On The Music Of Whisky

The light music of whiskey falling into a glass – an agreeable interlude.

— James Joyce, 1882-1941.

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Source: Leatherbound Books and Rich Mahogany.

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Whisky’s High Price Is Outraging Some

Fine whisky — particularly Scotch — already has a reputation as a luxury product. But the industry is taking things too far for some people.

Whisky Advocate, the leading U.S. magazine covering the spirit, released a sneak peak of this quarter’s Buying Guide Tuesday, and met with a flurry of angry comments from readers over the stratospheric price of many of the selections.

The cheapest offering from the magazine’s Top 10 was the Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection Extended Stave Drying Time, at $47 for a 375 mL bottle (that’s $94 for the U.S. standard 750 mL). Seven of the 10 cost over $250 and two cost well into the thousands.

The Bowmore 50 year old (distilled 1961) sells for $26,440.

The Bowmore 50 year old (distilled 1961) sells for $26,440.

The reader response was quick and irate. A sampling:

“Buying Guide? I’d call it a browsing guide for me. The only one I could afford I’d never be able to find.”

“Another reminder to me that it sucks to be a peon.”

Whisky Advocate publisher John Hansell, a frequent commenter himself, jumped in with an explanation, writing: “I think some perspective is in order here. Each issue we review the new releases and rate them. It’s our job to review all whiskies because each person’s definition of ‘affordable’ is different. Setting some arbitrary price limit means we are discriminating against someone.” Hansell noted that the next issue of the magazine also contains its annual awards and none of the winners cost more than $250.

I rely on the excellent Whisky Advocate Buying Guide quite a bit, as I imagine a lot of consumers do, so I sympathize with the magazine on this point. They don’t set the prices and, as a title run by and for enthusiasts, it exists to explain what the industry has to offer. Having said that, I’m one of the ones who sees this particular offering as more of a “browsing” than a “buying list.”

If it’s any consolation to whisky buyers on a budget, the once-skyrocketing demand from China that buoyed the whisky industry’s growth in recent years may be leveling off. Perhaps one day soon, prices will sink back down to levels that more of us can afford.

In the mean time, looking forward to seeing the Whisky Advocate Award Winners.