Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Whiskey Wednesday: 2011 Whiskey Predictions

Last week, I decried 2010 as a boring year in whiskey. Now, looking forward toward 2011, I will do my best to predict the trends that will be in and out in the world of whiskey.


1. Super-Duper Premium Whiskeys (aka MYH -Mortgage Your House - whiskeys). Unfortunately, we haven't seen the last of these. The race to sell the oldest and most expensive whiskey is on and we will see more silliness in the coming year. Indeed, truth may prove stranger than fiction.

2. Affordability. It may seem at odds with number 1, but the truth is, we are settling into the third year of an extended recession, and it's all well and good to set records, but the companies that want to survive will have to be able to compete in this depressed marketplace. A few whiskeys actually did lower prices on some of their offerings in 2010, and I think we will see some more of that. Real people want to drink whiskey, but they aren't going to go broke for it. The spirits companies may finally be starting to figure this out.

3. World Whiskey. In whiskey, "world whiskey" means anything made outside of the five major whiskey producing nations (Scotland, Ireland, USA, Canada and Japan). You have only to look to the latest malt maniacs awards to see the growing quality of malts like Amrut from India and Kavalan from Taiwan. Amrut showed up in the US late this year and Mackmyra from Sweden is overdue. We have or are likely to be getting whiskeys from Australia, New Zealand, France, England and Wales, among other places, and they are of growing quality. It's a good trend that, I predict, will grow in 2011.

4. Retailer Specialty Bottlings. Some of the most vital and exciting releases of 2010, especially in American whiskey, were retailer specialty bottlings. Retailers like K&L, The Party Source, Shoppers Vineyard and others partnered with the distilleries to come up with special releases. These releases allow innovation at a micro level with macrodistillery resources. These have already included some really stellar bottlings, and the trend will hopefully keep growing.

5. Canadian Whisky. Canada has long been the unloved stepchild of the big five whiskey nations, but it is slowly undergoing the type of upgrade that has already occurred in its sister whiskey producing nations. There have already been some promising Canadians out and I predict that we will see a real push toward premium Canadian Whiskies in 2011, hopefully accompanied by more in the way of innovation. And now that Canadian Whisky has its own blog, you can be sure that we will here about any fabulous new releases as soon as the big news breaks.


1. Peat Monsters. Peat has had its extended day in the sun, but after a rockin' decade in which it seemed that everyone wanted to smoke up their whiskies, the peat craze may have run its course. That's not to say that there will not be lots of peated whiskey released in 2011, but we are getting away from peat as the dominant flavor profile. During the heady days of the last decade, many traditionally non-peated whiskies added peated expressions, including whiskies from Ireland and the US. There were some successes, but many of these just didn't work. I think we will see an emphasis on more refined flavors, with peat being used more sparingly and big peat being left to those distilleries which have traditionally done it best.

2. White Whiskey. White whiskey, new make, moonshine, white dog...whatever you call it, unaged whiskey was definitely the craze of 2010, but it only takes about one bottle of this stuff to realize that while academically interesting as pre-whiskey, it's unlikely to become a regular drink for anyone. Look for this trend to seriously wane.

3. Closed Distilleries. As time goes by, the era of the massive distillery closures is getting further away, and as it does, the stocks from those distilleries are dwindling. For years, whiskey lovers have flocked to each new bottling, official or indie, of Port Ellen, Brora, Rosebank, Stitzel-Weller and other distilleries; talking about the Broras you've loved is almost a rite of passage among whiskey geeks. But this year, Diageo didn't even send its new releases of Port Ellen and Brora to the US. The old Michter's Bourbon that's marketed as A.H. Hirsch is apparently all in bottles now (at ever-increasing prices), and the last of the Stitzel-Weller is trickling out from Van Winkle and McLain & Kyne. As they continue to age, closed distillery bottlings are going to become even more rare and more expensive, which will make them available to an increasingly narrow group of customers. In addition, given that many of these closures took place in the 1980s and early '90s, you have to wonder whether some of this stuff that has been lying around in barrels all that time hasn't been released yet because it is over oaked. We've had the best, now we'll get the rest, and likely at premium prices.

