Plenty of good new whiskies, but where are the great ones?July 26th, 2010
First the good news: I really haven’t tasted many new whiskies with flaws. My ratings of whiskies in the 70s and lower have been few and far between so far this year.
But, on the flip side, I haven’t been tasting many whiskies that have really blown me away either. (More whiskies like Glenfarclas 40 year old, please.) Most of my ratings have been in the 8os, and a lot in the low-mid 80s. This means that we have a lot of nice whiskies out there.
Nice. Not great!
Am I being too tough on all these whiskies?” (And maybe some of the whisky producers out there are beginning to feel the same way?) But, looking back over the releases so far in 2010, I don’t think I am.
I wonder, though, if we might be entering a phase where we’re going to be seeing a lot of good whiskies, but not a lot of great whiskies (or even poor whiskies, for that matter).
Why? Well, the days of having large stocks of older whiskies for many producers are over. The whisky boom (along with economic problems back in the 1980s which reduced whisky production) has led to a reduction in many of these older stocks–many of which were great whiskies. (Remember all those wonderful old Springbanks from the 1960s and 1970s?) What remains from this era is being sold off at exorbitant prices.
True, there are some exceptions. Some producers are sitting on older stocks, and they are poised to take advantage of it.
However, what we’ve been seeing, and will continue to see, are new releases at younger ages–and a lot more NAS (no age statement) whiskies, where producers will marry very young whiskies (less than 8 years old) with some older stocks.
Sure, some whiskies are great at a relatively young age, but it will be hard for most to develop the depth and complexity deserving “classic” status at such a young age.
Likewise, whisky producers have gotten wiser. Wood management is better. They have great “nosers” on their staff. Even if producers release a whisky that’s fairly young, I think most are smart enough now to not release any new whiskies that are premature or flawed in some manner. (Note to the new, small, craft distillers: Be careful. Don’t rush it. Do it right the first time.)
There is more modernization, computerization, and homomoginization to the production process too, which makes whisky quality more consistent. But does that also suggest, for better or worse, the potential for less diversity?
So, what does all this mean? I think we’re going to continue seeing a lot of what I would describe as “80s” whiskies. And in statistical terms, I think there’s going to be a much smaller standard deviation in these whiskies than in the past (meaning not as many 90s and not a lot of 70s and 60s).
My feeling is that–generally speaking–the bourbon distillers have the advantage here in this new era, because bourbon (and other American whiskeys like Tennessee and rye whiskeys) matures quicker that Scotch whisky and can recover more quickly from unexpected stock depletions.
Fall is usually the time when the whisky producers release their good stuff. I hope my logic is wrong. For now, at least. I’d like to see more 90+ rated whiskies in the mix being released over the next five months. There were some amazing releases last fall, so there is reason for optimism.
What do you think?