IT was the renowned American writer Mark Twain who opined “too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough”.
And not much has changed over 100 years later as demand for US-made whiskey heightens across the world.
The category’s mixability, in everything from highballs to intricate cocktails, has led the spirit to become a back-bar staple and one operators will be keen to make the most of as the thirst for cocktails continues to grow.
“American whiskey has been performing well in major cities across Scotland, such as Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee, Aberdeen and Inverness, as they all have booming cocktail scenes,” said Kirstie Yates, channel marketing manager – on-trade at Jack Daniels.
“Its versatility lends itself perfectly to experimentation in cocktails, and bartenders have been reviving classic cocktails in addition to creating new ones, putting American whiskey back in to focus.”
Teddy Joseph, whisky specialist at Edrington-Beam Suntory, which counts Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark within its stable, agreed that the spirit’s “accessibility” had been crucial to its growth, particularly amongst younger customers.
He said: “The category has long celebrated its mixability and heroed cocktails, something that really appeals to younger drinkers – but over the last couple of years we’ve seen an increase in customers across the board opting for different serves.
“This is something we’ll continue to see in 2019, with classics such as the Old Fashioned and Manhattan flying off the bar.”
However, although licensees may wish to improve their range of American whisky and bourbon, deciding what to stock can be a tricky exercise.
Sam Kershaw, brand ambassador for Wild Turkey, reckons a good selection is one “that customers want to drink and are excited by”.
In terms of variety, Kershaw advised operators to stock a “crowd-pleasing house bourbon that can be mixed, a couple of upsells for the classic pantheon of cocktails, and then some top-shelf sippers for those looking to spend a little more”.
David Smillie, Scotland portfolio ambassador at Maverick Drinks, which distributes Few Bourbon, stressed the importance of staff knowledge when it comes to a bar’s bourbon selection.
“Whether a local pub or high-end cocktail bar, all venues can make subtle changes to add an element of interest to their spirits range,” he said.
“Pubs should focus on a smaller range of interesting American whiskeys and bourbons with a strong brand identity that will appeal to its audience and ensure staff have the confidence and knowledge to talk about these products.”
When it comes to serves, far from insisting it should be savoured straight, drinks firms advised operators to embrace the spirit’s mixability.
Nick Gillet, managing director at Mangrove, distributor of Early Times Bourbon, said: “Bourbon and American whiskey drinks shouldn’t exclusively be ‘stirred down and brown’.
“Fresh and vibrant cocktails will help change that perception, highlighting its adaptability.”
He said: “One important trend is for customers to enjoy cocktails with food. We still lag behind the US in this area, and refreshing bourbon classics such as the Mint Julep are a traditional accompaniment to food.
“As the weather warms up, there’s an opportunity this year for long drinks combining bourbon with fruit flavours, such as lemonade and apple juice, to accompany barbecue menus.”