Scotch: Blends, Malts and Your Father

dewars distillery

Single malts have driven the Scotch category for more than a decade with steady and consistent growth. Brands like The Glenlivet, The Macallan, Glenfiddich and Glenmorangie seem to drive malts and, in turn, malts drive US scotches.

Blended whisky is still the backbone of scotch, but even brands like Johnnie Walker, Dewar’s and Chivas Regal can’t seem to stop the hemorrhaging of this segment.

What does this have to do with your father?

Well, back in the day, those in the booze business felt that given 1) the difficulty of overcoming the taste hurdle of scotch and 2) it’s lack of mixability — if you found a scotch drinker, then you can be sure that his/her father introduced them to it.

That’s a problem today since most fathers stopped (or never started) drinking scotch in the first place. Besides, “my father’s scotch” is right up there with Oldsmobile. So much for modern day mentorship as a motivator for drinking scotch.

DHH Bottle FinalEnter Dewar’s Highlander Honey, the subject of my last posting.

I gave many reasons why I see this as a success so I won’t repeat them. Scroll down and see for yourself.

However, since writing that post, I’ve had occasion to speak with Arvind Krishnan, VP Brand Managing Director, Dewar’s and to taste the product along with some friends and scotch aficionados.

First, the Dewar’s people have done a great job of blending the taste of Dewar’s with fantastic notes of honey. This stuff is not artificial tasting and, the honey and scotch combine to provide a whole new flavor. As a result, they have also combined experience and exploration – as in the experience of enjoying scotch and the discovery of how pleasant and desirable it can be.

Here are two thoughts on the flavored spirits world. The Huffington Post wrote this week about flavored vodka under the heading, Flavored Vodka Companies Continue To Debut New Flavors, But Why? You can find it here.

heather

When you get away from the kiddie flavors in vodka, you come across serious flavored American whiskies that are growing rapidly. Just this week I read that Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey has sold close to 500,000 cases in just two years.

I predict that not only will Dewar’s Highlander Honey succeed but also there will be a host of others on the market in the not too distant future. You can bet on it.

Oh, and that taste test?

It’s best summed up by the statement one non-scotch drinker made, “I had no idea scotch could taste so good.”

 

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New Booze Products: Brilliant and Dumb

Wine and Spirits Daily had two announcements about new spirits product recently. One makes sense and the other, well, you decide.

Highlander honeyGood Idea

The flavored whiskey category has been on fire with brands like Wild Turkey American Honey, Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey, and Jim Beam Red Stag among others. Now the folks from Dewar’s Scotch (owned by Bacardi) are entering the flavored whisk(e)y category with Highlander Honey, a scotch infused with honey.

Imagine, they have the audacity to try to break down the stuffiness and out-of-date sacred walls of the blended scotch category. Never mind that blended scotch growth has been declining to flat in the past decade while other whiskies (including malts) have been growing. It’s not about adapting to changing tastes, it’s about a stiff upper lip refusing to swallow change.

Check this out. The Diageo head of whisky outreach (huh? I think that’s a way of saying, ‘can I buy you a drink?’), was quoted as saying Scotch has too much “integrity” and “authenticity” to get into flavors. Diageo and integrity in the same sentence? My word! Also, the Scotch Whiskey Association is not very happy about it. Better to go down with the ship, eh, what?

Hey, it’s a good idea for the reasons I shared with Wine and Spirits Daily,

“It’s a terrific idea and well worth trying,” long-time industry exec Arthur Shapiro told WSD. ” First, the blended scotch market is declining and this could be a shot in the arm. Second, the flavored whiskey (US) brands have ‘greased the skids’ so consumer acceptance would be easier than it might have been before these brands came on the market. Third, it adds contemporariness to the scotch area and removes the stuffiness. Fourth, probably makes for a good mixed drink. Finally, I like the ‘seriousness’ of scotch and the fun of a flavored scotch product.”

