Whisky Advocate

Whisky in 2011: the year in review

December 21st, 2011

I was going to summarize all the new releases and general trends in whisky this past year (and there have been a lot of them). But, Sku over at his Recent Eats blog, did such a great job with this recent post, there’s no use in reinventing the wheel. Well done, Sku!

Read his post. How do you feel about what happened in whisky in 2011? Was it a good year or a bad year? And why?

48 Responses to “Whisky in 2011: the year in review”

  1. JC Skinner says:

    It was a very good year for Irish whiskey. It continues to outperform all other alcohol sectors in terms of growing its market, as more and more people come in contact with it and realise just how good a product the originators of whiskey are still able to make.
    Obviously the headline this year is the sudden emergence of potstill whiskey into its own class, rather than as a semi-forgotten historical artefact or as a simple component in Jameson. It is my hope that the expanded potstill range will introduce more people to this unique and potent style of whiskey, what I consider to be Ireland’s true indigenous spirit.
    Tullamore Dew’s purchase by Grants raises the prospect of a new distillery in Ireland. Already they have invested in a new visitors centre in Tullamore, which should open in Spring. Here’s hoping that they do decide to take it that extra step and bring another Irish distillery online.
    Cooley’s purchase by Beam? Well, Cooley for so long have been the small kids on the block, innovating and pushing the boundaries and winning the awards. Now they are owned by a conglomerate, who will undoubtedly expand production capacity, and one fervently hopes, will retain that spirit of adventure and innovation which Cooley has made its own. The appearance of a Kilbeggan potstill new make (or poitin as we like to call it) bodes well both for the future of that distillery and for the potstill sector as a whole. Let’s hope that Beam give Cooley their head as we continue into 2012.
    Again, the disappointment in Irish whiskey is Bushmills. Still no new products, even though we know (from the winners of their Facebook competition) that Bushmills stocks include all manner of untasted delights, including Cognac-finished 20 year old Bush. My biggest wish for next year is that Bushmills begins to catch up with its compatriots and begins to expand their estimable range at long last.
    I drank a lot of Scotch and Japanese whisky this year which was mostly good too, and a little Bourbon which was excellent, but I’ll leave it to others to assess whether it was a good year in those areas. I’m not qualified.

    • John Hansell says:

      Hopefully, Bushmills will join the party with a new and exciting release in 2012.

    • Dutch says:

      JC, I have heard a story about a pub in Portadown that makes it own whiskey, you can buy all you want at the bar, but can’t buy a bottle to take away with you, said it’s called McConville’s, any truth to that?

      • JC Skinner says:

        Nope. There is perhaps a bar you’re thinking of, The Thatch in Broughshane, county Antrim, on the road to Bushmills actually. They do their own pub whiskey called the Podhreen Mare, after a famous racehorse of the locality. The whiskey is young and sourced from Cooley, ironically, given their proximity to Bushmills.
        The Palace Bar in Dublin recently bottled their own single cask whiskey, and is a lovely whiskey bar with a great collection anyway. It’s basically a single cask 10 year old Tyrconnell. I understand that another Dublin pub is due to release their own whiskey shortly too, possibly from a similar source.
        Beyond that, two pubs in Waterford intermittently sell their own bottlings. These are known as ‘Henry Downes’ and ‘Moondharrig’. It’s unclear what these contain. Some suspect the Henry of being a Scotch blend, and it has appeared in bottled with Cooley caps.
        That’s the entire extent of pub bottlings in the entirety of Ireland, as far as I’m aware. It was so different not so many years ago.

  2. Haha great. Sku eats a lot of whisky :-)

    Steffen

  3. lawschooldrunk says:

    I’m still waiting for 2010′s overinflated prices to drop to 2007 levels.

    And, I am happy to report that in 2011, just like 2010, I did not purchase any Dalmore products. Anyone else want to charge me more for repackaging?

    • Red_Arremer says:

      I think a lot of whisky makers would like to charge you more for cosmetic improvements– It’s kind of like whisky world’s version of the renaissance of 3D movies…

  4. Joshie says:

    One element Sku doesn’t mention in the American whiskey world is the out and out Van Winkle HYSTERIA this fall. The line outside the door at The Party Source, major retailers selling out in a matter of hours, even out of the Old Rip line, cats and dogs living together MASS HYSTERIA. I don’t know if it’s being driven by bourbon becoming fashionable, ebayers, hoarders or what, but it’s never ever been this crazy as long as I’ve been a whiskey enthusiast.

