Whisky round-up of 2022

2021 was quite the year [WLP].

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How did 2022 fare by comparison?

Much like last year and the year before, whisky pricing [now confounded by spiralling production costs] continued to be a regular topic of discussion amongst enthusiasts and industry all throughout 2022, and with no sign of abating. As predicted – no, announced [Diageo] – whisky prices rose with immediate effect after the new year rolled in. Overnight, Lagavulin 16yo lept from £49 to £70 [an increase of 42.85%], whereas Talisker 18yo more than doubled to a price far beyond & immediately out of touch for keen enthusiasts with moderate incomes. Waitrose, seemingly the slowest significant retailer to respond, raised prices of previous stock by cancelling pre-existing online orders [screw you Waitrose]. And to think Royal Mile Whiskies had reduced Talisker 18yo from £90 to £79 only weeks before. Perhaps Ardbeg’s NFT stunt [tSB] was the pinnacle of cynical marketing & pricing and my subsequent disinterest and disdain. As a result, I found myself stepping off the exclusivity train completely.

  • EXCLUSIVITYan over-used word for mass-produced high-end mediocracy”, Ralfy [Bothy Live, October 2022]

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Whilst we are wading the Nile of Negativity – and then we can move on – let’s not forget the distasteful incident at Cadenhead’s Chiltern Street in April that saw event crashers followed by an arrest over a £60 Ukraine-exclusive bottle of Springbank as well as a [rumoured] £1000 rrp Caol Ila. Forget mainstream media reports, your best insight into this unsavoury affair is with tOMoH.

On the flip side, there were downward trends too:

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As it turned out, I stayed dry from mid-December until early March, though that didn’t stop me from acquiring a little more whisky in the interim. Whilst stocking up on Laphroaig’s [£60] 10yo Sherry Cask [a continual joy, though I’m a little over it now], I also nabbed Fettercairn’s second release 16yo on the back of their commendable first [WLP86]. Whilst An Cnoc 18 found itself feeling for the premiumized 3-figure mark later in the year, the 24yo appeared on Amazon on 2nd January for just £103 proving one of the best buys of the year. 2022 also saw The Wine Society release yet more fairly-priced stock under their Vintage Reserve Cask Selection range. Priced at £140 [though their two previous releases were priced at £95], the first was an undisclosed 30yo 1991 Islay single cask bottling [WB] and the last of the Society’s Islay reserves. I also succumbed to the Society’s 1988 33yo Highland single malt suspected of being a Glengoyne that has been initially met with very positive reviews – WB89[5].

And the deal of the year? Whilst deliberating over TWEs Black Friday offering, on the back of a 1959 vintage [WLP], I purchased a Francois Peyrot 61yo Lot 60 Grande Champagne Heritage cognac [PfW] for around the same price though I heard good things about the [Black Friday] Caol Ila.

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In conclusion, it is still possible to find well-priced quality juice for the time being even if it’s few & far between. Indeed, one of the takeaways of the 2022 OSWAs, was that the winners at the affordable end have tended to buck the inflationary trend.

Following the launch of the OSWAs in 2021 came another grassroots integrity model platform, Dramface. Aside from excellent and frequent articles, I’ve particularly enjoyed the podcasts. I even adopted Dramface’s scoring system for a few weeks though it soon became apparent how broad-brushed/un-nuanced the 10-point scale can be, for my liking.

Talking of scoring, 2022 saw Serge Valentine’s first[?] 0-point whisky review for Ardbeg’s previously mentioned NFT Von Fon Fhoid [WF] after his in-sympathy double 100-pointers a few weeks before [WF].

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This isn’t the first time Serge has awarded a whisky a ‘special circumstances’ maximum. A Glendronach saw a tongue-in-cheek [anti-Trump] 100-point whisky score back in 2017 [WF]. Long live Whiskyfun, enjoying its 20th year.

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Whilst Sussex Whisky Appreciation Group’s hyper-activity has waned significantly since those heady online days of ‘lockdown’, 2022 proved there was still life in the old dog yet. Though [online] tastings have now all but ceased, I caught up with SWAG’s Dingle and Watt Whisky tasting in the spring, as well as a number of live meets at Cut Your Wolf Loose throughout 2022. Having said our farewells to our President in May [WLP] – who moved to Scotland in October – the club’s spirit has endured. SWAG remains a buoyant online hub, social club, and bottle swap platform. Long live SWAG!

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On my own doorstep, Cut Your Wolf Loose proves to be a constant shining gem with release after quality release – predominantly from IBs – appearing on the shelves with regularity in addition to affordable quality bespoke single cask sample bottlings from Seb Woolf’s substantial cask portfolio. CYWL enjoyed its first-year anniversary in September and celebrated it in October with an anniversary tasting that featured its four releases to date [WLP]:

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Other notable CYWL tastings included: Milk & Honey, Waterford, Infrequent Flyers, Cardrona, Scotch Universe, and TBWC.

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On the back of the TBWC tasting, I bought Boutique-y’s 18yo [Batch 2] Willowbank, soon followed by another 18yo from TWE, paving the way for an appreciation of full-immersion ex-red wine cask maturation. Following those purchases came an auction win in the form of four full-sized single-cask official bottlings. Is/was there a bigger Willowbank collection on the South Coast of England, I ask you?

