There must have been a time when the whisky industry despaired of shaking off its pipe-and-slippers image. Sales were stagnant; whisky was perceived as something only your grandad drank. It was resolutely uncool. Suddenly, though, in a dream scenario for the distillers, that situation seems to have been reversed. Rare whiskies are fetching insanely high prices, live whisky events are a sell-out (and attracting considerable numbers of women) and new styles of whisky are being launched all the time. And now two sacred shibboleths are being demolished: that only old whiskies and single malts are worth drinking.
Two powerful forces are behind the former trend: the entrance of new whisky-producing countries such as India (I tasted a very attractive three-year-old from the John distillery in Goa a couple of months ago), and new micro-distilleries, including London’s first whisky distillery for a century, the London Distillery Company. Three more are due to open in Scotland later this year, while Suffolk-based Adnams launches its first whisky at the end of 2013.
While you’re waiting, you could mature your own whisky. The Copper Fox distillery in Virginia has launched its own Single Malt Barrel Kit, consisting of a two-litre charred oak cask (reusable, of course) and two 70cl bottles of 62% unaged spirit under the Wasmunds label (£120, Milroy’s and the Whisky Exchange). Surely a Scotch producer can undercut that?
Distilleries such as Laphroaig and Ardbeg have been selling younger whiskies for some time now, while Milroy’s has been promoting its Finest Blend Malt, a blend of some 30 young malts (£19.95; 40% abv), some of which are just over three years old. Not complex or thought-provoking, just a very drinkable whisky of exactly the sort to knock back with a gamey haggis next week.
It is, of course, in the interest of distilleries to big up blends – single casks are finite. Diageo recently spent a shedload on a showcase for blenders in different fields, including a chocolatier, a mixologist and a perfumer, to underline the virtues of its mega-brand Johnnie Walker. And the innovative Compass Box has based its reputation on blends such as the fragrant, heathery Great King Street Artist’s Blend (£23.45 for 50cl, masterofmalt.com, £23.95 the Whisky Exchange, £24.95 Royal Mile Whiskies; 43% abv), a whisky to try even if you think you don’t like whisky, which isn’t to damn it with faint praise. Age statements don’t carry the cachet they once did.
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