It sure is quiet around here…

You might have noticed that we haven’t been publishing very many reviews in the past month or so. As Malt was founded on the principles of honesty and maximum transparency, it feels only fair to apply these to ourselves, as we do to the whiskies we review.

Speaking for myself, personally: I’ve been reviewing whisky, whiskey, and other stuff on this site since October 2018. I was tasting whisky seriously and writing up my notes for a few years before that. It’s been a long five years for me, both in reality and also in “whisky time.”

Well before I submitted my first review, the likes of Mark and Adam and others were writing in this space about the many shortcomings of the whisky world. To paraphrase briefly: consumers were continually being asked to “pay more for less,” with quality (defined in many ways) decreasing in inverse correlation to prices. Distilleries strayed from beloved core expressions, diminishing their potency in both quantitative and qualitative terms, yet always at a higher cost to the consumer.

Independent Bottlers (in Scotland) and NDPs (non-distiller producers, in the U.S.) kept drawing on more marginal casks and barrels for their outturns, without any commensurate reduction in price to compensate for the less compelling liquid in the bottle. A few craft distillers made a name for themselves by producing novel and interesting tasting expressions, though far more were charging up for their pale imitations of what was being produced more economically by the big distilleries.

None of this has changed in the past five years. If anything, the quality has decreased further, the prices have gotten more exorbitant, and the conceits more ludicrous.

Back to my own experience: I used to feel a thrill when I noticed a new expression in a press release, or on a store shelf. I would quickly purchase a bottle (even – sometimes especially – when I thought I might hate it) and energetically get to researching it. My fingertips flew across my well-worn keyboard. At points, I was capable of producing several reviews a week, so excited was I by the process of discovery and evaluation and meditation that writing about whisky entailed.

As time went on, writing reviews started to feel less like a privilege and more like a chore. Hunting allocated expressions was no longer my preferred way to spend my free time; I began to value the relationships I was forming with other whisky enthusiasts more than any of the bottles in my collection. My relationship to whisky changed – for the better, I think – with the consequence that I no longer felt inspired to spin my every thought into a 1,000+ word screed for the entertainment of strangers.

There’s only so much to say about whisky, and those things can only be said (and re-said) so many times before boredom (for both the writer and the reader) sets in. We’ve all read the work of whisky writers who kept going long after their inspiration waned and their formerly orignal insights became threadbare clichés. I never wanted to be one of those writers, and I never wanted to subject our readership to an endless re-hashing of the same tired talking points.

It’s also worth reminding you all that Malt is – and always has been – an effort powered entirely by volunteers. We’re all hobbyists, not professionals. Our Patreon support used to cover the site hosting and development costs, with a bit left over. This was occasionally distributed in the form of a small stipend (always under $100, and typically way less) to our regular contributors, so that they could treat themselves to a new bottle for reviewing. More recently, as we’ve been publishing less frequently and some of our audience has tightened their belt, we don’t even cover the costs of keeping the site running. I’ve been funding the (modest) shortfall out of my own pocket, which I am happy to do (and to keep doing).

I bring this up only in order to point out that writing for Malt isn’t putting bread on anyone’s table. Certainly in my case – and I suspect this is the same for all our writers – I have spent way more on bottles to review here than I ever received in free whisky or other perks (which, as you know, are always fully disclosed in the body of the review). That’s to say nothing of the countless hours I devoted to writing, revising, editing, formatting, and such. From a purely financial and temporal perspective, Malt has been an overwhelming drain on me.

That’s not to say I’m not glad for the past half decade. I have made incredible friends, the generous and welcoming type of folks who give the whisky community its well-deserved reputation. I’ve rubbed elbows with legends of the industry, strolled through musty rickhouses thieving from precious barrels, and tasted more delicious whisky than I ever dreamed could exist. I’ll always be grateful for this, and none of it would have been possible without Malt.

Having said all that: I’m bored and enervated. I’m also lucky to say that I have so many other things in life to occupy me, among them a wonderful wife, two happy and healthy children, the best kind of friends a man could ask for, and a fulfilling (if demanding) career. If a large amount of my self-esteem was tied up in what strangers on the internet thought of my unhinged whisky rants, I might feel differently. But it’s not, and I don’t.

Again, I can’t speak for others, but the conversations I have had with my Malt teammates indicate that many of them are feeling similarly. We’ve had a good run and a great deal of fun, but we’ve individually (and collectively) matured in ways that mean we can’t keep up with the pace of work that is required to maintain a steady stream of reviews.

Thanks for muddling through that preamble. Here’s the punchline: I’m taking a break. Malt is taking a break. We have a library of reviews with few rivals, and we’ll keep the site running so that those are still available. If anyone is interested in contributing a new review, we’ll gratefully accept and publish them as they arrive. However, our regular readers should not expect anything new on a daily or even weekly basis, and perhaps longer than that.

