Running Out of Scotch

scotchI’m basically a wine guy, with an appreciation for beer. But when I want a change of pace it’s a toss up between mescal and single-malt scotch, especially the peat-infused bottlings from Islay.

But for people who love good scotch, the news is not good.

Enthusiasm for single malt Scotch — whisky made from the product of a single distillery rather than a blend — continues to surge. In the U.S., annual sales nearly tripled between 2002 and 2015, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States.

Global single malt exports jumped 159% between 2004 and 2014, according to the Scotch Whisky Association. Asia now accounts for one-fifth of all Scotch exports, buying up a quarter of a billion bottles a year.

“In China, everybody is talking about it,” said Stephen Notman of the Whisky Corporation, a whisky investment firm. “Nobody thought in a million years that there would be a market there for 30-, 40-year-old whisky.”

The result is skyrocketing prices and a serious shortage which people in the business think may last 15 years. The big producers are ramping up production to catch up. But by law, Scotch must be aged for three years, and aficionados prefer 10, 12,  and 15 year old scotch. So there are limits to how quickly production can be increased. The result is bound to be a loss of quality. Get ready for distilleries pushing it out the door with no age on the label.

As the wine world has discovered, the Chinese can be fickle. The Chinese market for fine wine exploded a few years ago, only to retreat when when their economy began to struggle. The same may happen to the Scotch market.

But for the next few years a serious scotch habit may get seriously expensive.

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