There’s a Whiskey Shortage. Here’s What You Need to Know.

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As demand for expensive, aged whiskey continues to soar — sales of “super premium” American whiskey have sextupled since 2002 — supply has lagged behind. Far behind. Decades behind. CNN Money recently reported on the growing shortage of under the headline “The world is running low on old single malt Scotch,” because the single malt market is the most vulnerable to increases in demand. Single maltScotches by definition must come from one distillery, in contrast to blended Scotches (Johnny Walker, Dewar’s, Compass Box) which can stretch the coveted and rare flavors of older whiskies over the volume of younger whiskies and still sell well in the stores. But the effect is much more widespread, affecting aged whiskey of all types — you may remember Maker’s Mark bourbon causing a stir when they threatened to dilute their recipe in 2013 during a bourbon shortage. When shortages come, producers get creative. Especially when it’ll take years to bring supply closer to the burgeoning demand; today’s supply of 15-year-old whiskey depends on the predictions distiller’s made in 2001, back before Mad Men and when the official Kentucky “bourbon trail” was still in its infancy. To mask younger whiskey, distillers bottle “NAS” expressions, which swap an age statement for a names like “Storm” and “Select Cask.” We recently reviewed the latest addition to Bruichladdich’s Octomore series, a lineup which the distillery, through sleek marketing and an excess of peat, manages to sell for over $200 a bottle, despite being only 5 and, most recently, 7 years old. You can see these expressions everywhere: Laphroaig Quarter Cask in 2004, then Triple Wood, PX, QA. It’s all the same liquid, just tweaked a bit at the end and then sold at different prices. This gives buyers more options, pisses off geeks and, as the death of Laphroaig 18 in 2015 indicated, can deplete old Scotch before it even becomes truly old. Concurrent with clever marketers, panicking distillers are now trying to speed up their testing process — for example, Buffalo Trace has a mini still and Warehouse X, which are devoted to cutting down on R&D times. They’re also upping production to cash in on the demand years down the line. In his interview with CNN, Charlie Whitfield, a brand manager for Macallan, said the distillery was “currently working at full capacity. Seven days a week, 24 hours a day.” Then there are the true, Silicon Valley-level disruptions. Continue Reading

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