Opinion: Looking back on Whisky Magazine's first quarter century

Opinion: Looking back on Whisky Magazine's first quarter century

As Whisky Magazine turns 25, it has avoided the 'quarter-life crisis' and seems sure of its place, and future, in the world

Editor's Word | 11 Dec 2023 | Issue 196 | By Bethany Brown

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Who out there has heard of the phrase ‘quarter-life crisis’? It was a concept coined by Millennials in the West (roughly those born between 1980 and 1996) to convey — and dramatise — a sense of discontent, confusion, and even fear felt among that generation as they fell headfirst into adulthood.


With global economies still contending with shockwaves from the financial crash in 2008, spiralling costs to gain a university education, poor job prospects, and an ever-increasing gap between median income and house prices, many were left feeling that the true pillars of adulthood, as taught by our forebears – stable employment, a home of your own, even finding a life partner – were slipping further from their grasp through no fault of their own. (And then came the news that avocados, the trendy toast topper to which the Millennial generation is inextricably tied, were actually bad for the planet. Heaven help us.)


It wasn’t all that long ago that I turned 25. Mostly through luck, I’ve turned out alright; I’ve got a university education, a house, and a husband. But I had pangs of that feeling, as your 30s creep closer, that you haven’t yet made enough of your life. This sense that you’re somehow falling short can lead to questions about the path you’ve chosen. Is it the ‘right’ one?


Whisky Magazine has just turned 25. Its first edition was launched on 20 November 1998. Its articles – penned by spirits writers including Charles MacLean, Dave Broom, and the late Michael Jackson – included a feature on Laphroaig, an interview with Scottish rugby union star Rob Wainwright, a piece on the geology of Speyside, and a guide to tasting whisky, and there were blind tastings of bottlings from brands including Aberlour, Ardbeg, Glenfiddich, and Macallan.


When that first edition rolled off the presses, single malt was edging into the upward slope of a remarkable curve – one which it is continuing to climb. Americans were starting to pay attention to homegrown whiskey brands again after turning their backs on brown spirits through the 1980s. Bill and Lynn Lark had opened the door for a craft whisky revolution in Australia after successfully challenging a 90-year-old law on still sizes. A similar legislative change in the UK in 2008, precipitated by a gin distiller, helped launch the modern whisky industries in England and Wales. Within a few years of issue one’s publication, Indian distilleries Amrut and Paul John would launch their first single malts and Kavalan would open its doors in Taiwan.


An article in the 100th edition of Whisky Magazine, published in December 2011, listed 100 of the best distilleries to visit; they spanned 16 countries, including Sweden, Spain, and South Africa. The geographical breadth to which whisky was spreading was unprecedented. This is still the case 12 years later, with single malt distilleries now operating in Vietnam, Iceland, South Korea, Brazil, and Romania.


Such proliferation demonstrates whisky’s enduring popularity, but these new producers owe their existence to the spirit’s strength in its traditional heartlands. According to the Scotch Whisky Association, there are now about 145 malt and grain whisky distilleries operating in Scotland, and the Irish Whiskey Association says that Ireland is nearing 45. Meanwhile, data from the American Distilling Institute in 2022 estimated there were 2,300 craft distilleries in the USA (although this number is not exclusively whiskey-producing distilleries).


Where some may feel an uncertainty of self and purpose as they hit that quarter-life milestone, Whisky Magazine was born of a surety about its goal, its audience, and the distillers and liquids featured in its pages. The past 25 years have proven that surety to be well founded – perhaps even a little pessimistic, given the rude health of the industry in 2023. It is not without its challenges, from the availability of oak to the effects of a warming climate on cereal crops, but the immense popularity of whisky and the creativity of today’s distillers are sure to generate innovative solutions.


I hope you keep believing in whisky, and Whisky Magazine, for the next quarter-century. 

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