The Year Ahead

The Year Ahead

Thoughts from... | 05 Feb 2014 | Issue 117 | By Neil Ridley

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'You wait mate… 2014 is going to be p**s-yourself-mental…' I heard behind me as I queued up to pay for the bulging trolley of drinks I had filled at my local supermarket on New Year's Eve. Quite why the man had singled me out to hear his prophecy will remain a mystery; it may have had something to do with the fact that I was dressed as Basil Fawlty. I was hosting a NYE party themed around the classic Fawlty Towers episode Gourmet Night and I was running horribly late. "Please god, don't let the car breakdown like my namesake," I thought. "There's really no time to give it a damn good thrashing," as I raced home to type up a menu, containing Waldorf Salad and Duck Surprise. But as I typed, the strange wee-pant man's words seemed to have struck a chord. What would the year hold for whisky? And, would it be as much of a pant-wetting rollercoaster ride as 2013. So here are some predictions, which could affect the shape of the whisky business over the coming year.

More whisky brands to be vilified by the general public: Just before Christmas, Dewar's monumentally messed up with their ill-advised online campaign, 'Meet The Baron' (see p16) offending a number of whisky drinkers and causing a raft of complaints to the advertising authorities. But this short-sighted lapse in understanding the consumer is surely not the only time we shall see a brand hastily changing their plans, at the behest of the general drinking public. Brands need to remember that their best-laid plans can come catastrophically unstuck in the blink of an eye thanks to the snowballing of reactions on Twitter. Of course Oscar Wilde once said that the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about. But then again, he didn't have a Twitter account and a rabid army of furious whisky drinkers waving pitchforks at him.

Indie bottlers to feel the pinch: 2013 was jam-packed with some superb independent releases, despite it proving more difficult to find quality casks or willing distillery partners to provide them. But as of the start of this year, bottlers, blenders and producers will also be subject to the Spirit Drinks Verification Scheme, bought in by HMRC to hopefully bring a stop to the growing problem of counterfeiting Scotch whisky. On face value, it seems like a good idea, but anyone looking to create new whisky brands independently will now be subject to substantial fees payable to the Government and lengthy delays until the brands are verified. In a competitive marketplace, there are already limited margins for the indie bottlers and this scheme has the potential to make them even tighter unfortunately.

Grain whisky to continue to grow as a category of its own: 2013 saw William Grant & Sons paving the way for a range of readily available grain whiskies, with the Girvan distillery making waves outside the existing independently bottled grain whiskies. As an undeniable essential in the world of blended whisky the importance of grain cannot be overlooked and with a lighter, more delicate flavour profile, grain has the potential to reach other drinkers who find malt whisky a difficult concept. This summer, I challenge anyone not to try (and enjoy) a grain whisky highball in place of their regular gin and tonic!

And finally… at least one outrageous whisky brand sponsorship deal to occur: Only a few days before writing this, Manchester United announced they were partnering up with the Italian brand Aperol as their main spirits sponsor. Now as hard I may try, I can't for the life of me picture Old Trafford and the Bridgewater Canal becoming the epicentre of the Italian Aperitivo movement, awash with trendy Aperol Spritzers. Have they never experienced the notoriously inclement weather of Northern England? Likewise, expect at least one major whisky brand to follow suit with an outlandish pairing that seemingly makes no sense.

A special, limited edition Laura Ashley Macallan anyone?
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