Whiskey Insiders: On the experiments and evolutions we'll experience in 2022
Insiders within the industry share their thoughts on how brands will execute and evolve new ideas for the rest of the year.
We're two years into a global pandemic and the whiskey game still doesn't quite feel the same.
At this time two years ago, our whiskey club had just finished a Balvenie vertical tasting with nearly 50 people in attendance. We were planning collaborative events with Balvenie, Uncle Nearest and R6 Distillery here in Los Angeles for the spring and summer seasons on DIY cocktailing, exclusive tastings and hosted kickbacks for our collective.
Instead, we've all (mostly) been in the crib chilling, trying to navigate Zoom calls and dodge greek-lettered COVID-19 variants.
The cool thing about all of this is that I've had to stretch my wings a bit in finding new ways to connect with folks while refreshing how I unleash my enthusiasm and creativity in my adventures with whiskey and spirit exploration. I'm now able to call on well-respected influencers and insiders within this industry to help make sense of what could be on the horizon. From how distillers will try to get us to spend a few more dollars to how they will try to release new products into the market.
But before we get to the goods, please meet my friends.
OJ Lima: He co-founded Taste Select Repeat, an e-commerce liquor store with a diverse and active member program. TSR specializes in single barrel whiskey picks, mezcal and other hard-to-find spirits.
Kurt Maitland: He is one of the best-known faces in New York City's whiskey circuit. He is currently the Deputy Editor of the Whiskey Reviewer website, and has released two books on cocktails, Drink and The Infused Cocktail Handbook.
(Editor's note: All responses were edited for clarity and brevity.)
How will brands experiment with new expressions and line extensions in 2022?
Kurt Maitland: I think there will be a push to cross the streams further and add more spirit finishes to lineups. Rum, sherry, port, and various wine casks have long been a big part of the Scotch, Japanese and Irish experience. Several recent pushes have been to finish whiskies using the barrels from other spirits, like mescal and tequila, or using other woods such as the Japanese Oak, Mizunara.
Due to the rules and traditions around bourbon, it is not as common a practice as it is in Europe and Asia but is an excellent tool in the arsenal of any distillery that wants a way to create a new release to add to their existing lineup. As American Single Malts, who are not bound by bourbon rules, become more popular, we may find more traditional bourbon distilleries adding finishes to their lineups.
OJ Lima: Three things I expect to see:
A lot more independent distillers will pass the 5yr age statement mark with their whiskeys. They will also make more direct-to-consumer sales to keep pace with the major distilleries.
There will continue to be an emphasis on barrels, whether that's different char/toast levels or finishing whiskey in secondary barrels (toasted, cognac, rum, maple, etc.).
Single barrel picks will continue to be hot, but new brands will be created from single barrel selectors by stores and clubs. Those brands will experiment with more than single barrels, as blended and finished barrels could become options.
Eddie Maisonet: It feels like we're in a wave of cross-pollination with the use of barrels and casks to craft more unique, one-time experiences. I think about what Ten To One did to finish their rum in Uncle Nearest Tennessee Whiskey barrels. The demand was sky high, the pour was fantastic, and brands will try to recreate that urgency for customers.
We're two years in on a global pandemic. How have customers evolved in their behavior with whiskey?
OJ Lima: Consumers have come to grips with the fact that shopping online is as essential as having a local honey hole. Product is in high demand and in short supply, so you can't expect your local spot to have everything you're hunting for, especially if you live in a controlled state. Unfortunately, that means higher prices because you have to factor in that shipping is a part of the transaction that can't be avoided.
Also, people are opening more bottles - especially the unicorns - because the pandemic has demonstrated that tomorrow isn't promised.
Kurt Maitland: I think the online experience has changed how customers experience whiskies. Before the pandemic, people had plenty of in-person options - there were free tastings at local stores, brand-sponsored bar events, club events, whiskey festivals, etc. The pandemic has put a stop to most of that. Many clubs or brand tastings are online now, and even when they are in person, they are much smaller affairs. Brands have been slower to adjust, but I think the customer has gotten used to seeking out new whiskies and tasting them in the comfort of their home. There are some advantages and opportunities for the consumer that didn't exist pre-pandemic -- cocktails to go, more liquor delivery options, online tasting clubs, etc.
Eddie Maisonet: Funny thing for me and the pandemic. I've been able to visit more physical locations that I might not usually be able to due to time constraints and LA traffic. I've made a few more relationships and acquired some bottles at places I didn't know either had exclusive inventory or were intrigued on collaborating with a whiskey club like ours, which focuses on primarily sippers of color.
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