Mixed drinks can help to make whisky more accessible

Highballs, cocktails and food pairing could be among the ways to grow whisky sales in the coming weeks, with festive customers open to trying something new over the festive season. 

That was the message from Scotch whisky businesses and brand teams, who said making the famous spirit more accessible will be key to encouraging additional whisky sales  throughout November and December.

Joanne Motion, head of marketing at independent bottler and distiller Douglas Laing & Co, said the company is ‘a big supporter of drinking whisky however you want to enjoy it and this helps encourage new consumers to the category via long serves and cocktails’.

“Christmas and Hogmanay are key times for whisky within the on-trade with social gatherings and toasts to the season,” said Motion. 

“As cocktail serves have grown in popularity this has given whisky the opportunity to appeal to a broader and younger audience.”

The Big Peat Smoky Sour


• 50ml Big Peat Islay Malt Scotch Whisky 

• 25ml fresh lemon juice 

• 25ml sugar syrup 

• A few dashes of your favourite bitters 

• 1 egg white 

• Cubed ice 

• Dehydrated lemon wheel or maraschino cherry 

Method: Add 50ml Big Peat, 25ml lemon juice, 25ml sugar syrup, a few dashes of bitters and one egg white into a shaker and dry shake vigorously. Add cubed ice and shake again until chilled. Strain into a chilled rocks glass. Garnish with a dehydrated lemon wheel or maraschino cherry.

– Provided by Douglas Laing & Co


That was echoed by Kirsten Blackburn, head of marketing at Borders Distillery, who said a dedicated festive cocktail menu or seasonal serves ‘will always go down well, and encourage more consumers to give whisky a go – whether that be for the first time or in a new style’. 

“For us specifically, it’s about shedding the image that whisky has to be drunk in a particular way,” said Blackburn. 

“Whisky is as versatile a spirit as any other – possibly even more so because of its diversity in flavour – and that should be celebrated.” 

There are a wide range of serves that are either traditionally made with whisky – including classics like the Rob Roy, Penicillin or Rusty Nail – as well as more modern concoctions. 

But the experts were keen to point out that sometimes keeping things simple can be just as effective. 

A spokesperson for blended malt Monkey Shoulder pointed to the humble hot toddy as an example of a simple but effective whisky drink. 

“A simple toddy will always hit the mark, and it doesn’t need to be overly complicated,” they said. 

“Some cloves, cinnamon and a little honey to sweeten, will work magic on cold nights. 

“Try adding a little pomegranate juice for a little zing.”

The whisky highball – essentially a dram of whisky in a tall glass, with plenty ice and topped with soda or another soft drink – has been promoted by whisky companies for years as a more accessible alternative to sipping the spirit neat. 

And Niel Hendriksz, sales director of Morrison Scotch Whisky Distillers, heartily endorsed them as an approachable whisky serve for the festive season. 

“Whisky highballs are continuing to gain popularity – they’re a refreshing way to enjoy whisky and can be customized with various garnishes, such as citrus twists, herbs, or flavoured syrups, allowing for creativity in presentation and taste,” said Hendriksz. 

“They can be made with any style of whisky and are also easy to prepare, making them suitable for busy bars.”

The Paolo Nutini


• 50ml Old Perth Palo Cortado

• 10ml Vanilla Simple Syrup

• 25ml Lemon juice

• Dash bitters (optional)

• (For additional foam and mouthfeel, an egg white can be added) 

• 50-75ml Pilot Peach Melba Sour

Method: Add first four ingredients to shaker, fill with cubed ice, give a quick shake, add to ice-filled highball glass, top with Pilot Peach Melba Sour. Garnish with a peach slice or fan. 

Supplied by Morrison Scotch Whisky Distillers.

And pairing whiskies with food is something not enough Scottish venues are pursuing, reckoned Sean Fennelly, brand ambassador for single malt The Balvenie. 

“Regional spirits like mezcal in Mexico, or Aquavit in Scandinavia have always been consumed alongside, and as a complement to food, but in Scotland we’re not quite there yet, particularly with savoury dishes,” he said.  “At The Balvenie, we’re always on hand to offer food-pairing advice to venues keen to work with our whiskies, but if you’re keen to start today, try our Week of Peat 14yr with cold-smoked Salmon!”

The offer doesn’t have to be complex, said Fennelly. He pointed to  straightforward options such as a short list of ‘dessert drams’ to be paired with cheese or pudding.

Whether it’s in cocktails, highball serves or to be paired with food, it’ll be important to be able to offer the right range of whiskies. 

Motion at Douglas Laing & Co advised licensees to ensure they have a good spread of whiskies from Scotland’s whisky regions. 

“As younger whisky drinkers enter the category and become more knowledgeable it is important to offer a range of whiskies that can support bar calls of a specific regional whisky, e.g an Islay or a Speyside,” she said. 

Aside from geographical splits, it’s also worth looking into a cross-section of flavour profiles, said Hendriksz at Morrison Scotch Whisky Distillers. 

“I believe there’s a whisky for everyone and, in a season where the interest in whisky is high, creating a small whisky menu with variety to cater to potential and established whisky drinkers is a great way to engage your customers and boost sales,” said Hendriksz.

“Offering different styles and cask types is key.”