Whisky Is Going Through An Experimental Phase

Food & Drink

With the worldwide whisky category rising to a valuation of £60.63 billion in 2022 and the market expected to see annual growth of 7.10% (CAGR 2022-2025)*, it’s no wonder whisky makers are all getting a little…experimental.

Though whisky has come in many styles for decades (Scotch, Irish, American, and Japanese, most notably, all with their own special and distinctive qualities), those styles are becoming more and more nuanced with every new release.

In 2022 we’ve seen new whiskies experiment with beer, ancient grains, wine, unique botanicals and more—both enticing new drinkers and rustling the feathers of old-timers. The latter of which we’ll quickly brush past.

The entire whisky industry was, after all, born from the very real process of experimentation.

While some consumers may prefer to stick to a single style, age statement and/or maturation process, the majority are welcoming whisky’s experimental phase with open arms.

In fact, the rise in the number of new product launches by ‘main players’ in the category is one of the key drivers for the global whiskey market share during the forecast period.

The existing players in the market are consistently working on developing new products to fulfil consumer demands.

Even Scotch whisky distillers, who famously have to abide by strict rules of local fermentation, distillation and maturation (for at least three years) have begun to tinker with new alternatives to peat (like heather smoke), malting, and mashing before the sleepy post-distillation process begins.

Glenfiddich, for example, has been experimenting for some time, dedicating a whole series of whiskies to small-batch experiments and creating its very own craft beer to play with IPA cask ageing. There’s even an ice wine cask edition, Winter Storm.

Of course, experimentations in the ageing process aren’t ones for quick turnarounds.

The years each liquid spends in its cask, basking in the wood and its indrink, can cause dramatic change in a whisky, but it takes a minimum of three years to see the fruits of such labour.

These tinkerings are exactly how early experimentation started, hundreds of years ago, with port, madeira, sherry, claret, rum and brandy casks. Today, that list simply extends to mezcal, mizunara and more.

And, thankfully, many of them are hitting their peak now. Here are some of the very best on the market already:

The best experimental whiskies you can buy now

Glenmorangie A Tale of the Forest

A brand-new whisky from Glenmorangie inspired by Dr Bill’s walks through the forest. It’s the brand’s first-ever whisky crafted from barley kilned with woodland botanicals, and it’s a perfect Wintertime tipple.

Kyrö Malt

A Finnish whisky made from 100% rye (incredibly novel, given it’s the hardest grain to distill due to its temperament) and aged in a combination of ex-bourbon and new American white oak casks, this is packed with honeyed apricot and spice.

Waterford Biodynamic: Luna

This is the first whisky in the world made solely from biodynamic barley. After years of development and learning the ancient farming methods, the Irish growers found adopting techniques traditionally associated with the wine industry yielded the best results, and now even sowing barley seeds according to the position of the moon. The result? Spice on every level, with pops of pastry and an incredibly long finish.

Stauning Smoke

A thoroughbred terroir single malt whisky made from pure West Jutland malt barley and smoked over locally harvest peat and heather. An elegant and gentle smoke you’ll be hard pressed to find elsewhere.

Nomad Outland Whisky Reserve 10-Year-Old

This unique expression has been distilled and sherry-aged in Scotland, then shipped to Jerez where it undergoes two further ageing processes. The first two years Pedro Ximénez casks, and the second two is blended Matusalem casks, VORS at the González Byass Bodega in Spain. A brandy-esque sherry bomb.

Duncan Taylor Scotch Whisky Octaves

These independent Aberdeenshire bottlers own one of the largest privately-held collections of vintage and rare scotch whisky casks. Most notably, their super small experimental ‘Octave’ casks. Chairman Euan Shand was the first person to take them to market (though many have followed suit), and the second maturation results in some of the most premium expressions of the world’s most beloved whiskies.

Compass Box Ultramarine

Ultramarine is the first in an ambitious and imaginative series called the Extinct Blends Quartet, with only 5,430 Limited Edition bottles available worldwide. Paying homage to ‘extinct’ styles of Scotch, Ultramarine taking its inspiration from a deluxe blended whisky first released in the late 1980s. There’s everything from smoke to Chantilly cream present in this bad boy.

Bladnoch Alinta

Despite being the oldest working Scotch distillery in the Lowlands, Bladnoch had not released a peated whisky until it came out with the Alinta. And it’s something to be admired. Matured in a combination of ex-Pedro Ximenez and ex-bourbon casks, it boasts the perfect balance of sweet and spice, heavy on the toffee-d oak and heather.

*According to Statista.

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