Our traditional yearend review features a musing from each writer who cared to contribute. As always, we remain grateful for our readers and their support of the site. We look forward to more to come in the new year!
Every year, I find myself amazed at how time seems to pass so quickly. Even knowing that I took care to purposely stop and smell the roses, I look back and wish I had done so just a little more often. Here’s to another year in the books, and using (hopefully) great whiskey as an opportunity to pause, savor, and embrace life for what it is: a series of moments that come together in ways we can’t predict. May all our endeavors – whiskey and non-whiskey alike – be successful in 2023!
My sincere hope for the whiskey/whisky community in 2023: A bit more understanding and a LOT more conversation. It’s almost like we’re all passionate about the same niche spirits, distilleries, and related cultures (or at least passionate about subsets of those). We have much more in common than meets the eye. Let’s embrace those connections and share great spirits with our stories, or maybe the other way around. The potential for more talking, more sharing, more learning, and more understanding make me a very happy sipper!
Who among us doesn’t find themselves drawn to the instinct of reflection at every year’s end? It seems that we all invariably find time during the lull period after the holidays and preceding January 1st to consider the previous year in its totality and perhaps even glean some lessons from those 365 to carry with us in the coming days.
This year I’ve done my best to eschew these considerations. Perhaps it’s purely ennui, though I prefer to consider it a way of maintaining one’s focus. Rather than looking back, this year I feel keen on treating every day as though it were the same: cherishing every moment, giving every hour its due attention, and plugging along until I’m awoken with a start, stupified by how far I’ve traveled. That’s how I’d like to spend my time for the foreseeable future.
“Why?” you may ask. Frankly, I feel as though we are in a much wider lull period in the world of American whiskey. Craft distilleries, once despised then darling, are at a point where they no longer excite for their newness or existence as an Other. No, instead the great lot of them are at a point where they are a relatively known commodity, a commodity in need of another year or two of maturity before they can truly recapture the hearts of this wily whiskey writer.
Then there are the “big boys,” so-called not because of any remarkable innovations they’ve put forward of late, but simply because their scale allows them to peddle inferior products with increasingly inferior inventiveness and still turn a profit. Twice barreled this, heat cycled that, and single rickhouses for the rest of us…all illusions that we are told actually add up to an insightful story though the majority of them fall flat, ring as cash grabs, or simply do not taste good enough to warrant a “limited edition” price point.
Surely the story of the year might be the shuffling of major names at various distilleries, but that too contributes to the larger lull I’m speaking of. One in which we will need patience and time to see what the likes of Denny, Eboni, Jackie, Jane, Owen and others make of their new homes. Some might counter that it’s “an exciting time” with such a changing of the guard but I’d argue that it will only be exciting when the fruits of their labor come to market. In the meantime we’ll have to make due with every vapid idea borne out of major distilleries’ marketing departments.
Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t make mention of the impending American Single Malt boom. With the category poised to blow up in 2023 (though to be fair, some well-established players are already producing high quality spirits) it seems that even that promising segment of American whiskey is waiting for its big moment. Will 2023 be the year? Many hope that the category gaining legal definition and thus equal footing with bourbon and rye on store shelves will signal a new era – but again we will have to wait and see despite promising early returns.
And so there you have it; I’ve properly reflected on some of the things I’ve seen in 2022 (leaving out inflation, climate change, microplastics in our blood, and the sheer wonder of the Webb Telescope images… along with the hateful rhetoric of the man the telescope was named for) and for better or worse what I forecast is monotony. More of the same. Spinning wheels with no hope but to bide time until a brighter tomorrow. If anyone needs me, I’ll be a prisoner of the moment because though it isn’t far off, the future ain’t here yet.
Christmas is a time for family, a time to come together and perhaps find some joy in that company… and for the sharing of a wee dram.
For me, this last year has taken me to a new world of writing about whisky, and it’s a world that I’m enjoying. It has helped me to shape how I share the love of whisky to a wider, welcoming audience. I have enjoyed the feedback and the broader community that it has brought to my virtual world; perhaps one day it will bring those folk closer, and we can share a physical dram.
Now, as we move forward into the new year, I look forward to continuing to share my thoughts across the pages of Malt and helping people to discover and learn about this wonderful golden liquid. Sláinte, Folks
This year, 2022, is significant in so many personal ways. On top of that, we’ve seen political extremes with the ongoing war in Europe. Locally, we’ve seen weather extremes that focus the mind on the climate crisis. It will, I suspect, also be significant for Scotch whisky. In the UK, we are seeing a cost-of-living crisis eat away at people’s disposably income. Mortgage rates and energy prices hikes in the face of wage stagnation are putting pressure on the vast majority of whisky sales.
Take a look in any whisky retailer and you will see that sales of young new distilleries have slowed, such that core range expressions that previously sold out are now commonly available. The same is occurring with more established distilleries’ core ranges. The examples of immediate sell-outs are exceptions. Genuine limited editions with small outturns remain hard to find; such is the overall popularity of whisky.
Consider the secondary market, long cited as the reason for distilleries increasing prices. There is a steady decline in prices for most of the highly “flippable” products. The price declines are also reflected in the more collectable areas. Take a look at the price of Springbank 10 year old on auction site Whisky Hammer; this one bottle really tells the story of “peak” whisky prices. Whilst this desirable drinker is still hard to find, it’s not selling for much more than £10 above RRP.
