What a year! In contrast to a liberating 2020 [WLP], on a personal level, 2021 has been one of the toughest.
On the whisky-front, I’ve had a blast. Here are my whisky highlights of 2021, the year whiskylovingpianist.com turned FIVE.
2021 saw the birth of Decadent Drinks [WLP],
,… and the OSWA’s.
In Ralfy’s first-ever live broadcast to his Patreon supporters this month, he likened the OSWA’s as being to whisky what CAMRA was to beer, back when it started in the 1970s. Hats off to Ralfy and his channel, and to Roy whose V-Pub grows and grows – both game-changing whisky institutions to admire and celebrate – for the people by the people!
Bravo to the OSWAs also, for successfully convincing a handful of significant retailers to hold/cap their prices of the award winners.
And what of prices,…. prices, prices?! I thought we might have seen at least a slowing of the hyper-active lockdown inflation frenzy of 2020 – nope. Unlike the piano/keyboard, vinyl, or vintage bicycle markets, for example – specialist micro GDP’s in their own right, that have stabilized somewhat – whisky prices and the interest in whisky, globally, appears to have ramped up and up.
In 2021, we saw core-range Springbank virtually disappear from the shelves & online shops in comparison to what we’ve been used to previously – unless you are in the US that is, then you are good [for now]. Even Hazelburn 10 has become a commodity beyond its basic ‘consumability’. Furthermore, we saw the removal of all Springbank’s products [including the ‘cage’ bottlings] at Cadenhead’s in Campbeltown, and a one-bottle-per-person situation at the distillery. Glengyle’s Kilkerran 12yo, which was available for as low as £30 in 2020, is increasingly harder & harder to find and mostly ‘sold out’ at the large online retailers. Times sure are a-changin’.
To think a bottle of Karuizawa I paid £375 for in October 2014, fetched £9600 in August 2020.
A good time to sell if not the best, as it would appear in hindsight. A year on, perhaps the exact same bottle has just gone for more than £6000 over that previous hammer price.
At the other end of the spectrum, there appears to be an over-abundance of lower-end/affordable yet still decent whisky. Whilst perusing scotchwhiskyauctions latest auction that finished on 5th Dec – 18 pages of 500 lots per page – I observed hundreds of bottles sitting on or around the £20 mark at the tail end of this Christmas auction, whiskies from varying decades seemingly defying the spiralling price trend [see pic/graph below]. We’ve been told and told – repeatedly reinforced by rumours and rumblings – that there isn’t an oversupply issue and that we should expect prices to rise significantly. Ultimately, it’s us, the consumer who has the final say as long as we manage and exercise our purchasing decisions wisely.
With en-vogue and O&R bottlings now out of reach and increasing volumes of contemporary whiskies from the ‘old guard’ out of touch/uninspiring/’not aimed at us’ [eg. Ardbeg, Bowmore, Macallan,….. sadly Balblair remains in obscurity too], it’s predominantly output from the lesser-known/less fanaticized distilleries, frequently presented by the independent bottlers, that are earning my hard-earned cash.
Of the new and upcoming distilleries [such as Dunphail for example, and Leith which is under construction as we speak],… we all have our favourites. Ardnamurchan’s output has been brilliant [WLP1 & WLP2]. I’m hugely optimistic about Dornoch’s progress as well as that of Lindores Abbey. The mere two bottlings I’ve tried from the Thompson Brothers – the inaugural release [WLP88] and the odd single cask sample [WLP87] – indicate great things [come in small packages]. I’ve also a keen eye on Raasay, and also Waterford. What’s happening there in Ireland is remarkable [WLP].
2021 also saw the release of the film Water of Life. Centred around maverick’s Jim McEwan [Bowmore & Bruichladdich] and Mark Renier [Bruichladdich & Waterford], the film tells an outstanding tale of the rise of single malt from the ashes of the dwindling blend-centric whisky industry in the 1980s. Expect my [first] film review in the coming weeks [WLP]. Wholeheartedly recommended.
Bottles that stood out this year, and for very different reasons, included:
- Abhainn Dearg’s Madeira Cask [WLP87]. This one is all about context.
- Ben Nevis 3yo single cask from CYWL [WLP86]. As a living cask, we will get to try this next year and the year after,…. until it’s gone.
- 4yo Loch Lomond (for SWC) Peated Single Grain [WLP87]. First impressions: ‘Spell-binding youthfulness’.
- A surprisingly appealing 4yo Overholt, bought cheaply at auction [WB] – report to follow in due course [WLP].
- A 6yo Private cask Glenglassaugh, brought to my attention at a SWAG ‘What’s in your Cupboard’ tasting [WLP87].
- Another from SWC, an 8yo [Loch Lomond] Inchmurrin [WLP85]. A stupidly cask-driven single malt, but what a sherry cask. A sherry~to~whisky gateway, or vice versa, undoubtedly.
- Glen Grant 8yo 1970s [WLP88], an affordable and delicious O&R auction find.
- A long-gone single cask 9yo Strathclyde [WLP89], revisited to celebrate five years of these pages.
- Much like the ‘Ten’ is to Ardbeg or Laphroaig, the 10yo remains the best of contemporary Hazelburn [WLP88].
- A cracking 11yo Strathmill from James Eadie [WLP88], I bought on the back of a strong recommendation. Wish I’d bought two now.
- 2021 saw yet another Redbreast 12yo [WLP85] polished off. Overall, a delicious/affordable/available Irish single malt that I find just as good [and easier] as the CS version [WLP85].
