Monday, July 6, 2015
Stop Fetishizing Whiskey!
I spend a fair amount of time criticizing whiskey producers for some of their practices that hurt the whiskey world, but we consumers sometimes deserve some criticism as well. One problem that has become particularly acute within the last few years is the fetishization or even idolization of certain whiskeys. People become so enmeshed in the crazy whiskey world, especially the secondary market, that they forget that whiskey is simply a beverage. When it becomes more than a beverage, it hurts those of us who just want to enjoy a drink.
Whiskey fans are paying too much for whiskey, and I'm not talking about rare, older bottles that might justify ridiculous prices. There are people who are literally paying thousands of dollars, sometimes many thousands, for bottles that were on the shelf for less than $100 ten years ago. Others are willing to pay 200% mark ups on current releases that they can't find. If you are doing this, please stop. It's bad for you, and it's bad for whiskey.
Here's the problem with spending this amount of money on a beverage. First, it makes it less likely that you will ever drink the whiskey. If you start to spend big money, you inevitably start to think about monetary value, and the resale value of an opened bottle of whiskey is exactly zero. This means that you are more likely to hold onto it without ever drinking it. So congratulations, you are the owner of a beverage that you will never drink. How grand!
Now, some folks are simply speculating on the whiskey market and hoping to turn a profit. Some of them will, but at that point, it's not really whiskey anymore in any real sense. It's just a nameless, fungible commodity. It might as well be soy beans, cattle futures, beanie babies or whatever. The transition of whiskey from a beverage to an investment commodity is something that has hurt what once was a hobby about enjoying beverages. What's good for speculators is almost always bad for actual whiskey drinkers.
Second, even if you plan to drink the whiskey as soon as you get it, it is still a mistake to spend thousands of dollars on a bottle. Simply put, no whiskey is that good, and you will very likely be disappointed. Most of the sexy bottles (Pappy, A.H. Hirsch, Port Ellen, Brora) are quite good, but they aren't thousands of dollars good. I suppose if you're a tycoon and a few thousand dollars here and there is nothing to you, you won't be disappointed, but for the rest of us, spending a mortgage payment's worth of dough on a whiskey is almost always a bad idea.
But wait, if people are paying this much for whiskeys, they must be that good, right? The market has spoken! The problem is that whiskey idolization combined with the secondary market has created a vicious circle of fetishization. When you pay big money for whiskey, there is no advantage to admitting that it wasn't worth it. For one thing, you feel like an idiot, and for another, widespread criticism could reduce the value of the whiskey for future sales (since, as noted above, you are unlikely to actually drink it), so criticizing a whiskey you overpaid for is a lose/lose situation.
So this is my plea to everyone to stop. Stop spending thousands of dollars on bottles of whiskey. It's not worth it, and it's bad for whiskey!