I’ll still be posting irreverent memes and other assorted snark on social media, so seek me out there if (against all odds) you haven’t had enough of my ramblings. If the long-anticipated bursting of the whisky bubble finally occurs, I may find myself dragged back into the review game. But, for the foreseeable future, I’ll be mostly directing my energies elsewhere.

I’ve always been grateful for our readers’ time, attention, encouragement, engagement, support, feedback, and criticism. I still am. That goes double for the other brave souls who risked the opprobrium of the whiskyverse by putting their thoughts on Malt for public consideration. Every glass of whisky I raise, I will raise to you all. Thank you.

With love and sincere gratitude,

Graham’s Thoughts

It’s hard not just to echo Taylor’s comments and leave it there, as he eloquently captures the mood. Personally, my day job remains incredibly busy and interesting and exciting, but it’s demanding the vast majority of my mental bandwidth.

Meanwhile, inspiration is hard to find. I bought the new Bruichladdich 18 and split it with friends. It’s pretty good, but it’s also £150… which I suspect dampened most people’s enthusiasm for an otherwise noteworthy release. Even the absolutely salacious scandal of a whisky distillery owner being unmasked as a drugs-dealing, murdering (or at least murder-assisting) gangster did not stir me to write this week. In the end, it felt like another ridiculous episode in the Scotch soap opera.

There are a few market changes: I see a cooling in the UK auction market, and heavier retail discounting of marginal and/or uninteresting indie bottles. There’s a slight change in the tone of the marketing companies; perhaps more generous engagement is in the offing for sites such as Malt, which offer trusted, impartial reviews? It’s possible the charlatan whisky reviewers who take #gifted whole bottles for positive reviews might find hoodwinked followers begin to drift. It all feels like a sad gradual deflation rather than an exciting, newsworthy change.

Such is the mood that my greatest worry is that these market conditions puts real jobs at risk. Previous periods of financial instability indicate the effects don’t always catch out those who deserve bad luck, but often the most laudable producers and businesses. Gloating or thumb-biting helps nobody.

Like Taylor, I have lots of pride in our output. We’ve done a great job of covering and capturing significant aspects of the industry, the flippers, the cask hustlers, the influencers, the rise and rise of new distilleries, the endless pressure to up prices. Whilst others, too, have written about these trends, we’ve researched deeper, questioned more, and brought new perspectives. As such, Malt’s voice rates as a significant contributor to the wider discourse… and all by a bunch of amateur enthusiasts.

I’ve usually got an opinion on things, but I’m desperate for a guilt-free break from writing, too. What I’ll miss most is the effortless connection with Taylor himself, who I am most grateful for.

Cheers to Malt and the team,

  1. Kunaal Khanna says:

    I’m sorry to this development, but to be fair I echo most of your sentiment. I will hopefully consider this a break but not a farewell just yet 😉

    1. Taylor says:

      Kunaal, thanks quite sincerely for all the wonderful whisky you have shared with me over the years. We’ll see what the future holds, but for now it feels like time to take a break. Cheers!

  2. zenatello says:

    Malt has been my boot camp for whisky appreciation. I will be forever grateful!
    I share some of the sentiments about the current whisky world that are leading you to say “Au revoir,” so I understand the decision. But I will still miss the screeds!

    Best of luck in all your endeavours.

    1. Taylor says:

      zenatello, thank you so much for your kind words. Indeed, we’ve heard from many precincts that others are experiencing the same ennui and frustration that we expressed in this piece. Hopefully others with more energy will be able to pick up where Malt left off. Thanks again.

  3. Peter says:

    Perhaps this is not the right time to bring it up, but something that always bothered me about Malt is the way you always sound so pleased with yourself. For example … ‘as he eloquently captures the mood’ … give me a break, please. It’s just whisky.

    1. Taylor says:

      Peter, the good news for you is that you won’t have to suffer our self-satisfaction any longer. However, I believe that every single writer on this site has good reason for being proud of themselves, and proud of what we’ve collectively accomplished. I’m certainly proud of them and their contributions to the discourse on… *just* whisky.

  4. Rich says:

    Well – I cut my whisky teeth through your website, indirectly, and it got me through an especially dark period of my life – sometimes it’s the small things which you need to focus on . And Covid (not the same period!). I’ll miss you all and thank you.

