Water of life is in full flow

In Gaelic it’s the water of life and in the Scottish on-trade it’s a river of opportunity with the chance to make some good margins, but is there still room for growth in whisky?

two men drinking whisky at bar
A number of distillers seem to think so, saying the trend for all things premium is good news for the national drink.
However, there are a number of factors for licensees to consider if they are to take full advantage of the current climate.
Sian Buchan, brand ambassador for single malt Old Pulteney, said she thinks the whisky category “is in one of the best positions it has been in for a long time”.
“With bartenders having more knowledge than ever before, consumers being more trusting in their bartenders and consumers more willing to try a larger selection of products, whisky is in its prime,” said Buchan.
Alistair Mutch, UK sales manager for Tomatin, agreed that whisky is in good shape, pointing to the larger trend towards premium spirits in the on-trade as good news for single malts in particular.

“There has been a move towards more premium spirits”

“It’s good to see the premium sector grow in the on-trade and in other categories; gin is doing exceptionally well,” said Mutch.
“Provenance is important for longevity of a brand regardless of category; if the consumers enjoy a product they’ll look for provenance, and single malt can stand scrutiny anytime.”
Katy Macanna, brand manager at Ian Macleod Distillers, the firm behind whisky brands Glengoyne, Tamdhu and Smokehead, agreed that there has been a shift towards premium spirits and that this is having a positive effect on whisky in the on-trade.
“Consumers now have a strong desire to know about product origins and are particularly keen on those with provenance,” said Macanna.
“The [whisky] category has great heritage, tradition and craft behind it so the surge in new spirits does not pose a threat to the single malt category, and equally further highlights single malt as a premium product which generates strong interest.”

“Stocking entry level single malts can help attract newcomers.”

Buchan highlighted the diversity that exists within the whisky category as an attribute that operators can exploit to meet the demands of customers looking to explore when they approach a drinks list.
“Due to the range in styles and variety of whisky on the market at the moment, people are more willing to try new releases,” said Buchan.
“Whisky-based cocktails are something which many people have been afraid to play around with.
“People are now more confident experimenting with the different nuances of whisky in cocktails.”
To help customers navigate the broad spectrum of whiskies available, Buchan said “brand education” is key.
“The more knowledge staff have on regions, tastes and varieties, the more likely they are to move their customers onto new produce,” she said.
The breadth of variety that the whisky category offers at once makes it versatile but also, for some, a little complex.
Mutch suggested that operators looking for support should feel free to seek it out from whisky producers.
“Ask for help from the producer if you don’t know, if you don’t know you can’t sell it to your customers,” he said.
Andrew Morrison, sales director at Maxxium UK, whose brands include Highland Park, Bowmore and The Macallan, agreed that staff knowledge can have “a big influence on the drinkers’ choice” making well-trained staff essential.
Morrison also suggested some other steps operators can take in their outlets to make the category as easy to navigate as possible for customers.
“Providing drinks menus, with tasting notes, will also encourage customers to try whisky for the first time as the range of choice open to them will be more apparent,” said Morrison.
“This will also help staff to engage the customer and inform them about the varying flavour profiles.
“Understanding the different ways to serve whisky is important too, and staff should be able to explain the changes that adding water or ice make to the flavour of their drink.”
Morrison also offered advice on ranging for publicans looking to attract newcomers to the whisky category and suggested that these customers could move onto more premium pours before too long.
“Stocking entry level single malts allows newcomers to the category to discover a single malt suited to their tastes and can encourage consumers to try a new expression or series,” said Morrison.
“Consumers also look to trade up through a range and therefore stocking a range of premium single malt whiskies allows consumer to upgrade.”