Along with football bowl games and parades, spirits writers enjoy another New Year’s Day tradition: forecasting the coming year’s signature drink.
While the odds are certainly long for making an accurate prediction, I feel fairly confident about my pick: 18-year-old Scotch. After all, what spirit could be a better fit for this new year? Eighteen, of course, for 2018.
In the late 1990s, a distiller somewhere in Scotland took malted barley and, using a traditional copper pot still, turned it into alcohol. The clear spirit was then aged in a former bourbon or sherry barrel and sat in a warehouse for years. To put this in perspective, when the whisky was produced, Bill Clinton was president and single malt Scotch was just beginning to gain popularity. Now, of course, single malt has become ubiquitous and you can find a bottle of the whisky in just about every liquor store in America.
Scotch is actually becoming too popular and brands are struggling to keep older malts on store shelves. Several years ago, Laphroaig discontinued its 18-year-old, preferring to get the whisky to its fans sooner. (And The Macallan recently announced it would no longer sell its 21-year-old or 30-year-old Fine Oak whiskies.) Part of the recipe for the success of older malts was adoption of standard ages—in particular 12, 15, 18 and 21—which, along with a high price, were designed to give drinkers a sense of quality. Remember, at the turn of the century, single malt Scotch was still a new thing and this so-called age ladder provided a sense of comfort and familiarity for the new category. 12-year-old Scotch, according to Dr. Nick Morgan, Diageo’s director of whisky outreach, has been around for more than a century. So why did 18 become a standard? The reasons vary, though, in some cases, brands chose it based on the number’s lucky connotations in some Asian cultures, which appealed to buyers in those markets.
While some distillers may have current supply problems, fortunately, overall, you should be able to find a bottle of 18-year-old fairly easily. But in an attempt to control demand, prices have risen during the last few years; The Macallan 18-year-old sells for a sobering $294. (That may only serve to stoke demand, as it becomes ever more a status symbol.)
But there are plenty of other more reasonable alternatives, including some of my old favorites, like Glenfiddich 18 ($110), Glenmorangie 18 ($119) and Aberlour 18 ($125). Oban ($150) and Bowmore ($130) both offer delicious examples of what happens when you age maritime malts for an extended period of time.
The one problem with my pick? Spending more than a hundred dollars a bottle. No matter how good (or bad) 2018 proves to be, it is an expensive dram. But there is an alternative, Dewar’s offers a smooth blended Scotch for $80.
No matter what you drink, I hope you’ll join me in a raising a glass to toast 2018!