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SPECIAL REPORT: The future for whiskies

Spiros Malandrakis, senior alcoholic drinks analyst at Euromonitor, provides a preview of the year ahead and beyond for global whisk(e)y brands
The golden era of Scotch is now in full swing. The introduction of a stringent and costly if essential and long overdue verification scheme will tighten production methods, cement the category’s clout and draw a line in the proverbial peat for the waves of adulterated and counterfeit products hitting still insatiable emerging markets.

Increased production capacity, ambitious investments and the re-opening of once mothballed distilleries will keep underscoring key players’ resolve while providing a hefty measure of confidence for the category’s long term prospects in the face of on-going developing market volatility.

Immersive retailing ‘embassies’ incorporating local cultural nuances such as the ‘House of Diageo ‘in Seoul will spearhead the premiumisation offensive while an irreverent reimagining of positioning and promotional campaigns – such as Ballantine’s on-line only feature showcasing a skateboarder interpreting Carmen – will target members of the ever elusive millennial generation in the west.

Rapidly diminishing stocks, a sense of urgency and increasingly more adventurous and irreverent distillers will bring the no-age experiment to the fore. Following the Macalan’s colour coded launches, Glenfiddich’s special cask expressions and Talisker Storm’s embrace of a strong narrative over clinically conservative maturation dates, Scotch will finally get some room for experimentation. Even more leftfield, controversial or niche products like premium single grain or Kosher certified offerings will complement fresh approaches to tasting such as food pairing initiatives. 

Luck of the Irish

With key players consolidating their position and following in the footsteps of their Scotch siblings, Irish whiskey will reiterate its enviable position as one of the star performers within the entire spirits battleground. Boutique offerings and a tactical embrace of heritage will inform the category’s higher end aspirations at the same time that, a moderate, tentative yet increasingly more progressive approach to flavour sophistication will continue attracting the hordes of young urbanites looking for an entry point in the evolving dark spirits segment.

Jockey full of bourbon

Currently reaping the benefits of its pioneering role in spearheading fearless experimentation, the mixology-led revisiting of pre-prohibitionary cocktails, influential pop culture references – not least the ‘Mad Men effect’ – a myriad of awards and distinctions and the momentum provided by its buoyant home market, American whiskey will retain the limelight for the foreseeable future.

As per our previous predictions, overproof offerings will finally move centre stage while Maker Mark’s desperate and much vaunted watering down of its iconic recipe and the fiasco that ensued will serve as cautionary tale moving forward. Diageo’s recent move to raise Bulleit’s abv to 45% should be viewed as a sign that the ovenproof allure goes beyond irreverent microdistillers.

Japan Rising

Japanese whiskey is finally out of the shadows and a very long way from its humble beginnings as a bootleg spirit heavily adulterated with spices and perfumes. Underscoring its meticulously crafted offerings and highlighting its perfectionist attention to detail, higher end offerings will rival some of the most prestigious Scotch drams. While consumption in the category’s home country will retain focus on highball cocktails and lower to mid range varietals, exports will gain further traction – not least if Suntory completes the acquisition of Beam, gaining access to distribution networks and expertise in western markets.

Canadian and the Others

Highlighting its casual character and affordability while finally embracing flavour sophistication, Canadian whiskey will remain a niche with great untapped potential.

Other whiskeys, a category that is by definition dominated by lower end varietals in India will retain its role as a stepping stone for aspiring drinkers to later graduate into blended and single malts. While a certain deceleration in emerging nations should be expected both in the context of the ongoing shift to higher end varietals and due to temporary macroeconomic blips, other whiskey will also witness unlikely additions.

Microdistilleries popping up from Sweden to France will deconstruct established notions about the entire category and push experimentation and industry definitions to their limits.

3 March 2014 - Spiros Malandrakis Euromonitor International, Senior Alcoholic Drinks Analyst