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Issue 66 - Innovative times

Whisky Magazine Issue 66
September 2007


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Innovative times

By launching a wood finish bourbon Kentucky's Labrot & Graham is merely honouring a long tradition of innovation at the distillery. Our man reports

Does whisky have to evolve, change even, to secure a future? The debate is common to all three of the great traditional whisky markets in Scotland, Ireland and America. And it's one that is regularly reassessed and reconsidered in all three countries.

On one side of the argument are the traditionalists, the ‘don't fix what's not broken' brigade, arguing that whisky's core characteristics are the very thing that make it stand apart and therefore best ensure its future.

On the other side are the modernisers, who argue that the fickle modern customer wants innovation and exciting new products, and that without change the existing whisky will disappear and the next generation will have lost interest. New and growing markets in the East and India are giving the overall picture an artificially bright hue, they argue, but they can't carry the sector forever.

So far in Scotland at least, an uneasy truce has held firm between the two camps. The traditionalists have successfully held out to protect the simple definition of what Scotch is, without it being diluted. The modernisers meanwhile have contented themselves with special finishes, unusual cask types, cask strength and unchill-filtered bottlings and with tinkerings with the fermentation and distillation process.

But the variety on display in Scotland isn't matched in America. Heaven Hill and Buffalo Trace have invested in innovation to some extent, there have been small batch and single cask bottlings and the likes of Wild ...

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