4. Japanese Whisky (in the US). It pains me to include Japanese Whisky in the list of "outs" for 2011 as I'm a big fan, but sadly, in the US, there doesn't seem to be any effort to introduce new whiskeys from Japan. In 2009, Suntory introduced the Hibiki blend and the super-premium Yamazaki 1984 to accompany their two existing Yamazaki expressions, but since then, nothing. US whiskey lovers have been pining away for Yoichi and drooling about the massive awards and praise heaped on Karuizawa, but the desire won't last forever. The resourceful will find ways of getting their whiskey while for others, the longing will pass as they satisfy themselves with the latest malt from India or newfangled Canadian.

Will my predictions be right? Who the hell knows, but happy new year to all. Here's hoping you ring it in with a Super-Peated Canadian from a closed distillery!


Jason Pyle said...

Good post as usual. Not a ton to add to this other than I hope to see item #2 go out for sure. We poke fun a lot at the micros. Chuck Cowdery has a great post on this topic today on his blog by the way. But we poke fun at micros and I think this trend is even more tired. There is a LOT of horrid white whiskey out on the market. Just horrid horrid stuff. Stuff that tastes like the distiller thought, "I can't age this, it sucks, so let's shove it out to market and get on this white whiskey craze".

It may not end, but one can only hope!

David D said...

The big peat era is definitely coming to an end, but I'm not so sure about white whiskey. I feel like there's a certain trend going on in certain bars with white whiskey cocktails. We'll see if that picks up and if they find better ways to use them. Closed distilleries is a good point and 2011 might well be the year that the stocks become simply too pricy. Japanese whisky however is only growing. I've sold more Japanese whisky in the last 4 months that I have in the last two years. Someone is going to have to import something else over very soon or the market is going to go nuts! I think Suntory will answer that this year.

sku said...

David, I hope you're right about the Japanese Whiskies. I am lucky enough to have relatives who travel regularly to Japan so I get a pretty good sampling, and there is some amazing stuff there. I'd love to see more of it on our shelves, but I've pretty much given up on them, since there doesn't seem to be too much will to export to the US.

Dr. Whisky said...

Great list, Sku.
A very important point about affordable whiskies and I hope you are right. With more educated consumers and over a decade of increased wood quality control in Scotland, i think that distillers can confidently introduce new products on the younger side with fair prices and superb-tasting spirit. Every distiller knows (should know) that their entry level malt is their ambassador for their full range. What is the impact of selling a 100,000 dollar bottle if your 10yo is shit and no one buys it?
Related to your point about Japan, affordable scottish malts I think defend against the inevitable influx of world whiskies, Japan included. They are just timing stock and spirit supply and are getting ready for a proper expansion into the US.

DavindeK said...


Not much to add, only to agree with, (except Japan - please be wrong).

Re: IN #5. Already the rumour mill has two Canadian distilleries with spectacular new releases in the pipe-line for New Year release.

I sure am with you on the white whisky. Put it in a fancy bottle, call it vodka, and meet your cash-flow needs honestly. But whisky? Uhuh.


sku said...

So Davin, are you going to tell us what those Canadian distilleries are or keep us guessing?

sam k said...

Great post, Sku, and I appreciate the thought you put into it. I think I'd have a hard time coming up with this comprehensive a list.

As go Davin's remarks, I must disagree. At least in the U.S., our tradition has been to call unaged spirit whiskey. The Whiskey Insurrrection was not staged over aged spirit (and yes, I know it was staged over 200 years in the past). As long as they meet the mashing and distillation requirements (which would preclude it being called vodka, anyway), I have no problem whatever with white whiskey...except for the outrageous prices being charged, including our highly regarded friends at Buffalo Trace.

You are right, however, the trend will be short-lived and deservedly so

sku said...

Sam, you are certainly correct about whiskey heritage, but under the current regulations, only corn whiskey doesn't have to spend time soem time in oak. A lot of the distilleries are running their "white whiskey" through a barrel for 10 minutes just so they can legally call it "whiskey" when it's really just new make.

Davindek said...

A little slow here. Sorry.
Along with the usual suspects Danfiled's Reserve and Alberta Premium have some very special whiskies in the queue for release this year.