After a string of amazing whiskey years, 2010 was a bit of a yawner. Maybe it's just that we've grown used to major breakthroughs, innovative new releases and unbridled creativity from the last three or four years, but the truth is, 2010 gave the whiskey world very little that was new or particularly exciting. Sure, there were some good new releases and some great whiskeys, as there always are, but for the most part, none of these shook up the whiskey world.
To the extent that there were exciting releases they were in the ridiculously super premium MYH (mortgage-your-house) category. Gordon & MacPhail's 70 year old Mortlach weighed in as the oldest whiskey ever released, and the record for the most expensive new release was broken twice, first by the Dalmore Trinitas and then by the Macallan 64 year old Cire Perdue, which literally was sold for more than my house cost. But these whiskies can't really be counted as new or exciting releases since it is very likely that no one will ever drink them (except maybe the lucky friends of the dude who swiped a Mortlach 70 in Stockholm). And every distillery that could find an old barrel seemed to release a 50 year old this year. God bless Glenfarclas, who released a 40 year old at a reasonable price (i.e. the lower three figures).
In the world of Scotch that non-tycoons can afford, though, after five or more years of absolute wonder, this year was boring. Even the most reliable and innovative distilleries seemed to be phoning it in. The new Ardbeg releases, Corryvreckan, Rollercoaster and the new Supernova, were good but neither innovative nor overly impressive. Even the mad scientists at Bruichladdich seemed to sputter after a few years of phenomenal new and exciting releases.
In the world of American whiskey, the fall releases have become utterly predictable. We all know what the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection and Old Forester Birthday Bourbons will taste like, more or less. We don't know what the Woodford Reserve Master's Collection will release, but it will likely suck. Heaven Hill is one of the only distilleries to add some excitement with their Parker's Heritage Collection which is always different and usually excellent. Four Roses did have a great year last year with interesting new releases, including the individual release of all ten recipes for different retailer bottlings.
The majors did come out with some surprises, including new versions of Maker's Mark and Knob Creek, but these were really most remarkable because they came from distillers that hadn't changed their products in years.
Most other notable American releases were from the smaller bottlers. WhistlePig, with their 100% straight rye sourced from Canada and High West's Bourye, a blend of Bourbon and rye, showed the kind of innovation that was lacking elsewhere. There were also some great specialty retailer bottlings, but those are very limited releases.
In any industry there are cycles of production and innovation followed by some market stabilization. We may now be entering a lull in what has been an exciting market for the last few years, but there may be hope as well. Next week, for my last whiskey blog of the year, I'll make some predictions about what we might expect in the world of whiskey 2011.