By Dave Broom

Rant rant rant

Dave Broom joins the rant race
Suggesting to a Scottish distiller that you could mix their whisky as a cocktail was, until recently, akin to proposing that the Pope should become a director of Glasgow Rangers. While the latter may still be in the realms of fantasy (even though he could give sound goalkeeping tips) the idea of whisky cocktails is gaining credence. It comes from a most unexpected source: the SWA (Scotch Whisky Association).This morally upstanding guardian of Scotch’s global interests has published a cocktail booklet, featuring recipes from 399 Bar at the Scotsman Hotel.Those of you who will only dilute their dram with water from the distillery’s water source can look away now. This doesn’t concern you. You’re on board already, fully paid-up maltheads. Fact is if Scotch is to survive it has to get younger people drinking it – and younger people in its ‘mature’ markets (UK, France, Germany, US and Canada) need to start drinking blends as well as the occasional malt. This is hardly news, though it strikes me that the industry has been paying lip service to this concept for years without actually getting on with the task in hand. Bar culture is undergoing a renaissance in the UK. Drinkers haven’t just rediscovered cocktails, they have discovered quality spirits – with the exception of Scotch. I was chatting about this to one of London’s major bar owners. His reply to why his bars are repositories for the world’s best spirits but there’s scarcely a bottle of Scotch to be seen was he “didn’t understand” whisky. No-one had taken the trouble to educate him or his barstaff. Most of the UK’s top bartenders would make the same complaint. They can mix Manhattans but not Rob Roys, Mojitos but never a Blood and Sand. You wonder quite how the industry expects ‘young’ drinkers to turn to Scotch if they aren’t out there talking to the people working on the front line.I have a dreadful feeling that in the UK the whisky industry is so price-obsessed that in-depth marketing is considered impossible or unnecessary. Advertising outside of Christmas has all but disappeared and the only differential between brands (malts as well as blends) is how cheap they are. The same is happening in France and the rest of Europe isn’t far behind. It’s not good.With a few exceptions, little seems to have changed since the 80s when industry figures started moaning about the lack of new drinkers in the UK. I often wondered why they refused to adapt (not necessarily copy) what was working in Spain. “Spain has a different drinking culture,” was one reason, “Scotch has the allure of the imported brand,” was another. True to some extent but isn’t it also true that 20- and 30-somethings across the world dress the same, listen to the same music, go to similar clubs? We live in a global brand-conscious culture and it’s these people distillers need to attract. And that means being innovative, thinking long-term – and putting in the legwork.“This is a people-to-people trade,” said one marketing man to me. Since this is a guy who has built vodka and gin brands into major successes on a shoestring budget he knows his stuff. “Brands can be built on relatively little if the firm has great sales people. Support doesn’t just mean money, it means the sales force drinking in your bar, not just walking in, doing a deal and leaving. You can’t build a relationship or loyalty with cash alone.” It’s a 24/7 job.Distillers have been bleating that they need younger drinkers for 20 years now, but have yet to put money where their mouths are. Remember, today’s bar crawlers are tomorrow’s opinion formers. The SWA’s move is to be applauded but it cannot act in a generic way. It’s up to brand owners to get out there. If they don’t, we can start kissing Scotch as a global force goodbye.