About this time each year I'm often reminded of the words of Søren Kierkegaard, a Danish philosopher who made his mark back in the mid 19th Century. Of his choice musings, the line 'life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards' seems to resonate most, especially as we leave behind perhaps one of the bleakest periods of modern history and enter a year mixed with both fear of impending dread and one of scant snatches of optimism. Only in the years to come will we perhaps reflect on how these trying times may have lead to discord, but conversely sharpened the resolves of many, helping to broaden our creativity, amplify our voices and, as Kierkegaard so eloquently put it, help us to understand our lives a little better than before.
My optimism for the year ahead is as full bodied, broad shouldered and complex as some of the whiskies that I was introduced to in December and from a liquid perspective, I think 2017 will be a hugely exciting time for the industry. So gazing into my smoky crystal Glencairn, allow me to make the following predictions for 2017.
The continuing rise of Indian whisky:
With Japanese efforts pushed to the very limits of allocation and Australian whisky struggling to gain more than a tiny foothold amongst connoisseurs, due in part to its scarcity and high price, the curious whisky drinkers out there will continue their malt adventures with the exceptional spirits produced by Indian distillers. Amrut pointed the trend in the right direction back in 2004 when they took the bold - and some would say foolhardy step - to launch an Indian whisky in Glasgow and now Goa's Paul John are serving up some truly fantastic whiskies, at the right price point to make them non-exclusive and accessible to all. Throw in new entrants like Rampur (who have actually been distilling whisky since the 1990s in Uttar Pradesh to the north of India) and you're starting to see a very healthy scene emerging, with distinctly different flavour profiles from each distillery. It's surely only a matter of time until we see a slew of other local distillers playing catch up too.
Irish whiskey's continued push towards innovation:
Seemingly not bound up by the sort of constraints that have previously hampered Scotch whisky-making practices, Irish whiskey is growing at a frantic pace; from the new distilleries which are cropping up the length and breadth of the Emerald Isle, to the continued premiumisation of a spirit formally known as the life and soul of the party, Irish whiskey is truly having its moment. Expect unusual cask finishes, groundbreaking design and liquid innovation on an almost molecular level, thanks in part to the microdistilling practices which some of the big players are now employing in their search for new flavours.
The influence of the Far East on our cocktail drinking habits:
We're quite spoiled in Europe thanks in part to the huge variety of creative bartenders and the products they have at their fingertips. However, the skill and intuition on display in places like Japan and now Singapore is mind-blowing. Throw in a few flavours unique to these locations and we're seeing a whisky cocktail revolution which will have a profound influence on the drinks we're going to be enjoying in 2017.
The return of a craft distilling maverick:
With the huge shift at the business end of craft distilling (Utah-based High West was recently acquired by Constellation Brands for $160 million) it seems like the initial investment in a number of the more established businesses, who are selling out to bigger global drinks companies is paying off. However, the 'return' of one particular distiller has been a keenly anticipated event. Over the past two years, Chip Tate, the erstwhile founder of Balcones Distillery has steadily been assembling his new operation, the Tate & Co Distillery. One thing's for sure, when Chip's at the controls, there's never a dull moment - in the glass… or at the bar. Welcome back sir.