The Changing face of Scotch Whisky

Beauty Before Age

Scotch Whisky is one of the UK’s top exports, accounting for about 25% of all food and drink exports. That’s a lot of drams, getting shipped to over 200 different countries. We weren’t sure there were over 200 countries. This sounds mighty impressive and when you think of the 3.180 million litres of stock maturing in warehouses in Scotland, you’d think there was lots to go round.

The simple fact is, there isn’t and with a product that takes at least three years to mature to become Whisky, there’s interesting times ahead for the Scotch Whisky Industry. In Scotland, we’re used to seeing a fairly defined list of ‘favourites’ for sale in bars here but in reality, several thousand brands of Scotch Whisky are sold, all over the world. This sounds a lot of whisky and a lot of brands but the world’s a VERY BIG PLACE! Sales are up by double digits in just about every market.

So, what’s the Industry doing about this boom? Well, just about every distillery in Scotland is working flat-out to cope with demand, distilleries are adding-on bits and trying to buy new distilleries. There’s also the introduction of ‘new-make’. Whisky which isn’t whisky but can be sold ‘young’ not claiming to be whisky but as an interesting alternative to ‘other’ mixer spirits, you know the ones. It might be something that makes old school whisky drinkers blush, which is fine, because some of it is rose in colour…

The Industry has always placed a lot of importance on ‘Age’ statements…10 year old, 12 years old and so on. This is great while you’ve got lots of it, but when stocks get low…when you effectively start to run-out of decade-old malt, a rethink is needed. That’s why you’ll be seeing lots of new whisky ‘products’ with beautiful labelling but no age statements. Lots of whisky won’t be heading towards teenager status, it’ll be getting drunk whilst still in single figures. Legally, it’s got to be more than 3 years old but now, there just won’t be as many birthdays until many whiskies will be getting drunk. Macallan have launched the 1824 collection, which is a really good example of this. We’re not saying this is a bad thing and in fact, some of our favourite drams are WELL short of a decade old. Just as long as everyone knows this!

In the Scotch whisky world, ‘blends’ (a mix of malt and grain whiskies) have always ruled the roost, accounting for around 90% of Global sales. They’ve generally (but not always) been seen to be the poorer relation of ‘Malts’. Because grain whisky is a good deal cheaper and quicker to produce than malt whisky, you’re going to see a big growth in ‘designer’ blends. These are a mile removed for the supermarket staples and will be affirming or re-affirming the notion that drinking blends can be sexy. ┬áIn a very responsible way, of course. Also, grain whiskies are making inroads into boutique bars and off-sales. A few years ago, nobody with any style would drink 100% grain Scotch. Indeed, there were only two or three for sale in the UK. Now, it’s trendy and the hipster whisky buffs, the new breed of young whisky fogies are lapping certain grain brands up. The one you’ll see most of in the UK is the Famous Grouse blended grain product, Snow Grouse, but there will be others coming!

At the recent World Whisky Awards, Scotch didn’t do amazingly well or did rather badly, depending on how you look at it. We didn’t really win anything of merit, which in our eyes, can be seen to be a very good thing indeed. If Scotch has to settle for a smaller percentage of a dynamic, exciting, innovative well-marketed and flipping tasty market and that market is ABSOLUTELY HUGE, we think that’s a small price to pay for not being quite as iconic.

After all, whisky’s a global drink but there can only ever be one Scotch and we’re teaching the world how to serve it.

How exciting is this!


Leave a Comment