settle for cheap booze anymore.  Perhaps my point of view is skewed and other retailers are not doing as well as we are, therefore prompting me to ask some of my competitors about their sales.  That's what I did in London last week.

Doug MacIvor, head of spirits management for Berry Brothers & Rudd, had only the same experiences to share with me when we literally talked shop.  BBR has seen extensive growth over the last few years and the demand for their products is higher than ever.  They've been able to enter the U.S. market with their No.3 London Gin (easily the best gin available right now) and their fantastic King's Ginger, but their Hong Kong office is seeing unparalleled demand.  We too have seen high demand coming from China, both with wine and single malts, as their economy continues to grow and their citizens look to celebrate the success with the world's great alcoholic beverages.  However, while China's economy continues to stimulate growth in the world whisk(e)y market, it doesn't explain the surge in demand from the deflated U.S. economy.

Even during the downtrodden, recession year of 2009 our whisk(e)y sales increased.  Excitement concerning whisk(e)y is at the point where collectors and enthusiasts must fight it out for the most sought-after expressions, outbidding each other at auctions and joining insider email lists like our own to get the on-sale information in advance.  The positive data that results from this feeding frenzy only encourages the producers to make more and more, much like the companies who continued to build more houses across the U.S.  We all know how that saga ended, but it remains to be seen whether the whisk(e)y industry is creating a similar bubble.  We still can't get Rittenhouse Rye and when we do it sells at light speed.  We've also seen Ardbeg and Laphroaig release special limited bottles that created an unmatched hysteria this past month at K&L. 

At this point, I can't see it slowing down. 

=David Driscoll

David Driscoll