Ask the folk at online whisky business, The Whisky Tasting Club, what its best-selling mini-pack is, and you may well be surprised by the answer. It’s not five stunning malt whiskies from Speyside or The Highlands. It’s not even made up of single malts.
And most surprisingly of all, the whiskies aren’t from Scotland.
In fact, they’re from anywhere but.
It’s the World Whisky pack containing whiskies from America, Asia, Australasia and Europe which is streets ahead. And this tells you all you need to know about where the world of whisky is today.
Not only is it enjoying a surge of popularity among 20 and 30-something-year olds, but they’re turning their backs on unexciting and standard blended Scotch and seeking out more exotic and exciting brands instead — ones which they can discover for themselves and which come with no baggage.
That’s not to say Scotch has fallen out of favour — far from it — but an increasing number of people expect something more than one or two whiskies in each of the main whisky categories, not just for Scottish single malts but for blends, Irish and American whiskeys too.
“If there are still pubs that do not offer this choice, they are missing out on a potentially profitable area of their business,” says Dr Nick Morgan, head of whisky outreach for Diageo.
“It would be unthinkable to go into a bar in France or Spain or Germany and not to have Johnnie Walker, Chivas and Ballantine’s. The quality of a bar overseas is judged on whether it firstly has Scotch, and secondly whether it has an individual’s favourite blended Scotch. If pub licensees attended a grassroots whisky show and saw the gender and age profile, they would be amazed. There is a grassroots whisky movement that has only one thing in common, and that is they have disposable income. If a pub isn’t feeding into this growing group, they’re missing out.”
The world of whisky is a complex one with many brands and expressions. so how do you navigate your way through it.
Here’s a 12-point guide with recommendations.
Don’t fear the whisky
It is true that these days there are hundreds of different whiskies, but there are also countless websites dedicated to whisky and plenty of books to refer to. You don’t need to be an expert to offer an exciting whisky selection.
Make a fuss of whisky
Feature a different whisky each month as a whisky of the month.
Work out a price that allows you to let your best whisky customers have a small taste. Get people talking about your choice.
Seek out unusual whiskies
Glenfiddich and Glenlivet won’t cut it.
Try and offer at least one whisky from each region of Scotland, for instance:
Dalmore 12 yo, Craigellachie 13 yo or Glen Garioch Founder’s Reserve
Tobermory 10 yo or Talisker 10 yo
Caol Ila 12 yo or anything from Kilchoman
Auchentoshan 12 yo Campbeltown: Springbank 10 yo
Call in an expert
If you’ve got a local shop selling whisky, go and ask for advice.
They may even offer to come and hold a tasting at the pub. You can help each other out. He can stock whiskies you’re stocking. If a customer tries whisky and likes it, point him to the shop.
If a shop customer isn’t sure about a whisky, the shop can send him or her to you to try it.
Learn the back story
People don’t want cheap, they want value for money.
The effort that goes into making good whisky will help with this. But every single malt has its own back story — history, where the distillery is, a quirky production method and so on.
It’s easy to find it out and it helps to sell whisky.
Make blends your friends
Cheap blended whisky will have a high proportion of low-quality grain in it.
Go for recognised names and promote simple but classical whisky cocktails. Go for a top quality blend and you can make premium cocktails with just a little bit of research.
Blends you might consider include:
- Johnnie Walker Black Label
- Chivas Regal 12 yo
- Famous Grouse
Scotland produces four styles of whisky.
Single malts and blended whiskies are well known but you can also find grain whiskies and blended malts — a mix of malts from different distilleries but without grain whisky.
Monkey Shoulder is the best known of the latter.
Do me a flavour
A new category of spirits drinks based on whisky but flavoured with the likes of honey, limes or cherries are appealing to a wider range of drinking.
- Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey
- J&B Urban Honey
- Ballantine’s Brasil
Cocktails can command premium prices and are in vogue at the moment. Don’t hide the flavour of the whisky — go for traditional cocktails such as the Sidecar, the Mint Julep and the Manhattan.
Move on beyond just Jameson. There are some great Irish whiskeys around now.
- Redbreast 12 yo
- Powers John’s Lane
Bourbon is affordable and younger drinkers love it.
Try these ones:
- Jim Beam Black Label
- Maker’s Mark
- Buffalo Trace
Whisky is being exported from a vast array of countries such as Japan, France, Australia, Sweden, England, India, Wales and Taiwan.
Distributors such as Gordon & MacPhail and Marusssia Beverages offer an unusual and exciting selection of world whiskies.
You don’t need to spend a fortune on new whiskies but building up an exciting range will pay dividends and get your customers talking.
And you can be sure that some of you competitors are already taking doing just that.