The national drink returns to the fore

Burns’ Night and whisky go hand in hand – and can help to lift January sales

Whisky on tartan

WITH Christmas and New Year celebrations over for another year, operators will be looking for ways to keep footfall up in January – and Burns’ Night could prove to be just the ticket.

Of course, with Scotland’s national drink intrinsically linked to the Bard, it only makes sense that whisky should be at the core of any Burns’ Night offer.

That was the view of spirits firms, who advised that there are a number of steps operators can take to make the most of Burns’ Night on January 25.

Stuart Ellis, UK sales manager at Benromach parent firm Gordon & MacPhail, said: “As Scotland’s national drink, whisky is naturally the drink of choice on Burns’ Night and offers bars and pubs the opportunity to showcase their selection to locals and tourists alike.

“To meet demand and drive sales, operators should ensure they have a good range of expressions to suit every palate.”

Echoing this view, James MacTaggart, master distiller at Isle of Arran Distillers, reckons Burns’ Night “wouldn’t be complete without whisky – and no table is set without a good selection of drams”.

“Burns’ Night is traditionally a very structured affair,” he said.

“There are set times for welcome addresses, toasts, food and entertainment. This gives hosts the opportunity to choose a different whisky to complement each part of the evening.”

And it gives operators the chance to highlight Scotch whisky in particular, according to Katy Macanna, brand manager at Ian Macleod Distillers, which counts Tamdhu and Glengoyne within its portfolio.

“Burns’ Night gives bars the opportunity to showcase their range of whiskies, so it makes sense for the bars to showcase whiskies from the different regions; for example, Glengoyne is from the Highlands, Tamdhu is from Speyside, and Smokehead, from Islay, would give the bar an easy way to talk about Scotland’s vastly different whisky producing regions,” said Macanna.

Scott Dickson, marketing manager at Loch Lomond Group, which counts Glen Scotia and Inchmoan within its whisky portfolio, agreed, reckoning that whisky’s strong ties to Burns’ Night means that it “also presents a great opportunity for on-trade establishments to introduce new consumers to the spirit”.

“One of the most successful ways to open up the market is through the creation and sale of whisky-based serves,” said Dickson.

“Cocktails such as an Old Fashioned allow customers who may not have experience drinking whisky neat, to taste and appreciate it in a more subtle way.”

This was reinforced on the operator side by Scott Murray, managing director of Cru Holdings, which owns, among other outlets, Scotch & Rye and Bar One in Inverness.

Murray reckons Burns’ Night is “a great reason to introduce whisky specials and highlight limited release or rare malts and blends”, adding that “there really is no better time to refine and properly market your whisky offering”.

Consumers are becoming increasingly interested in handcrafted whiskies, according to Ellis of Gordon & MacPhail, who said “this emphasis on traditional methods fits well with Burns’ Night – another great Scottish tradition”.

Macanna of Ian Macleod Distillers reckons straight serves and flavour-focused cocktails work well.

“Given Burns’ Night falls within winter, richer, spicier whiskies generally suit palates in the UK at this time of year,” she said.

Beyond serves, operators should consider their customer base, and the location of their outlet, according to Gordon Sloan of Maxxium UK (distributor of The Famous Grouse).

“In city centres we can see outlets specialise in key sub-categories – to be known as a whisky bar, for example,” he said, adding that, with knowledge being key to the success of these types of venues, their operators should work with suppliers “to unlock more unique, craft spirits to reinforce your credentials, ensuring staff are knowledgeable on the reasons why the brand is different and worth paying more for”.

While rural or neighbourhood outlets “may have a more traditional consumer”, they will still have high expectations, said Sloan.

Ultimately, however, knowledgeable and well-trained staff are the key to a successful Burns’ Night, reckons Macanna of Ian Macleod Distillers, who said: “Ensuring staff are aware of the range of flavour profiles on offer in their pub or bar will allow them to confidently talk about the whiskies with customers and make recommendations based on their preferences.”