Tuesday, January 20, 2015

It's Getting Better All the Time

It's easy to by cynical about the world of whiskey, especially for folks who have been following it for a while. In order not to get swallowed up in negativity, as I sometimes do, I thought I would take a moment to recognize some things that are getting better in the world of whiskey.

  • Availability of Foreign Whiskey.  Ten years ago, there were numerous brands that never made it to the US. We didn't get Green Spot, Ardbeg special releases or many other distillery bottlings.  For years, there were only two Japanese whiskeys available in the US:  Yamazaki 12 and 18. That situation has improved remarkably. We now have a decent selection of Japanese whiskeys from a number of distilleries, and we get a much larger share of regular bottlings from Scotland and Ireland than we used to.  There are certainly still things we aren't getting (Canada still keeps most of their good stuff), but it's a big improvement.
  • Craft whiskey.  It's been a shaky road and mostly uphill, but craft whiskey is gradually improving.  Sure, much of it is still swill, and very few are great, but more and more craft whiskeys are entering the pretty good to good range. It helps that some of the novelty has worn off.  Fewer news outlets are touting craft whiskey, and fewer consumers seem willing to buy something just because it's craft and instead, are demanding quality product.  This is probably the sector with the greatest potential for the next ten years.
  • Label Transparency.  Maybe it was the publicity, maybe it was the lawsuits, but label transparency seems to be improving.  More new labels include the state of distillation, and a number of brands have changed their labels in recent months to be more clear about who makes their whiskey. Add to that the TTB's clarification on age statements last week and we should be seeing more honest labeling in the near future.
  • News Coverage.  It's hard to believe that ten years ago, there were really just a handful of sources for whiskey news, reviews and information. With over 550 blogs and numerous podcasts, forums and Facebook pages, along with increasingly serious coverage in the mainstream media, there are more diverse voices talking about whiskey than there ever have been before. This has both positive and negative aspects.  The diversity of voices means that new information crops up in numerous places, not just a handful of sources, but while more voices should lead to more opinions, sometimes it can create a herd mentality instead of diversity of opinion. On balance, though, I think it's a good thing to have so many more people engaged as content creators/contributors as well as content consumers.
What else is getting better in the world of whiskey?


Anonymous said...

Excellent post.

I agree, but with even more enthusiasm.

EVERYTHING in the world of whisk(e)y, particularly bourbon, is getting better.

It's a fantastic time for bourbon/whisk(e)y people! Just as it is for beer people. (Not so much for wine people.)

The only complaint I have is the ever rising prices!!

Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

Availability of good stuff on a day to day basis at any decent bar ore restaurant.That's the best thing.

MattO said...

Yep, more good stuff at restaurants. With accompanying spirits menus.

cmlough said...

I've found the progression a dichotomy. While more things have become technically available, the real world availability, particularly in bourbon, has been rapidly decreasing. Additionally, though I love how well the industry is doing and the experimentation it allows, retail cost has been rapidly rising. So while more whiskies are out there, they're difficult to find and higher priced. This would be a lot less of a big deal if it weren't for the lengthy lead time required for the industry to respond to the market. Here's to hoping in 8 to 10 years we'll all be sipping on Elmer T. Lee for $25 and on every store shelf again.

sku said...

Restaurant/bar selection is a good one. Between the whiskey and mixology crazes, I see much better whiskey at restaurants, particularly more casual restaurants, that I used to.

tanstaafl2 said...

I think the increasing diversity of flavor in American straight whiskey, by way of new and interesting finishes, is encouraging.

Sure, there have been flops (Willett XCF comes to mind, both in taste and in price) but would a cognac, sherry or port finish have been common 10 or 20 years ago in top shelf American whiskey? Perhaps it was but I think it was very uncommon at best. There have been some early pioneers like the first two Beam Distiller's Masterpiece bottlings from the late 90's that never caught on (in part due to a rather high price I am sure) but nothing like what we are seeing today in all price ranges from NDP's and even distilleries, both large and small.

Funky Tape said...

What's better? MGPI. Haters gonna hate till they realize their stock price was up over 300% last year. It was $.05 per share in 2009 when no one seemed to care about American whiskey. That place is an animal!

Tom said...

Rye is back.

Anonymous said...

Barrel proof offerings.

Andrew G. said...

The general availability of really nice bourbons/ryes for very little money. Evan Williams BiB, $13.50. OGD 114, $22. Henry McKenna BiB, $26-28.