    All this while Four Roses continues to put out the best American whiskey on the market, even accounting for the mixed reviews the 2011 Ltd. Ed. Single Barrel has gotten. That’s another story that flies under the radar. We are living in the Golden Age of Four Roses.

    • We are living in the golden age of a lot of whiskies that doesn’t get as much attention as some hyped bottles. Sometimes the whisky drinkers behaves like a bunch of teenagers in the world of fashion. Everybody want’s to wear (drink) the same, and some people seem to panic if they don’t get a bottle of this or that. You, me and everybody else reading this do offcourse have to live with the trouble of SELECTING whiskies :-) , too much out there, no need to stress for particular bottlings !

      Steffen

    • John Hansell says:

      Good point about Van Winkle and Four Roses. I think what started the whole mass hysteria about Van Winkle is that their supplies of stock from the old Stitzel-Weller distillery are starting to dry up.

  5. sku says:

    Thanks so much for the plug John.

    My year end wrap up focused on the actual whiskey that was put out as opposed to whiskey business news (where there was much happening as well). Had I reported on that, I certainly would have added another positive: the impressive changes in format and added content to Whisky Advocate Magazine. It’s been a good year for whiskey magazines as well!

  6. OudErnest says:

    Great year for bourbon and scotch for me. The Kilchoman Spring release was delightful and the BTAC continues to impress as did Four Roses, as mentioned above. I’m looking forward to Nikka to.ally arriving here in the US in 2012. John, have you sampled any of the K & L releases mentioned in SKU’s article?

    • The K&L’s are an interesting mix.

      I enjoyed the Banff, the Ben Nevis (which is weird but good if you have a tolerance for “farmy” notes), both Springbanks and the Glendronach. So far I think the Madeira Springbank might be a favorite.

      The Auchroisk was questionable. It just didn’t do it for me.

      The Bruichladdich Chenin Blanc.. sadly starts interesting if complex but really falls apart as the bottle breathes.

      • OudErnest says:

        Thanks. I like farmy notes but usually in lambic and sour beers I’ve been exchanging emails with K & L. Extremely helpful and insightful. I wish I had a store like theirs near me here in Connecticut. The Springbank sounds intriguing. Evidently they have a 5 year-old Kilchoman as well. Think I’m going to make some post Holiday purchases.

    • Jason Beatty says:

      A look to 2012: the Four Roses Limited Edition Single Barrel for 2012 did not impress me enough to justify the price tag. The ordinary single barrel is very close to it and less than half the cost.

    • John Hansell says:

      I haven’t had the opportunity.

  7. OudErnest says:

    Nikka finally arriving that is. Anyone else having issues scrolling in the comment box?

  8. Morgan Steele says:

    I think it has been a great year for whisky. I note that whisky tastings and events in my area (Southwest, USA) are up and whisky in the news is favorably more prominent. I enjoyed the Shackleton MacKinlay’s expresion as well as the National Geographic special on it. Also, I’ve enjoyed new expressions from Compass Box, the resurgence of The Dalmore, and some fine offerings from the SMWSA. Through the internet, I’ve been able to find any bottle I’ve had serious interest in whether in the US or abroad. Finally, the learning opportunities regarding whisky (e.g., Balvenie’s Warehouse 24 and The World Masterclass) have greatly increased my appreciation of this fine drink. Life is good.

  9. Ken Tanaka says:

    Great summary. Viva la Rye Revolution.

    • mark davis says:

      yes more rye please.
      the best part of a sustained gain in rye’s popularity is producers are probably making a lot more. It’s only a matter of time in a barrel until be get more options and lower prices.

    • Jason Beatty says:

      Part of the Rye craze is because it is used by bartenders in cocktails.

  10. lawschooldrunk says:

    Hakashu available in the U.S.A.

  11. OudErnest says:

    The Samaroli line really blew me away at Whiskyfest NYC as well.

  12. An excellent look back at the year, and a look forward too–I’m eagerly awaiting the release of more Japanese whiskeys.

  13. Vince says:

    From the perspective of a bourbon drinker I think it has been a great year! To reiterate Joshie’s point, Four Roses continues to put out superb bourbon. The limited releases from other distilleries were excellent as well (especially the BTAC and Parkers). While we continue to have experimentation (which I endorse) I do not feel they quite measured up in 2011. The Single Oak project is overrated and priced ridiculously. The Woodford Reserve Masters collection (two seperate rye’s in .375 bottles) was a miss and again, way overpriced.
    I’m not positive that Knob Creek Single Barrel came out in 2011 (it may have been 2010) but I think it is excellent. Very enjoyable bourbon year, looking forward to 2012.

