Looking back at 2012, it was quite a turbulent year in the whisky business, particularly in the second half. Lots of things have happened, so it is worthwhile to take a break and reflect some of the major milestones.
Scotch Whisky Industry In Motion
Changes of ownership are nothing new in the Scotch whisky industry. There is a long history of distilleries being transferred from one owner to another. But 2013 saw the biggest changes since the Glenmorangie/LVHM deal in 2004. Two big transactions took place that raise question marks about the future.
In July independent Bruichladdich was sold by a small group of shareholders to French conglomerate Rémy Cointreau for £58 million, the highest price ever paid for a Scotch whisky distillery. Subsequent statements by Rémy Cointreau CEO Jean-Marie Laborde made many whisky lovers wonder if the distillery will keep on doing business the ‘punk’ way or if it will be transformed into a pricey glamour brand.
November saw the acquisition of Indian United Spirits group by Diageo from ex billionaire Vijay Mallya. Whyte & Mackay is part of the deal, and its future is yet unclear. It is very unlikely that all assets will remain with Diageo, and it is also uncertain to what extent the company policy will be affected by the deal, especially with regard to Dalmore who have been increasingly focussing on ultra luxury releases like the Constellation Collection.
Pushing The Bar
This brings us to a major whisky trend of 2012. The only way is up could be the motto of the year in the whisky business. Diageo priced some of their 2012 special releases at stratospheric levels – and sold them. Many distilleries issued expensive high end bottlings like the Balvenie 50 yo, Glenfiddich Janet Sheed Roberts Reserve, Old Pulteney 40 yo, Glenrothes 1970 or Bowmore 1957 with price tags that would have been unthinkable only a few years ago.
The term Investment Grade Whisky made the rounds, with many business websites mentioning whisky as a possible asset to invest in. The secretive 1494 whisky investment club was founded in New York, and auction prices for many sought-after bottles went up to staggering levels.
All this has fuelled fears that the whisky market might be in a speculative bubble, also helped by aution houses. It will be interesting to see how this trend will develop in 2013.
In the Grip of the Fungus
A highly interesting “secondary battlefield” has developed around the whisky warehouses in Scotland and Kentucky. The infamous black fungus that has been growing quietly for centuries now has caught the eye of lawyers who intend to sue whsky makers for damaging the property of their neighbours.
Macallan Goes NAS
The biggest suprise with regard to new releases was without a doubt Macallan’s announcement to get rid of the age statements for the lower ends of both their Sherry and Fine Oak ranges. Colour will replace age as an indicator for price and perceived quality, a move that was met with a lot of resentment in the whisky community.
Travel Retail Specials
It is not a new trend, but in 2012 we have seen an increased activity in the Travel Retail market. The new Johnnie Walker Explorers’ Club range was only the latest in series of releases limited to this market sector. The Balvenie Triple Wood series is another example. It seems that more and more distilleries want to offer entire ranges here instead of singular bottlings like for example the new Laphroaig PX cask.
Of course this is by far not all that has happened in the whisky world. These were just the things that struck me most. And I am convinced that 2013 will not be a less interesting whisky year.