Whiskey mash-up

As Dominic Roskrow and his team were writing new book 1001 Whiskies You Must Try Before You Die, they were hearing about another 10 to 20 new whiskies being introduced every week. The doorstop-like book has 960 pages but is just the “tastiest tip of a very large proverbial iceberg”, Dominic says. He points to a worldwide revolution in whisky: “We are seeing the emergence of good-quality spirits from Sweden and Finland in the north to Australia and New Zealand in the south, and from Taiwan and India in the east to Brazil and Argentina in the west.” Over half the book is devoted to Scotch, but otherwise it demonstrates the exciting variety of products available, including whiskeys from Ireland and the US.

In the UK, innovation is coming from flavoured whiskeys. Last month saw the launch of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey whiskey, hot the heels of March’s launch of Jim Beam Honey and last year’s launch of black cherry-flavoured Red Stag by Jim Beam. While Tennessee Honey is made by mixing Jack Daniel’s with honey liqueur, it retains the distinctive flavour of the core whiskey and has an ABV of 35 per cent. This will appeal to existing Jack Daniel’s fans but also help to recruit new consumers, both male and female, says Mark Davis, area marketing manager for American whiskeys in UK & Ireland at Bacardi Brown-Forman Brands (BBFB). “The spirits market overall is broadly static but some of the flavoured spirits categories are in real growth. We see an opportunity for Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey in the arena of flavoured spirits. It provides a new accessible way into whiskey.”

Mark adds that consumers in the UK see Tennessee Honey as a “treat” for “high-energy special occasions”, drunk chilled straight, over ice or mixed with lemonade. Launched last month exclusively into the on-trade, it will enter the off-trade in August, with a total marketing investment of more than £2million.

Red Stag by Jim Beam was the first flavoured bourbon in the UK when it was launched by Maxxium UK just over a year ago. “It is a unique piece of innovation in the bourbon category that will recruit new users and break down barriers, being accessible, different and great tasting on its own or mixed,” says Eileen Livingstone, marketing controller for imported whiskeys at Maxxium UK. “Today, flavoured spirits have become increasingly popular and Red Stag allows Jim Beam to introduce bourbon to new drinkers who wouldn’t normally drink it. The opportunity for Red Stag in the UK is huge and it will bring in drinkers from categories including rum, imported whiskies and specialities.”

Jim Beam Honey, with an ABV of 35 per cent, is made with four-year-old Jim Beam bourbon, slowly infused with natural honey. The addition of the new variant is part of Maxxium UK’s increased investment in Jim Beam and the bourbon category including Maker’s Mark, supported by bartender training from its Mixxit team. “Currently, there’s a lot of experimentation in the bourbon category, and consumers are coming to expect that brands will try new things,” Eileen adds. “Bourbon is growing in popularity and brands are recognising that, to keep growing, they need to innovate and create new ways of engaging the consumer and expanding the relevance of the category as a whole.”

While not a bourbon, Jack Daniel’s remains the number-one American whiskey in the UK, and this is driving the whole American whiskey category, says Crispin Stephens, trade marketing manager for American whiskeys at BBFB which also distributes Woodford Reserve bourbons. “There are lots of opportunities for us to educate consumers about what American whiskey is, what it stands for and the difference between Jack Daniel’s and bourbon,” Crispin says.

BBFB continues to invest heavily across the Jack Daniel’s portfolio. Alongside activities linking the core No 7 with live music, new on-trade activity will promote the “perfect serve” of a Jack Daniel’s and cola, supported by point-of-sale materials for bars. The richer Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel has been popular with premium bars, including the option of sourcing a bespoke single-barrel exclusive to a particular venue. BBFB is also planning new activity for the full-bodied Gentleman Jack, which benefits from a second charcoal mellowing after reaching maturity. The Gentleman’s Sour campaign will involve tailored activity with individual bars to develop twists on classic cocktails using the premium whiskey.

Global Brands is building on bourbon’s links with the “golden age of cocktails” and speakeasies for Four Roses – one of only six distilleries allowed to operate through Prohibition. “The speakeasy theme is increasingly popular and fashionable with on-trade venues across the UK,” says marketing director Simon Green. “We plan to build on Four Roses’ speakeasy positioning by owning the ‘jam jar’ serve, strengthening the brand’s links with live music and communicating Four Roses’ rich and authentic heritage.”