Put that in your copper still and cook it.

Mama WalkerYou gotta be kidding me

Pernod Ricard, who until recently earned my respect for terrific innovations and new products, has launched what seems to be an April Fool’s joke.

They are introducing a line of new products under the Hiram Walker name called Mama Walker’s breakfast liqueurs. Apparently it’s intended to “tap into the comfort food, sweet and savory flavor combinations” trend (or is it fad?) not to mention the confectionary/cake vodka flavors. This breakfast of champions is available in Maple Bacon, Blueberry Pancake and Glazed Donut.

Come on folks, are you serious? Next thing you’re going to tell us is that they hardly taste artificial.

Can’t you just see the ad campaign?

“A bit hung over from a hard night of drinking? Looking for something to smooth out the rough edges? Forget about the all night diner and the bacon, eggs and pancake special. Try some of Mama Walker’s breakfast liqueurs… we’ll perk you right up with our original comfort booze. Just remember… your Mama knows best.”

Or:

“Tired of the same old breakfast? Cereal, eggs or fruit can be soooo boring… Start you day off right with Mama Walker’s breakfast liqueurs. What a great way to face the stress of what awaits you. Boss on your back? Kids on your nerves? Mama can help…Comes with or without a brown paper bag… But, remember, don’t eat breakfast and drive!”

Any thoughts on either product?

 

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The Bartender’s Bartender

ray-foleyRay Foley is many things – a bartender, writer and publisher, drink creator, storyteller, entrepreneur, ex-marine – but don’t ever refer to him as a mixologist.

Anyone who has been in the booze business knows that it’s the men and women behind the bar who build brands, invent drinks and are the backbone of the business. Let’s face it; it wasn’t a suit that created the Cosmo or any other top drink, it was a barkeep.

I first met Ray back in the day at Seagram when everyone talked about the fuzzy navel and credited him with coming up with the idea. More importantly, of all the publishers and sales reps who called on me, he was among the very few who understood the business and was a key to the important on-premise trade.

In the intervening years, he has continued to reach over 100,000 bartenders in Bartender Magazine and hundreds of thousands on Bartender.com. Along with his wife Jaclyn, they’ve been running the magazine for over 30 years. Together they’ve created the Bartender Hall of Fame and run a foundation to provide scholarships for bartenders and their children.

Ray has written dozens of books, including Bartending for Dummies. A perfect title for an outspoken, take-no-prisoners, ex-Marine who hates BS and bartender for dummiessome of the changes he sees in the bartender profession. But, I’ll let you in on a secret – deep down he’s a kind and gentle man who speaks his mind but carries no malice.

Let’s take the phrase ‘mixologist’ for instance. Here’s a quote I found in New Jersey (where the Foleys reside) Magazine, “A mixologist is a person who really doesn’t know how to tend bar but has the money to get a PR agent.” He told me pretty much the same thing when I interviewed him for this posting but went on to say that he really has no argument with the phrase and much respect for the serious mixologists. But, it’s those who are all ego and no skill, that get his Irish up. So if you call yourself “The Bar Guru” or “Mr. Mojito” stay out of his way.

Ray comes from the school where a good bartender is partly a person who serves drinks and mainly a person who does so with personality and customer service.

When I was running new products and we needed a signature or other drink to make the brand take hold, I learned two important things from Ray. The first was to let the drink idea come organically from behind the bar – the bartender or (forgive me, Ray) the mixologist. In other words, let the professionals do it and keep the marketing suits out of the kitchen.

The second was, in order for a drink recipe to take hold, keep it simple. According to Ray, “Creating a drink with avocado juice and lemongrass doesn’t impress me…how many bars have those ingredients?”

Of all the thousands of people who read Booze Business, I generally think about Ray when I do a posting. He never hesitates to let me know what he thinks and generally, the emails from Ray have been helpful and positive.

Except when I use the dreaded ‘mixologist’ word.

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