Blog : identity

Is whisky suffering an identity crisis?

Is whisky suffering an identity crisis?

I attended an event this week at the £3million freshly refurbished Scotch Whisky Experience that got me thinking; with other tipples like gin, craft beers and even wine (apparently ‘wine punks’ is an actual thing) experiencing shake-ups, challengers and consumption renaissance, why is Scotch finding it so hard to join the party?

Undoubtedly whisky is one of the UK’s greatest exports (38 bottles were shipped overseas every second in 2015, generating £3.95billion for the UK balance of trade), building this success on quality, craftsmanship and provenance. But as it continues to wrestle with itself on how to attract younger UK consumers, so essential for sustained growth, whisky may be being shackled by the very image it’s strived to create.

On the one hand an appreciation of the finest spirit, lovingly and slowly created, to be taken seriously, savoured and appreciated, and on the other, the declaration that there are no rules, no drinking rituals (to add water or not), cocktails are fair game and hey, just have it your way. It will be argued each has their place, but are they complementary or contradictory?

Now I totally understand the importance of history, of brand essence rooted in truth and of premium product quality, and I’m certainly not advocating throwing the baby out with the bathwater (there are some whisky brands doing really beautiful, unique things), but there are lessons to be learned from other heritage brands – Mulberry, Burberry or Pringle – that have successfully managed to marry time-honoured craftsmanship with contemporary appeal and aspiration. The way these brands are choosing to make and market themselves in a way relevant to consumers today is critical – both to current growth and to future longevity.

Having worked in-house at The Glenmorangie Company after its sale to LVMH, a whole ‘new world’ of whisky marketing was embraced. It was different. It was exciting. It was refreshing. Today there are some whiskies; Haig, Ardbeg, Bruichladdich that I believe are doing it differently; creatively attracting, engaging and targeting (younger) audiences, but they are in the minority.

So while there are buffs who may consider this post in itself blasphemy, without adapting to the digital expectations and marketing savvy sophistication of modern, younger consumers, whisky could be in danger of alienating the very drinkers it will come to rely on.