By Christopher Coates

Opinion: Whisky is meant to be fun, so why does it seem to cause so much stress?

There's one simple trick to finding the fun again
Whisky should be fun. I know that this might seem like stating the obvious, but there seems to be a lot people who have either forgotten this or have a very different understanding of fun to the rest of us.

Exhibit A: I was recently watching a video circulating online of a huge queue outside the Good Spirits Company in Glasgow (a really great drinks retailer). Apparently, people camped out for hours to get a good spot. One person turned up at 4:30am. And why were they braving a dreich day on the streets? They were there in the hope of landing a bottle of the coveted Campbeltown malt Springbank. Similar reports came in from whisky shops up and down the country, usually accompanied by tales of exhausted retail staff with the patience of saints having to calmly fend off semi-rabid customers who simply had to buy the new Longrow Red.

Meanwhile, Fife Whisky Festival (a popular annual event arranged by an occasional contributor to this magazine, Justine Hazlehurst, and Karen Somerville, founder of Angels’ Share Glass) even had to issue a statement regarding their stance on the poor behaviour of a vocal minority, who loudly expressed their displeasure at not getting the bottles (festival exclusives from Daftmill and Lindores) they’d hoped to nab from the Luvians pop-up shop.

Anticipating some enthusiasm for these expressions, the organisers had kept the existence of the bottles quiet and allocated them via random scratch card ballot. Despite taking great pains to keep things fair, some of the unlucky attendees weren’t happy when they didn’t get a bottle and complained. A lot.

This kind of situation isn’t uncommon, and it isn’t limited to Springbank, Daftmill, Lindores, Fife, or even the world of Scotch whisky. Unfortunately, similar tales of angst and frustration bubble up from all corners of the whisky-making globe these days, with increasing regularity.

While I’m sure at least some (I truly hope a majority) of the people who buy particularly sought-after bottles quickly open them, that a decent proportion soon appear on auction sites to be ‘flipped’ is an inevitability. Indeed, there seems to be something of a feedback loop between enthusiastic drinkers and flippers: as one discovers a new popular dram, the bottling is hyped up, demand increases, potential profit to be gained skyrockets, and, thus, the flippers move in with their automated systems to snap up (quite literally) cases of stock – often before it even hits the shelves. That isn’t fun, that’s turning whisky into a side hustle.

In turn, brands see these secondary market price increases and often respond by increasing their RRP, without stopping to ask what’s causing the bubble or if it’s going to pop. Of course, this only winds up loyal whisky fans, many of whom feel they are being priced out of their hobby. Even in places like the USA, where secondary market sales are largely prohibited, shady social media accounts that will sell anyone a bottle of rare hooch at a massive mark-up (or, as is often the case, keep the money and send nothing) are becoming more common. None of this is fun, either.

To those whisky fans dismayed by this state of affairs, I give this advice: tear up your ticket to the hype train. There is quite literally a world of whisky out there, an exponentially increasing number of distilleries and a great many phenomenal bottlings that are quite unknown. If you feel that trying to get bottles of your favourite is becoming too pricey, or too stressful, look elsewhere. It’s not worth the grief.

Personal and global events have recently made me very conscious that life is a delicate, precious thing. Like that single-cask bottling on the shelf, every day is unique, and once it’s gone, it’s gone. We must cherish every sip. Our hobby lets us meet wonderful people, visit beautiful places, and have great experiences. This is what loving whisky is about – not getting agitated when someone snipes you at the end of a whisky auction.

If you recognise an aspect of yourself in any of these anecdotes, I urge you to take some time for introspection (ideally with a dram), chill out, and remember that whisky is meant to be fun.