I'm sitting at the counter in my parent's kitchen reading some articles about whisky in a new book I just ordered from the UK. So far, most of them have been absolutely bland, boring, and poorly written - focusing on the growth of the industry, the geographical location of the next big boom, and corporate executives who want to make more money off of whisky. However, this quote from one of Diageo's head honchos really stuck with me. He says:
"Diageo is a blended whisky company. Diageo does not make single malts for me to enjoy. We do not make single malts for the afficionado to enjoy. We make single malts for our blending team."
You can obviously read that quotation a number of different ways, but it's kind of a chilling statement. I say "chilling" because Diageo owns 28 of the best distilleries in Scotland including Lagavulin, Oban, Talisker, Caol Ila, Clynelish, Dalwhinnie, Cragganmore, as well as the remaining stocks from the no-longer-existant Port Ellen, Brora, Rosebank, and Banff. While I understand completely that Diageo's big bucks come from the Walker blends, it's still a bit frightening to hear them admit something like that. If you haven't kept up with the current trends in the whisky economy, single malt whiskies account for only 7% of world sales. That means they're an afterthought. Johnnie Walker comes first and everything else gets made if there's a bit of whisky left over.
Demand, however, for collectable whiskies has only gone up over the last few years. You can't get Pappy anywhere anymore and the newest Port Ellen release didn't even make it to California (we got one whole bottle, whereas last year we could buy as much as we wanted). Diageo is also known for demolishing their "less profitable" distilleries, rather than selling them off. Letting another entity have a go with something like Rosebank would only lead to more competition. One of the rare exceptions came in 1993 when they sold off Bladnoch, however they still put a contractual cap on how much the distillery can produce on a yearly basis.
As I sit here with a bit of Ladyburn by my side (a lost distillery which Diageo doesn't own the rights to), I'm more thankful than ever for independent bottlers like Signatory who made this bottle possible. I'm thankful to work with people who live to drink single malt whisky, rather than analyze its market potential. If you think about single malts with your mouth and your heart, rather than with charts and graphs, it's a much more human experience. There are so many wonderful distilleries in Scotland that make fantastic, unique, and compelling single malt whisky. Many deserve to be drunk on their own.
Happy Thanksgiving. Drink some whisky. Share the bottles you love. Tell people the story behind those distilleries and make sure they know why individual single malts are so interesting.