People

Young at heart?

In a new series we ask a panel of experts to debate a controversial subject
By Dominic Roskrow
The PanelDale DeGroff,
International drinks consultant and writerColum Egan,
Master distiller, Bushmill’sRoy Evans,
SazeracDavid Stirk,
CadenheadDr Barry Walsh,
Chief blender, Irish DistillersThis issue’s question: Are Irish and bourbon whiskey more likely to attract younger drinkers than single malt Scotch is?Q: So let’s start right at the beginning. David Stirk (DS): Absolutely. Michael Jackson started at 19, I started at 19 – and I wasn’t alone!Colum Egan (CE):Yes, I agree. I love to stroll around our visitor centre and talk to people of all ages who are drinking whiskey for the first time.
people are surprised by the taste experience. We need to develop whiskey’s image for this age group. Barry Walsh (BW): I think it depends on the market really. In Southern Europe whiskey is very popular with younger people. We are also seeing a lot of changes in this area especially with a brand like Jameson which is very versatile and is therefore perfect as a long drink or in cocktails.Roy Evans (RE): Most will not volunteer unless cola is the mixer, they have to be coerced. More and more young people are trying and enjoying bourbon cocktails. Q: What is likely to appeal to them?DS: Whisky without the ‘stuffiness’. Look at the success of Jameson. Here is a brand that has taken out the ‘olde worlde’ image and replaced it with a hip, fresh approach that has paid off enormously.Dale DeGroff (DdG): I think sophistication and the classic appeal of a drink like the Manhattan will also appeal…it’s a real adult beverageBarry Walsh (BW): I think Irish whiskey does have an advantage here. The smoothness, taste and especially the mixability of Irish whiskey is excellent. The image of the brand must be right. Most younger people follow trends and fashion. We have to make it ‘cool’ for young people to drink whiskey. Q: Will young people only drink whisky mixed?DdG: No...we definitely saw that in the United States…the single malt explosion in this country was fuelled by young professionals in search of a grown-up beverage experience …and the malt guys here were in all the right places …cigar smoke nights …Wall Street …sports bars…steak houses any place young professionals gathered they had tastings …lots of promotionsCE: Right. But mixers are probably the best place to introduce the brands to younger people. My hope would be that they would then experiment without mixers and truly obtain the full enjoyment that can be had from whiskey.RE: In reality, over 90 per cent of whisky is drunk with a mixer. However, there are always exceptions to the rule so the answer is no.Q: Are cocktails important?DdG: In the bourbon category much more so than in the Scotch category…as for Irish they are more mixable than Scotch they fall somewhere in between DS: I agree. Whisky will always be used in cocktails but this isn’t the way to get greater recognition for Scotch.BW: In style bars, cocktails are perhaps important. But for general drinking – mixability is more important, without the fuss of cocktails.RE: They provide the opportunity to trial new tastes and flavours in an approachable style of drink. The bold flavours and high alcohol content of
whiskies sometimes prove to be too much for would-be consumers when trialled neat. Cocktails are more exciting than simply drinking whisky and cola and when well-made are not simply sweet drinks with an alcohol content.Q: Can Scotch work in cocktails?BW: Sure, why not?DdG: You need a really skilled hand and a talent for finding flavour matches…I advise young bartenders to talk to their favourite chef...have a tasting with him and ask him for his advice on flavour combinations with Scotch…it could be a real eye-opener.RE: They can work but there are a limited number of good tasting cocktails using Scottish whisky to be found in bars at the moment. The taste profile of malts has proven to be more limiting to bartenders when they initially consider and then experiment with other ingredientsQ: Does Scotch have an outdated image when compared to Irish or bourbon?DS: Oh, absolutely!DdG: Well, outdated is not the word I would use…it just appeals to a more mature palate. CE: The whole whiskey industry is working hard to modernise its image. The more brands that succeed the better it is for the industry Q: What is the way forward for whisky when it comes to attracting young people?DS: We should radically change the way we market Scotch.DdG: Education in a sexy fun way… And also highlight the grown-up angle of drinking whiskey…emphasise the sophistication side of it.BW: The age old question! I think that whiskey needs to follow the path of vodka and rum, tequila to a certain extent, in producing strong brands in which the whiskey element is not over emphasised. Vodka, rum and tequila were very strong tasting spirits originally, but various brands
have mellowed down to appeal to a wider audience. Jameson is moving in this general direction – a mellow, approachable whiskey taste and promoting a fairly ‘with it’ image; and also promoting mixability and being different. Being Irish is also quite helpful these days !Q: So do you agree with the statement that Irish and bourbon will appeal more to young people?DS: No. The premise of this argument boils down to the manner in which Irish and bourbon are drunk. They both tend to be drunk long or mixed. In reality, I feel, bourbon and Irish attract more younger drinkers because they are marketed towards younger drinkers. Perhaps not in
the broad sense of advertising, but certainly in their positioning and price. DdG: I think it is right. They are sweeter and more accessible to the younger drinker just weaning themselves from soft drinks…I would go a bit farther and say that a wheated bourbons as opposed to a bourbon using rye for the second grain would also be more popular with a younger
crowd…Makers Mark proved that in the American market.CE: I think it’s true in part. My feeling is that there are more whiskeys in the Irish whiskey range to cater for younger peoples’ tastes. Black Bush for example is very smooth, with no burn, yet it is full flavoured. Triple distillation and the lack of peating our malt are key contributors to the taste of Irish whiskey. What tends to stave off young drinkers from single malt Scotch, is the overshadowing ‘old man in an armchair’ image. This image has not been properly addressed. Scotch advertising at the moment either tries to be clever or chic – most of these ads fail on
both counts.RE: At this current time I believe it is true. This is due to three key factors: one, marketing approaches and lifestyle associations; two, taste.The lighter style of Irish whiskies and the flavours of caramel, vanilla and corn found in many bourbons/American whiskies consistently proves to be appealing; and three, drink combinations. This is particularly true with bourbon which is now a key ingredient in some of the best tasting cocktails.