Expert advice: How to make a success of whisky

By Jo Bruce contact

- Last updated on GMT

Highland Park
Highland Park

Related tags: Highland park, Scotch whisky

Daryl Haldane, global brand advocate for Highland Park Single Malt Whisky – associate partner of the Budvar Budweiser Top 50 Gastropub Awards 2015 – offers his expert opinion on what it takes to sell whisky successfully in pubs.

How many whiskies and what styles would you recommend an average pub stocking/gastropub stocking?

When it comes to whisky, one of the key considerations when selecting stock is to provide the customer with a decent selection to choose from.  It is important to consider a range of price points and regions. Quality over quantity is fundamental to getting the offering right.

I would suggest concentrating on a core selection of around four whiskies and then complementing this line up with an additional selection (three to four) that can be rotated on a regular basis.  Not only will this add more depth to the offering, it will also help to educate and maintain interest amongst your staff, while keeping things fresh for the customer.  Adaptability is another key consideration - the use of single malt in cocktails and long drinks is a growing trend, you need to ensure you have a strong collection of whiskies that can easily be used across a range of serves.

What trends and serving ideas for whisky should licensees be capitalising on?

Whisky can be mixed, even single malt. We are increasingly seeing single malt whiskies being used in a wide variety of serves by top bars around the world, from New York to Tokyo.

It’s not only interesting serves driving whisky sales, theatre and visibility is crucial – the experience is becoming just as, if not more, important than the alcohol being consumed. At Highland Park we recently introduced The Chamber​, a striking smoking kit, which allows bars and restaurants to immerse a Highland Park serve in a swirling cloud of Orcadian peat smoke. 

This simple serve idea is based around a bell jar design that covers a pour of Highland Park 12 year old which is then enveloped by gentle peat smoke using a smoking gun and chunks of Orcadian peat.

Not only does it create atmosphere and standout on a bar, it brings out the gentle peat smoke that Highland Park is renowned for - we believe that, in line with the global trends for smoked flavours and memorable serves, that this piece of kit will become a fundamental whisky fixture in spirits and cocktail bars internationally.

What do you believe are the most effective ways of licensees marketing whisky to their customers?

Knowledgeable and confident staff is the key to selling whisky. They need to understand the whisky category, they don’t need to know everything, but they should be able to explain the key flavours and recount something special about your selection of whiskies to help guide the customer.

Perhaps the most fundamental way to ensure whisky sales is visibility.  Take craft beer for example, they are often very obvious, always placed front and centre, this of course drives trial. Make sure your whisky collection is visible and rotate it to keep things interesting.   Why not try ‘Malt of the Month’ – get your staff behind it and make sure your customers not only know about it but can see it.

What would be your recommendations on how licensees describe whiskies to customers on their drinks list?

Use your own experiences to describe a whisky, rather than something you picked up from the box. This is where staff training is key, by allowing them to taste the whiskies and talk about them in their own words you are empowering them and enabling them to sell.

Should licensees change their whisky offer seasonally?

Changing your whisky offering seasonally is a great idea. Just look at beer, in the summer people love IPA, whereas in the winter people switch to something like a Porter. Whisky is no different. In the summer you might want to halo a lighter style of whisky that can be served over ice, and come winter a richer, smoky, sherry style might be more fitting.

Any tips on matching whisky to food or using it in dishes?

Matching Highland Park 18 year old and dark chocolate works really well. You can also serve it with an espresso after dinner. Or why not have a Highland Park 12 year old whisky sour as an aperitif?  The key is to experiment – if you’re passionate about it, your customers will get that.

What would be your desert island whisky?

Highland Park 21 year old – that’s my favourite, I would definitely take that to a desert island.

What is your favourite pub and why?

Joseph Pearce in Edinburgh is one of my favourite pubs. It offers a really great choice of both beer and whisky. And come 5pm the sun shines on their outdoor space.

Related topics: Spirits & Cocktails

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