The Decade of Whisky: 2010-2019 in review

The decade of 2010 to the end of 2019 has been quite the time for whisky, particularly Scotch Single Malt and also of course the many new producers throughout the world.

For me as an imbiber, and one who likes to try new things, it has never been a more interesting 10 years, especially the last 5 of these. We have seen the rise of many new expressions, from the old guard to the newest producers around, there was a shift in focus to wood styles or flavours rather than selections based primarily on age.

Historically, this decade was significant too: highlights include the oldest whisky ever bottled (a 75 year old Mortlach from Gordon & MacPhail), Shackleton's whisky being uncovered and replicated, and record-setting auctions drew huge attention to rare and old whiskies.

A number of the older and normally more traditional Scotch producers such as Glenfiddich, Glenlivet and Laphroaig experimented with a greater variety of cask type and finishes - limited edition, one-off expressions (small batch and single cask) became more commonplace, with distillers taking a leaf out of what the independent bottlers have been doing for generations.

While refinement and experimentation was happening around Scotland on an unprecedented scale, others such as Glenfarclas stuck to their knitting; no unusual cask types or finishes, just their traditional and timeless style.

The 2010’s marked the opening of a staggering number of new distilleries in Scotland, and while ribbon was being cut around the country, many significant anniversaries also took place: the Kildalton trio (Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Ardbeg) celebrated their bicentenaries, while Kilchoman and Daftmill entered the double-digits.

Here in New Zealand, we have seen the expansion of our whisky industry, with Cardrona distillery established 4 years ago, Thomson Whisky in Auckland producing their own spirit and many others around the country now laying down casks for the future.

The change I think I have noticed the most is from the consumer, perhaps 10 years ago we had a more mature male demographic buying and drinking, and while we still have of course a large number of male, 40 years+ consumers, the age range has moved to the mid to late 20’s and up, with a lot more female buyers and consumers.

So why the rise and rise of whisky around the world this decade? For me it depends; when it comes to Scotch Single Malt, there is no other spirit that offers such a variety and complexity of flavor, and the sheer number of distilleries, styles and new releases means almost endless journey of discovery.

For the new wave of world whiskies and other producers, they are able tweak our interest with how and where they make their whisky, the use of local ingredients and in some cases, quite a different take on what whisky is, which are all very attractive qualities for those of us who like to dip their toe in the water.

As I have said before, in New Zealand we have we have become very discerning and interested in what we eat and drink, and sharing and learning about fine whisky is all part of that trend. This decade we were fortunate to be visited by some of whisky's greatest educators, writers and producers, and we hope to continue bringing these special guests to our shores again in the future.

2020 is almost with us, and this whisky decade coming is going to completely overshadow the previous one regarding quality, complexity, range and diversity. If you are a whisky drinker, then the best times are in front of us: Ardnamurchan, The Borders, Glen Wyvis, Dornoch, Aberargie, Isle of Harris, Arbikie, Ardnahoe, Ballindalloch, Lindores Abbey, Ncn’ean, Torabhaig are but a few to mention from Scotland, and the sleeping giants Port Ellen, Brora and Rosebank are re-opening soon. From there, it is then up to our Irish cousins, New Zealand, Australia and THE WORLD!

-Michael Fraser Milne