Having just read the latest Whisky Round Table I thought I’d put down in words some bits and bobs that have crept into conversation a few times and is one of those things that makes me wonder why nobody is doing it. I mean really doing it, not some half-arsed attempt.
I agree with many of the comments in the link above that releasing new spirit is a way to generate much-needed initial income for new distilleries and a way to grow awareness from the start, but simply treating it as an idea of what the future whisky will be like is simply a novelty, not a product. It is, and should be treated as a product in its own right. Why not bottle and sell new spirit before it’s whisky? Just don’t call it new spirit or future whisky or anything like that. Call it, and market it, as something different. Scotch Spirit or whatever. Marketing people should really grab hold of this and run with it. Well, good ones anyway.
One of the main problems stems from the fact that the whisky industry is treating this as unaged whisky and marketing it to whisky folks who they think might like to try their spirit to see how it evolves. That’s where the narrow-mindedness of the industry hampers growth. (A few distilleries are now making gin but why not have another product entirely? One which they are already making!) They are marketing these drinks at the wrong people. This stuff is not really what you want to be drinking neat, it should really be mixed like vodka, gin and all other clear spirits. Do you really think the guy sipping a GlenDronach 15yo is then going to slip a neat Glenglassaugh Clearac down his throat? Well, he might for curiosity but that would be it.
Last week I came across a product which fits in with this discussion. It is a young Cognac by the name of Antarctica. Created by the Godet house this is aged for about four years in very tired old casks which barely colour or flavour it leaving a lot of the new spirit notes that you would find in the unaged liquid. The packaging resembles an ice cube and it’s all squarely aimed at cocktail bars. One of the best places to build a brand is in the on-trade and if you get your product in good cocktail bars, in a cocktail on their menu, then you hopefully have a steady stream of drinkers imbibing your spirit. They then start to ask where they can buy it so they can mix with it at home too. And off it goes…
Let’s go back a little bit. The Glenglassaugh Distillery reopened in 2008 and had no young spirit in the warehouses. I think the youngest whisky was around 25/26yo. At any rate they needed something to sell to those who couldn’t afford to buy older whiskies and apart from cask sales, which again is a limited market, they only had their new spirit to sell. Cleverly they decided to market several bottlings of this new spirit, including peated, wine and bourbon barrel versions, but what I think it lacked was a focus towards the on-trade with most sales probably going to whisky drinkers for the curiosity value. The distillery now has a 3yo whisky but I wonder how they would have done had they taken these young products to a different market. We stocked these products in the shop when we opened and we still have some sitting here now. I don’t expect them to sell out quickly at all as there’s no demand from those trying the products in bars to source them for themselves.
While we are on this lack of innovation thread, where are the spiced whiskies/spirits? Where are the whiskies/spirits infused with ginger/orange/herbs? I know there are whisky liqueurs out there but as Compass Box showed with their Orangerie, they don’t all have to be the same, sickly-sweet, sugar overload. Again there’s no real thought towards the on-trade and taking something new out there. Drinkers are always on the lookout for the new and interesting products; the next cool drink to be seen supping at the Blythswood. It doesn’t all need to be about the aged whisky.