December Outturn 2023 Ambassador’s Address
No, I’m not really into “sportsball”. I don’t strictly follow any AFL team. I never supported a rugby team. Sure, the Boxing Day cricket test is a fun sunny day in the calendar, and I love following the F1 racing, and the Australian Open in tennis. Cricket, F1, Tennis. Three very different codes of sports. If I was making a comparison to whisky, that might be like saying Aussie whisky, Scotch whisky, American whisky.
But yes, I’m making a comparison to sports. Who would have thought that would ever happen, really? I’m going somewhere with this, just trust me. Just recently I was interviewed for an MBA thesis publication, and most of the questions were around the challenges within the whisky industry, and some of the opportunities that may lie ahead for those wishing to get into the trade. This really set my cogs turning as I love helping people get into the trade, and love mentoring wherever I get the chance to do so. That aside, there was one question (which was admittedly a bit broader) about what I think the next ten years look like in the whisky scene.
I think the best way to approach something like this is to examine the last ten years and learn from trends. What was just ten years ago? The number of brands available in the whisky space was less than HALF of what it is now. That was just in 2013. There were hundreds of distilleries making whisky around the world, and now there are literally thousands. The main currency then was shelf space, and now it’s attention and eyeballs. If you’re reading this, you’re already in the 0.1% of 1% really. The amount of whisky ‘availability’ has simply exploded.
Sure, this could be counted as a good thing. The number of people getting into whisky and discovering it more and more in that period has gone wild. I think that’s fantastic. But at the same time, I can’t help but be a little sceptical — how many are too many distilleries? How many releases are too many? The battle for shelf space seemed easy, the battle for attention and engagement now is insanely competitive. But the biggest change in availability I’m seeing now is just in how wide the availability of other countries has taken up so much brand availability. Ten years ago, whiskies from Australia, India, Canada, Japan, New Zealand etc were barely a blip on the radar here. They were the “inferior” alternative to Scotch whisky. They were the “risky” purchase. The bottle you’d seldom take a punt on. For that same $120 you’d be taking home 2x bottles of Glenmorangie 10, or one mysterious bottle of Aussie whisky without an age statement. Pretty easy choice to make at the time.
How things have changed for “international” whisky in that time. Back then it was the ‘world music’ section of the record store, where strange recordings that no one wanted went to die. Retailers have since adapted, wholesalers have taken a punt on things, and we’re now way more engaged with world whisky than ever before. Take a look at this month’s rather special Malt of the Month: a hugely exciting, richly sherried, single-cask whisky from Sweden! It’s like a step back in time for Cask 144.5 to the roast dinners you’d have as a kid. I encourage you to take a stab at what’s happening around the world with whiskies like this.
But back to my sports analogy. Every country now has their code. The one or two sports they absolutely bloody excel at. The same is true with countries producing great spirits. Or at least that’s how I see it in my head. It’s been a long year. Thanks for coming for the ride, and here’s to 2024 and beyond.
Merry Christmas, happy holidays, and best wishes,
This article is featured in December 2023 Outturn — bottles will be available to purchase on Friday the 1st of December at midday AEDT exclusively to members of The Scotch Malt Whisky Society. Not a member? Click here to learn more about the world’s most colourful whisky club.