The variety of American whiskeys available owes much to importer Eaux de Vie whose portfolio includes Wasmund’s from Copper Fox Distillery in Virginia, Leopold’s American Small Batch Whiskey from Colorado, High West whiskey from Utah and the incredible range from Heaven Hill in Kentucky including Evan Williams, Elijah Craig, Pikesville and Rittenhouse.

The choice of boutique brands has grown thanks to First Drinks’ introducing small-batch Hudson whiskeys from New York state, starting with its rich, oaky and smoky corn-based Baby Bourbon and the smooth and spicy Manhattan Rye. Award-winning whiskeys such as George T Stagg and Thomas H Handy are available in the UK through Hi-Spirits and its partnership with Buffalo Trace Distillery.

Limited quantities of unaged Buffalo Trace White Dog, bottled at 62.5 per cent ABV, have been supplied to the on-trade, including Mint Leaf Lounge in the City of London. Bar supervisor Paul Loki explains: “It’s basically old-fashioned moonshine whiskey, and there’s a lot of interest amongst bartenders in traditional drinks at the moment.” He is currently serving a Mad Dog Old Fashioned using the spirit infused with caramelised walnuts, which he has also used to make a Sour. He is next planning to infuse White Dog with summer fruits. “One interesting thing about White Dog is that it has a fresher, sweeter flavour than aged whiskey. While traditional bourbon cocktails are wonderful, the younger flavour of White Dog enables you to use other distinct flavours in drinks.”

Irish whiskey

Belfast’s Crumlin Road Gaol is to be transformed into a whiskey distillery by businessman Paul Lavery whose brands include Titanic and Danny Boy. This £5million investment reflects the continuing growth in Irish whiskey globally, with work also due to start on an £80million expansion of the Jameson distillery in County Cork.

Jameson is growing in value in the UK on-trade in most channels, with bars and clubs showing value growth of 17.1 per cent year on year. The brand has been reaching consumers through activities such as the Jameson Cult Film Club screenings as well as sampling at 542 events in 284 bars over 11 weeks across the UK. The so-called “brand in hand” campaign is due to continue later this year.
William Grant & Sons is to invest nearly £30million in a new distillery in Tullamore, County Offaly, because of growth for its Tullamore Dew whiskeys. It follows last year’s repackaging of the brands alongside a new push in the UK, including the introduction of premium variant Tullamore Dew 12 Year Old Special Reserve.

Mickey Finn

Alongside a new on-trade drive for the Mickey Finn range of liqueurs, Babco Europe has launched Mickey Finn Apple Whiskey Liquor – a 35 per cent ABV blend of Irish and American whiskeys infused with Irish apple. “Due to its lower strength and sweeter notes, we believe it’s the ideal drink for those who are discovering whiskey for the first time or looking for something a little different,” says Babco Europe chief executive Mark Wilson.

It contains a four-year-old American grain whiskey produced in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, and aged in charred white oak barrels for at least 40 months. This is blended with a micro-distilled Irish whiskey and shipped in apple barrels. Distributed in the UK by Proof Drinks, it is initially being targeted at Irish bars. It is supported by an on-trade promotion, called Golden Boot, to mark Ireland’s participation in Euro 2012, offering prizes including limited-edition gold boots filled with the spirit.

Made in Japan

Japan continues its awards domination over the Scots. In this year’s World Whiskies Awards, Yamazaki 25 Years Old from Suntory was named world’s best single malt while Nikka gained the title of best blended whisky for the fourth year running, with Taketsuru 17 Years Old.
In the UK, Suntory whiskies brand ambassador Zoran Peric is highlighting the mixability of Yamazaki, Hakushu and Hibiki through cocktails for each of the 24 Japanese seasons. For shousho, meaning “little heat”, he mixes 50ml of Yamazaki 12-year-old single malt with 75ml of water infused with orange blossom, lemon zest and lemongrass, poured over large chunks of ice and stirred 24 times plus a zest of lemon.

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