John Hansell, publisher and editor of Malt Advocate, evaluates trends in disappointing whiskies under the guise of the question,"Why are there still disappointing whiskies?"
He knows perfectly well why, and says so in the introduction:
Alas, being different gets press and generates sales. I believe Bruichladdich's super-peated Octomore sold out before it was even bottled. The Macallan's 55 year-old didn't win over Hansell's palate, but it got more press than most other releases that year. He thinks Ardmore is bottled too young for a peated Speyside whisky, but the point of differentiation has sure helped its sales.
Most stories about booze end up being news or trend-focused. The non-newsy exceptions like the piece I wrote on scotch for Imbibe Magazine are introductory stories. There's no need to write a story saying "Macallan 18: Still exists."
The way some of these brands stay in the news and achieve name recognition with new consumers is to release super expensive expressions in fancy containers. I am not offended so much by these releases, as they're about news and status and anyone who thinks they're going to get a $12,000 bottle of scotch that's 24 times better than their $500 of scotch is kind of rich and stupid. (And hopefully eligible to date.)
But I couldn't agree more with this statement Hansell makes, referring specifically to some of the wine finished whiskies: "No one wants to spend their hard earned money being a guinea pig."
Many distilleries are releasing products I think just because they made them, instead of because they made something good. This is hardly unique to whisky- I've had disgusting experimental vodka, rum, tequila, heck- everything. You can understand it when they're micodistilleries who've invested a lot in the experiment, but now that every spirit category is going "small batch" there are a lot more bad batches in there with the good.
On the other hand, taste is subjective. Hansell is better qualified than most people to rate whisky, but there have been times I've been sure he was smoking crack before writing his notes. And some of the stuff that I enjoy others find vile. Variety is a good thing, even when there are bad varieties.
I look forward to new releases (even the experimental ones) that give me an excuse to talk about their points of differentiation. A newly released 60 year-old whisky allows me to say that most whiskies hit their sweet spot a lot younger. A new bourbon finished in teak gives me an excuse to say why that's no longer a bourbon legally. A new vodka distilled from potato chips allows me to explain that most vodka is not actually made from potatoes.
A lot of the time I'm writing about news and trends in cocktails and spirits, and sometimes I'll let it slip that I think they're extra good. Hansell's job for Malt Advocate as he-who-gives-out-ratings is just about the opposite- he'll tell you about the trends but most of the time he's telling you which ones to buy into. It's the reader's job to note the difference between reporting and reviewing.