Expectations are higher than ever

With more bars improving their craft spirits offer, careful selection is crucial

a stocked bar

THERE has been an explosion in the number of distilleries and producers operating in Scotland over the last decade.

And as the number of craft and small-batch spirits has increased, and customers get to grips with a broader range of products, their expectations in the on-trade have grown exponentially.

It’s no surprise that pubs and bars across the country are now stocking larger ranges of craft spirits, said Alistair Wilson, managing director of Isle of Skye Distillers, the producer of Misty Isle Gin.

He said: “On-trade venues are increasing their product range, especially with spirits produced close to home, and are more likely to ‘ambassador’ them when they feel they already know the story.”

Dan Bolton, managing director of Hi-Spirits, said the need for an improved range behind the bar is becoming more significant as “premium spirits and brands with genuine heritage have a strong appeal to customers for whom authenticity is important”.

Gin has become the craft spirit du jour for many consumers, making a respectable range of gins a must for many bars.

This was reflected in the fact record sales figures for the spirit were attained in the on-trade last year, according to statistics from the Wine & Spirit Trade Association – boosted partially by the number of new variants in the market.

And demand for the distillate remains high, with Wilson of Isle of Skye Distillers predicting gin will still be “the main trend in craft spirits for 2018” furthered by “companies diversifying into new gin products such as pink gin and fruit flavours”.

Despite gin’s popularity, however, licensees that focus exclusively on the spirit could be missing out, said Bolton at Hi-Spirits.

“Pubs and bars simply looking for the ’next gin’ are likely to be missing opportunities,” he said.

“It’s more about understanding what has driven the growth of gin, which is diversity of style, and interesting and engaging serves, and ensuring that’s reflected right across the spirits range.”

With such a raft of craft spirits to choose from, deciding what to stock can be far from a straightforward task.

In order to make the best selections, Bolton said operators should “ensure that every brand on the back-bar is distinctive” as “there’s no point having four gins that have the same flavour profile”.

He added: “Understand your customer occasions and plan for all of them – a ‘big night out’ spirits range will be different to what’s needed for a pre-dinner cocktail list.

“Drinks menus should also be used to communicate key facts about the provenance and heritage of spirits.”

Brands with genuine provenance are said to be leading the charge in craft spirits, and so the back-story of a product is likely to continue to influence sales, said experts.

And as the craft spirits industry grows, in Scotland in particular, it pays to research a release before deciding to stock it, said Isle of Skye Distillers’ Wilson.

“Provenance is key when selecting any new products,” he said.

“Because a spirit is called something doesn’t mean it is made where the name suggests.

“Do your homework on each product on the selected list, so the customer can be confident in their selections.”


Suggested serves

Buffalo Trace Mojito

  • 50ml Buffalo Trace Bourbon
  • 5ml lime juice
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 60ml soda water
  • Fresh mint leaves

Method: muddle the mint, sugar and lime in a tall glass, load with ice and bourbon, top up with soda water.


Hanky Panky

  • 50ml Broker’s London Dry
  • 50ml Punt e Mes vermouth
  • 5ml Fernet-Branca

Method: stir well over ice, strain into a chilled glass and garnish with an orange peel.