For Peat’s Sake

While dwarfed by the relative size of several other distilled spirits categories, Scotch remains one of the identifiable standard bearers of the urbane consumerism. Its cachet of uncompromised quality, breadth of expression and dynamic range of flavor has made Scotch a global heavyweight.

A look at the numbers reveals some interesting trends. According to the Adams Handbook Advance 2005, while the overall Scotch category dipped 0.8% in 2004 to just under 9 million 9-liter cases nationally, for the most part premium and superpremium brands continued to grow. In general, value-priced brands — whether domestic or imported — continued to decline. In the control states, Scotch fell a scarce 0.3%, to more than 1.3 million mixed cases.

“Even though Scotch is not the largest of the whiskey markets, the category still carries more gravitas than other whiskeys,” contends Larry Kass, director of corporate communications for Heaven Hill. “Scotch offers more expressions, superb marketing and packaging and a strong academic/educational bent. Collectively they’re positioned in a sophisticated, upscale way, lending an importance and weight that’s disproportionate to case sales.”

Indeed, the leading brands of single malt Scotch had sales gains of a collective 4.8% nationally (8.7% in the control states), while the four leading blends, including premium and superpremium brands, all showed sales increases nationally. Dewar’s hit 1.4 million 9-liter cases nationally (up 0.4% in the control states), and has been promoting its base brand along with the successful superpremium Dewar’s 12. The brand also features another high-end expression, Dewar’s Signature, which debuted last year. The Johnnie Walker family is showing renewed strength: while Black has been one of the top-selling superpremium spirits for several years now (up an impressive 5.9% nationally in 2004; up an even more impressive 6.4% in the control states), Red gained another 3.0% nationally last year (off 0.9% in the control states) on top of a comeback year in 2003. And the Chivas Regal ship has righted itself, with the world-renowned superpremium gaining 3.0% nationally in 2004 (though off 2.0% in the control states).

Dewar’s 12, a high-end member of the Dewar’s line of Scotch, from Bacardi USA, had a sales gain of 22.0% nationally in 2004, to 61,000 9-liter cases.

Consensus is that Scotch enthusiasts are different than your average spirits drinker. They’re more prone to try new releases and sample unconventional bottlings. They are driven by the sense of discovery and the need to experience something new and exciting. It’s all like an urban adventure. Distillers appreciate these compelling desires because it’s the same forces that drive them.

“Our experience has shown us that what impels consumers to purchase a blended or single malt Scotch is taste, recommendation and self-discovery,” observed Jack Shea of Allied Domecq. “As a consumer’s palate becomes more discerning, he or she may be willing to move on — and up in price if necessary –t o experience a more complex malt, maybe something more adventurous. More often than not, they purchase based on a recommendation or through their own discovery and research.”

Diageo’s Richard Nichols, vp, marketing, for Scotch, agreed. “Discovery is absolutely what drives consumers to single malt Scotches — the provenance of Scotland, the history of the distilleries and the variety of flavors you can experience by region, age, finish, etc.”

Mary Therese Kraft of Jim Beam believes that successful retailers will continue focusing their efforts on educating consumers. “Hand-selling and personal recommendations are imperative when it comes to selling Scotch. The retail trade is the single most important entity in the education of consumers. They are perceived as experts and the more knowledge the retailer and their employees can impart to the consumer, the more they will enjoy and experiment within the category.”

Johnnie Walker Green Label is Diageo’s latest release in the renowned Johnnie Walker family of Scotch.

As a retailer, you’re bound to please every palate and satisfy every request carrying a hundred labels of Scotch. Most take a more reserved approach, however, opting instead to offer their clientele a more discriminating selection of blends and single malts. If this strategy more closely aligns with your objectives, take heed. Stocking a limited selection requires considerably more thought to ensure that you market a balanced offering, one that best represents the varieties of styles of each Scotch-producing region.

This past year or so has featured the release of new and tremendously exciting malts, each nudging the envelope and expanding the horizon. So discard the notion of “best” as outdated and overtly subjective. Instead, line your shelves with genuinely intriguing whiskies.


Located in the northern part of Scotland, the Highlands is the largest Scotch-producing region and the home to a majority of the country’s distilleries. The region’s peat-laced waters and cool, moisture-laded air is perfectly suited for making classic malts. The heartland of the region is the Speyside. Its malts are known for their sophistication, elegance and complexity, the most famous of which are The Glenlivet and Glenfiddich.

Among the royalty of blended Scotch, the superpremium Chivas Regal, from Pernod Ricard USA, upped sales to 487,000 9-liter cases nationally last year.

The best-selling single malt Scotch in the U.S., The Glenlivet range recently expanded with the release of The Glenlivet 15-Year-Old French Oak Reserve. The whisky is aged in American ex-bourbon barrels, after which a portion is matured further in new, Limousin oak barrels. While still representative of the Glenlivet style, the French oak finish adds some welcome spice. Also new to the line is The Glenlivet Cellar Collection 1964, a rare vintage malt aged in sherry casks and oak barrels. The Glenlivet range also includes category leader The Glenlivet 12-year-old, 18-yearold, 12-year-old French Oak Finish, Archive (21-year-old) and Cellar Collection vintages 1983, 1959 and 1967.

Another lord of the Speyside is Glenfiddich, the best-selling single malt Scotch in the world. The Glenfiddich range of single malts took another leap forward with the release of Glenfiddich Solera Reserve, which is aged 15 years by a system modeled after Spanish soleras.

The range of Glenfiddich also includes the 12-year-old; Ancient Reserve 18-year-old; a 30-year old and a 40-Year Old. The Glenfiddich Rare Collection 1937 ranks among the most expensive malts in the world. It was drawn from cask #843 that was filled and laid down in the summer of 1937. A mere 61 bottles were made available with a price tag of $14,000, or $551 per ounce.

The Speyside district of the Scottish Highlands is also the home of The Balvenie Distillery. Their flagship is The Balvenie Portwood 21-Year-Old, a whisky double barreled, first in traditional oak and then 30-year-old, oak port pipes. The wine influences every aspect of the whisky.


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