WITH the hectic – but hopefully lucrative – festive season over and done with for another year, operators will be looking for ways to top up sales in what is traditionally a lean month for the trade.
Enter, Burns Night.
Drinks firms told SLTN that the annual celebration of the bard, on January 25, presents an opportunity to grow sales of whisky in the nation’s bars and pubs.
Teddy Joseph, whisky specialist at Edrington-Beam Suntory UK, which counts Bowmore, Highland Park and The Macallan in its drinks stable, said Burns Night is the “first major occasion” of the year for whisky consumers.
“Although January can see a slight downturn in alcohol consumption, Burns Night is the one occasion where whisky is traditionally enjoyed,” he said.
“Across Scotland, whisky connoisseurs and beginners alike are encouraged to celebrate the iconic Scots poet with a dram.”
And there’s a number of ways operators can promote whisky through January to make the most of the celebration of the Scots poet.
“These can include whisky pairing dinners, as well as the chance to reveal some new expressions ahead of Burns Night,” he said.
Joseph of Edrington-Beam Suntory UK said the best way to make the most of the occasion “would be to offer a range of high-end whiskies”.
“Promoting these serves at the bar or as part of a special drinks menu will encourage customers to trade up, allowing them to truly celebrate in style,” he explained.
Dickson of Loch Lomond Group advised licensees to do all they can to promote their whisky range throughout January.
He said: “Operators can maximise sales with a ‘malt of the month’ to accompany a Burns supper.”
The right range of whiskies – and knowledge of each spirit – is also an important consideration, according to Walsh of Distell.
He said: “Licensees know their customers better than anybody and we are here to support, not influence.
“I believe all distilleries and brand owners have a duty to educate the trade and offer a training service for bartenders and licensees.
“This way they can learn about the unique features of each whisky and, ultimately, impart that knowledge on to their customers looking for an authentic story.
“I firmly believe that bars should design their range around taste structure, and not by region.
“The non-whisky drinker experimenting in the category needs guidance on taste and will not necessarily have the knowledge to understand regional specific tastes.”
Operators must also consider the different demands on whisky from different age groups.
For instance, Deborah Carter, head of marketing at The Cotswolds Distillery, said younger people are less likely to observe the ‘rules’ of whisky and expect to be offered the national drink in cocktails.
“We’ve definitely seen a trend amongst younger drinkers who haven’t grown up with the views of previous generations about the ‘rules’ of whisky drinking – they don’t buy into the ‘two drops of spring water only’ philosophy,” explained Carter.
“They’re far more interested in exploring flavour and unusual backstories, cocktails, unexpected provenance, different serves.”
Ultimately, operators should avoid overcomplicating their whisky offer, according to Peter Powell of Inver House Distillers, the company behind Scotch whisky brands including Balblair, Old Pulteney and Knockdhu.
“Keep it simple; offer a core range of whiskies that would take the consumers on a journey of discovery through the different styles available – and match with traditional Burns Night ‘bitesize’ pairings to complement a dram and deliver a little bit of theatre to their experience,” he said.