Take the whisky high ground

Highball serves could be the key to summer Scotch sales

Whisky glass on a table
Whisky is said to be well suited to longer, highball-style serves during the summer.

A WARMING dram on a cold, dark night has been a part of Scottish culture for generations, but Scotland’s national spirit – and dark spirits in general – might not be the first thing that springs to mind when contemplating a refreshing summer serve.

However, with the rise of cocktail culture, and bartenders and the general public keen to experiment with new drinks and flavours, attitudes towards whisky are said to be changing.

“Whisky is very versatile and more and more consumers are coming to view it in a more experimental way – playing with the flavours and styles and becoming more open to trying different styles and serves,” said Jaclyn McKie, marketing manager at Isle of Arran Distillers.

“I believe whisky is popular all year round and licensees are very bold and daring with their choices at bringing our national drink to a much wider audience who would previously have felt perhaps a little bit isolated from the category.

“No knowledge is really required – only the knowledge of what you enjoy!”

Straightforward highball-style serves were said to be particularly suited to warmer weather, as well as easy options for licensees to prepare and serve.

“Introducing simple flavour-led whisky mixed drinks will help to tap into the increased demand for longer refreshing serves that consumers are drawn to during summer days,” said Graeme Sharp, trade marketing manager at Loch Lomond Whiskies.

“Using mixers such as flavoured soda, tropical mixers, and classic dry ginger ale are a great way to introduce ‘whisky sceptics’ to the category and, hopefully, encourage trial across the category.”

Niel Hendriksz, sales director at Morrison Scotch Whisky Distillers, agreed. He said highballs “are a great way to enjoy whisky in a more refreshing way”.

“Our smoky Islay single malt Scotch whisky, Mac-Talla Mara, pairs beautifully with elderflower and rose cordial or with the sweet, buttery flavours of Monin Popcorn Syrup,” said Hendriksz.

“Top up with soda water and ice for a simple serve.”

Laura Wilson, UK brand manager for Distell, parent company of Deanston, Tobermory and Bunnahabhain, reckoned whisky highballs don’t even have to be as complex as that, pointing to soda and freshly-squeezed lemon or ginger ale as options for easy and effective serves.

“These very light but very refreshing serves can remind people that whisky isn’t just there for drinking neat, it’s suitable for any time of year,” said Wilson.

That’s not to say every whisky will necessarily be suited to the same kind of long serve.

As a category, whisky is famously nuanced when it comes to the range of flavours it contains – even within the products of a single distillery – and drinks companies advised that the best serves will often depend on the flavours present within the particular dram.

For example, Sharp at Loch Lomond Whiskies said that lighter, fruitier single malts can act as “a great base for longer serves with simple mixers, whereas richer or peated single malts work with sweeter mixers such as cola”.

He recommended licensees include some ‘perfect serves’ for whisky on their menus, alongside serves for spirits such as gin, in order to “introduce their customers to a range of different spirit types and hopefully drive incremental sales”.

And McKie at Isle of Arran Distillers recommended putting together a seasonal menu of whiskies suited to different occasions and serves.

“I think it’s natural for consumers to seek different tastes at different times of the year, depending on a number of things, for example the occasion or the weather,” said McKie.

“As such it is quite important for licensees to consider offering seasonal menus, and trying to engage more with the different types of whisky that are often available from one single distillery.

“For example, if they enjoy having a specific distillery’s whisky on their bar due to it being their local dram, delve a little deeper into the different expressions that distillery makes and see if you can offer something a bit different for the season.”

However, others argued that the popularity of the spirit means it is advisable to keep a core range of even the more ‘wintery’ drams on the back-bar, year-round.

Hendriksz at Morrison Scotch Whisky Distillers said: “Whisky remains a popular option throughout the year and fans will have their favourite styles which remain unchanged whatever the season.

“There will be those who will happily drink a rich, sherry-matured malt with notes of Christmas cake on a summer’s day so it makes sense to keep a variety of styles behind the bar all year round.”