Okay, so the London transport network is f@cked, there’s more snow due this afternoon and I live too far away from work to risk trying to get in and find myself stuck in Park Royal when I try to get home – nearly three hours it took me yesterday.
I’ve also managed to get myself temporarily barred from remotely accessing my work computer by getting my password wrong too many times (because I’m a total numpty). So in fact the only thing I can work at from home today is WordPress.
“What better time to write a big blog welcoming in the New Year?”, I hear you cry? “Easy for you to say”, I respond. “You’re not the one sitting at a laptop with no mouse and a recently updated WordPress that won’t let you upload any new photos, meaning that you have to find old pics with which to loosely illustrate your feeble jokes and break up your over-alliterated, self-indulgent, stream-of-consciousness scribblings”.
Anyway, the bad thing with snow is that it gets trodden down and becomes ice. And we all know that ice is only good for polar bears and making cocktails with (or tossing around the room to make a point if you’re a moustachioed master blender ). Sorry to be a curmudgeon, but in my opinion snow is pretty when it’s falling – after that it’s just a serious pain in the fig.
So, A Happy New Year to you all and here we go with the New Year predictions for 2010. I’ll warn you now that it’s likely to be pretty long, so easily-bored readers should probably look away now. I’ll also say at this stage that any opinions below are my own and don’t necessarily reflect those of The Whisky Exchange – so if you’re cross about any of them, please do me the courtesy of complaining directly to me, either in the comments section or in private to my email – tim[at]thewhiskyexchange.com. I am perfectly happy to discuss objections and make corrections where necessary.
Here goes with the first half of my Top Ten Predictions for 2010:
1. Diageo to buy Moet-Hennessy
There were rumours about this last year and they were stongly denied by both parties. However, I reckon it’s too good a deal for both sides for this not to happen. In the last year or so LVMH have, to put it politely, made some wrong moves with Ardbeg (of which more later) and have been criticised for the over-commodification of their malts. Diageo, meanwhile, despite owning nearly thirty distilleries, don’t have a top ten single malt (lumping all the Classic Malts together doesn’t count). Glenmorangie would fit the bill perfectly.
The real prize for Diageo, though, is Hennessy (they don’t own any of the big Cognac houses after letting Pernod have Martell when they broke up Seagrams a few years ago). There’s also the bonus of fizz-giant Moet, plus status brands like Dom Perignon and Ardbeg. With Glen Moray gone, there shouldn’t be a competition problem that can’t be solved by closing or selling off a blend-fodder distillery from the portfolio. Diageo already owns a third of MH, so they would have first option to buy – and Louis Vuitton have already said they would consider selling off their booze brands at the right price and stick to churning out chav suitcases (okay, I added that last bit). Sooner or later these two will stop playing footsie and get it on – trust me, this one’s a banker.
2. The standard of whiskies produced will continue to rise…
There were some tremendous whiskies unleashed onto the market in 2009. Gems like Hibiki 12yo, Benromach 10, Kilchoman, Ardbeg Corryvreckan and a slew of terrific independent bottlings. I reckon we’ll be seeing even more of the same in 2010. The fact that Japan is producing great whiskies is not news, as it’s been the case for a while now – Marcin Miller over at Number One Drinks has a seemingly endless supply of stunning new releases, and the two main players have continued to put out malt of the very highest standard – but it’s also great to see the likes of Glendronach coming back from the dead and new distilleries are springing up at an ever-increasing rate.
Meanwhile, Gordon & Macphail have raised the standard bottling strength of their Connoisseurs Choice range, and more distilleries are taking pride in not colouring or chill-filtering their whiskies. The end result can only be more choice and a higher standard of whisky for the consumer.
3. …and so will the prices.
The bad news is that these improvements will cost money, and us mug punters are the ones who’ll be paying for it. Obviously the return to the 17.5% VAT rate doesn’t help, but you can be sure that the main whisky companies will be sticking the arm in as well. It’s been the case for a few years now that all the major producers have been aggressively raising prices at every opportunity and there’s no likelihood of that changing this year.
However, there are ways around this. Buy malts when they’re on offer. Buy more independent bottlings. Don’t buy the ridiculous Glen Wonka editions designed by cynical marketeers to skin gullible wannabe collectors. Diversify your choices and stick with the value – there are plenty of good whiskies out there that won’t break the bank.
4. The continued ascendancy and proliferation of whisky-related stuff on electronic media (t’interweb and suchlike)
First of all, a word of profound respect and thanks to the pioneers: Johannes van den Heuvel of Malt Maniacs, Whiskyfun’s Serge Valentin, Gordon Homer of Spirit of Islay, Chris Bunting’s Nonjatta, Kevin Erskine over the pond at Scotchblog and my good friend and erstwhile colleague Sam aka Dr. Whisky. Between them this motley crew have entertained and informed whiskylovers for some years now, as well as inspiring the massive surge of whisky sites that have sprung up on the internet in the last 12 months or so.
Suddenly there are loads of good whisky sites for us friendless nerds whisky enthusiasts – special mention to Ruben at Whiskynotes, Jeff at ScotchHobbyist, John Hansell of What Does John Know and Malt Advocate (of which more later), Mark at WhiskyWhiskyWhisky, Chris and Lucas of Edinburgh Whisky Blog and of course my friends and fellow travellers Neil and Joel at Caskstrength. So much is now being written about whisky that there are now aggregate sites just listing new articles and whisky news. There’s also (sigh) Facebook and Twitter, both of which I am now developing an aversion to, but that’s by the by.
5. The continued decline of Whisky magazine
It gives me no pleasure to write it, but Whisky magazine has been going downhill ever since the departure of Dominic Roskrow. It’s a terrible pity, because Rob Allanson seems like a genuinely nice guy, but he’s fighting against the tide and I’m afraid that nowadays for me the only thing worth reading in Whisky mag is Dave Broom’s column, and it’s been that way for a while. The tasting section is almost meaningless due to Martine Nouet’s increasingly peculiar scores and comments, which usually bear no relation to or actually contradict what Dave has said of the same whisky. The credibility of the tasting section also suffered a big blow recently when they refused to publish scores for the Diageo Distillers Editions, presumably because they were afraid of invoking the ire of Diageo, without whose sponsorship in the form of advertising they would surely fold. [Edit: It's since been pointed out to me that this is total crap. Diageo have not advertised in Whisky Mag for ages. Also, please don't take any of this to infer that I am questioning Dave Broom's integrity, because I'm not and I never would.]
The sad fact is that, in my opinion, Whisky magazine has gone from essential reading to barely registering on my radar. Every issue continues to be littered with typos and grammatical errors which make it painful to try and decipher (not that I’m saying I’m perfect in that regard, far from it – but then I’m not trying to get you to pay for thousands of words of my outpourings), and the content and features appear pretty tired by comparison to Malt Advocate, which has taken over the mantle of pre-eminent whisky publication by virtue of superseding Whisky mag in both quality of writing and relevance to today’s whisky enthusiast.
Having said all this, I don’t think that Whisky mag is past saving – but Rob needs to really shake things up to arrest the slump it’s in. While the publishers do still have weight, and the World Whisky Awards and various Whisky Lives are still expanding (although again, there are grumblings in the UK about the shows in Glasgow and London), without radical change I can see 2010 being a very difficult year for Whisky mag. I hope they can turn it around – the UK needs a decent whisky magazine, and at the moment we don’t have one.
Right, that’s enough for today – I’ll do the rest of my predictions in my next blog. Agree or disagree? Got any predictions of your own? Let me know what you think in the comments section below.