Okay, so the London transport network is [email protected], 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 :D). 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.
Tagged Ardbeg, Glenmorangie
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Great stuff, Tim.
I agree with you wholeheartedly about the decline of Whisky Mag and the rise of John Hansell’s Malt Advocate. I find it embarassing to read Whisky Mag these days. Like you, I hope they can turn it around but there’s no easy way for them to do that; they’ve fallen too far.
I just placed a large-ish order with you so I hope the snow clears soon and you can get back to work!
Happy New Year,
Jason @ WHISKYhost
You need to be snowed in more often, Tim. Excellent reading material. Already looking forward to the next part.
Well, Tim. I’m torn between wanting to offer consolation on dealing with the bad weather and being glad that the situation resulted in another TWE blog post. Glad to see you back here with some useful and entertaining content!
Interesting that you should mention the decline of Whisky Magazine and the proliferation of other sources. I recently updated my whisky resources page to reflect that fact that Ruben at WhiskyNotes has moved up right below Whiskyfun, and alongside John Hansel as a whisky review source for me. I do still like the whisky mag reviews, but primarily the older ones and/or Dave Broom reviews. I enjoy their online forum, though.
I hope the flood of whisky enthusiast hacks, such as myself, doesn’t cause too much “noise” and interfere with people finding their way to the estabished, reliable resources (like Whiskyfun, WDJK, Dr. Whisky, TWE, etc.).
I do feel a little weird about the fact that some of my posts end up “too high” on Google searches, relative to much better sources of information. However, I think that’s just a matter of us newbies using the latest and greatest blogging software, with great built-in support for crawlers.
Thanks for the great post! Looking forward to the next one…
My commiserations on the weather and Happy NY to you too.
Pity that the Whisky Mag is on a downward spiral. Hopefully it will recover.
I subscribe to MA, but it’s sad to see an icon deteriorate.
Wow, thanks for that Tim! I honestly thought I was one of the ones you were specifically pointing your finger at when I read, “easily-bored readers should probably look away now,” but I was able to stick it out! Your predictions are quite exciting, honest, and direct, fearless even, and I appreciate your first hand expertise and predictions. I also think it’s great and well deserved you’ve mentioned and complimented John Hansell and his excellent blog and Malt Advocate magazine, (I’m a new subscriber!!) along with others like Mark of WhiskyWhiskyWhisky, (which I don’t visit often enough) and of course Serge of Whiskyfun, a daily treat.
I look forward to your next predictions, and looking back on 2010 and seeing how the above turn out!
Best whisky wishes to you for 2010!!
[3. …and so will the prices.] – true. Ironic that not chill-filtering and not adding caramel should make the whisky cheaper and quicker to bottle (I would have thought). I.e. there are fewer processes and less resources needed.
[5. The continued decline of Whisky magazine] – I took a year’s subscription and didn’t bother re-subscribing. In fact I could hardly make it through one issue. The tasting notes were nonsense, the articles all read like marketing fluff, and it pushed personalities like “Dave” and “Martine” and “Rob” over and above the whiskies and distilleries. Potentially interesting articles (e.g. focus on XYZ distillery) turned out to be very lightweight. Articles saying how wonderful the SWA is had me reaching for the bag. Depressing stuff indeed. Very poor signal-to-noise ratio. A special interest magazine should do much better than that, and most of the ones I’ve subscribed to do (e.g. Kitchen Garden magazine).
Very nice post, Tim.
Waiting for the end !
[…] The Whisky Exchange Blog has interesting predictions about the future of the industry for 2010. […]
Nice post Tim.
Regarding the item 1, because of monopoly, this would be difficult to achive.
2-3: the companies want to make more money, so unfortunately the prices will increase further more, but I think we are closing to the threshold before the volume goes down and if the volume goes down, without reducing production capacity, we might have very good and good whisky in the years to come?
5: You meant the “Manager’s choice” instead of the distillers’ Edition?
