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The American whiskey industry is growing by leaps and bounds. There are now more than 2,000 artisanal distilleries in the United States. New registrations of whiskey terms are at a 50-year high. Consumer interest in American whiskeys, especially rare, extremely aged, and extremely expensive expressions, is growing exponentially.
Additionally, the expressive style is also growing rapidly, now offering a wide range of barrel treatments, innovative mash bills, especially those that use historic or non-traditional grains, and new categories of whiskey such as American single malts and blended whiskey.
I recently sat down with Nora Ganley-Roper and Adam Polonski, co-founders of the independent whiskey bottler Lost Lantern, to talk about the top trends in American whiskey for the coming year. Nora and Adam have visited more than a hundred distilleries across the country this year to give them a unique perspective on the American whiskey landscape.
Working as an independent American whiskey bottler gives them an unusual glimpse into distilleries across the country and often sees trends emerging in the beverage industry before they show up in bottled products.
Below are the top 15 Nora and Adam trends featured in the American whiskey category in 2021.
American single malt:
1. American single malt will continue to be more widely available and affordable, like Balcones Lineage. There are over 150 single malt producers in the US, but historically it has been more expensive and harder to find than bourbon. We assume that this will change from 2021.
Nora Ganley-Roper, lost lantern
Photo courtesy of Lost Lantern
2. The federal government will either issue a new definition for American single malt or reject it – either way, it will let the industry find its way forward. There is currently no official definition of “single malt whiskey” in the US. Instead, American single malt whiskeys must be classified into other classifications, e.g. B. “Malt whiskey” (if the whiskey has matured in new oak) or “Whiskey that has been distilled from a malt pulp” (if the whiskey has matured in used oak). The American Single Malt Whiskey Commission has urged the Alcohol & Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau (TTB) to adopt an official definition of the American single malt, and the TTB is expected to publish its final decision this year.
3. A transition away from the “craft”. People will stop talking about craft bourbon and talk about the rise of regional styles like Iowa bourbon, Nevada bourbon, and so on. Distilleries like Cedar Ridge and Frey Ranch will lead the way.
4. The best artisanal distilleries are rated as being on par with the major distilleries – New Riff (pretty much already there), Wilderness Trail, Westland, Starlight and others
5. Heirloom rye will hit the stage in 2021 as distilled experiments began to ripen years ago. Keep an eye on New York Distilling Co., Papa’s Hat in Pennsylvania, and Far North Spirits in Minnesota.
6. Knowledge of regional styles based on local botanicals / practices such as mesquite-smoked single malts that capture the flavors of the Southwest (e.g. Colkegan and Whiskey Del Bac); New York Empire Rye, a revival of the tradition of cool climatic rye (e.g. Kings Co. Distillery and New York Distilling Co.) and Pacific Northwest brewery operations (e.g. Westward and Copperworks) will grow.
7. Texas is increasingly perceived as an important whiskey region, at least on a par with Tennessee. Whiskey tourism in Texas will grow rapidly after the pandemic ends. Brands like Andalusia, Balcones, Garrison Bros and Ironroot Republic will lead the way.
Maturation / wood strategies
Adam Polonski, lost lantern
Photo courtesy of Lost Lantern
8. Other distilleries are experimenting with matching casks with the type of whiskey they are aging. Expect more European oak, bigger barrels, barrels from new local collaborations, lighter degrees of charring on barrels, and refinement barrels that are unique to this region. Examples of distilleries that already do this include Ironroot Republic, Westland, and Westward.
Terroir-driven whiskey expressions
9. Farm distilleries and the concept of seed-glass spirits will grow in importance. This will restart the discussion of the terroir in ghosts. Keep an eye on Frey Ranch in Nevada and Whiskey Acres in Illinois.
10. Tariffs will help American whiskey slightly domestically, but will hurt dramatically abroad. In the meantime, unless tariffs are reversed, Scotch will continue to be very expensive.
11. Unless the federal excise tax on alcohol reduction is extended or permanent, distilleries are in a dire position. Many, probably hundreds, will close their doors.
12. Craft distilleries will continue to suffer until the pandemic is over, but online business models are even more accepted. Those who can adapt to an online model will succeed, but it won’t make up for what is lost from a tasting room and local diners.
Collaboration and blending::
13. Already common practice in breweries, more distilleries will experiment with collaboration – both with each other and with emerging American whiskey mixers like Lost Lantern, Crowded Barrel and others.
14. Online purchases will continue to increase.
15. Expect a growing availability gap between affordable, high quality and widely available whiskeys like McKenzie Rye from Finger Lakes Distilling Co. and prestigious, hard-to-find publications. Whiskeys in the middle will struggle, but high-end and affordable releases will thrive in the pandemic and post-pandemic economies.