There’s a lot of excitement among
producers of premium and superpremium Scotch.
Robert Plotkin is the past president of the National Bar & Restaurant Association and author of numerous books including the 5th edition of The Bartender’s Companion: The Original Guide to American Cocktails and Drinks. He can be reached at BarMedia, 1-800421-7179, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
While dwarfed by the relative size of several other distilled spirits categories, Scotch remains one of the identifiable standard bearers of the urbane consumerism. Its cachet of uncompromised quality, breadth of expression and dynamic range of flavor has made Scotch a global heavyweight.
A look at the numbers reveals some interesting trends. According to the Adams Handbook Advance 2005, while the overall Scotch category dipped 0.8% in 2004 to just under 9 million 9-liter cases, for the most part premium and superpremium brands continued to grow. In general, value-priced brands — whether domestic or imported — continued to decline.
“Even though Scotch is not the largest of the whiskey markets, the category still carries more gravitas than other whiskeys,” contends Larry Kass, director of corporate communications for Heaven Hill. “Scotch offers more expressions, superb marketing and packaging and a strong academic/educational bent. Collectively they’re positioned in a sophisticated, upscale way, lending an importance and weight that’s disproportionate to case sales.”
Dewar’s 12, a high-end member of the Dewar’s line of Scotch, from Bacardi USA, had a sales gain of 22.0% in 2004, to 61,000 9-liter cases.
Indeed, the leading brands of single malt Scotch had sales gains of a collective 4.8%, while the four leading blends, including premium and superpremium brands, all showed sales increases. Dewar’s hit 1.4 million 9-liter cases, and has been promoting its base brand along with the successful superpremium Dewar’s 12. The brand also features another high-end expression, Dewar’s Signature, which debuted last year. The Johnnie Walker family is showing renewed strength: while Black has been one of the top-selling superpremium spirits for several years now (up an impressive 5.9% in 2004), Red gained another 3.0% last year on top of a comeback year in 2003. And the Chivas Regal ship has righted itself, with the world-renowned superpremium gaining 3.0% in 2004.
Consensus is that Scotch enthusiasts are different than your average spirits drinker. They’re more prone to try new releases and sample unconventional bottlings. They are driven by the sense of discovery and the need to experience something new and exciting. It’s all like an urban adventure. Distillers appreciate these compelling desires because it’s the same forces that drive them.
Among the royalty of blended Scotch, the superpremium Chivas Regal, from Pernod Ricard USA, upped sales to 487,000 9-liter cases last year.
“Our experience has shown us that what impels consumers to purchase a blended or single malt Scotch is taste, recommendation and self-discovery,” observed Jack Shea of Allied Domecq. “As a consumer’s palate becomes more discerning, he or she may be willing to move on — and up in price if necessary –t o experience a more complex malt, maybe something more adventurous. More often than not, they purchase based on a recommendation or through their own discovery and research.”
Diageo’s Richard Nichols, vp, marketing, for Scotch, agreed. “Discovery is absolutely what drives consumers to single malt Scotches — the provenance of Scotland, the history of the distilleries and the variety of flavors you can experience by region, age, finish, etc.”
Mary Therese Kraft of Jim Beam believes that successful retailers will continue focusing their efforts on educating consumers. “Hand-selling and personal recommendations are imperative when it comes to selling Scotch. The retail trade is the single most important entity in the education of consumers. They are perceived as experts and the more knowledge the retailer and their employees can impart to the consumer, the more they will enjoy and experiment within the category.”
Johnnie Walker Green Label is Diageo’s latest release in the renowned Johnnie Walker family of Scotch.
As a retailer, you’re bound to please every palate and satisfy every request carrying a hundred labels of Scotch. Most take a more reserved approach, however, opting instead to offer their clientele a more discriminating selection of blends and single malts. If this strategy more closely aligns with your objectives, take heed. Stocking a limited selection requires considerably more thought to ensure that you market a balanced offering, one that best represents the varieties of styles of each Scotch-producing region.
This past year or so has featured the release of new and tremendously exciting malts, each nudging the envelope and expanding the horizon. So discard the notion of “best” as outdated and overtly subjective. Instead, line your shelves with genuinely intriguing whiskies.
NEW HIGHLAND RELEASES
Located in the northern part of Scotland, the Highlands is the largest Scotch-producing region and the home to a majority of the country’s distilleries. The region’s peat-laced waters and cool, moisture-laded air is perfectly suited for making classic malts. The heartland of the region is the Speyside. Its malts are known for their sophistication, elegance and complexity, the most famous of which are The Glenlivet and Glenfiddich.
Two of the top families of single malt Scotches are The Glenlivet (left), from Pernod Ricard USA, and Glenmorangie (below), from Brown-Forman Beverages Worldwide. Both brands expanded their offerings with new prestigious expressions last year.
