Accessible serves are attracting people to whisky

Whisky served with a mixer in tall glasses
Whisky highballs

Whisky, to those that already love it, is a drink almost without comparison, in terms of the range and complexity of flavours it can provide out of just a few simple ingredients. 

But it’s probably safe to say that it’s not always been the most accessible drinks category for newcomers, as much because of snobbery as the intricacy of the drink. 

Fortunately, attitudes do seem to be changing, with on-trade venues playing a key role in welcoming more people to whisky.  

Robert Meek, bar manager at the Port of Leith Distillery, said attitudes towards whisky are moving on from the days where it was viewed as “a complex, challenging and arbitrarily masculine spirit, to be appreciated by only the battle-hardened palates of hairy hipsters and the good old boys who refuse to drink any garbage below 12 years of age”. 

“Bars and pubs are the frontier for this cultural shift, especially as the role of the bartender evolved from simple beverage vendor to a somewhat more respected flavour guru with the knowledge and the selection to curate a guest’s evening around flavours that match their preferences,” said Meek.

“It’s becoming far less acceptable in venues to yuck someone’s yum, and bartenders are more likely to assist a newcomer to find a dram or a serve that can introduce them to the world of whisky, rather than dismissing them with a vodka lemonade.”

“It’s becoming far less acceptable in venues to yuck someone’s yum…”

Olivia Pattison, marketing coordinator at The Borders Distillery, agreed, saying it’s possible to ‘learn so much from a knowledgeable mixologist’. 

“‘Knowledge is power’,” said Pattison. “The more you can find out about the world of whisky, the less intimidating it feels. Never be afraid to ask questions, generally; people who are into whisky could talk all day about it and will be happy to share their understanding. 

“It is also important to challenge perceptions – Becky Paskin and others in the industry have raised awareness for the issues surrounding women in whisky. 

“Making venues accessible for newcomers isn’t about making them pink and fluffy; what makes a venue accessible for newcomers (to me) is the bartenders, and the other customers.”

And a spokesperson for Penderyn Distillery in Wales said bars and pubs ‘play a pivotal role in breaking down barriers and making whisky more accessible and enjoyable for everyone’. 

“Educational tasting sessions are important, as they can demystify whisky for newcomers and help them to understand the different flavour profiles, personal preferences and what to look for when choosing a whisky, allowing them to make more informed choices,” they said. 

“Offering educational tasting sessions that include different whisky styles and price points can help attract a broader audience and encourage exploration.”

Clear communication on pricing can also help to encourage customers to try different whiskies, according to Matt Sinclair, commercial director (UK and Ireland) Whyte & Mackay.

“Whisky can range significantly in price, with consumers perhaps shy to ask first,” said Sinclair.  

“By increasing price point visibility, and recommended brands to try, the consumer can make an informed choice.”

The ability to switch up the ways whisky is served is one of the on-trade’s biggest advantages over attempting to get to grips with whisky at home, with talented bartenders able to create serves that accentuate the flavours found in different whiskies, while also making them more approachable to newcomers. 

“Scotch Whiskies are so different and versatile and can pair well in cocktails that highlight certain classic summer flavours,” said Jaclyn McKie, marketing manager at Isle of Arran Distillers. 

“Scotch Whiskies are so different and versatile and can pair well in cocktails that highlight certain classic summer flavours…”

“‘The Tropical’ Arran Whisky Cocktail by Jef Berben does just that exceptionally well – our benchmark single malt, matured for 10 years in both American and European oak, carefully mixed with pineapple and raspberry flavours. Longing for a holiday in the sunny Caribbean? This cocktail will take your palate on a fruit rollercoaster and leave you on an imaginary beach with the perfect drink in hand!” 

A variety of whisky serves hasn’t just attracted a broader demographic of customers – it’s helped encourage people to drink it even on the warmest days of the year. 

“In the days of ‘you can only drink it neat’ whisky found its place in the darker months, but as whisky fans increasingly seek out experiences, enjoy food pairings and open up to cocktails, whisky is enjoying its time in the sun – pun intended,” said Scott Adamson, blender and global brand ambassador at Tomatin.

That chimed with comments from Michael Henry, master blender of Loch Lomond Group, the company behind the Loch Lomond and Glen Scotia distilleries, who said he considers whisky ‘a versatile spirit that can be enjoyed year-round’.

“The 152nd Open at Royal Troon this summer is one of the main events for our flagship brand, Loch Lomond Whiskies. 

“While we can’t guarantee the weather, it’s at the peak of summer in Scotland and demand to try a dram while watching the national sport is always strong,” said Henry.  

“We generally think about the weather when we think of summer, but there is a lot to be said for the different experiences you can enjoy during the year, from lighter nights for BBQs and bonfires, to outdoor events that match perfectly with Scotch.”

And one of Scotland’s most well-known master blenders, Rachel Barrie of Benriach and Glenglassaugh, argued that cocktails and highballs aren’t the only way whiskies can be enjoyed in the warmer weather. 

“Expressions like Glenglassaugh Sandend, inspired by the crescent beach of Sandend Bay, with its tropical sweetness and touch of sea salt, capture the essence of summer,” she said.  

“Whisky is incredibly versatile and can be enjoyed year-round, whether over ice or in cocktails. 

“It’s about breaking down those old seasonal boundaries and embracing whisky’s full potential.”