6-10: Waiting. Hopefully, it will come before the snow melted 😉
More snow please…
And thanks everyone, for the kind words. We sometimes wonder whether it’s worth all the hassle and stress juggling Malt Advocate, WDJK, WhiskyFests, etc. Feedback like this keeps us going.
The gang at Whisky magazine are good people trying to do a very difficult job. We wish them all the best in the future.
My first time reading your blog – most interesting. I’ll have to stop back. If you don’t mind posting it, and if anyone would like to see what it’s about, Malt Advocate offers a free online version of their magazine: http://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/maltadvocate/2009winter/#/0
I can’t wait to read about your remaining predictions.
I heartily agree with the points mentioned. Especially point 5, but when mention of the typos was given over and over the same replies came back but nothing changed. I haven’t bought Whisky Mag for months.
I agree with your predictions, Tim.
I got another prediction for you:
The ongoing trend of the “limited bottles”: Ardbeg Supernova, the Ardbeg range path to maturity, Bowmore Tempest, Springbank vintages, etc.
Popular distilleries are certain their stocks will be sold out far more sooner than it used to be… A smart marketing trick? And the guys of whiskyauction must be laughing too…
And then you have the new thing of the batches: look at the prices of Laphroaig’s first batch of the cask strenght at auctions.
I think this will continue: producing new ranges for the collector society. The only question I have is where does it stop? Hopefully not every distillery will copy the Bruichladdich idea ;-).
Nevertheless, I have to say: a lot of those limited bottles from 2009 (I’m not talking about the Laddies though, because I didn’t tasted them) are really good!
Tim and others,
Funny a bit of snow stops London in its tracks – and funny also, that Gothenburg is sometimes referred to – for some reason – as “Little London” and that our trams tend to stop rather dead in their tracks as well, if there is more than 10 crs of snow at once…
I couldn’t agree more about the decline of Whisky Mag. It has been obvious for years now and I have not re-subscribed when the thing stopped arriving last year. And that is coming from one of the nerds you class yourself as, i.e. one wanting to know more, all the time. I even tried, three or four years ago, to give them the tip of actually writing something that was a bit deeper and had an interest to those slightly more in the know. Like the good marketing folks they all seem to be, they said it was a great idea and that they were working on just that. Not a job well done, if you were, guys.
John Hansell at the Malt Advocate team is doing a far better job and are also oozing of real interest for the product. Well done, John! However, I will offer a little thought there as well and that is that besides the rather “Amateur American” style of it (which can be a little confusing and annoying at times), there is far too much nonsense in there as well. Why cocktails? Why a few writers that just blurb words with little meaning? The sun has its spots as well and still shines brightly, but what if…?
Diageo have loads of good reasons to have MH for breakfast. And I do think that with the Diageo focus on blends and their array of iconic BUT SMALLER malt whiskies, they can always find a good trade off, which means say Dufftown will be traded for Glenmorangie and perhaps something like a co-ownership of Caol Ila to release a bit of pressure on the Islay market segment (they would hardly want Caol Ila to go away entirely, as it produces a much wanted blending fodder as well as a very reliable malt – but Ardbeg is far sexier in that respect).
Bit long. But the subjects were very inspiring. Good work, Tim. Misplace your snow gear.
Thoroughly enjoy the blog as always.
I think it would be a real shame if Diageo were to buy Moet Hennesy. Look at the brands they own now. All limited to 2 or 3 bottlings. Would this be the end of the likes of Supernova or Signet? I really hope not.
As for Whisky Magazine, I really struggle with some of the topics they choose to write about. Is it really necessary to write a long article on yeast strains? I hope it improves in 2010. I think in terms of the amount of whiskies they taste, I would be sad for them to go, because apart from Jim Murray, there is not really anywhere else to get so many reviews. The magazine I have been enjoying recently is unfiltered by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. If only they would just print more of them!
Thanks for the mention Tim. It makes Lucas and I feel special 😀
Hope you have a great 2010. Speak soon.
Tim I agree with most of that but i’m gonna stick my neck out and disagree in part to point 3.
