In the last few instalments of this column I have been taking you through the process of bringing a new whisky to market, from having an idea for a new product, or seeing a gap in a range and looking to understand what might be best to fill that gap and creating a liquid that will resonate with consumers, the trade, bartenders and influencers.
But then what do you do? This fantastic new whisky is out there; bloggers have reviewed it, bartenders have started to take note and some alpha-consumers are beginning to interact and to enjoy it.
Job done, or is it?
You might have seen in recent years that so many of the new whisky products going to market are being talked about as having a ‘signature serve’ too.
This is no coincidence; there is a deliberate and concerted effort within the trade to do three things: break down barriers between old and new-school thinking, where you were only ‘allowed’ to drink whisky neat, with ice or with three drops of water; inspire consumers to experiment with their whisky consumption and try new flavour combinations they previously would not have thought of; engage the bartending community to use these new releases in their creations and on their menus as the cocktail culture is massive and continually growing every year.
The message and goals of the first two are clear; you can try the whisky any which way you like, if you’re smiling as you’re sipping then the product and experience is bang on.
Never let anyone tell you there is only one way to try a whisky, or any whisky for that matter, as it simply is not true.
The third may be new to you. Bartenders are so incredibly important to any whisky brand nowadays, as Millennial and Gen Z consumers are keen to explore flavours, flavour combinations and drinks experiences using wildly different inputs and ingredients with each drink they have when in bars, and even when creating cocktails in their own homes.
To do this they need to be served wonderful drinks, and brands need to have their whisky in the drinks to be able to be sampled, enjoyed and to encourage future purchases.
The message and goals of the first two are clear; you can try the whisky any which way you like, if you’re smiling as you’re sipping then the product and experience is bang on
Often signature serves will be launched at the same time the product is launched to influencers, press and even consumers too to create media noise on and offline and these often include key tasting notes as part of the recipe to amplify key flavours and to tell the product story in a new and interesting way.
With all of this the goal is to create excitement, to encourage trial of the new product, to show what can be done with the new whisky and to build excitement through both a consistent delivery of the message that should attract a lot of attention too.
As we all know though, products in the whisky category are not created overnight, or even quickly. In context, if a company wants to release a 12 year old blended Scotch, it takes about eighteen years to do.
This is because they have to prepare the casks, season them for a couple of years, distill the liquid, age the spirit, bottle the whisky, brand the product then distribute it.
That is a hell of a long time to wait for a 12 year old product.
And as they take so long to create, unless they are a limited edition or very small batch release like Feis Ile bottlings, the majority of both blended Scotch whisky and single malt Scotch whisky bottlings, as well as other global categories including Irish whiskey, American whiskey, English whisky and beyond will live on shelves, in stores, in bars and online for years and decades to come.
This is because they have to prepare the casks, season them for a couple of years, distill the liquid, age the spirit, bottle the whisky, brand the product then distribute it
This means that there needs to be ongoing engagement with the various people who may have heard about the brand and the product but not considered trying it for a while, or those who have never heard of the brand or product so need education as to what it is all about, why they should try this specific dram and what is so special about the story to encourage them to either buy for themselves or buy as a gift for someone else.
Ongoing engagement is achieved through in store tastings by ambassadors for consumers (usually undertaken at the same time as training the specific store’s staff on the product to help them sell it), every now and then there will be ‘refreshes’ to a product’s look and feel to make it look fresh and reignite its relevance to consumers old and new.
One great example of this is the Dewar’s Scotch Egg Club which rolls into towns around the world to put on weird and wonderful nights for whisky lovers to both introduce and reintroduce consumers to their range including Dewar’s White Label and Dewar’s 12 Years Old.
The other is Johnnie Walker’s F1 sponsorship, whereby they have a different format (that’s trade talk for ‘size’) bars in different parts of each F1 track on the calendar pouring drinks, handing out swag and engaging consumers with their Johnnie Walker Black Label product.
So there you have it; a hell of a lot of people, effort, time, engagement, conversations, tastings, events and creative work goes in to every single whisky’s launch and ongoing management - it is not just the case of distilling, maturing, bottling and selling… although that would be a whole heap simpler.
The drinks crowd to stand out against