Wolfburn: The two whiskies we got to taste

2015 in review, my personal whisky awards and an outlook of what’s coming in 2016

2015 in review

Wolfburn: The two whiskies we got to taste

Wolfburn: one of the distilleries we’ve visited in 2015

2015 was a schizophrenic year. It was a great one and a bad one. Let’s start with the good stuff, shall we?
I managed to churn out 117 whisky reviews – that amounts to about one review every three days. I’m quite happy with that and although other bloggers get much more done I prefer to take it easy and be thorough – and that can mean taking two hours just to write about one whisky. Quality, not quantity, both in my writing and in my consumption of alcohol.
I attended only two whisky festivals, the biannual Vienna whisky festival and the Finest Spirits in Munich. Both are fantastic ways to meet fellow whisky enthusiasts, try good malts and make new friends, but at least Munich was so crowded it was almost too much to bear. At times one couldn’t even move. Talking about crowded: I expected Feis Ile 2015 to be much more crowded than it was. Sure enough, there were many people there, but the limited housing and ferry capacities put a cap on the number of visitors – and that’s a good thing. My first Feis and probably not my last, though I prefer visiting Islay in the quieter months. Nonetheless, Feis Ile was a big party, meeting many people – old friends and new ones – and bonds for life were formed. Not a day goes by when I don’t think back!

In other news 2015 for me was also the year of stockpiling. Buying malts and stocking up on stuff I either love and want to continue to enjoy in the future or stuff I want to try. Looking back at it this was the right strategy. Within the course of a year several products have gone up in price to levels I no longer want to afford and others have been discontinued or become otherwise unobtainable. And that’s where 2015 was a bad year. We’ve seen record levels of cheaply made, okay-tasting yet pricy NAS whisky on the shelves and we’ve seen good old trusted products disappear or being priced beyond sense and reason. We’ve seen a record year of ludicrous marketing-driven pseudo “collectable” whisky at outright laughable prices. Just in recent months we’ve seen the return of one independent bottler (who I will not name here) with prices well in the triple figures for bog-standard mid-twenties aged Scotch. Ouch. We’re being milked, malt mates, mark my words! Other independent bottlers have followed suit and prices for older malts have risen to heights never seen before. Great whisky once was something nearly everybody could afford, these days you have to have quite a bit of dispensable dosh to afford something other than standard distillery bottlings (some of which still are pretty darn good, as published in this article, but by far not all of them!).
Well, I wanted to write much more about this current situation, but Serge from Whiskyfun was quicker and published such an in-depth interview today, it leaves nothing to add. So head over to his blog (after finishing reading this article 😉 ) – he expressed exactly my views and feelings!
This leads me to the next part:

Outlook for 2016

2016 is going to be a pretty ugly year for malt whisky fans all over the world. I am positive we will see a continuation of current overall trends:

  • Distillery bottling prices – across the board except for standard bottlings – will go up, up, up. I expect 10-50%, especially for well-aged malts
  • We will see more independent bottlers raise prices through the roof, prepare to see more bog-standard 25-year-old single cask single malts for 300, 400, 500€ and more.
  • We will see more reliable, dependable bottlings with age statements replaced with no-age-statement younger malts at equal or mostly higher prices
  • We will see more extremely marketing-driven, over-hyped, over-priced pseudo “collectable” releases
  • Demand for blends has been going down for years thus we will continue to see loads of young, age-statement single-cask single malts also from Independents as young casks from blending stock become more available on the market again. Bottlers sometimes need to bottle these young casks (some as sub-brands) to keep cash-flow up. Quality in the past has been all over the place, so buyer beware, buyer take care!
  • On the other hand we will also see mostly smaller and independent distilleries and some select indie bottlers keeping quality and (within reason) prices and age statements. Go seek them out, support them, reward them for not making you bend over backwards!

On the upside: My wallet will love 2016 as I simply refuse to overpay. Dear whisky industry: I do not HAVE to buy whisky. Whisky provides me with pleasure, but only up to a certain point. Don’t forget us regular punters – we can live without you, you can’t live without us!

