Deck the bars with malts and blends

Drinks firms offer their advice on making the most of whisky at Christmas

Having staff able to recommend whisky to consumers can have a big impact on sales, brands say.

IF ever a consumer is going to dip into the whisky category, it’s the period around Christmas and Hogmanay.

Figures issued by distillers highlight the importance of the festive season to sales of the water of life.
At Maxxium, the distributor behind The Famous Grouse, The Macallan, Highland Park and other well-known drams, 20% of annual sales are registered in the run up to Christmas, while Inver House Distillers says 30% of Old Pulteney sales come in November and December.
With research quoted by Diageo also suggesting the main whisky categories are currently in growth (malt growing at 12.9% in the Scottish on-trade in the year to October 6, and blends showing growth of 12.5% over the same period), it seems clear that the festive season brings with it rich potential for distillers and the on-trade.
Jim Grierson, on-trade sales director at Maxxium UK, said Christmas and New Year brings opportunities as consumers often feel free to try something out of the ordinary and, in the spirit of celebration, spend a little bit more on each drink.
“Traditionally around this period, consumers are willing to trade up, whether that be by choosing a more premium expression of a trusted brand or trying new serves and cocktails; as a result, it offers a great opportunity for licensees to boost sales,” he said.
While the evidence suggests there is a willingness on the part of consumers to indulge in whisky at this time of year, distillers and suppliers say there’s a few things operators ought to consider if they’re going to take full advantage of the opportunity.
Introducing a festive cocktail menu is one possibility and suppliers have created a range of recipes that allow operators to dip their toes into the market (see boxes).
“The cocktail consumption trend continues to grow at pace and clearly represents a big opportunity this Christmas,” Grierson said.
“Cocktails can be as complicated or simple as you care to make them.
“If it’s an area you have never dabbled in before, then creating a simple menu with easily made contemporary cocktails is easier than you might imagine.
“A drinks menu creates a point of difference at the busiest time of year, will encourage new customers and help ensure their loyalty throughout the coming year as a result of enjoying the drink and the experience.”
Beyond promoting whisky in outlets, there are other ways operators can ensure the spirit takes pride of place in bars at Christmas.
Pernod Ricard, the owner of Paisley-based Chivas Brothers, has adopted a four-point mantra that it says holds the key to maximising spirits sales: make it available, make it easy to find, make it compelling and make it great to drink.
In short, its advice to operators is to stock up on premium brands (amid evidence that consumers are continuing to trade up in the on-trade); market spirits on menus and displays; give staff the confidence and knowledge to make recommendations; and deliver an interesting range of mixed drinks, including cocktails.
Ian Peart, the firm’s on-trade channel director for spirits, said it’s not enough to just stock up on great brands.
“It is also important for the on-trade to know their audience and make sure bar staff know their whisky to really capitalise on this premium opportunity,” he said.
“If a bartender doesn’t understand the difference in quality between a grain blend and a single malt, then they won’t be able to make the case to a customer that it’s worth spending more money and licensees will miss out on revenue as a result.”
Margaret Mary Clarke, senior brand manager for Wick-distilled malt Old Pulteney, also said the input of staff can’t be underplayed.
“Because of the crackdown on binge drinking, in-pub promotions can be quite limited, however for single malts the key is relationship building with bar staff, brand education and supporting promotional material/brand visibility items in outlets,” she said.
Operators might also wish to consider exploiting the link between whisky and food in a bid to cultivate sales.
“By the end of 2013, over half of all on-trade visits will involve a food occasion,” said Kondwani Mhnone, category development manager for Diageo.
“In the run up to Christmas customers are more inclined to eat out and outlets can maximise their spend per visit by encouraging an incremental purchase at the end of their meals.
“Therefore it is beneficial to include malts or blended whiskies as an after dinner option on food menus while also including the stocked whiskies on the drinks menu.”

Image – Having staff able to recommend whisky to consumers can have a big impact on sales, brands say.


Ingredients: 60ml Chivas Regal 12 year old; 75ml green tea; 20ml lemon juice; 20ml honey syrup; garnish with lemon wedge.

Method: Carefully mix together the Chivas Regal, sugar and hot water. Finish with a grating of nutmeg and an orange twist.