57⁰ North: The shape of things to come?

About the only good thing to come out of The Scottish rugby team’s recent loss to Italy in Rome was that my family who had been across for the match brought me back a whisky from the airport. Talisker 57⁰ North, until very recently only available in airports. It is pretty much a cask strength Talisker, although it should technically be referred to as ‘special strength’ – it is deliberately bottled at 57% abv to match Talisker’s longitude.

All well and good, but I was thinking the other day that the appearance of 57⁰ North is actually a very significant bottling. It is a release from a Diageo distillery which very much mimics the releases of the last few years from Ardbeg. Now Ardbeg is undoubtedly the Scotch distillery which has the most buzz around it, for reasons that have been well covered recently with the release of Rollercoaster. But what does the future of Ardbeg hold? Anyone who has read the latest issue of Whisky Magazine will have seen Dave Broom’s column ‘Reasons to be cheerful (part 2)’. In it he lists possible events that will occur in the coming years for the whisky industry. He anticipates that Diageo will take over Moet Hennessy which will give them Glenmorangie and Ardbeg.

Now if Diageo were forced to sell these distilleries to prevent them from having too big a piece of the Single Malt Pie things would be interesting enough. Who would look to acquire them? Chris pointed out that Ian McLeod were keen enough to have their own Islay single malt that they invented one, in the shape of Smokehead. Or maybe some form of Glenmorangie PLC, with the two distilleries standing independently – a pretty good option considering they are two very successful single malts. But if Diageo do hold onto them, what happens to the Ardbeg range? Allowed to continue to operate outside of company structure, or wrenched into line? Leave us with just a standard ten or twelve year old and a Distiller’s Edition along with annual releases of older bottling? Or taken to extremes, an Ardbeg 10 year old in the Flora and Fauna range.

That won’t happen, but an Ardbeg fan could have cause for concern. This is where 57⁰ North comes in. No age statement, cask strength, everything Ardbeg Uigeadail is. Is this a sign of things to come for Diageo? Not a company to miss a trick, is it possible that they are seeing the growing market for more deluxe single malts and deciding to weigh in? Talisker is an obvious distillery to start with, it has the peat level to tap the Islay market and a string of awards behind it. Could we see others in the future – something like a no age, cask strength Clynelish bearing a name like Kildonan (their water source) or Oban Kerrera, a smokier version named after the island just out of the bay. It would surely displease nobody to see Diageo utilise their single malts more with an increased number of bottlings (especially if they are within the price range of a normal human). So whilst Talisker 57⁰ North is not only just a very enjoyable whisky, perhaps it is also the shape of things to come.

Euan

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