A whisky symposium of the KCWS

The KCWS is the King’s Court Whisky Society of which I am a member since a couple of months. Its a fairly large whisky club in Haarlem, which is rather close to Zaanstad.

The symposium was held because of the 10th anniversary of the club and they invited all kinds of Dutch whisky prominents to have a say about what the world of whisky will look like in ten years time, focussed on the Netherlands.

The speeches were held by Ad de Koning (Master of the Quaich), a whisky hero who has been putting single malt whisky on the map since the early 80’s. Ilja Schouten is the brand manager for Macallan, Highland Park and Famous Grouse (among others) from Maxxium. Patrick van Zuidam is the master distiller of the Zuidam distillery. Michel Kappen is the CEO of The World Whisky Index. Thom Olink was the president of the symposium and editor in chief of WhiskyEtc. Hans Bresser was to represent importers of smaller brands and independent bottlers and finally, Hans Offringa shared his views on his area of expertise, communication and press.

Ad de Koning
His talk was mostly about the current trends in whisky, world wide, with a focus on the economics behind it. A slight focus on Japan, since that is a market that mister De Koning has extensice experience in. In short: the volume is going down slightly, except in the new markets but in most countries the value is more or less similar, except in Japan where the whisky market has been in decline since the 80’s.

Patrick van Zuidam
Patrick focussed on production of whisky and stated that the three or four dominant players will be dominant for a long long time. Although them being dominant, the small companies will start to make the most ruckus. They have more room and a larger necessity to innovate. While the rules around Single Malt whisky are fairly tight, the same goes for bourbon but experiments can be done with yeast strains, barley and other grains. Also, he expects more science to be used in cask management. As we come to understand the workings better, there will be more guidance and targeted maturation.

Ilja Schouten
Ilja also focussed on charts and figures and showed a larger overview of the market, without focussing solely on whisky. The blends still make up for about 80% of the domestic whisky sales, while single malt, bourbon and other types of whisky fill in the other fifth. All drinks are in decline since the depression, but there is a certain trend of premiumisation.

Michel Kappen
His company focusses on about 0.2% of the market where the most expensive bottles are bought and sold as investments. He has a vault in which the bottles are stored and the contents vary from just released bottles to the € 50,000 bottle of Springbank 1919. He stated that everybody present will start using The World Whisky Index as an appraisal tool in the coming few years. Quality will be expressed in value more and more.

Hans Bresser
In short, the market for independent bottlers is a tricky one and will start to see less players in the future, since less casks, and lesser quality casks are being released to them. In the world of small distilleries, not much will change.

Hans Offringa
He focussed part of his talk on the whisky literature and development thereof in the past, and talked about the explosion of new media whisky ‘press’ (of which this blog is part). He expects that offline print will start to lose in favour of online print, and more companies will start using both. He also expects that the current explosion in blogs, twitter and facebook published whisky news will decline or at least separate from the professional press.

While I did not agree with all statements made, it was a very interesting afternoon filled with interesting points of view and new insights. I also though it very cool to have finally met Ad de Koning in person. I read a lot about him but never encountered him before. The man is truly a hero and a presence. You just can’t go around him.

The point I disagreed most with is the point made by Michel Kappen. He expects people to express quality in a price more often, but I think that since everything already has a price and people are focussing more on the enjoyment of things (see the quality over quantity shift) I think people will care a bit less about the price of what they are drinking. Of course, many people will buy stuff to sell it in a few years time, but its not the be all, end all. Especially the ‘bottle of Springbank’ case is overrated in my opinion (no, I haven’t tasted it, that’s not what I meant). Its price is said to be 50k, but no-one has ever that much for it. Which, in an auction/index world means its not worth it.

Also I excpect most innovation in the area of whisky to come from America, where distilleries have less problems to name their product differently. “If its not bourbon, we’ll just call it whiskey”. In Scotland I think distilleries are very afraid to veer away from the standard Single Malt, since the reputation of Single Malt is so much higher appreciated than anything else. And, since innovation has been punished in recent years by the SWA, I think people will not go there as quickly. Example: Loch Lomond had been making single malt for ages and now they can’t call it single malt anymore, since they use the wrong stills.

To make us happy campers during the talks we were handed a sample of the KCWS club bottling, a 20  year old Tamdhu from 1989. Tasting notes will follow.

All speakers brought an affordable dram that they highly enjoy, but since I was driving I only had one. Patrick van Zuidam brought a cask sample of his distillery. A 6.5 year old Rye whisky at approximatly 57% ABV.

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About Sjoerd de Haan-Kramer

I'm very interested in booze, with a focus on whisky. I like to listen to loads of music and play lots of Magic: the Gathering, and board games too. I'm married to Anneke, have two daughters Ot and Cato, a son Moos and a cat called Kikker (which means Frog, in Dutch). I live in Krommenie, The Netherlands.
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