Most Exciting Things in Scotch in 2023
Jun 14, 2023
Hi, in this conversation Charlie Pountney and Charles Edge discuss what are the most exciting things happening in the Scotch Whisky industry. Having recently got back from a trip to Scotland where they talked to people in the industry to get their insights on what’s happening in Scotch they talk about what they discovered in this video which you can watch here.
Charlie Pountney: Charles, what do you think that were some of the big takeaways that you found from the trip to Scotland and what are the most exciting things are happening in the Scotch industry right now.
Charles Edge: I think that's what's very interesting, is that we’ve got to acknowledge that four companies probably control 85% of the total whisky industry. Lets not name any names, but we know who they are. So it's quite incredible that you've got all these little tiny distilleries popping up, all types of different stuff. Sometimes, by the way, working off the back of the big guys and finding these little sort of golden nuggets tucked away in warehouses. So I think that's really exciting that there's so much going on and people got the confidence and the faith, I would say, in investing in Scotch whisky, because they're the guys really pushing the boundaries.
CP: So one of the things then is the rise of this new modern distiller? And what kind of things are they doing, which is different to the big guys, which we want to keep an eye on?
CE: As we know, Scotch whisky is made up of a blend of two types of grains. So malted barley, which is basically malt whisky, and then a grain distillation could be barley, could be rye, could be wheat. And those blended together. So where we see most action is in malts. Malt distilleries are quite small. You've got pot distillation. While for grain, you have column distillation, that's a different mechanism. So that's where we see most of the action. That's why people are focusing on the malts and either single malts. Otherwise, it would be a single distillation, single distillery or blending malts from various distilleries together into different types of products, getting different flavour profiles. And you could, by the way, blend either ages or styles. You could put, say, a five-year-old with a 12-year-old. So there's quite a lot of optionality there.
CP: So what is the exciting thing that these guys are doing that's different? So they're focusing on malt How are they separating themselves out?
CE: Um, I think in two ways, Charlie. I think the first way is by being less age statement conscious. So if you look a lot of traditional brands, they've built all of their brand around the age statement, 12-year-old, 15-year-old, 18-year-old, these guys are saying, okay, age is a really good way to determine value, to determine something. But there's other ways we can describe a product, and that's in the blending. That's flavour, describing whiskies by their flavour rather than age. So flavour is the first thing.
CP: So moving away from age statement towards flavour, and there are companies out there that are doing, you know, trios of products releasing at the same time with a smoky [variant], with a fruity [variant], with the spicy [variant] and things like that. And that's a really interesting way for consumers to get to approach whisky...
CE: Yeah and don't forget, there are 152 distilleries in Scotland so choosing a brand could be quite difficult so using a flavour coding is really helpful. Spicy, musty, wheaty or honey. You could go on and go on... vanillary. It's very, very, very useful, I think because consumers can be quite misled by all this technical data.
The other way we see a lot of innovation is in casks. We forget that what impairs the flavour is really the interaction between the new make spirit and wood. This is where we're seeing these smaller distilleries innovate with wood far more than the bigger guys. Why? Because, of course, you've got a 100,000 case 15-year-old Sherry finished single malt. You can't move very quickly. You've got a lot of volume commitment and that doesn't allow you so much flexibility.
So traditionally a lot of Scotch whisky has been from bourbon ageing and perhaps sherry finishing. Many brands are very focused around aging with Oloroso casks. Some Pedro Ximénez or PX sherry casks perhaps. So what we're seeing smaller guys are innovating where you might say some Madeira or port casks, some guys moving a bit more into Masalas and then some guys really pushing the boundaries by suggesting there were casks that should be approved for whisky aging that are not at present. An example might be for us in England we have quite used large cider businesses. So potentially cider was moved around in barrels and may even have been used for aging whisky… so that could be a potential trend seeing on the barrels come through with an apple cider [cask]. Murray McDavid bottlers are lobbying for a rule change for cider casks which are not currently allowed by the Scotch Whisky Association.
CP: Some of those because are as a result of the relaxation of the laws. The Scotch Whisky Association control what you can actually age whisky in [and call it Scotch] whereas before 2009 it was more limited. Since 2009 we've got, or distillers have a lot more options.
CE: Absolutely, so the one that's quite recent is tequila. And tequila I understand is an approved barrel a couple have experimented with a mezcal barrels. The differences in smokiness, we should maybe pull down our resident tequila, Mexican expert. Yeah, but there's basically innovation.
