A journo's view...
For those of you that live outside of the UK, read on regardless. The (London) Times has a Saturday column on alcoholic drinks every week. It is normally wine based but often goes further afield. Jane Macquitty is responsible for the column and I can rarely agree with anything she says about wine (except the fact she loathes white zinfandel); today she opines on whisky.
The full article is below in italics, but basically she reckons the industry ought not follow the current path of appealing to youthful drinkers by fancy marketing and products. My view, as per normal where Macquitty is concerned, is that she is plain wrong. The whisky industry will ALWAYS hold onto its sterotypical clientel: they already like the product and do not require too much marketing. Money, which the industry needs, is going to come from younger drinkers and to get into that market means altering brands' images and portfolios. Whilst J&B -6 might not appeal to me, I think that if it gets young people involved then it can only be a good thing.
I would be interested to hear other people's views, but to me it seems simple: keep the core of your business there - these fans will remain loyal if you treat them well, BUT you must expand if you want to stay solvent and hold the market share that you now have.
Scotch and Coke? Scotch and tonic? I don’t think so. Call me old-fashioned, but descending to inappropriate Mickey-Mouse mixers in a clumsy attempt to pep up sales is no way to treat our greatest spirit. For decades, whisky, perceived as an old-fashioned brown spirit by younger vodka-loving drinkers, has been haemorrhaging sales. Fifteen years ago, we drank more than 12 million cases, today we knock back just 9.5 million, and sales are still falling – particularly gloomy news as Britian is the third most important world market for Scotch after France and the US.
All of this scares the living daylights out of the whisky boys, who have fought back over the years with all manner of newfangled make-whisky-hip-notions. These have included new blends, limited-edition and vintage single malts, plus a plethora of new liveries and serving ideas. Yet trying to pass off whisky as an entirely different spirit, hoping to woo a new young audience, as two of our biggest producers have done recently, is a daft idea and bound to end in tears.
One look at the J&B -6C bottle (£17.75, Gerry’s; 020-7734 4215) and the faintly yellow-green liquid within, and it’s easy to see which spirit this “blended Scotch whisky” is aping: vodka. Obviously aimed at twentysomething drinkers, who J&B no doubt hope will rate the clear, bulbous -6C bottle as cool, it looked to me like a
laboratory specimen and a none too healthy one at that. Chill filtered down to -6 degrees, hence the name, J&B’s “classic for a new generation” smells like a floral, albeit fiery, varnishy whisky, but one sweet, vaguely zesty sip, and it turns into a bland non-event. If this is whisky, I’m the Pope.
Monkey Shoulder, meanwhile, a blend of three Speyside malts, is a bourbon imposter. Made by William Grant & Sons, better known as the producers of Glenfiddich, and named after the crook shoulder that Scottish distillery workers got from turning the malted barley by hand, it comes with a bourbonesque bottle and label, and is aimed again at younger drinkers. Sadly, its sweet, dull, raisiny, boring taste is not worth the £22 asked at Gerry’s and elsewhere.
Just as I was giving up hope that any new whisky would hit the spot, up popped Johnnie Walker Green Label, a blend of four different malts and a fine, smoky, gingery whisky, with a lovely, long Fisherman’s Friend finish (£24.99, Tesco). Anyone hoping to while away the Bank Holiday weekend with a proper whisky mixed drink might like to try this dram in a whisky sour (one measure whisky, juice of half a lemon, dash of egg white and sugar syrup to taste, shaken briskly before serving over ice), or a whisky lime (one measure whisky, topped up with ginger ale and given a squirt of fresh lime juice and a wedge of lime before serving with lots of ice).
Scotch on the rocks? Not just yet.
- Jane Macquitty, The Time, 27th August 2005