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After the year of Trump and Brexit, 2017 has been a less tumultuous 12 months in terms of global news, but no less eventful when it comes to whisky.

What was the overriding theme of 2017? For whisky, the seismic global events of 2016 – the election of President Trump, the UK’s Brexit vote and the ever-present terrorist threat – receded somewhat, without vanishing altogether.

Mainly, the big stories of the year were all about distilleries: those about to open and, in a remarkable few days in early October, three legendary names which will be making whisky again in a few years’ time – Scotch’s ‘holy trinity’ of Port Ellen, Brora and Rosebank.

Such is the boom in new-build distilleries that it’s hard to keep up with all the openings right now (although we do our best) – leave alone the high-profile delayed projects.

The summer brought news of overruns and overspends at Macallan’s hugely ambitious new distillery, before production trials finally began towards the end of the year. We should all be able to take a look at the new £100m-plus plant some time in 2018.

On a far more humble scale, Gartbreck on Islay has been talked about for years, but the prospect of spirit running off its stills appeared further away than ever in July, when it was revealed that a land dispute threatened the project with extinction. However, there was better news, and more hope, in November.

One other distillery in the news was Glenallachie – hardly a household name and a workhorse for the blends produced by owner Chivas Brothers. But then serial whisky entrepreneur Billy Walker (ex-BenRiach) led a consortium to buy the Speyside plant, signalling his intention to build its reputation as a single malt of note.

On the darker side, the persistent rumours of fake whisky acquired a more concrete form, both with the news of the discovery of a counterfeiting operation on an ‘unprecedented’ scale early in the year, and in the saga of the $10,000 glass of 19th-century Macallan that wasn’t – which brought back memories of another, connected, scandal from the early 2000s.

As prices for rare whiskies ascend into the stratosphere, the fakes issue is unlikely to go away any time soon, making the creation of a gadget that might be able to spot them without opening the bottle all the more potentially valuable.

It’s time to count down our top 10, but first let’s pause and raise a glass to two whisky greats who left us during 2017: Dr Jim Swan, the legendary ‘whisky troubleshooter’ whose expertise benefited so many distillery projects all over the world, from Islay to Taiwan; and Silvano Samaroli, the much-revered independent bottler responsible for some of the most lauded whiskies from the golden age of single malt Scotch in Italy. They will be much missed.

29 December 2017 by Richard Woodard

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