Monday, December 10, 2012
The Year in Whiskey 2012
This was a frustrating year in whiskey. Back in July, I declared the end of the Golden Age of Whiskey, and I think the year bore that prediction out.
New but not noteworthy
The year saw a massive cache of new releases. Nearly everyone had something new, but much of it didn't seem very special. It seems that the the whiskey companies have caught on to the fact that people like new things so we see continual brand extensions. This year alone brought us two new Ardbegs (Galileo and Day), Highland Park Thor (in the big wooden boat box), Woodford Reserve Double Oaked, Heaven Hill's Larceny and Elijah Craig 20, Knob Creek Rye, George Dickel Rye, Jefferson's Ocean Aged Bourbon and no fewer than four new E.H. Taylor bourbons from Buffalo Trace. Jack Daniel's and Jim Beam jumped on the invisible whiskey trend, releasing unaged white whiskeys to compete with, or perhaps overwhelm, the craft distillers.
The dropping of age and proof continued with Macallan eliminating some of its age statements and Wild Turkey dropping the proof of its rye.
It was a bad year for independence. Jim Beam, which purchased the Cooley Distillery in December 2011, announced that it would no longer be selling Cooley whiskey to independent bottlers, and the once fiercely independent Bruichladdich sold out to Remy Martin.
In the US, the explosion of craft distilleries continued with some notable names, including Old Pogue, Willett and The Party Source starting their own distilleries.
In Ireland, William Grant announced it would build a new Tullamore Dew distillery.
Meanwhile, sourced whiskey continued to grow in the US. It seemed like everyone had an LDI whiskey to release this year, and speaking of sourcing, bourbon geeks will remember this as the year of the Great Pappy Controversy.
It was a tough year on the secondary market as well. The beginning of the year saw ridiculous mark ups at Bonhams and ebay, with Bonham's courting controversy with some of its bottle descriptions. Meanwhile, K&L sold a $90 bottle of Jefferson's Ocean Aged for over $1,000.
The tide seemed to turn when ebay shut down all alcohol sales, and Bowmore couldn't unload their latest six figure whiskey, which led some to wonder if the whiskey bubble was finally bursting.
And the silver lining
All of this isn't to say there wasn't a bright side to the year. Balvenie distinguished itself with the Tun 1401 series, showing that some distilleries are still willing to do the serious work of putting out great whiskey without gimmicks. GlenDronach's vintage series and Glenfarclas' family casks continued to impress without jewel encrusted bottles.
Four Roses continued to distinguish itself with its Limited Edition Small Batch. High West continued to innovate with Campfire (a blend of bourbon, rye and peated Scotch) and Son of Bourye, and Bulleit offered a bold and spicy rye that wouldn't break the bank (or even bruise it).
So while investing and speculation may have reached new levels of stupidity, there is still good whiskey to be had. Let's hope for good whiskey at affordable prices for the new year.