We got into whisky a few years after we opened The Fitz, and it was an exciting time for us. Hobbyists often begin buying bottles of whisky when they're a little further along in life; they have a good, steady income, some experience with the world of alcoholic spirits, and a group of friends to share bottles with. We didn't have any of that. What we did have was a crummy six seat bar and enough youthful exuberance to spend any extra money the business had on a new bottle or two. Opening the state of Michigan's order guide for whisky was like a window into a new world, full of words we weren't quite sure how to pronounce and prices that were sometimes hard to swallow. But it didn't take long before we started reading a few words over and over that we did know how to pronounce: out of stock.
This was before our foray into craft beer, a world where retailers like us hear the words "limited" or "allocated" on a weekly basis. We learned over time that some stuff just isn't sent to the Upper Peninsula, like the state of Michigan draws a line of good taste across the Mackinac bridge. But we also started noticing trends in the market, as certain whisky was replaced by something else that had a different age statement. At the time, we saw demand increasing for older whisky and the distilleries responding with older offerings, but after the market kept buying, things have started to shift in the other direction.
Scotch has never been cheap, but prices rapidly rose in the mid to late 2000s, and the bourbon market quickly followed suit. A friend of ours introduced us to Japanese whisky early on in our drinking career, and for quite a while there was a great value to be found in buying it. That too has seen a rapid spike in demand over the past few years, and a commensurate increase in price. Brands like Hibiki have also dropped some of their whiskies with age statements in favor of no age statement (NAS) offerings due to depleting stock of older spirits.
So what's a whisky drinker to do when money is a factor? First of all, don't be scared off by NAS offerings. because age doesn't necessarily indicate quality. Ardbeg is among the most highly regarded Scotch whisky makers, and you're not going to find any age statements beyond ten years in any of their recent releases. Secondly, don't feel pressured to horde what you have. A wise man once told me that a bottle costs money to buy, but it doesn't cost you a penny to open it. It's made to be consumed, so consume it! Finally, make an effort to buy smart. One of the reasons we carry as many different whiskies as we do is that we like the idea of helping people try something before they commit to a bottle. Nothing sours you on a hobby like dumping a bunch of money into something you don't like, so by being familiar with what you think is good before you walk into the liquor store, your odds of getting your money's worth increase immensely.