The Golden Age of Whisky

There is a Dinner Party game, one where the participants discuss when the “Golden Age” was of any given subject. It’s a fun game, as it shows two things – both the knowledge a person has on any given subject, as well how a person defines what constitutes a “Golden Age”.

For me, a Golden Age is the era when an item, any item, hits a tipping point and becomes massively mainstream. The Golden Age of Television? That’s an easy one – the 1950′s. The Golden Age of Chocolate? Probably the first half of the twentieth century. The Golden Age of Magazines? That’s a little more debatable, as one could point to the era of Dickens, or, in America, the 1920′s and 30′s.

And the Golden Age of Whisky? How about right now?

This may sound surprising, given the loads of good press and status that Scotch Whisky has had since the late 1800′s. But here’s the thing – Whisky has had several things working against it in terms of popularity, from prohibition to the differences of consumption patterns between genders, to simple import/export laws.

Now that countries with billions in their population, such as China, India, and other areas of the world, are becoming economically more stable, huge new markets are opening for the spirit. A recent piece in the Guardian echoes this idea, calling it a ‘Whisky Revolution’.

Part of the reason for this is that Scotch Whisky, more than any other whisky/whiskey on the planet, comes with a certain cachet about it. A cachet, mind you, that has been created and molded by those in the Scotch Whisky industry since the late 1800′s, where they decided to sell and market the Highlands of Scotland as much as the drink itself. No other alcohol out there, outside of a few wines, gives a person a sense of place when they consume the drink. To drink Scotch Whisky is to be a Scottish landowner, and all of the benefits that come with it. This is the not-so-subtle idea foisted upon the consumer. Rest assured – the marketers of whiskey know exactly what they are doing.

It has taken the industry a century and a half to get to this point. A good whisky can be had for Thirty Dollars, a price affordable to most in the middle class. But at the same time, through the creation of premium brands, and the manipulation of markets, a great whisky can be had from anywhere between $100 to $5000, and the collecting aspect of the drink has created a market far more upscale than those of us in the middle class can afford with any level of regularity. By design, the Scotch Whisky industry has created exclusivity to a drink to affordable by most in the first-world (and quite a few second-world) nations.

So I would posit the idea that the golden age of Scotch Whisky is going on right now. As a fan, I find this a great thing. Because not only does it force other whisky/whiskey producers and marketers to improve their games, it means that, for at least a little while, flavorless and/or novelty vodkas will have take a back seat.

That’s what I call a win-win.