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Thursday 1 January 2015

Party Like It's 1985

An Orville Piñata, shortly before his celebratory new year thrashing 

Hello one and all. We're back from our relaxed Christmas breaks now, heading into all manner of excitement in the new year. 

We look back fondly on 2014. It was a year that bought some truly exceptional spirits, many many journeys and friendships:  From Baijiu in China, Cachaca in Brazil, Armagnac in France and some wondrous drinks in-between, both of us can definitely say it was an enlightening year.  

2014 also saw us bring out Distilled, our first book together which is shaping up really nicely for 2015. Expect to see us popping up in a few unusual locations next year, as we travel around, hopefully continuing our spirits exploration around the globe. 

However, there is a new year and a new dawn coming (keep your eyes peeled here folks...) so let’s kick off with our predictions for 2015: 


The Continued Growth of Grain 

We already tipped grain as a new category in its own right back in 2012 and 2014 saw the launch of Haig Club, a single grain Scotch whisky developed in partnership with major drinks producer Diageo and megastar ex-footballer David Beckham. There aren’t many other single grain whiskies on the market, with just one other official global release, three expressions from the Girvan distillery in the Lowlands of Scotland. However, grain whisky has always been highly sought after by connoisseurs and experts, who know that the lightness of the spirit gives excellent flavours of vanilla and lemongrass, making it ideal for mixing or sipping with acouple of blocks of ice. With only Haig Club and Girvan available around the world at the moment, and the considerable weight that a celebrity such as David Beckham adds to this category, expect to see others jumping in and wanting to be part of the grain whisky party. 

High Value Brands Offering Experiences:
As we see more and more highly valued single malts and blends, such as The Macallan and Johnnie Walker pushing their prices up with rarer, older and more extravagantly packaged items, the focus will shift onto 'experiences'. They could be high-end, exclusive trips to the distilleries, more branded ‘houses’ (like The House of Johnnie Walker) or shops. Either way, we think the immersive experience of taking consumers on a literal journey will become more of a focus in 2015. Look out for more bespoke blends from big whisky companies too, for those who can afford it. 

My Top Tipple From 2014: The Glenlivet Nadurra Oloroso

We haven’t got around to reviewing this one, yet but the new Nadurra Oloroso offering from The Glenlivet at 60.7% is stunning and priced at a bonkers £45. Take Aberlour’s A'bunadh and soften it slightly and you’ve got this. It packs a punch and is worth every penny.  


Craft: This Party Is Getting A Little Crowded... 

The term ‘craft’ has taken over in the world of spirits, particularly in whisky. In the USA, ‘craft’ distilling is a huge movement with small producers making tiny amounts of their own rye, bourbon and single malt. As these distillers gain more sales, they’ll be able to afford to export their products and see them (if they are good) take hold in markets far from where they are made. 

But there won't be room for everyone. It feels like 'Craft' is a term that is thrown around without prejudice now, with some distillers -  be it big or small, exhibiting little or no craft. There are some genuinely brilliant well-crafted products out there: be it well-known Scotch blends (hey -  blending is the original craft, when you really start to think about it) or tiny distillers with equally small spirit batches. But when corporate boardroom decisions interfere with the distillation process (i'm looking at you, Balcones) you kind of get the feeling that the money-making-machine and the sound of the cash registers are the predominant sounds echoing around a few distilleries, whose reputations are now damaged as a result.  In 2015 and beyond, we think craft will become less about being handmade, more about using technology in new and innovative ways to create or 'craft' new products.  Think less wicker chair, more MacLaren F1.  

Other Spirits Stealing Whisky Drinkers:

The idea of ‘occasion’ is going to be focused on more and more in 2015. Why drink a fairly boring vodka, when you can enjoy a grain whisky before the party really kicks off?  Similarly, do you really need to be paying  through the nose for super premium aged single malts, when you could be getting the same after dinner experience with an extraordinary Armagnac, vintage Tequila or rum for a fraction of the price? Whisky still has an enormous cache internationally, but there are signs that other spirits -  particularly Armagnac and Mezcal are beginning to draw a few connoisseurs away from whisky.  

My Top Tipple from 2014:  Chateau Laubade 1983 Vintage Armagnac

As I mentioned above, Armagnac is perhaps the most underrated and unexplored spirits category in the world at the moment, (aside to that of Cachaca and mezcal) with some exceptional expressions available for a fraction of their equivalent Scotch vintages. Having explored the Gers region in November during La Flamme De l'Armagnac (an amazing experience when all the distillers light their stills to mark the start of the distillation season) it reminded me of the Feis Ile experience on Islay, before it became a too overcrowded and commercialised. It was here at the Laubade estate where I discovered their 1983 bottling: a rich, resinous and spicy beast-of-an-Armagnac, full of tannic oak, liquorice and anise, alongside some sweeter vanilla notes and juicy citrus fruit.  All this complexity for around £75.  

We're very much looking forward to tackling 2015 and all the intriguing spirits on offer.  Expect to see a fair few changes here over the coming months-  we'll be focusing on a much broader scale of drinks, rather than just whisky, so here's to a cracking vintage year! 

Don't forget to follow us at @WorldOfSpirits on Twitter.

Neil & Joel