With exception to some bottles I think that 2010 will see the peak of this crazy price rally, the end will come soon. ALL bubbles burst and this one looks ripe for doing so.
Why do I say this, simple! The distillers have cotton on to the speculators and hype and have squeezed every last penny of profit possible, they will milk the ‘special releases’ and ‘new bottles’ till the price is not only out of reach of the punters but also that of the speculators / collectors.
At some point some of these special releases and even some standard bottles will remain on the shelf and the tide will turn this will mark the end of the boom.
This is just my opinion but I will say it again..
All bubbles burst, think dot.com, banks, housing, whisky.
I for one would enjoy and be interested in a lengthy article on yeast strains. Provided it was well researched and well written, by someone who either knows the stuff him- or herself, or who’s had unlimited access to a few guys or dolls that do. This was not in Whisky Mag…
Hi Tim ,
Thanks again for more kind words , it’s most appreciated even if it makes me feel old now……LOL!
The “Spiritofislay” is rapidly approaching it’s 10th Anniversary on the Internet and it’s always nice to get recognised for “Being There” .
Keep up the good work yourself and we’ll speak soon .
BTW after what i’ve seen happen in the first Ten years of Spiritofislay , i wouldn’t dream of trying to predict what will happen in the next year…..
Apart from the fact i’ll be on Islay a few times with Mel !
Many thanks for your comments, and I thought it would help to have my feedback.
• I am more than aware about the typographical errors that have crept in recently. As a journalist there is no margin for mistakes and I can only put them down to me adding the editorship of Scotland Magazine to my mantel. We are already improving things – I hope this will not be an issue for readers within a few editions.
• The different taster’s opinions is one of the key points of the tastings – to provide different opinions on the same whiskies. As you know this is often more of an art than a science, and we think the alternative views are essential. For clarity, the tastings are the best read section of the magazine. In our most recent readership survey, for which results only came in a fortnight ago, we know that Tastings are the best read part of the magazine followed by the Distillery Focus, with 90.3 per cent and 85.6 per cent reading these sections ‘Always’ as their first reference.
• You refer to Diageo’s advertising in the magazine – as you no doubt know Diageo do not run many display advertisements in the UK any more, and certainly haven’t with us for some years, and therefore any decision about the Distiller’s Edition coverage in the magazine was entirely and only an editorial one. I decided not to score the tastings, not out of any deference to Diageo, but because this is not what these tastings are about. I wanted to look at the impact the further maturation made on the spirit. It was a simple exercise in comparison. You may see further tastings like this later in the year, or ‘star’ scored tastings, and we will use the same editorial analysis with every whisky producer – and as a reminder, all our tastings are always conducted blind.
• Respondents to our survey were asked what other areas they would like to see covered in the magazine. Be the first to know that in response to their suggestions you will be seeing more on collecting (the Whisky Magazine Index starts in the next issue), more on where to visit in the world of whisky, more on people in the industry and genuine consumers, more competitions, more about bars and hotels…You may not know Whisky Magazine circulation continues to grow (we have Japanese, Chinese, French and Spanish language editions), our readership survey reflects the strong engagement of our readers and we have a clear plan of future content that will continue to provide interest to readers both in the UK and worldwide. If you want to add to that bank of ideas the best thing is to email me directly and I can throw them into the editorial melting pot.
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Except for the first one, I fully agree with your predictions. I never thought about why I keep losing interest while reading whisky mag, but you are spot on I think.
I keep getting the feeling with most articles in it that I have read it all before, and most of the stuff that I have not read before I don’t finish because it doesn’t add anything to the little I know about whisky, or isn’t entertaining.
I think the amount of age statements on whisky will go in the opposite direction of the price of said bottles. More and more ‘no age stated’ whiskies are released and, while not all of them are bad, it is a trend I don’t really enjoy.
With Diageo being rather smart (again) and releasing the incredibly expensive but highly sought after Manager’s Choice bottles the road has been made clear for more expensive, but younger, whiskies.
O, and as in past years, more and more great bottles of whisky are being released by independents. Love that, since they usually are a bit cheaper compared on age/price.