Despite it being over twelve years since I bought the first bottle after my whisky epiphany (there were many that came before), I remain quite scrupulous when it comes to buying whisky, and anything else come to think of it. Many a time my wife has pulled me up for including the value brand item in the shopping trolley and politely instructing me to replace it with the proper brand.
I don’t, and won’t, spend £250 on a bottle for example because higher cost doesn’t automatically increase quality or enjoyment. Will I get £200 of extra pleasure compared to a £50 bottle? Will the whisky be £200 better? No. Do distilleries want you to know that? No, why would they? Let’s face it, most bottles at this price level sit unopened on shelves anyway, at least until the point where Ikea’s finest creaks under the weight creating an orchestral-like ensemble that sings ‘time to send us to auction’. Again, if that’s your bag then fair enough, it’s your money, but it’s not for me (this isn’t going to be a holier than thou crusade by the way, to each their own).
As many of you know, ultimately I buy to drink. That’s not to call people out that don’t, it’s just my personal end goal. The most I’ve spent on a single bottle to do this? £120. Having grown up in the 90’s in a low-income household with two incredibly hard working parents, this would have been unthinkable until recently. Even so this was for a well regarded 40yr old but it still made me break out into a cold sweat when the order confirmation email arrived. Old habits die hard.
Notwithstanding my almost Scrooge-like abilities to get as much whisky as I can for the money, tuppence is tuppence after all, I do sometimes splurge on bottles with the above being one example. At the moment this is being driven by that ever increasing sense of FOMO. This is a phrase that I hadn’t heard until recently but is becoming increasingly used in the whisky scene and getting a lot of traction. I’ve found a lot of this has been caused by my more recent immersion within social media. Like being back at school when surrounded by your classmates in certain trainers, now I’m surrounded by whisky drinkers with certain whiskies. We are after all, children of our surroundings.
As I’m checking my social media more frequently at present, I’m noticing reels and reels of posts, on Instagram in particular, of high-end often unopened bottles of whisky. Sometimes they’re mysteriously in trees like some sort of glass squirrel or sat precariously on moss strewn rocks in flowing rivers, or in some cases, adorned with expensive, Swiss made watches strewn over their necks looking like drug/oil barons are having a casual game of quoits out on the front lawn. Is the latter some form of mating ritual? The whisky equivalent of the bird of paradise dance? If you want to tell the time do you need to carry the bottle of whisky round with you? Sounds inconvenient and in principle would a Casio calculator watch hung on a bottle of Grants have the same effect? Asking for a friend.
Some of these bottles will be owned, others will have been provided in exchange for the post acting as a sanctioned advertisement given the amount of followers the account owners have. Either way given the amount of screen time we as a society are currently taking in, it all adds up to the point of saturation and creates an almost constant level of access to the human eye.
I’m equally at fault in that I am occasionally sent samples to review. I don’t review them all and do it on my own timescale but I feel that I have a responsibility to make it clear when the sample has been provided free of charge and despite this it does not affect my opinion of it.
Distilleries are at it too, let’s not forget that and have been for a while albeit in a different sense. On shelves there is an endless onslaught of colourful tubes adorned with slogans such as ‘finest hand selected casks’, ‘using the clearest and purest water from *insert water source here*’ and others that only a mother of a PR employee can love. The amount of whiskies from varying distilleries that I’ve seen carry reference to ‘finest casks’ is bewildering. Maybe there’s some sort of secret timeshare on the nine finest casks in Scotland? Nobody truly ever knows where they are, in fact has anybody ever seen these casks in the same room together?
I’ve mentioned previously the Whisky Circus. I love every minute of being a a part of it but I may as well confess that again it has molded and massively influenced my spending habits, and not for the better.
I’m actively trying to rein in my own severe case of FOMO. Mainly this will be aided by the ‘new year, new me’ delusion I sell myself every year where I still find myself eating cheesecake at 8am but hey, I do it in my running gear – Regardless I will be actively spending less on whisky in 2021. I’m not going cold turkey as I need reviews for here and the channel but I will be thinking a bit more before I click ‘order’.
The main, overarching influence when I do click ‘add to basket’ is pretty simple. Value for money. This sounds a bit woolly and don’t get me wrong, it is. Value has an intrinsically different meaning for each of us. Personally for me as a drinker rather than specific collector, I break it down into a few simple categories;
- Presentation, Natural colour? Strength? Filtration?
- Price – Sounds obvious but I always have a budget. Is the spend warranted at the time?
- Distillery – Have I tried multiple examples before, do I get on with the ‘house’ style? Are there any known flaws or inconsistencies?
- Competition – Now, this one is key for me. For example when it comes to indie bottles, is there similar from a different bottler at a cheaper price? Why would I spend £75 for a 15yr old hogshead Deanston from one bottler when I can get a similar cask for £60 from another? Is the difference worth the £15 which could be used towards something else?
- Desirability – Is this a bottle that will sell out fast? (FOMO anyone?)
Everybody’s budget and motivation will be different so the above is by no means exhaustive, but hopefully the above gives you a bit of insight into what’s going on when I’m browsing sites looking for the next bottle to review and enjoy. Others may be driven by resale value or putting it away for their children. I am finding though either way that we’re putting more and more pressure on ourselves to ‘keep up with the Jones”, and it’s not healthy.
Regardless of what you have read here, the end of 2020 is nigh and 2021 presents new hope and new challenges. There are vast numbers of people out there that are worse off than me that have had an equally bad, if not worse year and I’ll be remembering that before I next start to breeze through the express checkouts of whisky websites and asking myself, do I really need this?
Congratulations again if you made it all the way down here and I hope you and yours have a prosperous New Year.