By Neil Ridley

January Bleakness Leads To...

Some whisky predictions for 2016
Cold, grey weather and the distant waft of pine needles and two week-old Christmas turkey sandwiches lingers in the air, like a slightly ropey experimental cask of whisky gone horribly wrong. We are then left in a sort of limbo-like state - not quite the end of the year, but not quite ready to face the next.

It is this 'no-man's land' that I actually really enjoy and actively look forward to, because it gives one a chance to look ahead at the predictions for the new year; where we have come from and where things might well end up by the next batch of tear-inducing festive commercial breaks.

Last year, we saw an increasing interest in grain whisky - notably the entry level, celebrity focused Haig Club and the more connoisseur-led Girvan and Port Dundas expressions of aged Scotch grain whisky - develop a wider appeal. It is a rise which will undoubtedly continue into 2016 , especially from other whisky producing nations in addition to Scotland, and I wouldn't be surprised if this trend begins to branch into slightly more innovative territory.

Grain whisky is a wonderful proposition for whisky drinkers of every persuasion. The light, zesty and creamy development of a young grain (if you haven't tried Bain's Cape Mountain grain whisky from South Africa's James Sedgwick Distillery, or Nikka Coffey Grain from Japan, you're in for a huge treat) works as an outstanding long drink. Opposite to that, seriously aged expressions of grain whisky conjure up a level of complexity that one just doesn't tend to find in a single malt. Because of the delicacy of the spirit, it is easily dominated by cask type, which has meant that there tends to be more Bourbon-led expressions on the market. But you can't keep certain expressive and highly creative distillers from trying new finishes and ways to bring disparate flavours together, which will certainly lead to a number of very mouth-watering propositions indeed.

The year 2016 is also going to be where you, the consumer, will be very much in the spotlight of the whisky makers. I know this sounds like an absurd concept and that you should already be the firm focus of every whisky company, but I mean this in a slightly different way.

At the moment, practically every major whisky company needs to work with a number of specialist retail partners and distributors to get its liquid into your glasses and down your throats. Well not any more. We'll see a growing number of direct-to-consumer-led whiskies popping up, with companies developing their own retail platforms to get them to you. Diageo has already begun this type of strategy with WhiskyUnion.net, a platform that retails newly created whiskies (currently Smoky Goat and Boxing Hares) designed with a more experimental, almost art-school focus in mind. However, Glenfiddich has gone one further with GlenfiddichGallery.com, a complete bespoke service allowing consumers to select specific ages of whisky, (from 1958 - 1996) tailoring the packaging accordingly.

I'm also fairly certain that 2016 will be incredibly strong for a number of whisky distilling hotspots outside of Scotland - notably Tasmania, India and Denmark. As those followers of world whisky already know, Tasi whiskies have been steadily gaining a fearsome reputation, the likes of Lark, Overeem and Sullivan's Cove winning all manner of plaudits with their intensely complex personalities. The same can be said in India, with the Paul John Distillery following the path set by Amrut some time ago, now turning out some exceptional single malts. I also choose Denmark because late last year, the Stauning Distillery received a significant investment (£10 million, to be precise) from Diageo's Distill Ventures funding programme, which will see the distillery begin to build a new operation from the ground up this summer and expand production considerably from an existing 15,000 litres to over 750,000 litres per year.

Interest in Canadian whisky is also on the climb and I recently tasted the absolutely tremendous, newly released Gooderham & Worts Four Grain. It seems like 2016 will give all of our palates plenty to look forward to.