Questions From the Mailbox

Lot's of the same questions over and over again, so let's answer them here where everyone can read them together!

David – I didn't like the new ________ whisky, but others like yourself thought that it was good. Am I missing something?

I'm sure you've seen an Academy Award winning movie that you didn't like. How can it not be good, though? It won the film industry's highest honor! Personally, I didn't like The Artist or Crash, so how is it that they both won "Best Picture"? This is why the idea of taking subjective opinions and branding them with factual credibility is so dangerous––it sends the message that customer satisfaction is almost guaranteed. If you don't like it, then there must be something wrong with you because everyone else liked it––including a number of experts, right? You can't look at awards, reviews, or ratings that way, however.

As the late Patrick Swayze said to Terry Funk in the critically-acclaimed masterpiece Roadhouse: "Opinions vary." You find me five guys who like a certain whisky, and I'll find you ten who hate it. You show me a review for the worst whisky ever, and I'll show you twenty emails from K&L customers writing to tell me how much they loved it. We're never all going to agree and there will always be people who like something more than others. The only reason we're even having this discussion is because people are spending money based on these opinions and they get mad when the product isn't as advertised. That's what happens, however, when quality is a somewhat subjective issue. Expectations can easily be led astray.

David - I keep reading that there's a whisky shortage, but then I read that it's all marketing hype. Which one is it?

Good God, do I even want to touch this one? Let's handle these product by product. Why can't you find Weller 12, Weller 107, Blanton's, Elmer T. Lee, or Buffalo Trace Bourbon at K&L right now?'s not that there's a shortage, it's because aliens landed in Frankfort, Kentucky recently and decided to raid the closest available stocks. Why is there a one bottle limit on Yamazaki 12 (if it's even in stock) and why did the price of Yamazaki 18 double? It's not that there's a greater demand for mature Yamazaki whisky, it's that Suntory bet Eddie Murphy and Dan Ackroyd one dollar that they could double their prices and still grow their business. Why did independent labels like Black Maple Hill and Vintage 17 disappear? It's not that there's a shortage of available Bourbon for these companies to purchase, it's that they just got tired of making tons of money and decided to get out of the game.

In all seriousness, I don't think you have to worry about there being a shortage of whisk(e)y. You will, however, have to worry about a shortage of certain whiskies due to increased demand and lack of mature stock. This issue, however, is becoming a bit like climate change with plenty of people doubting its existence. The problem with both topics is that they're being presented incorrectly (on purpose). You have to be a bit more specific and clarify just exactly what's going on so that people don't say something stupid like, "If there's a shortage then why is all that whisky sitting on your shelf over there?" No one ever said there was a shortage on all whiskey, just a shortage on specific brands and products that have seen their reputations increase over the last few years (which in turn affects third-party labels and independent bottlings).

I think the more annoying part of this story is the inability of some drinkers to simply move on and drink something else. There's a lot of good available whisk(e)y out there that is neither limited, nor in short supply. Which leads me to this question...

David – With prices going up and quality apparently going down, I'm thinking about putting a halt on my whisky buying and simply drinking my supplies. What do you think? Am I missing anything?

I think that's a great idea! That's why you save your money, right? So that one day you can retire and live off of what you earned? There's no doubt in my mind that single malt whisky as a whole was better ten years ago, but there's a very simple reason for that: there was more of it available so the producers could be choosy with their stocks. Today, people are throwing millions of dollars at them faster than they can fill a bottle, so it's not the same game. It's a lot like my level of customer service has changed over the years. In 2007, you could walk into the store and talk to me about whisky for two hours if you wanted to. Today, I'm lucky if I can spare ten minutes because we're constantly getting mobbed. That makes some people sad, but that's the way things have turned. If you're sitting on a heap of whisky from 2000-2007, then there's no way anything from the current market of single malt whisky can compete with that juice: both qualitatively-speaking and price-wise. If you're disappointed with the state of the current market then you should definitely back out. My wife and I did the same thing with our house-hunting; we simply couldn't justify it and it wasn't making us happy.

Personally, however, I don't bunker bottles and I don't live my life looking in the rear-view mirror. I think that's a terrible way to find happiness. I don't have the patience, the space, or the money to save more than a few bottles and I'm one of those people who finds more excitement in the next shiny new thing, rather than the dust-covered antique. That's me, however. I'm always going to try new things, buy new things, and write about new things because that's where I find inspiration. While I lament the loss of old favorites, I find today's market twice as exciting as it was seven years ago. There's more innovation, more expertise, and more consumer education than there was when I first started at K&L. The customer is better-equipped, more open-minded, and more-knowledgeable than ever and that makes my job twice as fun. All of a sudden, David OG and I can start buying delicious, no-name casks of Balmenach 25 and Dailuaine 16 because people have finally moved beyond the big brands. We've crossed our clientele over to new categories like Armagnac and mezcal. Because of the current whisk(e)y market, we're no longer stuck in the same brown box; we've opened new doors and created more awareness for drinks in general. That's so much more fun than drinking Pappy every day.

What's that old saying? You close one door and you open another? Something like that. I would encourage anyone who's fed up with the whisk(e)y market to explore wine (Bordeaux is loaded with hot deals right now after the 2011 and 2012 gluts––that bubble has popped and is giving up the goods), brandy, or even beer (our fridge in Redwood City is jam-packed with new delicious craft stuff). It's a great time to be a drinker. Hell, it's a great time to be alive! Don't let the growing demand for one specific category of drinks ruin the party for you. Find another party. The exploration is half the fun.

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll