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Issue 99 - Upstairs Downstairs

Whisky Magazine Issue 99
October 2011

 

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Upstairs Downstairs

Dave looks at how whisky has created a divide between itself and other spirits, and why this is not necessarily a good thing, particularly for brand Scotch.

At this year's Whisky Live Paris, the marble salons of the Hotel Salomon de Rothschild echoed to the contended murmur of malt lovers, the hot autumn air scented by oak and grain. A high-class event as ever, but down in the basement, something was stirring. In that huge concrete space were producers of Cognac, Armagnac, Calvados, rum, absinthe, vodka, gin, tequila and bartenders mixing cocktails. It was a different world.

Every time I descended, I'd bump into some whisky brand ambassador trying guiltily to hide a cocktail behind their kilt. “I was just.. er...seeing what was down here,” would be the response. That's exactly what they should have been doing. It struck me that whisky has elevated itself to the upper floors of the spirits mansion in terms of price, rarity, prestige and image, but in doing so has created a disconnect between it and the spirits in the lower floors.

Scotch whisky finds itself at an interesting point in its continuing evolution. Shipments are booming, new markets are maintaining their remarkable momentum, creating a boom unlike anything seen since the late 19th century. Asia and Latin America are the new areas of focus, places where twentysomethings are loving the flavours of blends or malts. Scotch, whisky in all its guises, is trendy, is cool. The gaze of the majors has shifted inexorably to the southwest and to the east where new fortunes are to be made. Europe and the US are being left behind.

Yes, premium Scotch is growing in America, and...

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