Although cocktails have played a role in helping spirits stay popular year-round, there will always be some customers that turn to warming drinks as the mercury drops.
Whisky has always been a popular choice over the festive season and, provided licensees get their offer right, it remains a lucrative spirit at the end of the year, according to drinks firms.
Andrew Morrison, sales director at drinks distributor Maxxium UK, which counts the likes of The Famous Grouse, Cutty Sark, and Bowmore in its whisky stable, said “winter drinks should be warming, flavourful and offer consumers a twist on the classics to highlight the winter difference”.
He suggested adding “interesting garnishes such as a cinnamon stick or a dried orange wheel” to long drinks to give them a “winter twist”.
And cocktails also have a role to play in boosting winter whisky sales, said Morrison. He reckons the colder weather is an ideal time to offer a comprehensive list of winter cocktails.
He said that during winter, consumers “are more likely to be going out and enjoying warming cocktails that are flavourful and comforting”.
This was supported by Magin Trewhella, head of marketing for dark spirits at Pernod Ricard UK, the firm behind the Chivas, Aberlour and The Glenlivet whiskies.
Trewhella advised licensees to have “a good range of whisky-based cocktails on their cocktail menus”.
“Premium blended Scotch whisky works particularly well in cocktails,” said Trewhella. “Whisky has definitely benefited from the popularity of cocktails, as the complexity of flavour found within whisky can really add to the finished drink.”
Quality brands with heritage are among those that are proving most popular.
Taking a similar view, Jenny Rogerson of Douglas Laing & Co, whose whisky portfolio includes Scallywag and Timorous Beastie, said the firm has created a variety of recommended long serves for each of its malts during the colder months.
“For Timorous Beastie, our Highland malt, we recommend the Old Fashioned cocktail to heighten the whisky’s sugary, fruity notes,” she said.
“Scallywag’s sherry cask matured spirit provides a beautifully rich base for the classic Manhattan cocktail.”
Winter cocktails aside, several whisky firms told SLTN that premiumisation is a trend which continues to grow, especially in the lead up to Christmas.
Matthew Jamieson, brand manager for Balblair at Inver House Distillers, said: “In the Christmas period, consumers are looking for affordable luxury to drink. Consumers are happy to spend that little extra on a premium spirit, especially around Christmas time, adding to that special occasion.”
But more can be done to attract customers to the whisky category, according to Euan Mitchell, managing director of Isle of Arran Distillers.
“Food pairings are an excellent way to introduce consumers to a new category,” said Mitchell.
“Suggest a choice of drink next to each menu item that complements the flavours of the dish. Consumers will appreciate your guidance and recommendations and it can help support sales.”
Morrison of Maxxium UK reckons “quality brands with heritage” and “incredible brand stories to tell” continue to prove most popular, making staff knowledge a vital component to on-trade success.
This is a view that resonates with Katy Macanna, UK brand manager at Ian Macleod Distillers, the company behind the Tamdhu and Glengoyne malts.
“It is extremely important that staff are knowledgeable about the whiskies they are selling as a growing demand exists among consumers to know more about the flavour and provenance of whiskies,” said Macanna.