CP: So that’s two trends. One is innovation in blending styles and one is wood aging. Different types of woods to create different types of profile. And even I think we came across one distillery who were using different grain entirely for a single grain. InchDairnie recently released a rye scotch.
CE: Yeah, this is quite something. So it’s a single grain. It's called grain, but it’s a rye. Because anything other than malted barley is considered a grain. Sometimes the Scots have been a bit discreet, to what is really that goes into a blended grain or single grain. So it's interesting that InchDarinie have said we're going to go with one that's full of rye.
I'm not sure if that's really an influence from the American whisky market because, as we know, there has been quite a big increase in interest in rye whisky which gives a little spicier, sort of more full front flavour. So we might see more distilleries playing around with single grain.
CP: We also met a couple of people in some shops who were telling us about some new distilleries that they're really excited by. Such as the Glasgow Distillery. The Glasgow Distillery is the new first distillery to open in Glasgow I think for a few years. There a lot of these new guys that are opening up such as the Jackton Distillery just outside Glasgow who went to see.
So to your point on these new distilleries, it's really great that they're hundreds of years of almost domination of big brands and new distilleries are opening up which are bringing back old techniques such as in house maltings which what they're going to do at Jackton Distillery. It was amazing to see how that process works.
CE: Yeah, that was a real shocker. Max opened the doors and there was this malting machinery, which is quite a big piece of kit. So yeah, that takes a huge amount investment and confidence in the brand as well. So in other words, people not just sort of going back to exploring flavour and taste, they go all the way back to the beginnings of how to do the maltings. So, so you're right, that's, that's quite a quite interesting potential source of building flavour as well and experimentation.
There's probably two or three companies that supply most of the malted barley in the UK. So if you got that control right at the start, that could give some interesting flavour profiles. I think that's great. And also with that, they also grow their own malts on the farm. Yes. So they have literally grain to glass experience. They can control everything.
CP: And I know we've got a few other Irish whisky distilleries like Waterford who I know source grain source malted barley from particular individual farms. So I think that could also be a trend of malting your own barley, or sourcing your own barley as well.
CE: Yeah, I think they call it grain to grain to glass. We also see that in white spirits. I can imagine skill that could be quite difficult if brand grows too much, you’ll need enough land, enough barley and farmland to grow it on, which is likely to be require quite a bit. So I think that's really ambitious by the Jackson Distillery and we really be rooting for them. A really good bunch of guys.
CP: And what about people like ourselves; Independent bottlers. There are a lot of new bottlers and we met a few as well ourselves. Brave New Spirits and a couple of others like Single Cask. All of which are also doing really amazing thing, sourcing fantastic whisky, brilliant barrels, doing re racking all sorts of stuff, producing some really exciting things. Single Cask are also providing interesting solutions to smaller retail outlets in what’s called quarter casks.
CE: If you can't afford a full cask release of say 250 to 350 bottles. That quarter cask is a fantastic idea. You have the opportunity to take a quarter cask of Amarone finish, for instance. So there could be acceleration of new ideas coming to the market. Probably very localised as well with very localised retail footprint. But you know for us that's really exciting because when you get older distilleries, there's thousands and thousands of barrels and there's one guy that says , we'll do a 60 bottle release for you. It's sort of a tailor made model and once it's gone you can get a new release and keep it fresh.
So it's all looking pretty positive for Scotch whisky drinkers. I think it's a very exciting time to be in the industry with a lot of the new guys pushing ideas, being experimental, which is great.
CP: We spoke to Sam down in Nauticus Bar in Leith. who said it's really great because a lot for the new distilleries are getting involved more in the community. They are doing more events, more tastings which to be probably quite honest, some of the big guys they don’t need to do that.
CE: I think that's easy to criticise big brands, but we will always remember that, you know, starting local is so important and getting that that enthusiasm so the next generation comes through. So Nauticus was a very good example of a small pub recently set up in Port of Leith with some really nice guys running it, doing super cool stuff, really informative on their beers as well.
CP: Well hopefully, we’ve given you taste of, of what we experienced in Scotland, what we think is going to be coming in the future and what to look out for!
If you like this video please do hit the like button on YouTube and please do follow Charles Edge. If there's anything that you want to see from us on our next trip to Scotland or just what do you want to know about what's coming up in the industry, then please do leave a message and we'll try and bring you bring you some more of our unique insight like this video on The unmissable things to do on your Scottish whisky tour!