Despite waiting years, decades or even generations for a whisky to mature, it seems that patience is far from a virtue when it comes to getting that whisky to people’s doorsteps. I still remember as a much younger man feeling somewhat privileged to receive a package within a couple of weeks of ordering it. Waiting for things was simply a prerequisite back then. But, oh how times have changed. Immediate access to anything and everything all of the time and same-day deliveries might be steadily championing the democratisation of our right to laziness – but at the same time, should whisky ever be viewed as an ultra-convenience?
Irrespective of the state of global supply chains (more on that shortly), the rise of the impatient whisky consumer shows no signs of abating. Whilst the Internet and logistics companies certainly permit and indeed encourage both impulsiveness and a growing intolerance for waiting, there’s more at play here. Producers have been showing their own signs of impatience (rapid ageing techniques) and enthusiasts are increasingly viewing the purchasing of their bottles with a different mindset. Time is still important for whisky. But maturation is only one aspect – fulfilment is another.
The over-purchasing whisky is a commonly seen occurrence – many of us are guilty of possessing far too many bottles. However, whilst it has taken me two decades to build up my apocalypse stash, over the last five years there has been a marked change in the purchasing behaviour of those newer to the hobby. Forget a steady-as-she-goes over-accumulation over half a lifetime – put the pedal to the metal – that’s 300+ bottles in less time than it takes to fully gestate a new-born. Now sure, that’s interest, passion and a commitment to whisky – all good things. But at the same time, discovering, finding, purchasing and receiving that whisky in a matter of days if not hours reduces the anticipation and satisfaction of every subsequent purchase. “ooo shiny, me want” <pause> “ooo more new shiny, me want”. The cycle continues.
I’m not suggesting that you all should be buying less (though take a look at prices – you possibly might want to consider buying less). But I am saying that when whisky is treated as an immediate gratification, rationality can start to play second fiddle to the perceived need for speedy accrual. And at that point, concepts around generations of knowledge and decades of maturation seem to pale into insignificance when compared to expected delivery timeframes. “I ordered my bottle earlier this week and it’s *still* not here” said the person purchasing a product which was in effect conceived before they were.
Sadly, this is all part and parcel of modern ‘right now’ living. And in that regard whisky is no different to any other product. Of course there are levels of acceptable service and fulfilment, but irrespective of my rose-tinted view that not everything can or should work like Amazon (particularly whisky) – folks are going to need to recalibrate their compasses to the realities of present day logistics.
Ask any producer about glass. You probably won’t get a cheery response. Whilst far from alone as a sector, whisky is facing unprecedented bottlenecks (pun intended) in terms of delays, production facility closures, increased export paperwork and shortfalls in staffing. COVID-19 has affected every aspect of the supply chain – from the sourcing and raw materials to the end delivery to the customer. You could almost have been forgiven for missing it. I like many of you sat at home for the best part of the year receiving many more packages at my door than friends. And I certainly saw many of you ordering bottles. Lots of bottles.
But right now the whisky global supply chain is, to coin a phrase - buggered.
Those countless bottles of whisky that you bought whilst locked in your house and the components that went into creating them (I.E. the dry goods) were for the most part all sourced, shipped and manufactured *before* the aftershocks of the global pandemic. Continued shutdowns in the materials and production industries alongside stoppages at ports and airports have caused a ripple effect across supply chains – ultimately causing goods to pile up in storage, impacting ships that were already on their way to ports leading them to divert elsewhere – thus proliferating the problem to nearly every major transit hub on the planet.
This in turn has caused manufacturers to compete for the limited supply of available ‘to hand’ materials that have made it successfully to their destinations. When you combine that with labour market shortages and in the UK with the issues surrounding Brexit (a shortage of HGV drivers and an import/export system which is currently totally unfit for purpose) the impact on whisky, and particularly Scotch whisky has been marked.
The whisky industry needs a whole lot more than patience right now. But a little bit of it would at least be a start.
Case in point - the Chichibu London Edition 2021. Whilst debuting at last year’s London Whisky Show – bottles of this sought after Japanese whisky have only recently arrived in the UK. Now, Chichibu arriving late isn’t by itself anything to write home about – the distillery is (in)famously spotty with its overseas distribution. However, these bottles arriving 10 months after their unveiling – near enough 2 months away from *this* year’s London Whisky Show - is a notable delay.
Shipping just ain’t what it used to be. What once might have been happily loaded onto a container as a ‘split delivery’ is now all to often simply declined by many logistics companies – they just don’t want to deal with all the paperwork once they arrive at their destination. Seriously - it's infuriating. Similarly, alongside cessations to service and months of backlogs – shipping prices have risen at a near unprecedented level. The cost of a shipping container has risen by 300%+ over the past two years. All things considered, I’m surprised that the Chichibu London Edition 2021 has even made it.
But made it, it has - and so, seeing as I spent the earlier part of today’s pre-Dramble suggesting that good things should be worth the wait, let’s get to it…
The Chichibu London Edition 2021 is made up of seven casks – four peated and three unpeated – with six casks being 1st fill and one being refill (answers on a postcard which is the refill). Whilst technically an NAS, the age of the component malts has been confirmed to me as between 5-6 years. The net result of all of that is 1,859 bottles at 51.5% ABV.
Bottles have first been offered to London Whisky Show 2021 ticket holders (entirely fair enough). This pre-sale is due to end on Sunday 24th July. Any bottles leftover, assuming that any bottles are leftover, will then be offered on a ballot next Monday and Tuesday. Here’s the page if you want to keep and eye on it.
Nose: Herbal with dill and angelica, vegetal with leaf mulch and green salad. Sitting atop – lemon gel and pink grapefruit – whilst touches of slate, pumice and graphite oil join alongside bicycle tyres and cough sweets. The addition of water presents a more cereal character with Frosties together with machine oils and sharp sand.
Taste: Razored and mineralistic. Preserved lemon and tarter grapefruit now. Granite and brine sits with ashy/vegetal smoke whilst menthol lifts creamy toffee and chocolate. Reduction brings with it a big citric fruitiness with both lemon and lime, now licked by both salinity and quartz together with a steadily developing alluvial character - soils and clays.
Finish: Long and maintaining the sharp and chiselled tightness throughout. Lemon, peat smoke and rockiness (a whisky holy trinity) – but at the same time, recognisably not Caol Ila in nature.
A genuinely impressive release that showcases both the inherent quality of the Chichibu distillate and maturation regime – but also a wonderfully thoughtful amalgamation of casks. There’s real purity here – so much so in fact that nothing can possibly be masked or buried within this whisky – even with 4/7 casks coming from fairly robustly peated concerto barley (the one strain that the distillery does source from Scotland – the others coming from both England and Germany). Patience certainly rewarded.
Review sample provided by The Whisky Exchange