Scottish single malt has long been the choice of most whiskey enthusiasts, and Glenlevit and its ilk still have their share of devotees. But thanks to the emerging American whiskey trends and popularity, aficionados have a new pond to play in.
Interest in whiskeys, especially the rare and ultra-aged, is growing rapidly. New expressions (the term used to describe variations on a whiskey recipe, resulting from the distillation process, the amount of char on the aging barrels, or a change in ingredients) of whiskeys are now embracing a broad range of cask treatments and innovative mash combinations—raising interest even more.
Here are some top American whiskey trends to watch for 2021.
Single Malt Whiskey: Even though there are more than 150 single malt producers in the United States, finding a bottle of it has always been harder to snag than even the elusive Bourbon. We look for that to change in 2021. Watch for American single malt whiskey to become more available and less expensive when the US regulating body adopts an official definition. Until then, you will see American single malt whiskeys labeled simply as “malt whiskey” (when the spirit is matured in new oak) or “whiskey distilled from a malt mash” (when the whiskey is matured in used oak).
Bourbon: Look for consumers to move away from classifying bourbons as “craft bourbons” in favor of identifying them by the region in which they were distilled, like “Nevada Bourbon” and “Iowa Bourbon.” Distilleries like Frey Ranch and Cedar Ridge will be the frontrunners in this trend.
Rye: 2021 will see a meteoric rise in heirloom rye as batches distilled years ago start maturing. Watch for distilleries such as Minnesota’s Far North Spirits and Dad’s Hat in Pennsylvania leading the way.
Regional Flavors: Single malts that reflect the unique flavors of certain regions will ride the crest of a wave of popularity, including mesquite-smoked and other botanical infusions. 2021 will see Texas take its place as a major whiskey region on par with Tennessee. Texas brands like Garrison Brothers and Ironroot Republic will open the doors to a wave of whiskey tourism once COVID-restrictions forced by the pandemic relax.
Maturation/Wood Strategies: Expect more distilleries to begin matching casks with the type of whiskey they’re maturing. Look for barrels and finishing casks of various sizes and char levels made from wood unique to the region. Westland and Westward distilleries are already blazing this path, and more are expected to follow.
Collaborations and Blending: Although breweries have been collaborating for years, working together is fairly rare with distilleries. Innovative blenders like Lost Lantern, Crowded Barrel, and others have begun casual relationships that are bound to result in some unique products.
Availability: Expect a growing availability gap between affordable and easy-to-find whiskeys and prestigious, less available releases. Surprisingly (and a bit counter-intuitively), high-end releases will thrive in the pandemic and post-pandemic economy while whiskeys “in the middle” will struggle.
As interest continues to grow in American whiskey, we can also look for an explosion in the demand for whiskey cocktails. Interesting flavors and expressions have encouraged a lot of devoted whiskey drinkers to experiment with it in mixed drinks. Sacrilege or the next big industry trend? Only time will tell! For more industry news and insights, browse our blog.