Single Malt Dearth

Soaring demand for single malt whisky is running the distilleries dry. The distillers did such a good job distilling single malts, that we made their biggest dream come true… And the world drank it all.

Though, no one can say that we didn’t have a good inning. In fact, the current single malt dearth is something of our own devise: a self-fulfilling prophecy about the rarity of this age-minimum whisky.

Yes, we did this to ourselves!

The problem is foresight: two decades ago, distillers didn't see the massive surge in demand travelling, and since the 12-year-old whisky has to be aged for a minimum of 12 years, more of it cannot be made in any less than, well, 12 years.

This is causing the whisky makers to lose a two-front battle here: first, they're able to produce less and less of this age-listed spirit whilst the demand is rising; second, they're having to make tough choices about how to use it. Fifteen-year-old whisky, for instance, is often used in the final product of 12-year-old bottles. While production is ramping up, the drought of celebrated vintages will last at most another ten to fifteen years.

“We are currently working at full capacity — seven days a week, 24 hours a day,” said Charlie Whitfield, Brand Manager, Macallan. “We just need to be patient and allow those casks to work their magic.”

It wasn’t before the 1960s that single malts started to be sold in the U.S., and in the 1990s that they began to be marketed as superior to blended whiskies, with age cited as a key indicator of quality. Perhaps, this strategy was way too successful.

Now, with hundreds of scotches available, selecting a bottle without a number to latch onto can be destabilising. While age is no guarantee for quality — many experts believe that excessive time in the barrel leads to too much tannic wood flavor — the absence of this reference point urges brands to bank on consumers being educated to know what they like and select the spirit that appeals to their palette.

Studies suggest that the biggest change in the market has been the rapid increase in Scotch consumption in Asia, where imports of single-malt Scotch increased 149% between 2004 and 2014.

To meet the demand, producers have been putting out whisky that doesn’t require age labeling, trying to satiate a people that now can’t live without its scotch. If you have some old bottles laying around the house, it might be best not to drink them. Who knows, they could earn you a fortune one day.