My review of the year 2021
The beginning of 2021 was dominated by the Covid-19 restrictions, making international travels a real challenge. The major European events such as the Whisky Fair in Limburg (Germany), the Old &Rare Whisky Show of London (UK) or the Feis Ile (SCO) were cancelled or if possible, replace by online events. The situation improved during the summer, allowing the virus to spread fast and wide, and events cancelled again after the summer break.
My first whisky event of the year was the whiskyschiff hallwilersee end of September, a small whisky events taking place on two ships and 1 hotel. I could taste there my first Waterfords and Lindores whiskies. It was good attending a physical whisky event and to taste and nose these new whiskies, as well as the numerous new bottlings from independent bottlers such as Samaroli, Long Valley, The Liquid Treasures or Acla da fans.
As part of the Campbeltown whisky festival in spring, I could enjoy the Glen Scotia warehouse tasting remotely. It was well organized and I was very happy to taste again some Glen Scotia single malts, as this distillery is often underrated and the team behind the brand did a lots of efforts to improve the quality. The benefits with remotes events is the time and money saved in travels and accommodations. Another important remote event I could join was the reopening of the Brora distillery. I was hoping to travel there in Autumn to visit and take photographs of the “reborn” distillery for a new edition of my Brora whisky and distillery book, but with the new Covid-19 restrictions, I have put this project on hold. Hopefully, I can travel there next spring! Still, I managed to get an exclusive interview with Stewart Bowman, its master distiller (https://www.whisky-news.com/En/Brora_interview.html).
Due to conflicts in priorities, I could neither joined the Whisky Show in London (UK) nor the Whisky Live Paris. (FR). I could however enjoy the Swiss Whisky Festival, the former Whisky Schiff Zurich (CH). Although the temperature in the building was freezing cold, I could taste many products from recently opened distilleries, such as Annandale, McNean, Ile of Raasay, Strathearn whiskies, as well as many new bottlings from independent bottlers such as Ramseyer’s whisky connection or Signatory.
As the attendance to these events was rather low, probably due to a combination of restrictions to join them and/or anxiety of being infected, I could chat with several retailers and bottlers. Due to the COVID-19, sales of whiskies in bar, restaurants and hotel dramatically decreased dramatically in Switzerland and according to other reports, almost everywhere in the world. However, direct sales to the consumers were healthy, as whisky drinkers continued to enjoy their whiskies at home instead. Looking the annual reports of Diageo and Pernod Ricard, the sales in 2020 were pretty bad, with a general decline. However, by improving their efficiency and revising their strategy, sales went up again in 2021, driven by home consumption and a healthy growth in markets such as China, where Pernod Ricard inaugurated a distillery in China (with the sprit running just a few days ago) and Diageo is applying a premiumisation strategy, with selling exclusive and highly priced whiskies to the rich Chinese clients.
With Global companies having a large and established retailing and distribution network, they seem to have adapted well and rapidly to this new environment, including the impact of Brexit and the global shipping issues (e.g. shipment delays). In addition, they have established brand (e.g. Chivas, Johnnie Walker, Lagavulin, The Glenlivet), with many followers ready to purchase their new releases, even without tasting them.
For smaller and recently established companies or distilleries like Lindores, Torabhaig or McNean distilleries in Scotland, I would be curious to know how there are managing their business considering the administrative tasks linked to Brexit, making their products known, as most whisky events have been cancelled, and distributing them to their clients.
I have tried several products from these new distilleries and I was rather pleased with their quality. Some might be slightly too young to my liking, but they generally showed a nice maturity, especially when the product matures well, like in the Octaves of Strathearn bottled under the label uniqueness of the cask. Also, Irish whiskies such as the Waterfords from Mark Reyner, the London based distillery Bimber, the Swiss Irten’ ge or the Australian of Stalwarts are very promising. As shown with Stalwart and their ginger beer cask matured single malt, world whiskies are not scared of innovating, and this is a positive move. Who would have guessed that a company such as Diageo would have released a Lagavulin with a Guinness beer cask finish, without the innovation coming from small distillers?
At least I am happy that regulations regarding Scotch whisky have not changed like the production of the Chinese Pu Erh tea, who allows now enzymatic manipulation to produce it, and the last ones recently produced that I could taste were more like aromatic tea than the previous deep and complex produce.
Many books have bee released lately. As usual, there were a lot of generic whisky books, providing an introduction on whisky, but most of them are “me too” books, with sometimes more recent and nicer photographs as some years ago, but still of limited interest for a non-novice whisky fan. Following his landmark book A Long Stride (Johnnie Walker), Nicholas Morgan wrote a very interesting book, Everything you need to know about whisky, providing a nice fresh and sometimes rather critical view on the whisky industry, as seen from someone who has spent a couple of decades in the industry. One book that I still have to read is Buffalo, Barrels & Bourbon from Paul F. Pacult.
For me, 2021 has been a challenging year in term of whisky tasting, as I very rarely receive samples from producers and I acquire my samples mainly as whisky fairs. Due to the current situation, the number of whisky reviewed was in sharp decline, combined with some cold and heavy workload. Hopefully, I will have more time for whisky tasting in 2022. I am also impatient to visit the “reborn” Brora distillery, so that I can work on a second edition of my book on the Brora distillery.
I wish you all the best for 2022, and that you have all the opportunity of tasting very nice whiskies in good company.
Patrick , 09 Jan 2022