Long ago there was a place called Middle Earth and it was mostly Europe. From there extended the very essence of civilisation and made its way to every other continent, permeating autochthon cultures and customs of every shore it reached, not really attempting to assimilate itself into the local way of life but instead trying to impose their superiority all in the name of uplifting the backward races. And that is not even the best part! The most awesome piece of realisation in this charade was that we actually bought this malarkey for centuries on end.
It somehow happened that the idea of European supremacy came to be imprinted on our DNA, or at least the on the non-European DNA. It even explains why the American Dream was a lot about chasing the bigger, better, faster, richer, and generally the more superlative standard in an attempt to usurp the idea of unquestioned European uppityness.
Well Europe seems to have had its day and while the glory of the years gone by rests with them, the accolades seem to shifting elsewhere. Take Scotch for example. Or shall we call it Single Malt. It comes from Scotland where it has been made traditionally for centuries. So important is this water for life that the making process is a national treasure and is intertwined with the history of the country. They spelled it whisky and abhorred all those who made whiskey (Irish and the US mainly). But even for others like say India or Canada they had a special scoff reserved for anything that tried to challenge their position of power.
Trouble is that this "power" was only fuelled by historical precedence and no more. Admittedly, Single Malt from Scotland is of the utmost quality but there was nothing stopping other countries from producing an equally good, if not better, dram. And before one could imagine, it came to pass that when the Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2015 was published, it awarded the top spot to Yamazaki, a Japanese Single Malt!
Much to the chagrin and surprise of everyone who drinks or doesn't even drink whisky, while the Scots were busy being prissy about who put ice, soda, or the "e" in whiskey, the Japanese silently passed them by and took the coveted top spot. And as if that wasn't insult enough, the next two spots went to Bourbons and another one to, and this must have hurt more than anything else, an English whisky.
So what does this mean? One that historic hierarchy is not a standard for quality and two, it is definitely not a guarantee for a continued sense of legacy. In other words, in order to win it isn’t enough to have been victorious earlier. You are as good as your last release so if you don't bring your A game to the arena you might as well prepare to head home. This is pretty much the wisdom that Scotland has been handed recently, one that will take some time to sink in.
So does this mean that the Scots will make drastic changes and regain their top spot? In my opinion not only does it take time to make such industry-wide changes, it is also not the most sensible line of action. Whisky takes decades to mature so to imagine a landslide change in just a year would be too far-fetched but more importantly, Scotch whisky isn't inferior to any and doesn't need to change. The results of the selection may be an objective viewpoint arrived at by analysing the various whiskies but it is also a reflection of changing consumer preferences. A Japanese whisky making a mark will certainly raise expectations – as also prices – so by the time it is time for the next evaluation, people may be either expecting better or at a better price from the land of the rising sun and this could once again tilt the scales in favour of the Scots. So don’t go rewriting your bar stash just yet.
For now, the Japanese are having a gala time rubbing it in the face of everyone who ever doubted them. Maybe the wine world should take a cue and ease up, allowing for wines other than the usual draw of countries to be served in those circles where people still wear three-piece suits with monocles and say, “My Goodness!” every few phrases.
As for me, the only judge I trust is my nose and my palate and as long as the potion in my glass passes the muster with them, I am happy to be nursing it along.