Get into the spirit of party season

whisky in glencairn glass

Whisky is always popular at this time of year but it should not be taken for granted

WHISKY is a drink with strong ties to the festive season – popular as both a Christmas gift and the traditional tipple to bring in the new year.

As a result, the national spirit tends to have a broad appeal towards the end of the year.
Stewart Pennington, a business advisory partner and deputy head of food and drink at accountancy firm Johnston Carmichael, said the festive season “is always an important time for the industry and there is clearly a belief, given the number of new distillery projects in the pipeline, that the market for whisky in particular is strong and ever expanding”.

“Christmas and Hogmanay tends to see an uptick in sales in age statement, rare and expensive whisky, however it does also provide another ideal opportunity to reach new audiences,” said Pennington.

“It will be an important trading window in light of recent times and ongoing economic headwinds in the UK.”

The importance of on-trade

And the on-trade continues to have an important part to play in fostering a taste for whisky.

That was the view of Jaclyn McKie, marketing manager at Isle of Arran Distillers, who said: “This is the most social time of year where more people are out and about in on-trade venues, socialising in groups that they perhaps don’t routinely socialise with.

“This can encourage people to try something different to what they would usually choose and as such it’s the opportunity to introduce them to different whisky styles and serves.”
She added that from a distiller’s point of view the most important thing is to make sure that people have the opportunity to try whisky by the dram.

“This is why the on-trade is important to us,” she continued, “to showcase our brands and allow people to discover more about them before committing to the purchase of a full bottle to have at home or to gift to someone else at this time of year.”

McKie said that during this festive season, Arran is giving on-trade customers priority access to its new Lagg single malt to introduce the new brand.

Looking beyond the traditional dram

Glenfiddich brand ambassador, Mark Thomson, agreed that winter presents an opportunity to boost whisky sales – and he encouraged licensees to look beyond the traditional dram.

“Typically, whisky has a buoyant time at Christmas as the colder nights draw in,” said Thomson, “but that doesn’t mean a focus on half and half pairings or cocktails such as mulled apple spiced with whisky can’t lift sales even further.”

Glenfiddich’s sister distillery, The Balvenie, also wants to attract spirits drinkers that it calls ‘curious’ about single malt.

A spokesperson said: “Giving people incentives to try things they wouldn’t normally when they are feeling festive is useful.

“An idea could be a small concession on a higher-end whisky as a dram of the month so people feel like they are getting something special.

“Or use whisky in a warm cocktail to get them enjoying it in another way.”

Pol Roger Portfolio, the distributor of Glenfarclas, suggested that operators help consumers “delve into a whisky’s different flavours”.

Head of marketing, Megan Loveridge, said: “The flavour [profile] of a Glenfarclas is often reminiscent of festive flavours, with frequent tasting notes of sherried fruit and Christmas spices.

“Our 15 year old is described as Christmas cake in a glass.”

Adventurous whisky offerings

Online spirits retailer Caskshare advised that “if you really want to stand out from the crowd, stock whiskies that drinkers aren’t going to find on their local supermarket shelves”.
Managing director, John Robertson, expanded: ”Before anyone thinks that this sounds like an eye-wateringly expensive proposition, it doesn’t need to be when you can snap up a fine and rare malt by the bottle.”

Caskshare examples provided by Roberston included an 11 year old malt from Bruichladdich matured in a first-fill American barrel having previously sat in ex-bourbon, Andean, Amarone and Oloroso oak and a 13 year old first-fill ex-red wine barrique from Benrinnes.

Above all, brand owners encouraged bar operators to be adventurous in their whisky offers.
The Balvenie spokesperson said: “Too often, single malt has been put in the ‘neat only’ corner, but as consumers continue to be more wary of their spend, we also continue to see the drink less but better mentality around.

“So if you offer a higher-end cocktail, for instance, using single malt it’s a great way to understand if your customer base is willing to have one or two of those, rather than a few more at a lesser price point.

“It allows consumers to try something special while helping with margins.”