The whisky world seems to be in a bit of turmoil right now. There seem to be two issues at the forefront of said turmoil- whisky prices and NAS whisky. I would say that the two are pretty much interrelated but you can definitely have one without the other. High whisky prices aren’t just an NAS issue.
Anyways, I’m not going to delve into either of those topics, here. I want to look at a positive aspect of the whisky industry and that’s access. I got the idea for this post from an article in Whisky Advocate magazine, titled “WA’s Guide to Enjoying Whisky”. I recently subscribed to this publication and highly encourage that any serious whisky drinkers do the same…it is a great read!
I haven’t done much research on it (*no research was actually done), but I’m assuming that we currently have more access to whisky than ever before, or at least for a very long time. (Please correct me if I’m wrong here…I’m 36 years old and have no idea how much access there was in the ‘olden days’).
What I mean by access is that we have many different opportunities to read about, sample, buy, and review whiskies. This, in a market of over-priced whisky, is a great thing because it means you shouldn’t have to buy an expensive bottle of whisky that you haven’t tried, or at least talked to someone who has. Social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram have also opened up more avenues for researching and discussing whisky.
So, this article is going to offer many different ideas on how one should go about buying a bottle of whisky. These are only suggestions and the main goal is to keep things light and fun. We are trying to keep things positive in a somewhat negative whisky environment, right now.
Most of these suggestions revolve around the idea that you should try whisky before you buy whisky and that you don’t necessarily have to buy a whole bottle of whisky for yourself. But I digress…on to our mind-blowing ideas:
- Go to a specialty whisky shop: If you are reading this article, I’m assuming you have a favourite whisky shop in your city, town, or village (If you have a whisky shop in your village…that is friggin’ awesome!). By whisky shop, I mean a place that carries more than Glenfiddich 12, Glenlivet 12, & Johnnie Walker Red (Probably most village shops). Now, these shops probably charge slightly more than Costco or Superstore, but what they do offer is variety, expertise, and, hopefully, open bottles for sampling. I worked at Keg n Cork, in Edmonton, for several months. They are a whisky shop with close to 300 different types of single malt scotch, alone. Anytime someone came in the store shopping for whisky, I would offer them a wee dram of something I thought they would like based on what they told me. To me, sampling whisky before buying it is much like trying on a pair of jeans (not underwear, I hope) or test driving a car before the big purchase. You would never buy a pair of shoes without trying them on first, so why the bloody ‘ell would you buy a $100 bottle of whisky without trying it first? Now, it’s not always possible to try before you buy, and I acknowledge that, so we will give you some recommendations on how to work around that later in this masterpiece of a blog post. In closing idea #1: Support your local whisky shops and take advantage of their open bottles before making that big purchase.
2. Go to whisky tastings: When I talk about access, whisky tastings are mostly what I’m referring to. Currently, I would say there is at least 1 whisky tasting per week in Edmonton (if not more), and at least that many in Calgary, where the whisky community is a few years ahead of ours (I’m looking at you, Dram Initiative!!). For me, whisky tastings are basically my scouting trips. I use them as an opportunity to discover what whiskies I like for purchases down the road. These tastings are happening all over the place…specialty whisky shops, restaurants (often with food pairings), local fundraisers, and large tastings like Whisky Fest where you can taste as many as whiskies you’d like (I tried this once…maybe don’t try that many). The good thing about these tastings is that they are either very affordable or, sometimes, even FREE!! Could you imagine someone giving you a free pair of shoes with the hope that you buy that exact same pair of shoes in the future? Crazy, right??? Whisky prices are definitely high, right now, but at least they are putting some of that money back into events like these where you can try before you buy. In closing idea #2: Go to whisky tastings!! You don’t even have to buy whisky…you could just be the person that goes to whisky tastings but never buys a bottle.