- Speyside Distillery 1999/2012 12~13yo [WLP87]. A lovely vintage single cask from Carn Mor, and another doff of the cap to the Independent bottlers. Imagine the landscape without them?
- Springbank 12yo & the CS version [WLP89s], bought and consumed early in the year when you could just about still find them when you wanted them.
- Kilkerran 16yo [WLP88]. Different to the [brilliant] 12yo, certainly, but at four years older, it remains excellent.
- Fettercairn 16yo, first release [WLP86]. A far tastier malt than an academic score of 86 might reflect, and by far the best ‘core-range’ Fettercairn I’ve ever tried. The second release has just appeared on shelves at time of writing [btw].
- 2021 saw my rediscovery of Talisker’s core 18yo [WLP89 & WLP89]. Whilst the 25yo is asking collectors money, I’d forgotten just how good [and affordable] this ‘big name’ whisky really was.
- Another sensational Strathclyde makes this list. This time it’s a 32yo from Cadenheads [WLP90]. I bought another bottle on the back of the first straightaway.
- Last but certainly not least, a 30yo Bunnahabhain aka ‘Untold Riches’ from Wemyss [WLP90]. This release proved instantly popular with those lucky or astute enough to pounce on it when it came & went earlier in the year. One of the best O&R buys of 2021.
Bottles I’m currently enjoying/just opened include:
- [Another bottle of the] Loch Lomond 4yo Peated Single Grain [WLP87], with a bottle review to follow in due course. Now at £36, perhaps the best BFYB of 2021 [WLP287].
- I’m currently enjoying a Bruichladdich 2011 Bere Barley 10yo [WF90] for its unadulterated barley-led unctuousness.
- Laphroaig 10yo Sherry Cask [WF86], reminding me somewhat of the ‘Original’ 10yo. The quality of this release is high right now.
I’m surprised how many youngun’s are on those lists – sign of the times no doubt.
Other spirits [and miscellaneous drinks] that deserve a mention include:
- Guillon-Painturaud Vieille Reserve [WLP89], which remains my affordable/available go-to cognac.
- No particular stand-out rum highlights for 2021, but clairin continues to impress – these two especially: WLP87 & 89.
- Fletcher’s 40yo Port from Aldi [WLP], which is available again this Christmas at the same stunning price of £35.
- Attempts to learn Japanese in 2020~2021 led to another sake sojourn and the discovery of Kantenya [WLP], Brighton’s premium Japanese store.
- Fabulous affordable 30yo sherry from Gonzalez Byass, courtesy of a brilliant SWC tasting [WLP].
Bottles aside, it was the ‘live’ events with people that brought the most enthraling & memorable whisky highs of 2021.
Sussex Whisky Appreciation Group’s fabulous spirit & energy continued in earnest, and included cracking tastings with:
Arran Distillers [WLP & WLP], Lindores Abbey, Glenburgie, Mackmyra, Henstone, Whisky Baron, What’s in Your Cupboard,… Watt Whisky & a fabulous ‘postage-only’ Campbeltown tasting [WLP], and even some live meetups. These included an on-location meet at Raasay Distillery [WLP] and in Campbeltown [WLP], and a number of visits to the recently-opened Cut Your Wolf Loose [WLP].
With huge thanks to Wayne and co. for the memories. I’m looking forward to more of the same in 2022.
Southport Whisky Club continued to go from strength to strength, offering some fabulous Grand Drams [WLP & WLP] for example, as well as that previously mentioned Gonzales Byass night [WLP]. I haven’t stopped drinking those 30yo’s since.
2021 saw the return of The Whisky Show [WLP], in person – woohoo!!
As I reported very recently [WLP], my time/focus/energy at this year’s show was spent with:
- Independent bottlers: TBWC, Adelphi, Artful Dodger, Watt, Hunter Laing, Elixir,… Can’t believe I missed BB&R! Next year.
- Of the brands, just Pernod and Diageo featured – Pernod by far the stand-out stall of the ‘Big Two’ with their fabulously mature ‘naturally-presented’ single malts from Braeval, Glen Keith, and [six !!] Caperdonich.
- Of the distilleries directly, just Springbank [via a rare masterclass], Ardnamurchan [via Adelphi] and a quick pop-in to Lindores and a serendipitous pass-by of Dornoch featured.
- The Old & Rare arena was brilliantly represented once again by whisky.auction who brought some amazing whisky at very reasonable prices. Another mention too, to Sukinder’s brilliant Three Blind Men.
- Of the rest of the World, I was fortunate to try Shizouka – early signs are very good – but it was Chichibu that shone as brightly as ever. Again, there was soo much to see and such little time. I shall have to attend all three days in 2022.
The show highlighted just how significant those prevailing calls for whisky to be naturally presented:
- at a bottling strength of 46%
- naturally coloured
- and with an age statement [however small]
,… have been over the decades – often from non-professionals/consumers etc,. With few exceptions, everybody thereabouts [even Speyside Distillers!!] seems to be on board. Those that remain stalwart,… well, they don’t get a look-in here.
2021 also saw the return of Rumfest [WLP],…. which this year dedicated the Saturday to Rumfest as we know it, and ‘Spiced Rum’ on the Sunday. This was a great move and one I’d like to see replicated next year. There was an increased fervour at all the events in 2021, no doubt down to the lack of physical/social connectivity in 2020. Both Rumfest and The Whisky Show were a reminder that, as social animals, digital interactions in isolated boxes are not a replacement for real life.
May real life as we knew it, return, but with a renewed heightened awareness/consciousness of what’s important and who’s important.
Happy New Year