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How Many Whisky Distillery Core Expressions Are Enough?


How many whisky distillery expressions are too many?

The whisky market is highly competitive. Every producer wants to offer a wide range of products to maximise their presence in the field. In recent years, we've seen some constantly bringing out new expressions and limited editions. However, the abundance of choices might confuse consumers, especially if the releases are from one whisky distillery. It leads to a question: how many whisky distillery expressions are too many, especially regarding the core range?


The need to showcase the distillery's capability to produce different styles and make little tweaks to its recipe might, in reality, do more harm than good. For many consumers, and especially occasional whisky drinkers, it might be hard to tell the difference between bottlings. The recent introduction of multiple cask-type finishes, including specialised wine and agave spirits, has further fuelled the confusion.


Let's say that a typical core range structure would include:

  • A non-age statement expression.

  • An entry-level age statement option.

  • One or two older age statement whiskies.

One might have an interesting cask influence, a peated or unpeated character (depending on the distillery's original style), or a higher ABV. For a consumer, this might be enough.



 For new whisky distilleries, releasing an age-statement whisky might be out of the question, or they have chosen to wait to release a ten-year-old when they deem it suitable. 


Understandably, new producers also need to establish their name on the market and gather funds, but is releasing a wide range of different expressions the right approach? With the surge of small craft distilleries, consumers sometimes seem overwhelmed by choice, especially when a distillery's range is based on back-to-back limited releases.


Some old producers have also chosen to release multiple variants of single-age statements, which, on some occasions, are hard to tell apart. From 12-year-old bourbon cask to sherry cask and double wood to triple wood, what is the actual flavour difference between them? Is it worth consumers' confusion just because a producer wants to bottle all these things? Ultimately, for better or worse, it is the producer that decides. However, for some, the abundance of releases from a single distillery or producer might actually cause resentment, not admiration, towards the brand.


What exactly defines the core range? Is it determined by the producer's vision of the release, or is it based on consumer's perception of its availability? Furthermore, how do annual limited releases fit into this? Can they be included in the core range if the bottling appears yearly but in limited amounts? While whisky makers often commit to producing long-lasting so-called flagship expressions as part of their core range, some special or limited releases are available for an extended period. Maybe the core range simply represents the style the producer wants to identify and be most associated with.


In this article, we wanted to look at some of the whisky producers who might have crossed the line of good taste with the number of their core range expressions and ask you, as a consumer, what you think. You can cast your vote at the end of this article.



 

Glenfiddich Distillery


Glenfiddich distillery considers the 12, 14, 15, and 18-year-old expressions its flagship collection. However, many other releases are also widely available. These include the 21-year-old Gran Reserva, the Experimental range, and the sherry cask-finished Malt Master's Edition, which was initially launched in 2012. Glenfiddich ensures a strong presence on shop shelves with its diverse offerings, with a core range that covers up to nine separate bottlings.


Core expressions Glenfiddich distillery

Images by Glenfiddich


 

The Macallan Distillery


Core expressions the Macallan 2024

Images by The Macallan


The picture depicts what consumers might find in specialist shops in 2024. The Macallan is currently undergoing a transition, having quietly discontinued its Triple Cask expressions while introducing a new travel retail exclusive Colour Collection in 2023. However, the Triple Cask whiskies are still available at multiple outlets, and the travel retail exclusive expressions sometimes make their way to specialist shop shelves. The current widely available Classic range includes the Sherry Cask and Double Cask releases.


The examples provided only cover current releases up to 21 years old, excluding the Sherry Cask 25 and 30-year-old annual releases and the yearly Double Cask 30-year-old. The Macallan is also known for its limited releases, which seem to have no end. From the Edition collection to The Rare Cask range and multiple high-end bottlings, The Macallan ensures that consumers are kept nice and confused, although they have taken steps towards a more consumer-friendly approach.



 

Springbank Distillery


Springbank distillery in Campbeltown offers three distinctive single malts: unpeated Hazelburn, lightly peated Springbank, and peated Longrow. The relatively small whisky producer offers a wide range of bottlings each year. The core range consists of Springbank 10 and 15-year-olds, Hazelburn 10-year-olds, and a non-age-statement Longrow expression.


However, we chose to include the Springbank distillery on this list because of the multiple limited releases the distillery makes available each year.


For the namesake whisky line, the annual limited releases include 12-year-old cask strength and 18, 21, 25, and 30-year-old bottlings. These releases are usually accompanied by a bottling of Local Barley and at least one or two special cask releases. Listing all the distillery's past releases has become almost impossible due to the sheer number of limited releases.

Springbank distillery core range

Images by Springbank



 

Highland Park Distillery


The Highland Park distillery, based in Orkney, offers a core range called the Classic Collection, which currently includes four age-statement expressions: the 12, 15, 18, and 21-year-olds. Additionally, they have reappearing bottlings such as the Cask Strength and 25, 30, 40, and 50-year-old expressions. In addition, there always seem to be non-age-statement limited editions available, often with Viking or fantasy-themed names.


Core expressions Highland Park

Images by Highland Park


 

Benriach Distillery


Benriach distillery has a core range of nine different bottlings of single malts, ranging from 10 to 40 years old. The 10 and 12-year-old whiskies are available as peated and unpeated versions. In the past, the distillery was known for producing numerous limited releases, each with a different coloured label, especially during the ownership of Billy Walker. However, since the rebranding of Benriach in 2020 under Brown-Forman, which acquired the distillery in 2016, the focus has shifted to building a flagship range. Instead of multiple limited releases, Benriach offers a significantly smaller number of special bottlings.


Core expressions Benriach

Images by Benriach



 

Benromach Distillery


Although Benriach only offers four age statement whiskies, from 10 to 40 years old, the distillery has highly invested in its Contrasts range. From Peat Smoke and Organic, which appeared before the rebranding in 2020, to Triple Distilled and limited cask strength vintages, the distillery has made it its mission to offer a wide range of inventive expressions to showcase its potential. It is yet to be seen, how many of the Contrasts range bottlings are permanent releases.

Core expressions Benromach

Images by Benromach


 

Glenmorangie Distillery


Glenmorangie, a distillery known for its wide range of core expressions aged in different types of casks, underwent a rebranding in 2022. With numerous cask finishes and limited editions, distinguishing the core range can be challenging. As part of the rebranding, some flagship expressions were updated, including the transformation of the 12-year-old Nectar D'or, finished in Sauternes casks, into the 16-year-old The Nectar, which has been aged in various wine casks, including Sauternes.


Even though LVMH's other Scottish distillery, Ardbeg, is known for its multiple releases, the core range is tighter, and the broader net of bottlings is released as limited editions.


Core expressions Glenmorangie

Images by Glenmorangie



 

Jameson Whiskey


Jameson is just one of the brands produced at the Midleton distillery in Co. Cork, Ireland. Named after the founder, John Jameson, the brand is among the world's top-selling and most recognisable Irish whiskies. Jameson has expanded its range in the past decade to include various expressions, such as beer barrel-finished editions, single pot still whiskey (introduced in 2022), and the only age statement whiskies bottled at 18 years old. While the range offers a wide variety of flavours, it may confuse consumers trying to differentiate between the different expressions.


Core expressions Jameson Whiskey

Images by Jameson


 

Thank you for reading The Whisky Ardvark. Please check out some of our other informative articles listed below.


Cast your vote about how many distillery expressions from one producer are enough.

How Many Whisky Distillery Core Expressions is Enough?

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