Race from the bottom
Posted 04 November 2022 by Matt / In Indri
Bottle Name: Indri Trini Three Wood
Region: Rest of the World
Whilst the longer established whisky producers continue their relentless drive toward ‘making more from less’, AKA premiumisation – newer distilleries are waiting in the wings ready to garner a noteworthy market share from the gulf that is increasingly developing between preliminary/introductory bottles and the upper strata of ‘aspirational whisky’. The big players seem hell bent on racing to the top – of positioning as much of their whisky as possible as somehow more than just a drink. I.E. as a luxury lifestyle statement. But once this has all inevitably been played out, it could well be those racing up from the bottom who reap the rewards longer term.
Whilst I do ascribe to the chain of thought that whisky (and particularly single malt) was for a time, under-priced - steady price growth, as opposed to manifest, exaggerated, upward lurches is far more likely to safeguard enduring brand loyalty. The notion that there are enough whisky-loving heavy rollers – be that drinkers, collectors or investors - to sustain constant, marked, price escalation feels like opportunism. Understandable - yes, but short-termist? - almost certainly to my mind. I’ve yet to find the heart to have this discussion fully with any number of younger brand reps who broadly smile when gleefully talking about their parent companies’ plans to continue to ratchet prices up further (guys, honestly I’d be keeping that under my hat rather more). Most simply assume that there’s an unlimited number of potential buyers with pockets that are endlessly deep. Many I fear may well think differently when in years to come their bosses, bosses, boss is sitting on a beach earning 20%, and they’re left dealing with a market which looks dramatically different and far more challenging to leverage than it did during those fondly remembered ‘good times’.
All industries go through periods of growth and into what can be considered a period of sector maturity. Whisky is no different. It’s increasingly in vogue. At the moment. However, it would be foolhardy to expect this level of infatuation to last forever. Fads come and fads go. And have-a-go investors, habitually have a go, get rich or get burned and then turn their attentions elsewhere.
Blends and accessibly priced expressions have done and will continue to provide a solid bedrock for industry stability. But I don’t think at the same time that they can provide the type of unconstrained, easy revenue growth that we have seen with whisky’s premiumisation over the last decade. The obvious question arising therefore being – is premiumisation itself sustainable?
The problem with the mass-premiumisation concept is this – if a large number of producers rationalise their offerings down to the point where outside of core range ‘accessible’ whiskies everything else is super, ultra, hyper, limited (read expensive) - whisky drinkers *will* look elsewhere. It is unrealistic to expect the majority of new consumers to discover whisky by dropping £40 on a supermarket bottle, graduate to a £100 premium expression and then be ready to stump up the totality of the average weekly UK salary to progress onto the next echelon. Some certainly can. Many can’t and/or won’t.
So what happens when the highest end has been harvested bare?
Or is the assumption that the human race will simply keep fabricating socio/economic disparities sufficient enough to produce an endless number of super-rich individuals? (depressing stuff)
Business is business and whilst many like to think of distilleries as some sort of altruistic entities, they are when boiled down to their heart - profit-making booze factories. Particularly those beholden to shareholders. No one should beget a business for capitalising on an emergent market. But at the same time, nothing can last forever and in positioning so much of whisky as aspirational is the industry not unconsciously squeezing its own future middle – a middle which should be a sure-fire vehicle of brand loyalty in perpetuity?
No one can (or should) ever be able to purchase everything. Whisky has never been that way. But if you extend the trajectory of premiumisation out over the next decade or two, the net result could be less whisky drinkers, not more. Perpetually the highest point of the market will either eventually move on to something else or simply die of old age. Even if you accept the idea that the planet has an unfettered super-rich creation potential – does anyone really believe that this automatically equates to unlimited ultra-premium whisky potential? And if not….after that point has been reached, what does whisky look like? A wealth of starting points – a wealth of end points that no one can afford – and therefore far less in the middle.
Do producers think they can, if required, repivot back to the centre ground (nice things at nice prices)? I daresay they can. But the question I’d be asking before then is how has that market changed in the interim? You can’t expect everyone to just sit around and wait for whisky to come home.
Call me a grizzled centrist if you like, but I am strongly of the view that the ‘middle’ portion of any customer base is the sub-section that should be nurtured the most. But at the same time it can be an audience that takes the least amount of input and energy to do so. These folk don’t need persuading to enter the marketplace (they’re already there). They can be leveraged to purchase more and to think differently about products (they’re educated). In effect their custom could be considered to be relatively ‘locked-in’. And they in turn offer the sort of evangelism that many organisations would pay a pretty penny for. However, this middle whilst far from intractable cannot be endlessly propelled upwards on booster rockets. The emergency parachute is bound to be activated at some point.
Taken to its conclusion (I.E. following current trends), all of this could lead to what I believe may well be a looming gap in the market. A gap which is surprisingly not at the high-end, but somewhere in that middle.