3: Start a whisky club: This is a perfect segway to one of our most popular blog posts: “How to Start a Scotch/Whisky Club”. Clearly, more people are doing this because we receive more feedback on that post than any other (or we just have a lot of really bad blog posts!). I won’t go into much detail because you have the blog post for that. Basically, you just get together a group of whisky-loving friends, pitch in a bunch of money ($40-$60 a person) and buy 4-8 bottles of whisky. Our club started with 3 guys, quickly grew to 15, and now, 18 months later, we are capped at 25 members with 30 more on our ‘guest list’. With a big club we have been able to purchase an $800 bottle of whisky and now have tastings with a whisky budget of over $1700 for 6 bottles. With that being said, a club could be as small as 3-5 people where you each pitch in $40 and buy a few $100 bottles, or whatever you decide to do. The opportunities are endless, the social interaction is fantastic, and you get to drink whiskies that you would never be able to otherwise (Re: Greedy Angels 10 year at $832 Canadian). In closing idea #3: Start a whisky club ya jerks!
4: Start a whisky buying & sharing group: I got this idea from Dave (@whisky_yes), who is the manager at Keg n Cork, and I absolutely loved it!! Find a group of 7 friends, buy 7 bottles of whisky, and each person gets a 100ml sample of each. For the price of 1 bottle of whisky, you get sizable samples of 7 different bottles. You can take this idea as far as you want or you could keep it to a very small group….it’s totally up to you. If you did 14 people, you could buy 7 bottles and everyone would get 50 ml samples of each. I really like this idea and where you can go with it. Just like a club tasting, you can pick different themes each time and you can start a Facebook group where you can discuss what you thought of each whisky or just make fun of each other like we do on ours. In closing idea #4: You don’t necesarily need a whole bottle of whisky for yourself…use buying groups as a way to try more whisky for less.
*As an aside…sharing samples is also a great way of trying new whiskies. Buy a bunch of 1-2 oz sample bottles and simply share among friends. Someone always has a bottle you haven’t tried and vice versa. Trade samples and if you like what you got a sample of…buy a whole bottle!
5: Other suggestions for buying whisky: Let’s be honest, you aren’t always going to be able to try a whisky before buying a bottle. You just won’t see bottles of some of the higher end whiskies opened very often unless you are in a club or a more expensive tasting. So, you are in a predicament; do you just wing it and spend $100+ with the hopes that you’ll like it? I wouldn’t but you may have to.
If you do have to go this route, at the very least, try to have a handful of whisky experts/reviewers’ opinions that you trust. This way you can at least lean on the reviews of a trusted few before making that big purchase. I tend to find most whisky review sites/blogs extremely boring but I do respect the opinions of people like Curt Robinson (@allthingswhisky), Dave Scott (@whisky_yes), & Andrew Ferguson (@scotch_guy) when it comes to making my bigger purchases for the club or myself. Find a few people or sites/blogs that you can trust and use them as a resource when you can’t sample the whisky yourself. Everyone’s tastes are different so just because an ‘expert’ says a whisky is delicious, doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily enjoy it.
Last but not least, find a few brands that you trust. Whether it’s a distillery that continually makes whisky you enjoy or an independent bottler that hasn’t done you wrong….stick to what has worked in the past. These companies probably earned your whisky respect for a reason and that’s because they do things right. With that, I will leave you with a list of distilleries and bottlers that I have come to find a consistently enjoyable product, regardless of price:
*In no particular order:
- Adelphi (An independent bottler that only accepts 4% of casks it samples)
- Bruichladdich (Not called the Classic Laddie for nothing!)
- Springbank (Keeping things old school and I like it)
- Arran (A relatively young distillery that makes relatively amazing whisky)
- Scotch Malt Whisky Society (Membership fees aside, you cannot argue with the quality of the product. Plus, you can try everything before you buy it!)
- Tomatin (One of the big dogs, I know, but man oh man…great whisky almost every time, in my opinion)
- Ardbeg (I said I won’t get into the whole NAS debate here, so I won’t, but Ardbeg makes delicious, smoky, peaty whisky that I absolutely love)
- Compass Box (Blended scotches, vatted malts, pure malts, grain whiskies…whatever you want to call them…I just call them delicious!)
*I have never received a free sample from any company other than for our charity whisky tasting event….these are just my opinions*
There you have it. In closing, try whisky before you buy whisky.
Please feel free to comment below or on Twitter/Instagram (@ScotchClubYEG) where we are slowly becoming the most unimportant people in the whisky world.
Until next time…Cheers/Slainte!!!