I'm dreaming dreams,
I'm scheming schemes,
I'm building castles high.
They're born anew,
Their days are few,
Just like a sweet butterfly.
- Verse 1, “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” (1919)
Spring 2019, Vancouver Island, Canada…
Ryan is sitting on his front porch involuntarily listening to 20-somethings race their souped-up economically priced cars on a nearby road. Accompanying him is a bottle of Springbank 10. The fill line is starting to get dangerously low. He picks up his tablet, and orders a bottle from a trusted online retailer.
Spring 2023, Vancouver Island, Canada…
Ryan is sitting on his front porch enjoying the splendour of the day. There’s a “For Sale” sign on his neighbour’s souped-up economically priced car. The price of gas is once again approaching $2 a litre. The bottle of Springbank 10 he purchased in the spring of 2019 is almost gone. He picks up his tablet to buy another. It’s not available, anywhere.
We are in the midst of a great whisky boom. I hate it. Every product perceived as “collectible” is now next to impossible to find. Where did all these people come from? Scotch has had its share of booms in the past, and they’ve all been met with a corresponding bust.
The Pattison family got into blending in 1887. Some of you may remember the hurricane scene in Forrest Gump. Forrest and Lieutenant Dan weren’t having much luck shrimping. One day, a ferocious hurricane came along, and destroyed every shrimping boat in its path. Their boat was spared. This stroke of luck made them the only shrimping game in town. Something similar happened in Europe in the late 1800s. The phylloxera epidemic crippled the wine industry. To borrow a line from Forrest, “People still needed them shrimps.” People still needed their booze. Blended scotch happily jumped in to fill the void. The Pattisons hit the ground running. They soon had a gaggle of brands with catchy names like Morning Dew and Enchantress.
Things started out well. Their early profits were substantial. They bought palatial estates, country homes, and large offices. Considerable shares of Aultmore, Oban, and Glenfarclas were also purchased. When it came to marketing, they were the Coca-Cola of their day. They once bought hundreds of parrots, put them in grocery stores, and trained them to say, “Buy Pattisons whisky.” In 1898, the Pattisons spent an astounding 60 thousand pounds on advertising, that’s almost 10 million in today’s dollars. To give that incredible number perspective, the Pattisons could’ve bought a 30-second spot on this year’s Super Bowl, and still would’ve had enough money for time on American Idol, The Voice, The Bachelor, and The Bachelorette (love the variety on television these days).
All that glisters is not gold
- William Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice (1590s)
The Pattisons over-stated their annual profits by tens of thousands of pounds, duplicated whisky sales, and over-valued the inventory in their warehouses. In 1899, it all came crashing down. They were no longer able to pay their bills. After going bust, they nearly took the entire industry down with them. In 1901, the Pattisons were found guilty of fraud and embezzlement. Before being convicted, it was discovered their product, Fine Old Glenlivet, was nothing more than low-grade Irish whiskey with a splash of scotch. This revelation eroded consumer confidence in the industry. In 1897 and 1898, 15 new distilleries opened their doors in Scotland. By 1933, only 15 distilleries were in operation. Glen Elgin, the last distillery to open during the Pattison era, filled its first cask in 1900. Tullibardine would be the next new distillery in Scotland. They filled their first cask in 1949.
I'm forever blowing bubbles,
Pretty bubbles in the air,
They fly so high,
Nearly reach the sky,
Then like my dreams,
They fade and die.
- Chorus, “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” (1919)
Interest rates in Europe are at a 22-year high. Young people are drinking less than the generation before them, and the generation before them is drinking less than the generation before them. The price of everything has gone up, and scotch has never been more expensive to make. These costs always find a way to get passed on to the consumer, but, as the industry will soon realize, we all have our lines in the sand. Macallan 18 was $300 in 2019. It’s over $900 today. No (insert curse word here) way. This is where I usually talk about a whisky connected to my overarching theme. Not today. There’s no point in giving you my take on Springbank 10 because you’re not going to find it, at least not right now. Whisky is just too darn fashionable at the moment. Thankfully, all fashionable things have a best-before date. If they didn’t, I’d still be moonwalking from place to place with a rhinestone-studded white glove on my right hand. I’ll review Springbank 10 when I can once again buy it with ease.