Review of the Year 2011

The year 2011 has been very rich in several aspects.
Probably the most unexpected one was from Ireland, more precisely from the Middleton distillery operated by Irish distillery and the resurrection of the Irish Pot Still whiskey, with the launch of a cask strength expression of Redbreast and the excellent Powers John’s Lane.

In the 19th Century and early 20th Century, the Irish Pot Still whiskey was considered as the best whisk(e)y in the world and these new releases were of impressive quality.

Shortly after the launch of these products from Irish distillers, the Irish seemed to have lost their independence again: The only independent Irish distillery, Cooley is being bought by the American spirits giant Beam.  Irish whiskey will then be controlled by foreigners:  the French (Pernod Ricard owners of Irish distillers), the British (Diageo owner of Bushmill) and now the Americans (Beam).

Talking about whiskies of the world, I had the chance of spending a couple of days in Kentucky and visiting a fair number of distilleries in a very short term. The American whiskey has been very dynamic lately with the resurgence of craft whiskey and distilleries, as well as new experimentations (e.g., the wood experimentation at Buffalo trace). This mirrors the whisky activity  in European countries (e.g., Switzerland), for the best and the worst. At least, the World distillers are trying to innovate, while Scotland remains very conservative.

During my last trip in Scotland, I had the privilege of visiting the very discreet distillery(ies) of Loch Lomond. Some might criticize the quality of their whiskies, but it sells well, better than most better known whiskies, and they dare to innovate by using columns to distil malt and to use wine yeast for fermentation.

So why all other Scotch distillers are using only distiller’s yeast? For sure, they want to ensure same flavour profile of their new make for blending and their single malt, but what prevents them of making some small batches with another type of yeast, as this done by some distilleries with peated and non-peated malts (e.g., Knockdhu or Caol Ila)?

Talking about resurrection, it is now 10 years since Bruichladdich reopened. After 10 years of provocation, the new Bruichladdich Ten has been released and some continuity can be expected in the future, as for their other products, the Port Charlotte and Octomore. The gimmick of ACEing seems to be over, but innovation is still ongoing, for instance, with their “farm barley” single malts. And how is the re-awakening of Annandale going to take form? Let’s wait, see and wish them good luck!

If we care about rumours, then Glen Keith might wake up again. A new distillery at Huntly was supposed to be built, but when I stopped there last September, there was no hint of any activity. Tamdhu breathed again when Ian MacLeod took over the distillery, sadly, for economical reasons, the last operating Saladin maltings of Scotland is no more.

Is 2011 the whisky collectors’ year?
In May 2011, I published an article about whisky collection. By coincidence (?), similar articles have been published in Whisky Advocate (formerly Malt Advocate), on the TV (CNBC) or even in the traditional press (e.g., NZZ). Prices for old bottles are going out of the roof and the Whisky Market Index or the Whisky Advocate index are continuously going up (as opposed to the stock exchange). Is this going to reach a plateau in 2012? For old bottles of fine quality, I seriously doubt, since the Brora, Ardbeg from the 70s or Bowmore from the 1960s are jewels from the past that might never been reproduced.
In parallel, the amount of speculator is going up and some very sought after products (e.g., Port Ellen Annual Release) sells out before they reach the shelves… Prices? If you are talking about aged whiskies, such as Glenfidfich or Highland Park 50 years, you have better to own a thick wallet. Even the slightly younger versions (e.g.. Bunnhahbain XXX or Glenfiddich 30 YO) prices are rather hefty, partially thanks to very expensive cases. Knowing that some boxes cost £35+ at the distillers, why not providing boxes as an option and to save  about £50 if the buyer is only interested in the content and not on the package (that takes a tremendous amount of space)?

By the way, could the producers not agree on same standards regarding the bottle sizes? This would be more practical for our shelves and the ones of the retailers.

Books are on the rise..
So far, I have purchased almost any single book released on the whisk(e)y topic. In 2011, I continued to purchase many books, but they start to pile up and many new releases are announced for 2012. Well, at least, this provide plenty of choice to the potential buyer.
Positive element, the quality is generally good and most of them are rather instructive, if you except those few books containing a collection of articles from Wikipedia and sold at outrageous prices. Somewhat surprisingly, the best selling book in 2011 was “101 whiskies to try before you die” from Ian Buxton.  It sold more than all other whisky books together. The recipe? A selection of fine and affordable whiskies in a simple but pleasant layout. Congratulations Ian!

Independent bottlers
Independent bottlers have bottled many fine whiskies; amongst them many aged malt principally from distilleries considered previously by many as second choices (e.g. Tomatin, Caperdonich, or Bunnahabhain). The number of independent bottlers has further expanded, with many retailers launching their own brands. For the potential buyer, the choice is becoming overwhelming. In addition, several independent bottlers are bottling whiskies from the same distillery and from the same vintage (e.g,. Tomatin 1976), probably sharing the same cask. Who is not getting lost in a shop with all this profusion?

Is it only my impression or most aged expressions from Independent bottlers are getting tired feeling the end of stocks?

The old companies (e.g., Gordon & MacPhail or Cadenhead’s) have programmes of fillings, thus ensuring continuity in supplies. The question remains open for the others and dependent on the market. If whisky sales (blends and malts) will continue to grow, the amount of circulating casks might dry up.
With the economic situation in Europe (and other countries, such as Japan) were the sale projections for 2011-15 not over optimistic? If so, a whisky loch might not be too far…

As for independent bottlers, it seems like the number of whisky fairs continue to grow, since everyone want to make his/her own event and by doing so, attract publicity and to generate money. With distillers having to pay for their stands (booths) and to provide the whisky bottles, it is not surprising that the offer is sometimes very limited. Fortunately, at fairs where you pay by the cl, such as the Whisky Schiff or Limburg Whisky Fair, the choice of whiskies is very fair. The other notable exception is the Whisky Exchange Whisky Show in London that I attended for the first time this year: once you paid your ticket, all "standards and premium "whiskies where free, and you only had to pay for the superpremium. The whisky show is an excellent event. Highly recommended!

And last but not least, Whisky-news will continue in 2012, with more tasting notes to be published, including additional reports and distillery in focus. The number of visitors continues to grow and whisky-news will remain advertisement free. I hope you will continue to enjoy its content!


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