‘World whisky’ (a terrible catch-all term in my view) has been bubbling along for a number of years now. Initially these producers were oft-times considered by the wider market to be little more than a diversion away from the ‘real stuff’ – but now they are most certainly growing, increasing their visibility and slowly capturing market share. For sure – world whisky is a mere fraction when compared to Scotch, Irish or American. But at the same time, it would be a mistake to not recognise that many of these producers are now crafting whiskies which both sit at the crossroads between entry and super premium (I.E. the middle) and likewise are operating at a quality which at least matches the established producers.
The capacities of world whisky producers are growing. Whilst one might currently tally up their combined LPA’s and shrug at their relative diminutive size – if you look at those outputs in terms of their growth over the last decade it is clear that there is only one trajectory. Of course, not all will survive. Again, business is business. But while an increasing number of the established producers focus their attentions toward the top of the market, one can’t help but feel that their eyes are moving steadily away from the ball that is sitting in the middle of the pitch. And it’s this centre ground that I believe world whisky producers are potentially well-placed to capitalise on in the future. Other’s may posit that this situation is totally fine – that ‘other’ distilleries can have the middle, whilst the established players fight for the more lucrative bigger bottom and upwardly mobile top. However, again – I just don’t believe that that top is nearly as infinitely elastic as some seem to. And should that middle become ‘repopulated’ with different brands offering different propositions over time….well, then all bets are most certainly off.
Let me be clear. None of the above should suggest to you that I consider that either the whisky market is going to crash or even notably contract. I wrote about that almost three years ago – and my overarching views have not changed. But what I do believe is that as the whisky market continues to splinter that world whisky producers (and those who are not wholly absorbed by widescale premiumisation) stand to benefit – if they’re prepared to play a lengthier game than many of their longer-established competitors.
World whisky needs to race from the bottom, not race to the top (that in on itself would provide a differentiation) – and if it can do so using a realism of the today and not a price aspiration of the tomorrow, it could well find that is has immediate access to a well-established segment of the market that is surprisingly more eager to explore than historically was ever the case.
I was staggered to read that India’s Piccadily Distilleries have a combined site LPA of 4 million litres per year. Whilst the overarching business of Piccadily Agro (the parent company) is firmly embedded into sugar refinement and sugar by-products - nevertheless, this output is not small by any measure. The company operates three sites – Indri, Patiala and Bawal - and lists itself as India’s “largest independent manufacturer and seller of malt spirits.”
To date, I’ve seen little whisky produced by Piccadily (perhaps Indian friends will be able to comment on where all those volumes have been historically heading – bulk domestic blending?). However, following the 2021 introduction of 'Kamet', earlier this year the company launched Indri Trini Three Wood into several European markets….and I saw a few tongues starting to wag about it. Primarily about its quality vs. its asking price.
Trini Three Wood is crafted from a combination of ex-bourbon, ex-wine and ex-Pedro Ximenez casks. It’s conception sees an expectedly high angels share – noted as 50% over 4.5 years – as well as a more surprising short fermentation time of just 72 hours (3 days). The expression is delivered at 46% and bottles can be nabbed from retailers such as The Whisky Exchange for £39.45. That sits alongside the asking prices for Paul John’s core expressions of Bold, Brilliance and Edited (and is a solid percentage under all of Amrut’s and Rampur’s releases – at least here in the UK). Doesn’t seem shabby from the outside.
Nose: Expressive tropicalness with guava and touches of pineapple juice alongside a selection of fruit teas and peach cobbler. After resting the aromas broaden to include those from the wine and sherry cask influences – jammy red berries, almond paste, gooey caramel and gingerbread men. Dilution amps up those peaches with fool and sorbet whilst also revealing cantaloupe, Lipton Iced Tea and strawberry Starburst.
Taste: A delicate oiliness makes landfall first before piquant (but still balanced) cask spice leads the mouth development. A melange of ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg heads into cream toffee, butterscotch and vanilla before the fruitiness from the nose re-establishes itself through the progression – part tropical, part stone fruit, part berry. The berry influence extends the most – fresh redcurrants and raspberries with touches of stewed blackberries. Reduction isn’t required here and indeed there’s a touch of hydrophobia so be particularly sparing. Fruit teas once more – though with a broader complement of fruits this time – and far less spice along for the ride.
Finish: Medium and firmly in the grasp of the wine/fortified wine casks now – lingering berry fruits alongside a tannic vinous quality that’s both slightly bitter and drying.
Trini Three Wood is a highly competent composition – offered at a particularly palatable price. The word of the day is ‘balance’ and Trini expresses this ably with its appealing fruit-forward nose and similarly, but differently throughout its more cask spice-led palate. It’s only the sense grippiness from some overexuberant wine casks in the finish that prevents me scoring it higher. But nevertheless, this is a very solid demonstration of both the application of tropical maturation and of a producer that has the capacity (and seemingly the talent) to plant yet another flag for the continued march of world whisky.
Review sample provided by Piccadily Distillers
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