Pure Malts Add To The Momentum
by David Lincoln Ross
With the recent releases of cask-conditioned Scotch aged in Port or Sherry barrels, new, bottlings of 12-, 15- and 18-year-old blends, and a growing array pure malt offerings, premiumization is energizing the blended Scotch category in ways not seen in at least a generation.
For the first time in years, blended Scotch is experiencing growth, says Kevin Doherty, beverage director at Tanner Smith’s, a bar and restaurant located near Broadway in New York. “Sales of pure malts or vatted malts are on the up and up. They fill a gap in cocktail bars where you want a single malt flavor without paying a higher price.” Tanner Smith’s features Pig’s Nose and Monkey Shoulder, both at $15.
Merchants, too, see gains for premium and above Scotch blends and pure malts. Calling attention to pure blends is key to generating sales, says Hudson Funk, manager of Hokus Pokus Liquors, Alexandria, Louisiana. “I promote blended malt Scotch whenever possible; they’re maltier, more approachable and more affordable than many single malt Scotches.”
Yet there remain real challenges for blended Scotch. In 2017, blended Scotch sales fell to 7.2 million cases, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS). In the same period, sales of single malt Scotch rose to 2.1 million cases. DISCUS also reports that even with the decline in blended Scotch sales, their 2017 volume is almost double compared to Irish whiskey sales, which has been the single fastest-rising spirit in the U.S during the last few years.
PREMIUMIZATION DRIVES INNOVATION
Notwithstanding the downswing in blended Scotch, marketers note an uptick in the premium and super-premium sub-categories, says Shefali Murdia, brand director for Chivas Regal, Pernod Ricard USA. “It is promising to see the ‘Premium and Above’ price tier growing (+1.5%), which clearly represents a growth opportunity for Chivas.”
Scotch marketers add that blends at all price points are well positioned to capitalize on broader whisky trends. Brian Cox, Bacardi’s vice president, Dewar’s, observes: “When you take this premiumization dynamic and combine it with the current continued brown spirits renaissance across all whiskies (North American Whiskey, Scotch, Irish, others)…it is abundantly clear that Blended Scotch is well positioned to grow through numerous bright spots of untapped opportunity.”
Diageo USA’s Johnnie Walker senior brand manager Sandhya Padmanabhan, also sees evidence of greater consumer interest in ‘premium and above’ Scotch blends. “While the blended scotch category has lagged in industry growth, Johnnie Walker remains leader of the pack, maintaining consistent growth and a steady performance.”
And when one looks at the growing importance of Latin/Hispanic demographic, Buchanan’s senior brand manager Tara King, also of Diageo USA, is likewise upbeat: “Buchanan’s has experienced continuous growth in the past 10+ years. More recently, since the launch and continued momentum against its powerful campaign ‘Es Nuestro Momento’, Buchanan’s gained +62bps share of Scotch in F18Q3, its largest share gain in 14 quarters.”
Taken together and viewed from a global perspective, blended Scotch sales are poised for a welcome worldwide rebound. Eileen Livingston, senior director Scotch, International Marketing, Beam Suntory, says of Teacher’s and the overall Scotch market, “…for the first time in 5 years (2012 last growth), Blended Scotch is returning to growth in 2017 (+0,7%); expecting to further grow +2% in the future (CAGR 2016-2021) led by Premium+ Blended.”
This recovery is on clear display: A growing array of pure, vatted, aged, malt and traditional blends crowd merchants’ shelves and trendy back bars.
Here are a few that have attracted consumer interest.
o Edrington, a top Scottish spirits company, launched a re-packaged Naked Grouse Blended Malt ($36, 750ml) in 2017 and is aimed at “older millennials”. Naked Grouse is matured in Oloroso sherry oak casks.
o Since 2015 Frederick Wildman and Sons has beefed up its blend and pure malt offerings with Pig’s Nose ($26), Sheep Dip ($38), and The Feathery ($52).
o William Grant & Sons’ Monkey Shoulder ($32) has also scored gains within the blended malt segment since its launch in 2012.
o Johnnie Walker Double Black ($35) has energized Diageo’s brisk “Keep Walking” march of innovation; it joined the label’s expanded line of Red, Black, Gold, Green and Blue brands in 2011.
o Launched in 2000, Compass Box Peat Monster ($56) has also developed a growing following. This pure malt is from the village of Port Askaig in Islay, with some south coast Islay whisky too, and vatted with Ardmore. The Peat Monster is matured in American oak casks.
AFFORDABILITY MATTERS TO MILLENNIALS
As millennials are the largest demographic segment, encouraging trial is a challenge, but pricing comparisons help, notes Steven Rubin, owner of Boston’s Huntington Wine & Spirits. “Millennials are drinking less, consumption is down and Bourbon has definitely cut into blended Scotch.” He acknowledges while “it’s hard to promote to millennials, [we] put vatted, pure and blended malt Scotch brands right next to the store’s single malt shelves, so customers can see the price advantage.”
Smart merchants also recognize the importance of staff training and tasting. At Pop’s Wine & Spirits, Island Park, New York, manager Victor Doyle applauds the Diageo team and its distributor for hosting a session in which the staff tasted through 50mls of the entire Johnnie Walker range. Doyle adds that even though blended malts may cost a bit more than a standard blend, “Pure blended malts fit in nicely to the store’s Scotch section and most millennials are willing to spend a little more.”
Blended Scotch cocktails are “very popular with out customers”, says Sharif Nagaiya, bartender at Bemelmans Bar at the Carlyle Hotel in New York City. He adds the best seller is the “Bemelmans Scotch Whiskey Sour”, which features Johnnie Walker Black, simple syrup and fresh-squeezed lemon juice ($24). The bar also stocks Dewar’s ($17) and Red Label ($16).
With premiumization and innovation enlivening the category, Scotch blends and pure malts are far from ‘on the rocks’ these days, and savvy retailers should look forward to profiting from these brands, especially during the upcoming holidays.
SCOTCH WHISKEY 101
A blended Scotch is a mix of single malts from distilleries in any of the four principal regions—Speyside, The Highlands, The Lowlands, Islay—and the addition of neutral grain spirits, which must also be distilled in Scotland. Think Johnnie Walker Red, Ballantine’s, Dewar’s, Chivas Regal, Grant’s, J&B.
BLENDED MALT SCOTCH
A blended malt—also known a vatted malt or pure malt—is a mixture of different single malt Scotch whiskies. Think Mackinlay’s Shackleton Blended Malt, Johnnie Walker Green Label, Eleuthera by Compass Box, Famous Grouse 10 Year, Chivas Brothers Century of Malts, Weymss The Hive.
SINGLE MALT SCOTCH
A single malt Scotch must be distilled at a single distillery. Think Ardbeg, Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, Glenmorangie, Dalwhinnie, Talisker.
The author wishes to thank Beverage Media for permission to post this article.