Championing Scotland’s spirits

Operators are well-placed to capitalise on consumer demand for craft

IN the 1990s, Britain’s period of ‘Cool Britannia’ boosted the UK’s image around the world and national pride amongst citizens. More recently, all things Scottish seem to be enjoying a moment of high appeal to consumers, both foreign and native, and arguably nowhere is this more evident than the country’s buoyant spirits industry.

But what’s behind the recent surge in demand for locally-produced spirits? It’s in part due to consumers placing greater importance on the overall experience when ordering at the bar, according to Mark Thomson, Glenfiddich ambassador for Scotland.

“Over the past few years we have seen a renewed desire for localisation, where consumers want to enjoy the experience of a locally-produced, more unique product,” he explained.

“This, coupled with the fact that consumers are increasingly trading up from large scale value brands to premium spirits, is driving Scottish spirit sales.”

Echoing this view, Scott Dickson of Loch Lomond Group, which counts the likes of Inchmoan, Inchmurrin and Glen Scotia within its whisky portfolio, reckons demand for Scotland-produced spirits has grown because “it enables customers to interact with our strong history and heritage”.

“Nowhere is the desire to engage with Scottish products more evident than in the Scotch whisky industry,” said Dickson.

“Consumers want to experience and taste a bit of Scotland – and know where it comes from.”

And it’s not just whisky, but gin, too.

Stephen Kemp of Orkney Distilling believes operators who concentrate on service, quality and presentation “will naturally succeed” – and should take advantage of the approachability of smaller, craft producers.

“We’re seeing a growing market amongst drinkers seeking an experience – and product knowledge, as opposed to the more traditional volume spirits of old,” said Kemp.

“Those in the on-trade should make contact with producers, as we’re all enthused to assist with serve suggestions or point of sale, etc.

“Small, Scottish producers are accessible, care about their products and can be a real asset to those bar owners and operators who want that extra support.”

Utimately, quality, authenticity, provenance and Scotland as a brand are all helping to further locally-produced gin in Scotland’s pubs and bars, according to Jill Brown, distiller at Avva Scottish Gin.

But as the ‘gin boom’ continues unabated, operators seeking to showcase Scottish spirits must ensure the brands they stock offer customers something different.

Consumers want to experience and taste a bit of Scotland – and know where drinks come from.

That was the view of David King, sales director at Red Door Gin, who said operators can further bolster sales of Scottish spirits by utilising signature serves.

“Scottish gins often have their own signature serve that bring out the drink’s unique flavours and relate back to the country’s history and heritage,” explained King.

“It helps to have a signature garnish and serve – and it can help to keep these simple, ensuring the signature serve brings out the flavours of a key botanical.”

King added that garnishes should also “be practical to source”.

Ensuring staff are well-informed is also important, according to Kecia McDougall, director of Tay Spirits, who said: “Our experience has been that education of bartenders to be able to talk more about flavours and taste has always worked.”

Similarly, Paul Miller of Eden Mill told SLTN that staff must be able to talk at length about the spirits on the back-bar – especially craft products.

“It’s essential for on-trade staff to develop their knowledge about the products they stock, so they can inform customers,” said Miller.

“It’s also crucial in terms of driving the industry forward. We know consumers are always looking for the next big thing and innovation at pubs and bars will be key to stimulating consumer demand.”

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What’s next for the industry?

“Innovation will continue. People also want to try new flavours. Whisky distilleries that were traditionally bottling unpeated are now offering peated expressions and vice versa; barley types and cask exploration continues and the impact they make on the spirit evaluated. Rum has been threatening to be the next big thing for years and now you see Scottish rums emerging.”

– David Keir, Glenallachie distillery.