Innovation can sometimes feel like a dirty word in the whisky world. Brands can be pilloried for changing their bottle shape, for trying a new way of selling their whisky and even for the names they give to their liquid, but an ability to change is an essential mechanism of a successful business.
For the whisky industry to keep moving forwards, to keep growing and to keep bringing in new drinkers, it needs to seek the new, whilst protecting what is already good. This is where the innovators come in, those companies that are prepared to stick their neck out and embrace the new, but who are also skilled enough to do this without damaging the quality of what they produce.
For a first example, look at a company like Compass Box. They call themselves “Whiskymakers,” which they do to signify their mindset about whisky. They want to be open to challenging perceptions and experimenting with processes, whilst always keeping spirit quality at the forefront of what they do. As a result, they have found themselves criticised by the SWA (Scotch Whisky Association) for being too open and challenging too many boundaries, but they have also produced interesting, different whiskies with disturbing regularity. Whisky to Try: The Spice Tree
Another perfect example is Kilchoman, who when they began, were the first new distillery to be built on Islay in 124 years. In their short lives, they have focussed on quality of ingredients, quality of distillery process and quality of casking. They have been criticised for releasing NAS (Non-Age Statement) whisky, but anyone who has taken the time to taste their whisky will know that there are producing fantastic young whisky, which is rich in Islay flavours, whilst being balanced with the sweetness of sherry and vanilla woodiness of bourbon oak. Whisky to Try: Machir Bay
Finally, reflect on Mackmyra, a Swedish company, who focus on trying to produce a spirit that reflects the natural landscape and flavours of Sweden, rather than simply producing a carbon copy of Scotch whisky. As a result, they have created an amazing array of seasonal whiskies, with finishes ranging from sweet, fruity Cloudberry Wine through to peaty, smoky juniper smoke flavours. Whilst every whisky that they produce might not be to everyone’s taste, you can always guarantee that it will be challenging and interesting. Whisky to Try: Svensk Rok
Maybe it is time for whisky drinkers to be more open, to try liquids without pre-conceived ideas and to start embracing the great whisky that innovation can bring with it.