The best-selling single malt Scotch in the U.S., The Glenlivet range recently expanded with the release of The Glenlivet 15-Year-Old French Oak Reserve. The whisky is aged in American ex-bourbon barrels, after which a portion is matured further in new, Limousin oak barrels. While still representative of the Glenlivet style, the French oak finish adds some welcome spice. Also new to the line is The Glenlivet Cellar Collection 1964, a rare vintage malt aged in sherry casks and oak barrels. The Glenlivet range also includes category leader The Glenlivet 12-year-old, 18-yearold, 12-year-old French Oak Finish, Archive (21-year-old) and Cellar Collection vintages 1983, 1959 and 1967.
Another lord of the Speyside is Glenfiddich, the best-selling single malt Scotch in the world. The Glenfiddich range of single malts took another leap forward with the release of Glenfiddich Solera Reserve, which is aged 15 years by a system modeled after Spanish soleras.
The range of Glenfiddich also includes the 12-year-old; Ancient Reserve 18-year-old; a 30-year old and a 40-Year Old. The Glenfiddich Rare Collection 1937 ranks among the most expensive malts in the world. It was drawn from cask #843 that was filled and laid down in the summer of 1937. A mere 61 bottles were made available with a price tag of $14,000, or $551 per ounce.
The Speyside district of the Scottish Highlands is also the home of The Balvenie Distillery. Their flagship is The Balvenie Portwood 21-Year-Old, a whisky double barreled, first in traditional oak and then 30-year-old, oak port pipes. The wine influences every aspect of the whisky.
180 YEARS MAKING SCOTCH
After 180 years in the business, The Macallan has the deepest whisky reserves in all of Scotland and a colossal range that includes 38 distinctive bottlings of 26 different vintages. Their famed sherry oak single malts are bottled at 12 years, 18 years (vintage 1986), 25 years and 30 years.
Importer Remy Amerique and the distillery recently launched The Macallan Cask Strength Single Malt, a full-bodied malt bottled at a mouth-tingling 116.4 proof. A splash of spring water brings out waves of fruity, smoky flavors.
Another recent addition is The Macallan Fine Oak, whiskeys made from a decidedly lighter blend of malts. The Macallan house style is easily discernable, a result of introducing American oak whiskies to the mix. The Fine Oak Macallans are bottled at 12 years, 15 years and 21 years.
The malts of Aberlour have made it a franchise in the Speyside since 1826. The distiller’s range includes a 10-year-old and 15-year-old, both of which are aged in bourbon and sherry casks. Importer Pernod Ricard has also introduced an 86 proof, 1990 vintage single malt.
The Glendronach distillery is a traditional distillery, one that dries its own malt, uses wooden fermenting tuns and heats its stills with coal fires. Imported by Allied Domecq, The Glendronach is renowned for two distinctly different types of malts–those that are aged in oak barrels and those that are matured sherry casks.
A complex and sophisticated whisky, The Glendronach Single Highland Malt is matured a minimum of 15 years entirely in first fill sherry casks. For those with a thirst for a malt with even more of a pronounced sherry palate, the distillery has released The Glendronach Vintage 1968, a single malt whisky rested for no less than 25 years is sherry wood.
A fixture in the Highlands since 1843, The Glenmorangie Distillery produces nothing but single malt whisky. The distillery markets bottlings of 10 years, 15 years, 18 years and 21 years.
Of equal stature is the distillery’s incomparable stable of wood finished malts.The first of these 12-year-old malts introduced were The Glenmorangie Port Wood Finish, Malmsey Madeira Wood Finish and Oloroso SherryWood Finish. They were followed by Growth Claret Wood Finish, which is finished in Bordeaux first growth chteaux barrels; Cote Dd Nuits Wood Finish, a 1975 vintage malt finished in Côte de Nuits burgundy barrels; Fino Sherry Wood Finish; and the latest entry, Burgundy Wood Finish.
The award-winning Dalmore Cigar Malt is part of the Dalmore line of single malts imported by Jim Beam Brands.
Imported by Jim Beam Brands, The Dalmore range of single malts includes the 12-year-old and 21-year-old. Grabbing much of the critical acclaim though are Stillman’s Dram, a limited-edition, 30-year-old malt aged entirely in Oloroso sherry casks, and The Dalmore Cigar Malt, an award-winning spirit with more sherry character than can be found in their other single malts. In 2004, the distillery released the ultra-premium Gonzalez 1973 Sherry Cask Finish. The 1,200 available bottles carry a price tag of $250 each.
Imported by Skyy Spirits, The Glenrothes Speyside Single Malt are rare vintage-dated malts embodying the nobility long associated with the Speyside. Almost 90% of the whisky’s constituent elements were aged no less than 15 years in American oak bourbon barrels, the rest having been aged in sherry wood. Currently the vintages available are 1979, 1989, and 1992.
The Glenfarclas Distillery is among the last of the privately owned distilleries. The distillery ages most its highly sought-after whiskies in Oloroso sherry casks. Their line of malt whiskies, imported by Sazerac, also includes the Glenfarclas 17-year, 21-year and 25-year-old single malts. The Glenfarclas 1968 Vintage Malt was matured for over 36 years in sherry wood.
Most singular of the range is the 10-year-old Glenfarclas Cask 105, which the distillery has produced since the 1950s. Bottled at 120 proof, it is the strongest single malt issued by any Scotch distillery.