Monday, December 12, 2016
The Year in Whiskey: A New Hope
While much of the whiskey news of 2016 was the same parade of idiocy we've grown accustomed to, there were, for the first time in a number of years, some signs of hope.
The year started inauspiciously when Heaven Hill removed the 12 year age statement that had been hiding on the back label of Elijah Craig. Would be another year of crappy moves by big whiskey?
Most of the new releases followed the now half-decade pattern of rising prices and falling quality. It was the year of stupid expensive whiskeys like Booker's Rye, the new Longmorn range and a new NAS expression of Michter's Celebration for $5,000.
Even the more affordable whiskeys saw unprecedented inflation with Beam Suntory announcing last week that they would raise the price of Booker's from $60 to $100. Yes, you read that right, a 66% increase. Of course, after their ridiculously priced (and in my opinion highly overrated) Booker's Rye became the darling of everyone from Jim Murray to Whisky Advocate, you can hardly be surprised - clearly they were testing the waters on premiumizing the Booker's name in the hopes that everyone would pay more for their bourbon in the future. I'm surprised they didn't change the name to Pappy Van Booker's.
And we probably can look forward to more such antics. It was a year of continued corporate consolidation with Brown Forman buying BenRiach (including Glendronach), Constellation Brands swallowing up High West, Remy Cointreau gobbling up the Westland Distillery, and just last week, Pernod Ricard buying a majority share in Smooth Ambler. Over the last month, hardly a week seemed to go buy without a proudly independent distiller cashing in.
But despite all of that crap, for the first time in a while, there were some signs of hope in the whiskey world. Ardbeg finally dug into its vaults to produce a whiskey with some age on it, Heaven Hill released a decent bourbon for this year's Parker's Heritage Collection and Barton gave us the deal of the year with its 1792 Full Proof. Even Highland Park's ridiculously packaged Ice was pretty tasty.
On the craft scene, more and more craft distilleries are releasing aged product, and quite a number of them are now releasing bonded whiskey, a move which has the potential to revitalize that languishing category, known for high quality at affordable prices.
If things keep going in this direction, maybe I'll start drinking whiskey again, but for now, enjoy a bunch of brandy and rum reviews from now until Christmas.