The Whisky Industry in 2017: Our Thoughts | Mashtun and Meow: Sheffield Beer Blog

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

The Whisky Industry in 2017: Our Thoughts

We love whisky, and all that comes with it. However, there is a side to whisky that is often regarded as a little fusty and old fashioned. Strict rules and regulations regarding what the essence of whisky really is means that the industry is often seen to be taking itself very seriously. I think it's fair to say that until recently, the industry in the UK, specifically in Scotland, has been and continues to be bound by the limits of tradition. And a lot of the time this is perpetuated by the drinkers, who can be keen to scorn when anything other than a couple of drops of water are added to a dram. More than anything else we drink, whisky seems to be the one that has a perceived "right" way to enjoy it.

BUT. This year in particular we've started to notice the emergence of an entirely different facet to whisky, as the industry begins to unleash its playful side!

This was exemplified at this year's Whisky Show, where we attended a Whisky Highballs masterclass with writer Dave Broom. Five good quality whiskies, including Hakushu, Laphroaig 10, Kilchoman Machir Bay and Monkey Shoulder, were paired with selected mixers including cola, ginger beer and soda water. The results were elegant, fun and crafted to allow the flavours within the dram to continue to shine through (following extensive research conducted by Dave Broom himself, who meticulously tasted each whisky with a range of mixers to find the best pairings). This was not a case of "ruining" a good drink by any means, but was more about providing an alternative and making whisky suit more occasions, moods and indeed people. Demonstration of Laura's "Not giving a fuck if you don't like the idea of my delicious Laphroaig and Coke" face below.


As the range of whisky available increases, the potential of distilleries seemingly expands. Indian single malt producers Amrut are generally not able to classify their spirits as "whisky" in the UK, due to their short maturation periods (often less than the 3 year minimum ageing required for Scotch whisky) which work for them thanks to the far higher temperatures that increase wood contact. However the spirits they produce are certainly up to the standard I expect from a premium whisky. We very much enjoyed the Spectrum 004, aged in barrels re-cooped with staves from four different wood types, resulting in a wonderfully well crafted dram. Another delicious offering from Amrut was the sherry cask Naarangi, the world's first single malt to use orange peel, further demonstrating their experimental capabilities.


Another new (to us) distillery this year that got us all excited was Starward, from Australia.  After chatting to their rep, he was keen to point out that they are not constrained by tradition, stating that the Scottish are good enough at Scotch, so why would they try to recreate this? Instead they use innovative techniques (including integrating brewers yeast into their recipes!) and native wine barrels to produce a truly distinctive and delicious whisky that's approachable yet interesting... and makes an absolutely outstanding Old Fashioned!


We've noticed too that whisky is seemingly beginning to take lessons from the gin renaissance that we're experiencing in the UK at the moment. New distilleries are popping up at an almost alarming rate, with many of them initially releasing gin but with a view to producing whisky in the future - some of whom are approaching three years old and will be releasing their first single malts over the coming year or two, the Lakes Distillery and Bimber being just two examples. The gin scene in the UK is arguably more inclusive and regarded as more "fun" and current than the world of whisky, but now the lines between them are starting to blur and as far as we can see this will be a positive thing.

So, to finish off, we'd say there's a hell of a lot to look forward to in the whisky industry over the coming few years. There'll undoubtedly always be a place for a rare, refined, well aged dram, enjoyed with just a touch of snobbery, there's nothing wrong with that - but neither too is it a problem to try something a bit more edgy. The key thing is - it's your whisky. Buy what you want, judge for yourself where you're getting the value, and drink it however the hell you want to. Think twice before refuting others who buy a young whisky, or those who dare to experiment. Neat in a Glencairn, or with ice, with a straw, in a cocktail, with iced tea... who gives a dram as long as it's enjoyed?!

Cheers!

Jim & Laura