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.

Distillery happenings

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.

Going once...

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.


newtoast said...

What do you make of David Driscoll's theory that the whiskey market will end up following Bordeaux's trajectory?

sku said...

I don't follow wine futures so it's hard for me to evaluate, but interesting argument by both David and Oliver on the subject. said...

Nice summary and accurate about the state of flux the industry seems to be in right now. Funny how those huge single malts can't make their reserve prices but something like Campfire can make an innovative impression. Here's hoping that the next year will be better in terms of whiskies and prices.

Anonymous said...

The Bruichladdich buyout still bothers me to a degree. I just hope Remy lets them go about their business and keep on trying new things. A man can dream can't he?

As far as the crazy pricing goes, I'll just let the market do its thing. When I think something might be worth it, I'll buy it. This of course means that I won't be picking up any Pappy Van Winkle anytime soon. Of course that doesn't mean that I wouldn't be happy to receive a bottle. :)

Anonymous said...

And now Diageo and Suntory are circling Beam. Poor Cooley. Link as posted on Christopher Null's Drinkhacker site:

David D said...

2013 should be interesting for Diageo. I've heard from an internal source that they're getting ready to renovate Stitzel Weller and start making Bulleit there instead of at Four Roses.

sku said...

That's some pretty hot gossip David.

David D said...

Don't quote me on that, only repeating what I've heard. DOG said he heard the same, however.

David D said...

....and now they might buy Jim Beam with Suntory for 10B in a joint deal. Laphroaig Distiller's Edition, anyone?

sku said...

Well, if Diageo buys Beam it sounds like they will likely have to sell off a lot of the associated brands. Beam, itself, is what they want as an entre into the bourbon distilling business. My guess is that if they do it with Suntory, Suntory takes a lot of the other brands that wouldn't make sense in the Diageo profile: Cooley, Laphroaig, Canadian Club, etc.