  5. kallaskander says:

    Hi there,

    thank you for the time. Malt Review has become a whisky feature I came to appreciate for the honesty and truthfulness about most if not all of the whiskies you wrote about.
    The marketing rants in other places where whisky is not *just whisky* but mana from the heaveans if you believe the authors are so disgusting and have but one reason – to hype everything and anything named whisky.
    If it is a consolation to you, you are not alone. Yours is not the only publication to stop or go dormant because they fed us up with their whisky offerings and gimmicks.
    It is a logical progression from whisky having lost its soul to consumers losing their enthusiasm and interest in All Things Whisky (another great site that quit to soon). The “Whisky Industry” and not only if it is a big multi-national doesn’t care about soft skills in their consumers such as… enthusiasm and interest. All that matters is quick and big money.
    Premiumisation was and is a cul de sac strategy turning whisky into a drink for rich old men again – no for rich hipp persons this time. And you have to be rich to stay in the whisky market sheer greed has created.
    So thank you and hope to see you again some other time.

    1. Taylor says:

      Kaskallander, as always, a number of good points here. Will be interesting to see how the whiskyverse evolves. Hopefully, whatever the future holds, someone will be out there calling strikes and balls the same as Malt used to. Cheers for your many years of support!

    2. Phillip Crump says:

      I have and will continue to use Malt as a reference and refer others as well. It’s just one reference but a damned fine one. You done well and we welcome your return if and when that occurs.

      Here’s to you with a wee dram of Redbreast 21 YO at 9:30 in morning. And off to work I go ( as do you all.)

  6. Hordeum Vulgare says:

    All very transparent, and all very understandable. You’re not the first to find amateur (but mighty professional!) whisky communications tough to fit in with non-whisky life. Whatever happens, keep spreading the joy and knowledge however you can.

  7. Eric says:

    Best wishes with enjoying some well earned relaxation time.

    It seems like burn-out is a common fate for whisky bloggers, and also long-form writing about whiskies is gradually giving way to a combination of “look at me” trophy bottle pictorial displays (Instagram, etc.) and multi-media reviews (videos, podcasts).

    This makes me feel old, because I came into the whisky appreciation hobby when blogs were cutting edge and I prefer long-form text. This is a bit like discovering how old you’ve gotten when you suddenly realize that you no longer recognize the names of most of the bands playing at local clubs.

    If there is a tonic for curing this sort of ennui, I’ve found it in deeply engaging with beginners who are just newly come to whisky appreciation, of whom there is a plentiful supply the last several years. They are coming into a much more challenging marketplace for whiskies than I did when I was brand new, but in spite of that their enthusiasm and eagerness can be infectious if you take it in the right spirit (no pun intended).

    Good luck and thanks for your efforts over the years, and thanks for keeping the site active as an archive – on many past occasions I’ve linked to articles here from elsewhere on social media, it is nice to know that those references will continue to be available & useful for a while.

    1. Taylor says:

      Eric, appreciate all your kind words. Indeed, engaging with enthusiastic newcomers can help rekindle the passion. Maybe it will breathe a second life into us in the years to come, but for now it feels like time to give it a rest. Take care and be well!

  8. Andreas says:

    I understand the motivations behind shutting down (or slowing down), but I’m kinda sad nonetheless. This was the site that started my whisky journey, and it’s always been the only whisky-related site that I’ve kept saved in my favourites folder, and that I would return to several times a week. Big thanks to the team, enjoy your time off.

    1. Taylor says:

      Anders, it’s definitely bittersweet for us, too. Speaking personally, I really appreciate all your constructive and thoughtful engagement over the years. Skål to you, good sir!

  9. jon says:

    I, for one, am going to miss the almost daily updates. As someone who initially tried scotch and then migrated to bourbon and rye, I appreciated the crossover reviews. My forays into the whiskey world were much later than most who report some fatigue and disgust at the current status. I’ve only been doing this for about 2.5 years, so I don’t have a frame of reference to when George T Stagg was “super high” secondary at $350. It’s always been $800 and over for me, the same with the other allocated bottles.

    Anyway, I respect your reviews as well as your decision to step away. If you do decide to start writing again, it would be nice to simply review the dram on its merits independent of price. A Porsche GTS (or insert your favorite supercar) might be a perfect driving machine, but its price would dock it one to two points on a price-sensitive scoring metric. It doesn’t diminish the fact that the car is simply a sublime experience for those who can afford it.

    Enjoy spending time with your family and other endeavors. Until then, all the best!

    1. Taylor says:

      jon, thanks for the comments. Indeed, it’s been a long, strange trip on the pricing side. I like to think that we always balanced the intrinsic quality vs. cost debate deftly, but the scores were in some cases penalized, without a doubt. In any case, maybe a job for someone else? Cheers.

  10. John Hyre says:

    Bummer. But understandable. Happy to become a Patron should you ever reverse course. Your content is worth more than “free”. Wish it would have occurred to me sooner. Either way, you should be proud of what you’ve done.

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