Oh dear, that ended up being more ranty than I intended, but, hey, you know what? Give me something positive to write about in the 2016 review and I’ll be glad to do so! Surprise me! Lower your prices, up the quality. Yeah, yeah, I know, joke of the day…

Right, time for something completely different:

MaltKlaus’ Whisky Awards 2015

It’s award time, yay, everybody loves awards! Just like last year I will crown two winners in the following categories:
– Grand Dram of the year
– Daily Dram of the year

The method for selecting the winners remains unchanged: I look back at each and every whisky I tasted during the course of the year and look for those which really stood out as prime examples. One important aspect is availability. I want to award drams which are widely available, accessible and won’t completely break your bank. So no long-gone or sold out, or exclusive (single cask) bottlings, sorry. It has to be whisky most people around the world have a chance of trying for themselves.

Longrow 18 yo (2014 edition)Grand dram of the year 2015: Longrow 18 yo (reviewed: 2014 edition)

From my conclusion:
Only some 10.000 litres of Longrow type spirit are made at the Springbank distillery each year, can you imagine that? That’s roughly 1/10th of Kilchoman’s yearly output and those guys are teeny tiny. A few casks make it to the ripe old age of 18+ years, and my oh my, this pays off! The peat is nearly gone (which is about the only gripe I have with it, if I really wanted to search for one), but everything else is superb! This really is proper, old-style, no frills (mostly?) ex-sherry matured whisky, made by hand in a working museum, filled into great wood and carefully looked after. A very sexy dram in a Marilyn Monroe class kinda way.
That’s the kind of whisky I can nose for hours without even taking a sip. That’s the stuff that perplexes me, makes me think, engages me and makes me fall in love. Whisky experiences you don’t forget in a world filled with good but in the end forgettable drams.

92/100 – Read the review

runners-up:
Glengyle Kilkerran WIP 7 Bourbon 2004-2015 – 92/100 (availability is low, sadly)
Lagavulin 16 87/100

Bunnahabhain 12 yoDaily dram of the year 2015: Bunnahabhain 12-year-old

from my conclusion:
The Bunnahabain 12-year-old is one of those odd drams which had to grow on me first. I once tried a miniature and I had it at a tasting at the distillery, but when drinking it quickly and rushed you miss out on most of the experience. Pour yourself a dram, add a drop of water and let it sit for half an hour and you’ll be rewarded by a richly flavoured malt experience. One of the best entry-level offerings on the market – with the winning words “natural colour – unchillfiltered” imprinted on the label. Add to that a good price of about 40€ and you’ve got a winner!

I do not need to add anything – this is a quality dram from the probably least-reputable of Islay’s distillerys (undeservedly so!).

87/100 – Read the review 

runners-up:
Benromach 10-year-old 86/100
Hazelburn 12-year-old tied with Ardmore 12 yo Port Wood Finish – both 85/100

Let’s end this on a high note, awards are cheerful occasions after all! It’s no wonder three drams from the J&A Mitchell company (Springbank and Glengyle distilleries) made the final list (including the runners-up). Well, yes, I’m a fan of them, but putting the fan goggles aside, they produce outstanding whiskies at a steady rate in several different styles and they should really serve as a role model for the Scotch industry. This is the last of Scotland’s really traditional distilleries, everything from malting to bottling done on site (which adds to the final price, but that’s okay, I gladly pay more for additional jobs on-site) by quirky and friendly guys. That’s what we punters really want, not nameless, faceless, branded and premiumised sparkly stuff for ridiculous prices where the focus is 90% on presentation and marketing. Right, let’s stop there before I start ranting again…

Thanks for following my blog this year, malt mates around the world, thanks for your comments and suggestions both here as well as on twitter and facebook.
A very merry, malty, magical, healthy and great new 2016 to all of you and may you always have a great, honest, decently-priced malt (or malternative) in your glass!

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