    • Jason Beatty says:

      Good call on the Four Roses as I have tried the yellow label straight from the barrel and was impressive. The master distiller wanted to release the Japanese only editions out in America but was given the halt. I have tried these on two separate occasions and do not find them that much better than the single barrel. The reason they did not want to release them yet is because the bottles look like wine bottles. I was most impressed with the 20 Year Elijah Craig and certainly hope Heaven Hill does something astounding again in 2012. John is right about the craze stemming from that distillery however it is really a trend right now to say you have a bottle of Van Winkle. Just the ordinary whiskey drinker wants to have a bottle and does not even know about the distillery.

      • Vince says:

        Hey Jason, you must be a”mellow moments” member:) (as am I). I have tried to Japanese releases as well. I really liked the Platinum. I think that would be a nice release in the US. On the other hand, I really didnt care for the black label. I hope Jim R can get the Platinum released in the states. (But I am not complaining because I think JIm puts out some great bourbon that I enjoy on a regular basis).
        Happy Holidays to you and yours!

        • Jason Beatty says:

          I actually talked to him about the reasoning. He is really steadfast on getting the Kirin Ichiban folks to release the platinum in the US but the earliest he could do this is by 2013. You will see it in the future. I am not aware of the Mellow Moments thing but would join.

    • Single Oak shouldn’t be undertaken by one person. 96 bottles of wildly variable bourbon? No thanks.

      Grab six friends, everyone gets two ounces and you’re out the price of one nice bottle. Meanwhile you find out stuff like stave location on a tree has a huge influence on taste…

      • Jason Beatty says:

        That does sound nice and fun to do however I am so saddened by the bottle I have it makes me weary to even invest $8 a pop. Don’t even mess with barrel 31 of the second release.

        • I’ve done all of the first and second release (and have been keeping track on my blog). 31 wasn’t that bad – what didn’t you like?

          61 remains the best of the bunch (release 2) so far. 3&4 were pretty bad though.

          Waiting on release 3 to show up….

  14. woodisgood says:

    Regarding the Great Pappy Hysteria of 2011:

    I think one part of it is the fans of the Van Winkle bourbons who’ve been drinking them for more than the past five years find themselves having to compete with the “noobies” just to get their favorites. I’ve been drinking PVW15 for over six years now, and I’m not ashamed to say it’s pretty much the only bourbon I drink at home. And it takes me around twelve months to go through 3 bottles (including a rye and a bottle of the 20 year), so I’m not scofffing it down nightly. This year I had the worst time finding my yearly stash–and I thought last year was bad. It seemed especially crazy this year.

    Truth is, I’m a huge fan of Pappy, and I don’t mind doing the legwork to obtain my juice. I try lots of different bourbons when I go out, and with maybe two or three exceptions, I always find myself being thankful I’ve got my favorite at home, because for me, nothing compares. The next time the Van Winkles do another release is going to be mighty interesting. (And possibly even more frustrating.)

    I understand if some (many?) feel their bourbons are overrated, or not worth the fight. But, if ya likes what ya likes . . .

  15. Louis says:

    The good: great values in American whiskey. The Bulleit Rye is incredible for the $25 that I paid for it, and Jefferson 10 year old rye goes for only $10 more.

    The bad: ever increasing prices for single malt scotch at all levels. Lets start with Hazelburn 12 for $80. Yes, that’s $80 for 12 year old SMS. Drop the age statement, and you can get the Port Charlotte An Turas Mor containing 5,6 & 7 year old malt for a mere $60, How about the Ardbeg Alligator, 25% more expensive than the Corryvreckan and lower ABV. Just how much does a re-charred bourbon cak cost more than French oak?

    Moving up, there is the Glenlivet Founders Reserve, three times the price on the regular 21yo Archive to get 40% higher ABV. And of course The Dalmore 1978 for $1300 and the Finesse for a mere $1100. And forget about the Glenmorangie Pride.

  16. Jazz Lover says:

    Wow! This whole whisk(e)y business is starting
    to feel like a game of Russian Roulette.

  17. Jazz Lover says:

    Seems to be a negative feel on most Whisky blogs.
    Pricing,Availability,Marketing and Collecting.

  18. sam k says:

    Wait a minute. 37 comments on John’s blog about Sku’s post , but only one comment on Sku’s own post. Did you guys actually read it?

    • JC Skinner says:

      I read it. He covered a lot of ground in very little detail, I felt. People are going into more detail here, likely because a) John invited us to and b) this rather than Sku’s blog is where whiskey people gather to discuss whiskey.

      • sam k says:

        Well yeah, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore the original author. Sku is no less deserving, especially since he initiated the conversation that John recommended.

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