Read all about it as well as the history and future of Willowbank, HERE.

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2022 was the year that saw The Old Man Of Huy’s second birthday bash. Four years after his 40th [WLP], tOMoH organised another weekend spectacular, and for the first time, I was there to enjoy it all without a gig after. Without a suit, a wristwatch, a setlist, or a deadline, this was always going to be the whisky event of the [any] year, and in short, it was EPIC [WLP]. Forget Aurora Brorealis, when does anyone ever get to try seven 42yo whiskies and a bonus 43yo in one afternoon?!

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The next day wasn’t too shabby either [WLP]:

Love and gratitude to tOMoH and JS.

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FESTIVALS

A year in the life of a Whisky Loving Pianist is not complete without at least one trip to Scotland. This year, I returned to Campbeltown for the 2022 Malts Festival [WLP].

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,… followed by my second Feis Ile on Islay [WLP]:

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With its ups & downs, highs & lows [from my perspective], Campbeltown remains at the heart of whisky.

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Whilst [TWE/The Whisky Show’s?] Old & Rare – another online affair – came & went, April saw Croydon’s inaugural whisky festival [WLP]. Without the usual suspects and the noticeable absence of the ‘Big 4’, we were treated to an eclectic small-batch selection from world whisky producers. Croydon was a fine demonstration of how to run a contemporary whisky festival. May this inclusive boutique-style event flourish. Tickets for 2023 are currently on sale HERE.

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Poor health meant I missed Rumfest [WLP] for the first time in since 2016, notwithstanding the ‘missing’ years. Talking of missed opportunities, I hear the Cognac Show [WLP] was also terrific as per usual. Next year, I promise myself [though I think it clashes with Croydon].

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I did, however, attend the not-to-be-missed whisky event of the year – [The] Whisky Show 2022. Brilliant as per usual, puzzlingly, it’s an event that many active whisky peeps seem to decline. My coverage of the show starts HERE.

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Though highlights were many, there’s no doubting the newly established landscape. Finding myself amongst a contemprary wave of engaged young predominantly female enthusiasts on either side of That Boutique-y Whisky Company stand, drove home the realisation of the unbridgeable gulf between those [still] referencing Port Ellen, Brora, Convalmore, St. Magdalene, and Glenugie, for example, and those learning the ropes whilst attracted to/steered towards the latest 3-year-old McBuzz finished in a Bovril cask. With both camps ablaze with passion and positivity, save for a small number of us lucky and/or committed enough to the old & rare arena, with those days all but behind us, I have to admit a feeling of surrender.

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As if to reiterate, The Malt Year Book now groups all those golden-age closed distilleries on a double-page spread as little more than a list, in order to accommodate the ever-growing number of new distilleries around the world.

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Those who began their whisky journey in the early noughties or significantly earlier were fortunate to be able to experience and build a collection of been & gone’s as well as enjoy what was present and to come, filling in missing pieces of a whisky jigsaw puzzle that links whisky making in the 1800s to the present day. Those coming into whisky at this moment in time may know of every tube station Bimber, Feis Ile exclusive, or NAS Macallan, but have little-to-no historical palate reference nor readily available access to past glories [as well as its wooden spoons]. Heck, even Talisker 18 is out of reach for the beginner!

When I was deep into my jazz studies, I took on some advice from a master about building experience & knowledge of what had come before in order to understand where we were at today. Their advice was to familiarise myself with the work of my idol, my idol’s idol and my idol’s idol’s idol. Easy enough with notation and recorded music, but is that now possible or realistic given whisky’s inflationary exclusivity even beyond its rarity?

As for the ‘up-and-coming’, working musicians are not required to be aware of every Tom Dick & Harry graduating from every city conservatoire. Likewise, malt enthusiasts need not partake in every work-in-progress malt from every new distillery nor every experiment from existing ones.

Let’s consider a Tweet from WhiskyNick as read out on podcast Episode #25 of Whisky Waffle [4 mins in], who were discussing ‘Top 5 Islay distilleries’:

“,… ranking Islay distilleries is not a horizontal exercise. It’s 3-dimensional with various historical references showing their different ceilings, an entirely different conversation though if we are to ask ourselves which distilleries current release we’d be most keen. To put Bowmore in 8th though is like ranking Jaguar as a car maker without considering the E-type’.

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LOOKING AHEAD

Just as wildflowers appear in the meadows to recalibrate the chemical imbalance of overworked soil, my pulling back from whisky’s space shuttle mission follows the same laws of energy. Perhaps part of the stage I’m at, my age, my unique traits and DNA, or simply my budget, I feel a natural winding down from the frenetic heights of my own whisky enthusiasm and away from the endlessly spiralling premiumized whisky arena. No doubt we shall see a significant global shift back the other way over time, as is the ebb & flow order of all things.

With further bottles that can no longer justify their price point going to auction for the December scramble, in 2023 I shall be refraining from new ‘must-have’ purchases and delving into what’s left of my hoard, especially my substantial miniatures & samples collection. Returning to the early stages of my whisky journey, I enjoyed nothing more than sitting with two or three quality drams of an evening and pondering over them. What will remain of my whisky & other quality spirits activity in the new year will continue to feature cherry-picked live events.

See you in 2023!

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