If you are a maker of American whiskey, then there is no doubt your glass is more than half full. The sector is in a new golden era. Sales are up and more distillers, bottlers and blenders are entering the market. Wise heads say they have seen it all before. The sector has been boom and bust for more than a century. But what goes up can also come crashing down.
However, others believe that the cycle of boom and bust could be coming to an end as many millennials turn away from multinational beer and prefer to sip on a whiskey, a habit they’ll keep for a lifetime.
American whiskey is typically distilled from a fermented mash of cereal grain and comprises of different types such as bourbon, corn, malt, rye, and wheat whiskey. The leading US whiskey brand is Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey.
Jack Daniels records annual sales of over 233 million US. dollars and accounted for approximately 10.29% of the U.S. market share in 2017. Other popular whiskey brands in the U.S. include Fireball, Crown Royal, Jim Beam, and Jameson Irish Whiskey. In 2016, whiskey sales volume in the United States amounted to over 61 million 9 litre cases and in the US spirit industry, sales volume of whiskey is second only to that of vodka.
It is hard to imagine a more conservative industry than whisky. It takes time to make whiskey – the very best might be aged for 20 or 30 years in an oak wooden barrel. Such a long time frame makes it hard for producers who want to be innovative and plan for the inevitable up and downs of demand. There aren’t many industries where something made in 2019 wouldn’t go on sale to 2039 at the earliest!
Developing a new recipe can take decades and then the production process must be approved by the regulatory authorities. To be called a whiskey the spirit must be stored for a minimum of two years in an oak barrel of a certain size. In today’s world time is money and there is a new era of disruptors who would like to eliminate the ageing on whisky.
Endless West a start-up in San Francisco is trying to make an aged whiskey that has never seen the inside of a barrel and can be produced in about 24 hours. The first bottles of the result – a product called Glyph, billed as the world’s first molecular whiskey.
Endless West begins the process by studying existing popular aged whiskeys at the molecular level, to understand and map the flavour profiles. Endless West then builds Glyph from scratch by adding many different chemicals to medical-grade alcohol. The entire process is completed overnight.
Another of the new wave of disruptors is Lost Spirits. It produces in days what is said to taste like decades aged spirits. This is done by special chemical processes that aim to replicate the ageing process in a laboratory while producing the same chemical signature and taste. Another innovation are flavoured whiskies. Most are produced in the United States. The reason for this is quite simple. Scottish regulation does not allow any additional flavours to be added to whisky, only caramel is permitted.
Popular brands include Jim Beam’s Red Stag range, the flavour range includes Honey Tea, Spiced and Black Cherry. Knob Creek Kentucky Straight Bourbon, is blended with natural flavours including maple.
Another distiller playing with time is Tuthilltown in upper New York State. To accelerate maturation the spirit is stored in smaller barrels than usual which are agitated to speed the process. The process is supposed to be improved by playing loud electronic music which is heavy on the bass through the maturation vessels.
First publication in Greek: Beer & Bar Magazine, Issue 9