2016 has been quite the year for whiskey.
We’ve seen new distilleries—some quite remarkable—pop up across the United States, and the world. We’ve seen established brands become more experimental, and we’ve seen collectible whiskies elevate the category to dizzying new heights. But we’ve also seen seen prices skyrocket, age statements vanish, and acquisitions heat up across almost every tier of the industry.
What will 2017 hold? As the managing editor of The Whiskey Wash, I can say easily we’re betting on more of the same. As whiskey’s fan base keeps growing, brands will continue to grapple with high demand, and many of the investments they’ve made in capacity and infrastructure are still years away from impacting stocks. In the spirit of the new year, here are our predictions for 2017—the good, the bad, and the flavored.
As single malts become more expensive, American drinkers seem to be catching on to blended malts. Often boldly flavored and geared towards drinkers who prefer a specific style of whisky (“Peat Monster” for smokeheads, “The Hive” for fans of honeyed Speysides), blended malts are some of the few remaining bargains in the world of Scotch whisky. We’re hoping to see even more of these in the year ahead.
Appropriately aged craft whiskey
2016 seemed to be something of a coming-of-age year for craft whiskey, and it’s no longer hard to find craft whiskeys aged four or five years. The speed of craft whiskey acquisitions in the latter half of 2016 also took us by surprise, perhaps indicating that big brands are also seeing some real potential in these upstart young producers.
Continued Rise of Irish Whiskey
New Irish distilleries continued to open, or announce their intentions to open, by the handful. In 2016, Walsh Whiskey Distillery opened its doors, production at West Cork amped up, and Dingle Distillery released its first whiskeys just a few weeks back, marking continued growth in the craft segment of the category. Not to be left behind, Jameson introduced a full rebrand of its popular whiskey lineup and introduced several new expressions. Expect to see even more action from Ireland in 2017.
Dropping Age Statements
We saw no sign of a reversal of the current trend towards eliminating age statements in 2016. From mainstream bourbon brands like Elijah Craig, to collectible one-offs like Ardbeg Uigeadail, age statements seem to carry less weight than ever before. Blame it on a less-than-discerning customer base, or blame it on dwindling stocks, but know this: whiskey brands will continue to opt out of age statements for the foreseeable future.
Love it or hate it, flavored whiskey is here to stay. In early 2016, Fireball was the third most popular whiskey in the United States, and that was before it introduced a new box format perfect for obliterating all memories of 2016 from your mind holiday parties. But cinnamon isn’t the only game in town. Crown Royal Regal Apple Flavored Whiskey held a 2.36% U.S. whiskey market share in 2016, and Wild Turkey’s American Honey has been around since the 1970s. We’re betting that flavored whiskeys don’t go anywhere in 2017.
2016 saw prices continue their inexorable climb across almost all categories—bourbon, scotch, and world whiskies. While bargains can still be found, pickings are slim, and we expect them to get even slimmer in 2017. Start saving your money now, folks.