The Tasting Panel magazine

May 2015

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24  /  the tasting panel  /  may 2015 SCOTCH REPORT Silver (and Gold) Linings LAGGING SCOTCH WHISKY IS BOLSTERED BY BIG WINS IN SAN FRANCISCO by Ian Buxton I n previous columns, I've mentioned the weaker economic conditions and political volatility in some markets that has taken some of the shine off Scotch whisky's global performance. Now we have the figures and, according to the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA), 2014 saw the value of Scotch whisky exports decline seven percent to £3.95b from £4.26b the previous year. Alarmingly, the numbers reveal high price sensitivity: volumes also dropped, but by a more modest three percent to 1.19 billion 70cl bottles, reflecting gains for "value" propositions, or some aggressive pricing by distillers. Exports to the U.S., Scotch whisky's most valuable market, fell nine percent by value to £748m ($1,123.7m), suggesting a grim picture. However, customs export figures did not tell the whole story, as consumption figures released earlier this year by the U.S. Distilled Spirits Council (DISCUS) show the market shrank by just over one percent and single malt sales actually grew 6.3 percent. This suggests the fall in exports in 2014 was due partly to high inventories being sold down, as well as to an increasingly competitive spirits market. But enough of the bad news. Diageo is celebrating a remarkable run of medal awards at the prestigious San Francisco World Spirits Competition. There are a lot of awards out there, some you may feel of dubious merit, but the San Francisco judges are a demanding lot and their praise is not lightly given. Diageo's whiskies swept up 28 awards in total, with the John Walker & Sons Private Collection 2015 Edition receiving a Double Gold Medal and being named Best Blended Scotch—No Age Statement. I tipped this whisky just last month along with Oban Little Bay, another Double Gold winner. Other single malts from Lagavulin, Talisker, Clynelish and Cragganmore also collected Double Gold. In fact, the only disappointment must have been the slightly underwhelming Silver medal picked up by Haig Club, Diageo's lavishly- supported single grain fronted by global Brand Ambassador David Beckham. One whisky to look out for soon is the Compass Box Hedonism Quindecimus. While the name is hard to get your mouth around (it means "fifteenth" in Latin and celebrates 15 years of whisky-making by this renegade independent boutique blending house), the same can't be said of its utterly delicious, mouth-coating explosion of flavor. Supplies will inevitably be limited and highly sought-after, so I strongly recommend placing an order for the June 1st launch (Chalmer Sunbelt, SRP $175). After 15 years as an independent, Compass Box recently announced that Bacardi has acquired an undisclosed minority shareholding, described by insiders as partly a supply deal for whisky (from Bacardi's John Dewar sub- sidiary) and partly a wish by Bacardi to be represented in the "craft" sector. Compass Box fans will be watching carefully for any impact—good or bad—on the company's distinctive offerings. Speaking of whisky blenders, over the next month I'll be visiting the team behind Johnnie Walker and other Diageo blends and travelling to Speyside to visit the little-known Kininvie distillery where I'll meet Brian Kinsman, the Master Distiller behind the William Grant & Sons Rare Cask collection. Look out for my exclusive special reports in forthcoming issues.

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