The snobbery of whisky

Most people, when they start their ‘whisky journey’ (a word commonly used nowadays), start out with the ‘simple stuff’. I’m no different. When I first started getting interested in whisky, I would drink the entry level, widely available stuff. Dalwhinnie 15, for example, Oban 14, Glenlivet 12, things like that. My go-to whisky at the time was Balvenie Doublewood, which for a long time remained my favourite bottle. Later on, I would turn to the more peaty side, or cask strength offerings. Laphroaig, Lagavulin, a’bunadh and Glenfarclas 105 come to mind. After that, I got more interested in independent bottlings. I started trying out expressions by Signatory, Gordon & MacPhail, The Ultimate, Adelphi, Cadenhead and many more. I made no distinction as to what kind of distilleries I would choose; it could be heavily peated or mild and fruity, I was open to anything. That’s something that hasn’t changed even today; I’m still open to all kinds of whisky styles. I can thoroughly enjoy a light, fruity Linkwood and the next day be baffled by a Lagavulin. At one point I joined the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, which really broadened my interest in single cask, cask strength whisky’s, especially from the lesser know distilleries (a fantastic Balmenach comes to mind). But even though I’ve enjoyed many of the harder-to-get, high end stuff, I can still really enjoy easily obtainable, core range bottlings. Kilkerran 12, for instance, is one of my favourite whisky’s at the moment. Benromach 10, another good example, is a lovely whisky that anyone should be able to acquire quite easily. The new range of Glenallachie is something I won’t easily pass by.

However, this doesn’t seem to be the trend in the world of whisky from where I’m looking at it. What I see is a continuing trend where people just won’t accept the regular stuff anymore. Everyone is talking about high-end, single cask, cask strength, low yield, unknown stuff it seems. I hear people from local whisky clubs, bloggers, festival visitors, or just regular whisky-enthusiasts talk about the whisky they’re drinking and it makes me think: My goodness, the bar is really high. Oftentimes I wonder; would these people even be able to tell the difference if they were to take a blind tasting of high-end and low-end whisky’s together? I really doubt it. It seems to me that in the world of whisky-enthusiasts (the group of people I consider myself to be one of, the kind of people that are a bit nuts when it comes to whisky), snobbery is becoming an increasing problem. Offer them a glass of Glenfarclas 15 and they’ll laugh in your face. Offer them anything less than cask strength, independent and at most a turnout of 500 bottles and they’ll scoff and ask for a coke instead. This, I feel, is a problem.

Why can’t we enjoy the more low-end stuff anymore? I admit, this development is partly due to the declining quality in entry level whisky; the Bowmore 12 of today for instance, isn’t what it was fifteen years ago. And yes, the rise of NAS bottlings, especially in the entry level segment, is too often not something to get excited about. The market is turning to the general public and in order to succeed there, you need to produce whisky that isn’t too complicated to appreciate. Quantity over quality. This is all true. But that doesn’t mean that only rubbish is being made in the official bottling segment. I feel that if you take a bit of trouble to look at what is being offered, you can still find plenty of whisky’s that offer real enjoyment, even if they’re in the core range of a brand. I take Glenallachie again as an example; non-chill filtered, no colouring added, and bottled at 46-48% abv, there really isn’t any reason not to enjoy it.

As much as I find it demotivating to see the development of low-quality whisky, I find it equally worrying to see how some people feel like they’re above it all; the group of people within the whisky-enthusiast community, that feel like there’s nothing that can surprise them anymore unless it ticks all the boxes as mentioned earlier. Everyone is an expert nowadays, everyone has an opinion even though this often has no base at all.
‘I never add water to cask strength whisky’, is something I hear very often. Because apparently, that’s the ‘purest’ way to taste whisky. Good luck to them and their numb tongues. This is also the reason I hardly ever attend the ever increasing whisky gatherings where the ‘whisky enthusiast community’ comes together to talk about whisky and enjoy it together, while all you can really get is hard-to-obtain stuff. Don’t get me wrong, I would probably thoroughly enjoy any of these whisky’s, but it seems to me that this defeats the purpose of being a whisky enthusiast. You won’t see anyone there talking about and savouring a glass of Kilkerran 12, simply because it’s not special enough. This is what I mean by the title of this post.

I don’t mean to be mr. Complainy-pants by writing this, but it’s just something I’ve been observing lately. It feels like some people should get both feet back on the ground and re-appreciate what’s out there instead of trying to seem interesting and knowledgable just for the sake of standing out. Because even though there’s much to say about the commercialisation of whisky, there’s also still plenty to enjoy. Just like there are, thankfully, still many people who haven’t gone to the ‘dark side’, and can still talk about whisky at a normal level. My problem is that the people who did climb onto some really tall horses instantly ruin it for me.

Anyway, this is simply my point of view about things, and I’m sure many people would disagree with me. That’s why it’s an opinion, I guess. Now, I’m about to pour myself an entry-level, core range whisky and I intend to enjoy it thoroughly.

Happy dramming everyone.

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