Whiskey Predictions for the 2020s

by
January 3, 2020

It’s been an incredible, eventful decade to be a whiskey drinker. We’ve never had greater exposure to a broader collection of excellent whiskeys across all styles, and from unimagined origins. In the 2010s, the whiskey world began to hear of a world-class single malt made in Taiwan(!). Irish whiskey saw a renaissance and rye whiskey, which had been collecting dust in previous decades, got a well deserved heralding. Naturally, when discussing the 2010s, we have to talk about craft distilling. In the US, we saw a 10-fold increase in the number of craft distilleries from roughly 200 to over 2,000 this past decade. That’s a lot of new whiskey brands!

Of course, balancing out what we’ve gained in the whiskey world are some enormous downsides as well. Prices have soared while supply of our favorites has dwindled. Both of those factors have helped the secondary market turn the pursuit of drinking delicious whiskey into something more like curating a costly museum exhibit.  As we look ahead to the next decade, we have a few whiskey predictions for the 2020s.

The Replenishment of Japanese Whisky & Return of Age Statements

No category was hit harder by its own success than Japanese whisky. As soon as the world discovered the category *poof* it was gone. Virtually all of the age statement whisky from Suntory and Nikka went into extinction. However, by 2030 you can look forward to at least a slight shift back to what once was.

Whiskey Predictions: Barrels at Yamazaki DistilleryBarrels at Yamazaki Distillery /Photo Credit: Suntory

Until then, the NAS and clear spirit offerings from both powerhouses will continue to help stem the tides. Production has been firing away at full force, so our whiskey predictions include that the next decade for age statements will make a come back.

States Continue to Take Charge

In the past several years, we’ve seen producer and state led movements arise to create new categories and marks of quality. Notably, distillers in New York state have created the Empire Rye category. The American Single Malt Commission was formed this past decade to establish and promote this growing category.

Whiskey Predictions: The Colorado Whiskey TrailThe Colorado Whiskey Trail /Photo Credit: The Colorado Whiskey Trail

Meanwhile, states and regions are encouraging visits to local distilleries by promoting distillery trails. Beyond Kentucky, you can now find trails in Tennessee and Colorado, as well as the Whiskey Rebellion Trail up and down the mid-Atlantic. Expect these movements to continue in the decade to come. The passing of federal legislation to formally create new national categories is a nightmare, so producers will thrive by holding themselves to a higher standard and banding together.

More World Regions Come to Prominence

The world of whiskey keeps getting larger by the day. Our whiskey predictions see that to continue with these three regions especially: Nordic, Australian and Chinese whiskeys. Nordic distilleries are already out in full force, and the countries are also home to deeply passionate consumers. Expect the world to catch onto distilleries such as Mackmyra, Spirit of Hven, Braunstein, Eimverk and many others.

Whiskey Predictions: Starward DistilleryStarward Distillery /Photo Credit: Starward Distillery

While Australian whiskey has garnered some international attention, expect it to reach a fever pitch as more distilleries continue to come of age. And as for China? Pernod Ricard has already broken ground on a massive single malt distillery in the country. You can bet the other big boys won’t be far behind.

Secondary Market Widens, but (some) Prices Fall

By 2030, there are going to be more collectible whiskey than ever. Think of all the well-aged, limited edition releases that the country’s best craft producers are going to be able to create. Not to mention high-end offerings emanating everywhere from Canada to Ireland to Asia.

Whiskey Predictions: Old whisky at BalvenieOld whisky at Balvenie /Photo Credit: Balvenie

New cult classics and hidden gems will emerge, then disappear from stores to end up on that much-maligned secondary market. That bevy of newfound options though may actually lead to an unexpected bonus: the lowering of certain prices. Even with more whiskey collectors and connoisseurs than ever, there are only so many people willing and able to fork over thousands of dollars on a bottle or two.

With vastly increased supply, in another decade, our whiskey predictions include a world where former “everyday” whiskeys go back to being just that. Imagine, walking into your corner shop on a whim, dropping $25, and leaving with some Weller 12 Year. Wild!

The Boom & Bust of Craft Whiskey

Can the whiskey market support 2,000 craft distilleries over the long haul? What about when there are inevitably 3,000 and beyond? While craft distillation keeps booming, expect there to be a bit of a bust by the end of the ‘20s. That might mean only a reduced rate of growth rather than a true decline in sales or numbers. However, even with overall growth pushing forward, we’ll inevitably see strings of distillery closures along the way, including some familiar names and faces.

Whiskey Predictions: Whiskey selection at Wyoming WhiskeyWhiskey selection at Wyoming Whiskey /Photo Credit: Wyoming Whiskey

At the same time, expect the major conglomerates to continue stockpiling the cream of the craft crop. Of course, we’ve seen this all with beer already. Which leads us to ask…

Is There a Hard Seltzer of Whiskey?

Hard seltzer has upended the beer business. Is there an equivalent to be found in the whiskey world? You betcha. Say hello to the RTD, or ready-to-drink beverage. This category already exists but it’s bound to break out in the next decade. Whiskey RTDs are already huge in places including Australia and Japan—sipping a canned highball while riding on a Japanese bullet train is one of life’s pure pleasures. Our whiskey predictions see whiskey RTDs to explode on the scene in a matter of years here in the United States. If RTD whiskey was a stock, you should dump your funds into it.


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