This Whisky industry is, by its very nature, a rather unpredictable one. Whisky drinkers tend to know what they like, and historically, they are ferociously loyal to their favourite brands; something which leads to relatively little fluctuation in the markets. However, in recent years, this has gradually started to change. Younger, hipper drinkers, keen to get into whiskies which speak to them and the values of their generation, have helped reinvigorate what was at one point becoming a flagging scene, and have helped market speculators keep an eye on what’s likely to lie around the bend of the year ahead.
Despite that, it’s probably best to take whisky predictions with a grain of salt (or perhaps, a cube of ice or two). With so many newcomers on the whisky scene, and a booming ‘craft’ distillery industry bubbling away beneath the behemoth bottling giants we all know and love, it’s quite difficult to predict anything regarding what the future holds for our favourite spirit. What cannot be questioned, however, is that the industry is in rude health, and is currently buoyed by a sense of innovation, experimentation, and youthfulness that it perhaps never has experienced before. Make no mistake, these are exciting times for the whisky fan, and there’s little doubt that 2019 is going to bring some delicious treats whether we anticipate them or not.
While they shouldn’t be taken as gospel, all of these predictions are based around trends which are already in motion, and which are likely to manifest most powerfully in the year to come. While some styles are on the rise, and others are in decline, rest assured: there’s going to be plenty of incredible whiskies to explore in 2019… and that’s good enough for us!
Rye Rides High
It’s been exciting to see the meteoric rise in popularity of traditional rye whiskey over the past couple of years, although it hasn’t come as much of a surprise. Given the fact that rye ticks all the boxes of features modern drinkers look for (an underdog status, a craft tradition, spicy and often challenging flavours, and a homely small-batch nature), it’s also no surprise to discover that its star will continue to be in the ascendency in 2019, with several major distilleries, from the US to Canada, and from Sweden to the UK and beyond planning rye releases next year.
It’s not going to come close to overtaking Bourbon or Scotch as the most popular whisky styles, but more variety on the table and in our local bars is by no means a bad thing… and anyway, it’s biggest fans want it to remain an alternative choice, and its ongoing success probably depends on it remaining on the fringes.
More ‘Entry Level’ Scotch Whiskies
The word among all the big spirits speculators is that the Scotch whisky industry is set to begin exploring more ‘entry level’ spirits in the new year. What does this mean? Well, the whisky scene is one which has often been accused of a particular impenetrability (especially Scotch single malt, which many find notoriously difficult to ‘get into’), and a sense of elitism, bolstered by sets of challenging flavours which, frankly, aren’t for newcomers. In order for the industry to remain robust and relevant, more effort is being made to produce quality whiskies with more straightforward flavour profiles and characteristics, ideal for those looking to explore the scene without being put off by massive clouds of peat smoke in their first dram.
Expect more affordable bottles from respected labels, celebrated for their simplicity and directness of flavour, and with marketing campaigns which strip away some of the mystery and complexity of their more respected releases.
Not So Big in Japan
2018 was a pretty disastrous year for the Japanese whisky scene, as it fell victim to its own massive success over the past decade. Many of the biggest labels in the country simply had to stop trading, leading to second-hand bottles rocketing in value and being passed around the whisky collector circuit like the treasures they are.
This coming year is set to bring more of the same, with the fervour surrounding the rising prices of Japanese whisky leading to more big names closing down operations, massively reducing their output, and planning for a brighter future.
Cometh the Scandinavians
It feels as though there is constantly some exciting newcomer to explore in the world of whisky, and that’s undoubtedly one of our favourite things about this industry. While the past decade was dominated by the Far East, the coming years are set to see a viking onslaught in the shape of high quality whiskies coming down from the lands of ice and snow in Scandinavia.
While some might see this as an ongoing part of the world’s current fascination for Scandi cool (having already conquered the worlds of design, fashion, food, and dark, suspenseful television dramas), it’s not really a surprise that the Nordic countries produce incredible whisky. Crystal clear water, a long history of distillation, and superb quality grains have always been Scandinavian hallmarks. Put them together, and you have all the ingredients for a seriously hip and happening whisky industry ready to break the world.
The Scots Break Free?
When it comes to tradition, the Scotch single malt whisky scene has always taken their heritage and identity pretty seriously. Over the past couple of centuries, the whisky regions of Scotland have built up identifiable characteristics comparable to the wine regions of France, with each part of the country producing whiskies which adhere to particular flavour and aroma profiles. While this clearly has its advantages, many of the newer, younger, and more dynamic Scotch distilleries are claiming that it has a stifling effect on creativity… and after all, if a Speyside whisky label wants to start producing a Highlands style dram, who are we to say they shouldn’t?
2019 has been touted as the year when Scotch regions start to become a little more playful with their styles. While we might not see the fruits of this sea change for some time, it certainly provides food for thought: what do we expect from Scottish produce? Should the distillers should be free to follow their own instincts, or keep on giving the public what they seem to want?
Craft Carries On
The march of the ‘craft’ industries is definitely set to expand further in 2019, with global whisky audiences demanding a greater sense of authenticity from their spirits. Quite how genuine this sense of authenticity actually is can be difficult to ascertain, but from a marketing perspective at the very least, this is one trend we can be sure we’ll see more of. Smaller businesses, new distilleries run by those seeking out traditional or forgotten recipes, a greater emphasis on single pot stills, unusual wood aging, and organic grains are all likely to increase, and many of the larger American distilleries are set to launch new labels pandering to this image.
Is this going to make a big difference in the long run? While it’s tempting to see this emphasis on the ‘real’ as being something which involves style over substance, it’s easy to forget that it wasn’t all that long ago that the whisky industry was suffering as a result of losing touch with its roots. The hipster whisky drinkers driving this trend may not be the most refined drinkers or tasters out there, but they are pushing the industry into new and interesting places, and encouraging a more meticulous attention to detail while championing new startups reviving old styles. We say bring on the craft revolution… the more the merrier!