Monday, December 16, 2013
The Crazy Year in Whiskey
It's time for my review of the year in whiskey, and what a crazy year it was.
The year in American Whiskey got off to an inauspicious start with Beam's bungled attempt to lower the proof of Maker's Mark. Pappy mania reached new heights with a crazy new secondary market opening up (and closing down) on Facebook and a heist of Pappy bottles right from the source. And Tennessee finally answered the question of what a Tennessee Whiskey is. But what really made this year crazy were the new releases.
There was a stunning number of new American whiskey releases this year and not just from the craft distilleries and independent bottlers. Nearly every major distiller had new labels, including Buffalo Trace (Stagg Jr.), Heaven Hill (Elijah Craig Barrel Proof and 21 year old), Wild Turkey (Forgiven and Russell's Reserve Single Barrel) and Jim Beam (Jim Beam Signature and White Label Single Barrel). Even the staid George Dickel Distillery got into the action with a new retailer offering of 9 and 14 year old whiskeys. Add all of that to the regular annual releases from Four Roses, Buffalo Trace, Brown Forman and Heaven Hill and the growing craft and indie movement and this was a wacky, frenetic year.
Unfortunately, it was also a sad year for American Whiskey. We lost some giants this year, including Buffalo Trace's Elmer T. Lee, Heaven Hill's Harry Shapira, Angel's Envy's Lincoln Henderson, and A. Smith Bowman's tragically young Truman Cox. Our whiskey world, and the world in general, is a sadder place without them.
This was also the year that Japanese Whiskey finally broke through in the U.S. We've had Yamazaki for years and a trickling of Nikka whiskies more recently, but this year the floodgates opened. Now we have Miyagikyo, Nikka Pure Malts and Coffey Grain, Suntory Hakushu and even a Karuizawa from K&L with more Japanese Whiskies to come.
For years, Canada never sent us the best of their whisky, leaving it to American bottlers to try to get their own barrels, but this year we got the new Lot 40 Rye. Hopefully, Canada will send us more of their good stuff in the future.
The one market that seemed a bit boring this year was Scotch. There were the predictable regular releases, PC 10, Ardbog, Laphroaig Cairdeas, Highland Park Loki and four figure Diageo releases of Brora and Port Ellen, but nothing that was particularly new and exciting. Critics seemed to acknowledge that this year with Jim Murray saying he'd rather drink bourbon and the Malt Maniacs giving their top award to a Japanese malt. In fact, the only Scotch news anyone seemed to get excited about was Diageo wrangling with Whyte & Mackay.
Have a great holiday season, and here's to an exciting new year in the whiskey world.