A (belated) happy New Year to you. I've spent much of the last few months in conversation with some of the more radical thinkers working around whisky. Here are some of the 'ideations' and issues which you are likely to hear more about in 2014.
Mine's a dram
The combination of a vast increase in whisky production and Scottish topography has resulted in growing concern over where the millions of new casks are going to be stored. A number of solutions have been proposed.
The first scheme was to convert the Red Road flats in Glasgow into a high-rise warehousing complex, but their demolition before a deal could be signed put paid to the idea. The concept was then taken up by a San Francisco architect who proposed building an avenue of 55 storey warehouses on either side of the M8 between Glasgow and Edinburgh. His idea to camouflage the buildings as giant redwoods fell foul of Scottish National Heritage who pointed out that the trees weren't native species. This has left the most likely scenario as the Mick McGahey Underground Complex which will see the re-opening of disused coal mines in Fife as storage space for the casks, and the building of tunnels linking the storage facilities to bottling plants in Leven and Glasgow.
Logging on problems
If the issues of where to put the casks is testing minds, then there are equal worries over the front end of wood supply. Not only are there questions being asked about the number of trees needed to cope with extra demand, but also whether there are sufficient lumberjacks to cut them down. People are turning away from the outdoor life, with logging firms in America and Spain reporting a severe lack of manpower. This comes as US website CareerCast's annual analysis of the worst jobs which for the past two years has placed logging in the No1 and No2 slots.
Accountants and shareholders don't like the idea of potential profits being lost to the ether, and many experiments to stop evaporation have been tried. As oxygen is needed to mature whisky, firms have to take a hit on evaporation. Now scientists are asking if there are ways to capture the fumes and then redistil them? Following the successful re-capturing of alcohol rising off the top of washbacks, an angel's share trial is now underway. Negotiations have started with the SWA over whether vapour rising off three year old casks can be classed as Scotch. Changing nature We have become used to the ideas of chefs challenging our concepts of what food is, but there has been little adaptation of these ideas in the world of drink. This year we can expect to see attempts to try and extend this 'molecular' world into whisky. French device Le Whaf uses hydrodynamic cavitation and piezoelectric crystals to reduce a spirit to an aromatic, non-alcoholic smoke which can be inhaled through a straw, while scenting a room. Others are asking why whisky has to always be liquid? Work is underway in Hoxton to build on Prof. Eckhard Weidner's 2002 experiments on turning whisky into a powder which can be rehydrated later.
Bespoke too soon
Conceptualising whisky has also led to the creation of esSEnse, which is claiming to be, "the ultimate whisky-related indulgence". Creator Jayson LeStrange says, "We read how although Johnny Depp doesn't drink, he still likes the smell of whisky, and have extended that to providing today's consumer with an immersive whisky experience." The package, which costs £250,000, will see the lucky recipient sit in a 'bespoke' room within a Mayfair store. Inside is a seat, a box and glass, all created by 'Scotland's finest craftsmen.' On opening the box, 'a 4-D, 4-Sense, whisky experience,' will be projected onto all of the room's surfaces. "The experience will be total," said LeStrange. And the whisky? "That's the beauty of it, there is no liquid involved. People at this level of status don't need the whisky, they just need the idea of it, and are willing to pay."