Returning with New Demands

Lockdown has changed consumer whisky choice and habits

A man is holding a square glass of whiskey

LOCKDOWN and more nights at home have changed the way people enjoy whisky – and producers expect licensees to experience it first-hand as more customers return to the on-trade.

David McLauchlan, key account manager at Glen Moray said the change in behaviour will mean more exploration of the back-bar.

He said: “There has been some fantastic whisky released over the past year and I think we will see customers return to enjoying a dram and learning more about it from the bartender who serves it up.”

He also pointed to a change in how whisky is enjoyed, saying: “From simple serves like whisky highballs to more complicated cocktails, there’s much more exploration now and the barriers to drinking whisky are gradually coming down which is a positive step, particularly for brands hoping to attract a new generation of drinkers.”

Niel Hendriksz, sales director at Morrison Scotch Whisky Distillers, pointed out that whisky fans weren’t left to their own devices over lockdown, with online tastings becoming a popular tool for drinks companies.

“Many consumers also found themselves with unexpected savings, while many of their usual luxuries were not available, and chose to spend a little more than normal on quality whisky,” said Hendriksz.

“This has resulted in a more educated and discerning whisky drinker, keen to try something new and happy to spend a little more for something unique.”

Bobby Morrison, wholesale on-trade manager at Proximo Spirits agreed that lockdown has seen whisky consumers trade up.

“There has been a steady progression towards premiumisation,” he said.

“Many consumers were able to save money throughout lockdown and were willing to spend more for a superior brand or product, as well as having more time to experiment.

“The result of this in the on-trade has been witnessed in the popularity of single malt and cask strength whisky.”

Morrison predicted that with hot serves and Irish coffees featuring on winter menus, whisky cocktails with ingredients such as cinnamon, ginger and cardamom will be popular.

“Whisky cocktails have certainly helped the growth of the category, as those who maybe wouldn’t view themselves as a neat whisky drinker are coming to realise how the spirit can really shine in a cocktail, whether it be a classic whiskey sour or variations of such.

“Tying in with the premiumisation of the category, consumers aren’t scared to choose a high-quality whisky as the base of their drink.”

Hendriksz at Morrison Distillers, which owns the Càrn Mòr, Mac-Talla and Old Perth whisky brands, said this increased interest in higher quality whiskies will lead to a change on the gantry.

He said: “We expect to see that operators will reduce the number of entry-level standard malts and expand their range of one-off, limited edition whiskies, as customers look to continue trying exciting small batches and malts from unique distilleries.”

McLauchlan, at Glen Moray, agreed that versatility behind the bar is key, adding: “That doesn’t mean having hundreds of different whiskies, but a focused range to showcase different regions, cask styles and flavours that will allow customers choice while they explore the world of whisky.”

He added that the Glen Moray team is glad of the opportunity to get back out on the road and meet customers face to face again.

“Events like tastings and takeovers will help bring customers back and offer them an experience they have not had for so long,” he said.

“While Zoom tastings are great and something that we will keep going, there’s nothing quite like doing it live.”

Hendriksz said that when it comes to selling whisky, no rules apply.

“Be open-minded,” he said.

“There are many old fashioned myths around the enjoyment of whisky that can be disregarded. The consumer has changed and there is no longer such a thing as a typical whisky drinker.”

He went on to say that the use of whisky in mixology has been embraced by the industry, which is in turn helping to introduce whisky to a wider audience.

He continued: “We recently commissioned a range of perfect serve recipes for our Mac-Talla and Old Perth brands, created by Mike Aikman, owner of the Edinburgh bars Bramble, Last Word Saloon and Lucky Liquor, as well as the online cocktail and spirits store Mothership.
“One of the serves using Old Perth has since been added to the Mothership store as a pre-batched drink.”

Morrison at Proximo encouraged licensees to highlight any special serves or promotional offers in their premises.

“There is a plethora of key tools to raise awareness of what can be found on the back-bar,” he said.

“Whisky of the month and cocktail of the month boards are an excellent way to draw attention.”