By Dominic Roskrow

A China crisis?

Dominic Roskrow considers what the long term effects of an increased demand for whisky might be
Chuck Cowdery’s feature in this issue raises a very important question: is it possible for at least some whisk(e)y to run out due to an increased demand for it?It would have been an unthinkable scenario just a few years ago when the industry feared for the future of strong brown spirits. And even today there are plenty in the trade who dream of facing such a problem.But what about at the fringes? And what if your particular malt or bourbon is one of the ones that starts to become hard or impossible to get?One of the most fascinating things for me is the fact that whisky producers have to gaze in to the future and try to predict demand seven, 12, 15 and more years hence for their drinks. And then, having predicted an increased demand, they have to try and meet it. That’s easier said than done when you consider the practical difficulties of building new stills, or expanding an existing distillery to produce the same spirit, or you have to find a few million extra litres of water.And what do you do if you can predict the emergence of a massive but as yet undefined market such as South East Asia in general, and China in particular?I was at a lunch recently with Richard Burrows, director of Pernod Ricard and newly appointed chairman of the Scotch Whisky Association. The other guests were business journalists from the national British press, and unsurprisingly they were very interested in the potential opportunities the new Asian markets offer whisky.But surely, I asked, an increased demand from that sector for such a finite product as whisky must mean a supply shortage somewhere, or at best, rising prices?Mr Burrows’ response was that we were a long way from such a scenario. Dominic Roskrow And certainly for whisky makers it’s a far better problem to have than the great whisky lakes of years gone by.Yet here we are with Chuck Cowdery raising exactly the same concerns with regard to bourbon. And surely such a scenario is possible in the world of Scotch, at least in some areas?What happens, for instance, if the emerging markets produce a super-rich elite as Russia has done, when only the world’s very best whisky will meet their demands? If there isn’t much of it to start with then it’ll either disappear in to the East altogether or you’ll have to bid for it against people with bottomless pockets.Sensationalism and paranoia? Possibly. But here’s a thought: what if a drinks company decided that it could satisfy the palates of a new Asian drinker by taking an existing malt out of the European market and ‘remoulding’ it in to a new whisky with a changed name; wouldn’t that mean that even if the malt had relatively low European and American sales figures at least some whisky drinkers would be deprived of their favourite malt?And isn’t that an early example of just the sort of thing that Richard Burrows said was still a long way off?One other thing – Chuck raises the issue of the mystery of the increasing angels’ share in bourbon production. No one can explain it.But given that Kentucky had very odd rainfall patterns last year and the fact that the clear cut split between long hot summer and short sharp winters isn’t as clearcut any more, what’s the betting that climate change is having an impact?