Further searching indicates other more collectable bottles still performing well year on year, whereas other ranges show a softening of prices.
We whisky connoisseurs focus on the most in demand bottles as a measure of the whisky market but it’s the lower-priced whisky sold at a higher-volume that is critical to distillers’ business models. If the low-price-high-volume market is really suffering, then we are sure to see a slowing or stagnation of the Scotch whisky market more widely. This may take some time to filter through to the on-shelf prices, but deeper discounting may be more common in 2023 as retailers seek to turnover unsold stock.
I hope it’s not too severe for new whisky distillers and bottlers, but more reasonable prices will be welcomed by consumers in 2023.
Whisky appreciation is much like a religion. As much as it is about taste, whisky is often about the moment, the occasion, the location and above all – good company. You just had to be there to hear the clinking of Glencairn glasses, sharing of stories, exchange of testimonies and occasional criticism of heresy.
Good company is key. Therefore, I’m really glad we finally graduated from the dreary ‘Zoom University’ routine of home-delivered tasting sets, laptop screens, grids of faces and the occasional “Hey, you’re on mute!” I appreciate the timely return of real-life festivals such as Whisky Live London and Whisky Live Singapore, where I fawned over Mark Reynier and tasted an unreleased 40-year-old Nikka. Perhaps it’s just cabin fever, but I’ve come to believe that a good drink in the midst of good company does taste a lot better. Bottlers and distributors appear to agree – many of these festival organisers are expecting to hit even larger visitor numbers next year. As Jigs concluded after he attended Whisky Live Manila, these sort of in-person events are necessary.
Whisky has wider appeal now than ever before. The growing consumer demographic is something we’ve read about a few years back in North American market research reports, but we’ve have only just begun to see this ripple effect reach the Asian markets. In Singapore where I live, I’m finally seeing many more women and younger people in their early 20s (I still consider myself young at 30) attending whisky masterclasses, spending money on rare bottles and geeking-out over the ins and outs of obscure craft distilleries. Whisky has begun to shed its stuffy image as an old man’s drink, and whether you like them or not, we have the marketing folks at Big Whisky to thank. This is why you won’t find me seething over Ardbeg’s tamer modern releases or The Macallan’s Rich Cacao or coffee-inspired Intense Arabica. These bottles represent efforts to market to a mainstream audience that may be still on the fence about getting into neat sipping spirits. And if easy sippers or fancy chocolate-themed marketing collaterals are necessary gateway drugs for converting more into drinking whisky, I think I’m OK with that.
As their spirits mature, we’re also witnessing a boom of atypical whisky distillers riding on the wave of whisky’s wide international appeal. You have new craft whisky distillers who have never been in the alcohol business (the likes of Shizuoka) and a long list of traditional alcohol makers who have forayed into making whiskies (the likes of Kanosuke, Sakurao, Emmanuel Camut and Château du Breuil). All of these names we’ve mentioned produce very captivating whiskies – just have a taste and you’ll be stunned by their complexity and distinctiveness. I’m most excited by these new frontiers of whisky and I’ll be watching this scene closely into the near future.
There’s much more to be said and many more stories to be uncovered. With Malt and my personal editorial, 88 Bamboo, I’ll continue shining a spotlight on the novel, the unusual and the underrated. I humbly thank you, the reader, for your time, attention, passion and insightful comments!
Cheers, Kanpai and have a Happy New Year!
Taking a look back at the spirits trends of this year, I’m more excited about what could happen next year. Over the course of Covid, there were a few news articles such as these Bloomberg, CNBC and Forbes mentioning the significant growth of Tequila and Mezcal in the US. Which means more consumers are deviating from the most popular spirits like vodka and whisky. Even though it’s not rum or sugarcane spirits – which is my current favorite spirit category – not making more news (and it’s most likely the lower quality agave spirits brands) I still see it as a win. Because at least more consumers are introducing – or are getting introduced to – something different. To me, less people drinking vodka means more consumers are learning to appreciate flavor. More people spending less on whisky, to me, means they’re seeing how crazy whisky prices have been. I’d like to think that people are starting to weigh the value of their purchases more as opposed to just sticking to what’s popular and safe.
For the future I hope more quality white spirits like Joven Mezcal, agave-forward Tequila, Clairin, Cachaça, rum, and Pisco start becoming more popular and more understood. I know it won’t immediately happen next year, which is why I’m saying in the future.
I’d like to echo the comments made by our contributors, who I value for their hard work and dedication. For my part, I’d like to add that whisky/whiskey continues to evolve, and Malt will continue to evolve as well.
You might have noticed that we’ve recently moved away from our cadence of daily reviews. This is reflective of the fact that Malt is an all-volunteer effort, relying on the passion (and pocketbooks) of our contributors to provide all the content you enjoy (and most of the bottles we review). We’re real people with families, careers, and other personal obligations that sometimes take precedence over what remains, for all of us, a hobby.
I’d also rather publish less frequently than risk becoming boring or repetitive, which is a risk when you’ve been doing this for years. I’m happy to let our contributors speak only when they have something to say; I believe that what we lose in quantity will be more than made up for in quality.
As for the year ahead: I have embarrassed myself frequently enough with predictions in years past to make me more circumspect about my forecasting abilities. One thing about which I am certain, however, is my gratitude for my teammates, our readers, and the Patreon supporters who generously fund our overhead costs. I’ll close by saying a very sincere “thanks” to all of you. Here’s to 2023!