A new approach to an old tradition

Outlets don’t have to follow established formulas to make the most of Burns

THE Christmas tipples have been sipped, the Hogmanay drams have been toasted, but January brings its own spike in demand for Scotland’s national drink – and it can pay to be prepared.
Drinks firms claim Burns’ Night can provide a real opportunity for bars and pubs to grow their whisky sales, if the event and the range are handled right.

• Burns’ Night can provide a decent boost to whisky sales if outlets capitalise on the event.

Whisky has long been associated with the traditional Burns’ Supper, but even those venues which are less traditional in their offer or atmosphere should consider raising a glass to the Bard on or around January 25.
“Whisky – like Burns’ Night – carries lots of traditions, and while there can be merit in sticking to the old, there’s also a lot to be gained from challenging the status quo to recruit new customers to Scottish products and events,” said Jonathan Gillbanks, UK on-trade sales director at Whyte & Mackay.
Gillbanks suggested initiatives such as pairing whisky with food or beer and more unusual whisky tastings (the company’s Jura brand has incorporated VR into its tastings) as fitting ways to mark the occasion.
“Food and drink festivals are popular, and one way operators can drive interest in whisky is by starting their own festival style event, or by taking unique whisky serves to a pre-existing event,” he said.
“Whisky and beer pairing and flight serves still continue to perform well also.”
The importance of food was also stressed by Jonathan Cornthwaite, head of whisky at William Grant & Sons, who said food is “key to the future of bars and pubs, especially at Burns’ Night”.
“Outlets should try attracting consumers with a variety of Scottish-themed food and drink specific pairings,” he said.
Whiskies aged in Oloroso sherry casks, for example, can be a particularly well-suited match for haggis, said Cornthwaite, as the spicy flavours present in the casks complement those found in the traditional Burns’ Supper dish.
Fresh twists can also be introduced to Burns staples such as the traditional ‘toast to the lassies’.
“Entertainment – drawn from the traditions of Burns’ Night – can help customers feel involved and attract larger groups and parties,” said James MacTaggart, master distiller at Isle of Arran Distillers.  
“The most popular feature of the celebrations is probably the famous toast to the lassies and reply to the toast to the lassies.
“Introduce a modern version of this to your night with men versus women games and competitions.
“The whole point of Burns’ Night is to have an amazing time so fun should be at the heart of all your events.”
There’s also scope to shake up the traditional drams by offering customers whisky cocktails, which MacTaggart described as “another good way to make Scotch accessible to those new to the category”.
Whether it’s Burns-themed whisky cocktails or a straight nip, however, it will be important to ensure the back-bar is well stocked with a good range of whiskies.
Matthew Jamieson, brand manager for single malt whisky Balblair, said it is essential outlets stock “a diverse range of whiskies to suit all tastes, while not confusing the customer”.
“It’s a great opportunity to take consumers on a journey of the category with expressions that celebrate its variety and diversity,” said Jamieson.
“We would recommend a strong whisky range that covers entry level whiskies through to more unique drams.
“Similarly a balance between blends and single malts ensure you meet a range of consumer demand.”
And, as with any special event, marketing an outlet’s Burns-related offer is essential.
Ian Peart, on-trade channel director at Pernod Ricard, advised licensees to use a combination of social media and traditional methods such as chalkboards and menus to flag up any Burns’ Night serves or offers.