I joined a discussion group and the above question came up. I could go for years about this with answers and more questions but let me simply start. Springbank, a beloved independent distiller has been a family owned business for 200 years, they offer expressions with identical labels, and ultimately, an ever so slightly different product in the bottles. Across the whisky world this dilemma exists, how to remain profitable and yet make great consistent tasting whisky bottle to bottle, cask to cask, year to year.
Multi-national beverage maker Diageo as well as all the big three, face this same dilemma as the small independent distillers. Oban 14 bottle to bottle is slightly different to the discerning palette, as is any Talisker offerings. Ive had Talisker 18 that tasted like heaven and also tasted average and I purchased both bottles from the state liquor control board, so there was no tampering beforehand.
In the end it all might be the hand of the Scotch Whisky Association playing out here, which might make it impossible to have consistency, which is not a bad thing if you think about it, how can you make anything great without a few mistakes along the way.
The wine industry went corporate without regulation, AOCs allowed chemicals and science to make every bottle pretty much equal by name and year. Today It’s hard to find a bottle of wine that’s gone off, at any price, it’s either thin or full body, but safe and drinkable.
Whisky, even when the multinationals are doing it, thanks to the Scotch Whisky Association, no bottle of scotch can be the same, you can’t make all the whisky all the same, even if the label looks the same, and this is what makes scotch whisky all that it is. Now glory be to traditions upheld by the SWA. With this being the case, the SWA should require bottles be given a fill date not simply an age statement.
These drink variations with independent distillers are part of the charm and pride that comes to distillers like Springbank or Edradour or Benromach, but every distiller, multinationals too, need to identify the bottles from year to year. The industry needs to get a grip on this issue, or end up going the way of all other spirits. A way where consistency, profitability, and, science are held above all else and thusly end up lacking an essence of nature in her whimsy of weather, of oak trees, of sea salt breezes, and of sun lit barley.
Today if a person wants consistency year to year they should consider limited runs of 1000 bottles or less, which is probably the only answer to an individual who demands consistency in their whisky, and don't mind watching their bank accounts drain.
Consistency is the hobgoblin of a malicious and fearful palette
The answer I hope is with the consumer accepting variables in all that it takes to make their dram over time and the bottom line profitable for both Independent and Multinational distillers while satisfying the Scottish Whisky Association along the way.
In the end we are more than marketing and labels.