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My Handcrafted Opinions on Whiskies, Distilleries and Other Related Stuff
Saturday, 12 November 2011 19:45

Return of the Dinosaurs?

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I have been thinking a lot about the return of Glenglassaugh and must confess to some mixed feelings.  Didn't we learn the lesson of the Jurassic Park franchise (other than a third movie should never have been made) as Dr Ian Malcolm said "Dinosaurs had their shot, and nature selected them for extinction." 

Seriously though is it just me or is the whisky world's interest with extinct distilleries and those that were extinct and have since been reborn a little misplaced?  I find myself asking this question more and more and as I taste some of these whiskies I find the questions don't go away.  Let's put aside the rarity question.  I fully understand that extinct whiskies are going to be collector's items and that itself creates an interest.  No I am talking about the simple fact, often ignored, that they were probably not always particularly good whiskies (not whether they are collectable).

In my mind a combination of free market economics and natural selection would suggest that in order for new and better whiskies to come along, less popular whiskies must improve or fall to wayside.  As popular as whisky has become it is still a finite market and therefore only a finite number of whiskies can exist.  If we want better whiskies shouldn't we want less popular or unsuccessful whiskies to perish?    Instead we seem to mourn passing of whisky distilleries or celebrate the re-opening of old ones without asking the important question – why did it close to start with?  Is the reborn distillery really remaking the old spirit and product, if so why?  Or is it using the modern equipment, standards and techniques, and in effect it's a new distillery in an old building.

The emergence of new distilleries and new whisky making countries suggests to me that in balance we as whisky lovers should welcome the passing of some tired old production that was never successful or large enough to survive and welcome the next whisky that will inevitably follow in footsteps, almost certainly a better product given the high standards of distilling and maturation today.  Simply put some of these whiskies weren't good enough or loved enough or viable for whatever reason at the time and for the good of the whole industry they had to die.  My guess is that they weren't the best whiskies and therefore the fittest survived.  If total whisky production or producing countries was falling I would understand, but clearly that isn't the case, so let's collectively move on.   

If you do come across a rare bottling of single malt from a closed distillery enjoy by all means, but don't try and tell me it is a loss to the industry.  My guess is it probably isn't, although I am sure from time to time some good production has been lost it has been more than outweighed by the good new whiskies added almost every day.  I am sure almost any distillery can produce, from time to time, a one off single cask bottling of exceptional quality but it doesn't mean that everything produced there was of the same standard.  Occasionally even a blind squirrel will find a nut.

So let's not mourn the passing of distilleries or worry about the rebirth of others, perhaps we should even encourage and welcome it, raising the standards of the global product for everyone, like a gardener pruning old tired flowers so healthy new growth can come through. 

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