“This trend for adventure drives significant value in the category as typically consumers will be happier to pay more for a single dram of a rare or unusual bottling in the on-trade than buy the whole bottle without having experienced it first.”
In London we’re seeing the future of whiskies today. We’re seeing bartenders embracing this versatile and famous liquid and consumers are coming into the category as a result.
And that’s important because, according to recent CGA Influencer research, London accounts for 29% of the value of all spirits sales in the country (rising to 38% of the value of premium spirits), so is a vital part of the category on its own. But at the same time, it is also in the London influencer outlets that the trends we see spread across the country originate.
And here there are signs of bright prospects for whisky.
Our research has shown that, in the influencer bars – which tend to cluster in the capital – whisky is the number one category where these outlets say they plan to increase their ranges in the coming 12 months. At the same time, almost a third (31%) of consumers in these outlets say they are drinking more whisky than a year ago.
We can see two very clear trends that, combined, make for an incredible catalyst for growth across the category.
Research among London’s 100 most influential outlets revealed that they see whisky as the category in which they will increase ranges over the next 12 months. With a number of these outlets recognised as among the best in the world, this is where new trends are set in the on-trade. And these are also trends that filter through to the mainstream.
Bartenders are stocking a wider variety of whisky from across the globe with price points to match any budget or occasion.
This is a significant step for the on-trade, as well as the whisky industry. Not content with the standard offerings, bartenders and consumers alike are trading up, exploring the ranges across different age-statements, finishes, bottlings and the current fashion for single barrel offerings. In recent research, we found that over three quarters (78%) of spirits listed in influencer London outlets are premium, with the whisky category likely exceeding this.
As those on both sides of the bar become more knowledgeable, the appetite to try variations only grows – where once a whisky drinker might stick to the famous brine and peat of Islay found in Laphroaig or Bowmore, we’re seeing instead an exploration of grassier malts from the likes of the Hakushu distillery in Japan, or the sweeter oakier notes of a patiently aged bourbon, such as Booker’s or Basil Hayden’s.
Driving this has been bartenders embracing their role as educators – 66% of influencer consumers think bartenders are important when choosing a drink.
At the same time, over nine in ten (93%) top-end outlets say they will implement an experiential programme with masterclasses, tastings and meet-the-maker events all supporting consumers’ journeys through the whisky category.
This trend for adventure drives significant value in the category as typically consumers will be happier to pay more for a single dram of a rare or unusual bottling in the on-trade than buy the whole bottle without having experienced it first. Testament to the importance for the on-trade of having a well-stocked back bar.
plan to implement an experiential programme
“Cocktails are a great way to bring people into the world of whisky – by lengthening the serve and adapting the flavours, bartenders can create more approachable drinks for all palates whilst still educating about the liquid. Building on this, the wider availability of premium liquids is also recruiting new drinkers with a personal motivation to be aligned with luxury brands – making the experience a moment to share with their followers”
Director of Bars, Rosewood Hotel London
The other key trend driving whisky in the on-trade is cocktails.
Cocktail culture has exploded in recent years as experts push the boundaries of the possible with new and unusual serves, reinventions of the classics, and introduction of spirits that typically would not grace the back bar in an establishment.
This is, in turn, driving discovery, offering an introduction to those who have not experienced whisky before (particularly younger drinkers and women). Four in five consumers (80%) in influential London outlets say they drink cocktails (and a third say it’s their “go to” drink).
Every day we’re seeing experimentation with the likes of fermentation, bitters, reductions and liqueurs that wouldn’t look out of place in the kitchen of the most adventurous molecular gastronomist. Almost half (45%) of influencer outlets list more than 21 cocktails on their menus and one in ten (10%) list more than 31.
And, while at the high-end, greater numbers of more complex cocktails are using whisky in influencer outlets, simple whisky serves – particularly the highball – come towards the top of the list of cocktails that bartenders say they are focussing on for the future.
Whisky has ridden this wave with great success – where once the thought of using a fine single malt in a cocktail would be sacrilege, many single malt-based serves are cementing themselves as drinks list staples for their unique flavour, impossible to recreate with any other spirit. Equally, contemporary malts such as Auchentoshan are unapologetic in their preference for cocktails as their perfect serve.
From the Old Fashioned to the highball, the Boulevardier to “Auchie and Ale”, cocktails offer an easier route in for new drinkers than neat whisky, which can be an intimidating introduction to the category.
There is also the sweet spot between these two trends – a wider variety of whisky on a back bar produces greater possibilities for cocktails while a more varied cocktail list requires more spirits available for experimentation.
As a consequence, London and whisky have a rosy future together, with Edrington-Beam Suntory UK ready to lead the way.