Craft distillers continue to boom
While the number of new distilleries being given planning permission and under construction slowed a little in 2023, the craft and artisanal distilling machine shows no sign of doing similar. Quite the opposite. This is fuelled by several distilleries across Scotland finally seeing their spirit reach the legal minimum age of three years maturation, which is giving consumers an even greater choice of Scotch whisky on the market.
The last year saw a few new distilleries release their inaugural bottlings – this included Ryelaw from Inchdairnie in Fife and The Hearach from the Isle of Harris Distillers in the remote Outer Hebrides. This will continue and increase as more places hit that key three-year maturation point. Ones to watch that achieve this goal in 2024 and may release something include Bonnington in Edinburgh, Jackton in the Lowlands and the re-born Brora in the north Highlands.
More celebrity brands
The Scotch whisky world has been somewhat slow getting off the mark with celebrity owned brands and endorsements. Tequila, gin, Cognac, and rum have all stolen a march on whisky, although bourbon joined the party in the last couple of years. Some of the world’s biggest and best-known stars of stage, screen and sport are putting their face and cash into brands.
For the last decade Scotch whisky has been dominated by David Beckham and Haig Club with regards to this. However, last year several more appeared on the market. These included Coachbuilt by ex-Formula One driver Jenson Button, The Sassenach by actor Sam Heughan and Wolfie’s by legendary rocker Rod Stewart. Who will be next? No one knows, but the trend is on an upward curve so expect several more during 2024.
Barley to take a back seat
Don’t worry – single malt is here to stay. As are blended Scotch whiskies. They will continue to dominate sales for years to come. But there is a growing movement that is seeing distillers, particularly the craft and artisan ones, experimenting with other cereals to make their spirits. We have already seen this happening in America for several years where maize, wheat and rye are all being used, plus more unorthodox options such as millet.
Rye seems to be leading the charge and a couple of excellent examples of Scotch rye are already out on the market – these include the Ryelaw from Inchdairnie mentioned earlier, and the excellent Highland Rye from Arbikie. The expectation is that such releases will increase in the future on the back of their success. Watch this space.
Sustainability and net zero
This is a seriously hot topic in the whisky world. The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) have set strict net zero guidelines which must be adhered to by 2030. New distilleries are being built with this in mind and the result is some of the most modern and eco-friendly facilities in any spirits production industry.
But elsewhere in Scotland work is taking place too. How to sustainably harvest peat is being investigated at speed, while many distilleries are a century or two old and inefficient compared to modern standards. Every company is working to make buildings and production methods as sustainable and green as possible, while maintaining distillation quality and quantity. Net zero is a tough and ongoing challenge, but one that Scotch whisky simply must achieve.