From the Editors

Shorts from our editorial team

  • Let's hear it for the ladies

    09 October 2015

    ‘Do you actually like whisky then?’ ‘This can’t be your real job.’ ‘Let me buy you a vodka and coke instead,’ are just a handful of phrases I, and many other women working in the whisky industry, encounter daily.

    Granted the thoughtless misogynistic comments are spouted by the minority but still, with more women than ever enjoying a wee dram why does gender stereotyping still exist at all?

    According to a 2012 Simons Market Report, 30% of whisky drinkers are female, while some of the most talented master blenders in the Scotch whisky industry are women – Maureen Robinson at Diageo, Rachel Barrie at Morrison Bowmore and Kirsty McCallum at Burn Stewart (who is now in an ambassadorial role) to name a few. Heck, one of the largest Scotch whisky-producing companies is led by a female CEO.

    Indeed, women have been distilling Scotch since the 19th century when it was commonplace for farmhouses to operate a still – illicit or otherwise – for domestic consumption. Some distilleries would not be here today if it weren’t for the pioneering resilience of female distillers like Elizabeth Cumming (Cardow, now Cardhu) and Bessie Williamson (Laphroaig). As Fred Minnick says in his book Whiskey Women: The Untold story of how Women Saved Bourbon, Scotch and Irish Whiskey: ‘For a business steeped in tradition and history, whiskey has forgotten its better half. Women have always been a part of whiskey history; they’ve just never received credit.’

    Women working in the Chivas Brothers bottling hall in the 19th centuryWomen working in the Chivas Brothers bottling hall in the 19th century

    Even now women are referencing whisky in popular culture more than ever. Christina Hendricks may have kick-started the renaissance through her tough, whisky-swigging character in Mad Men, but you needn’t look much further to find female whisky drinkers in film, music and art: Rihanna, The Staves, Mila Kunis, Lady Gaga, Aisha Tyler... the list goes on.

    Stardom aside, taking in The Whisky Exchange Whisky Show in London this week also dispelled the myth that Scotch is exclusively a man’s drink – ladies poured in to try a dram with as much passion and interest as their male counterparts.

    So next time you see a lady drinking a dram at a bar, working at a whisky exhibition or even making whisky in a distillery, she doesn’t need saving with a vodka and coke. Instead she needs thanking for her contribution to the industry. 

    Women's contribution to the whisky industry is even making national news in America:

  • Laphroaig's spontaneous combustion

    01 October 2015

    There’s beauty in spontaneity. The honesty of an unscripted moment feels endearingly charming and reassuring, and serves as a reminder of our humanity. Which is why Laphroaig’s #OpinionsWelcome campaign, created to celebrate the Islay Scotch whisky distillery’s 200th anniversary, is one of the finest whisky marketing initiatives ever.

    This post may seem belated – the campaign launched in the summer last year – but in light of Johnnie Walker’s new ‘Joy Will Take You Further’ promotion it’s worth revisiting.

    Last month Diageo unveiled the new campaign for its leading blend based on years of research into consumer behaviour. Joy, it seems, is now a bigger measure of success than money or fast cars.

    Both these campaigns, at first glance, purport to be bringing whisky back to a human level, but how many of us can really relate to a stiletto-wearing motorcyclist wearing a jetpack? The image is more terrifying than joyful.

    Which brings me to my point about Laphroaig’s campaign, which features real people giving their honest, unscripted opinions on the whisky. It’s relatable. It isn’t rehearsed or convoluted or showing off. It’s real, and while they may be beatnik poets or Islay locals rather than movie stars or race car drivers, they are convincing and utterly entertaining.

    More than that though, this series of videos and tweets illuminated on the side of the Laphroig distillery is doing something much greater than simply promoting the whisky. It’s reassuring us that there is no right or wrong when it comes to drinking whisky. Think it tastes like burnt knickers? That’s okay, but a bit gross. If this industry is to encourage more consumers to try Scotch, this is precisely the approach that’s needed.

    We may not like to hear it, but Scotch whisky still carries an air of unattainable sophistication that’s off-putting to some people. This association needs to change if the category is going to compete against American and Irish whiskey in the future.

    So Bravo Laphroaig, and thank you for showing us that it’s okay to have an opinion on what’s in the glass, no matter how weird.

  • A jolly good(wood) drive

    20 August 2015

    I could probably spend hours concocting a tedious link to explain why spending a full day driving Morgans around Goodwood race track has anything to do with whisky, but let’s be honest – it was what we journos like to call a jolly.

    In my defence I was invited along with some of the UK’s most renowned bartenders and bar owners by Balvenie, who have developed a strong partnership with the Morgan Motor Company over the last few years. According to the Speyside single malt brand the two companies share the same values of craftsmanship, heritage and family-ownership, and have cemented their relationship through the commission of four Balvenie Morgan 4-seater Roadsters, which can be spotted roaming around the US and UK.

    The UK's only Balvenie Morgan.

    Unfortunately only a handful of William Grant & Sons staff are insured to drive the cars, but that didn’t stop us road-testing a sample of Morgan’s core fleet at Goodwood in West Sussex.

    The Malvern-based car manufacturer, through its dealer Bell and Colvill, kindly – and very trustingly – lent several of its vehicles to us liquor lovers with which to tear up Goodwood’s famous corners, though of course, very sensibly, the whisky was absent.

    For those who are unfamiliar with Morgan's cars, here are a few facts:

    • The Morgan Motor Company was established in 1909.
    • Every car is handmade from an aluminium chassis with a wooden (ash) body.
    • The top speed of the Plus 8 model is 155mph.
    • Each car is open-topped.
    • Don't even think about crashing one.

    Four cars were made available for us to drive ourselves – with an instructor present – around the track: a 4/4, V6 Roadster, 3-wheeler and a Plus 8. Now I’m an ace behind the wheel when safely playing Need for Speed at home, but in reality I’m a coward when it comes to wooden cars, speed and corners. Thankfully I had the highly experienced racing pro – and former Coronation Street and Hollyoaks actor, Tony Hirst, to show me around the track, albeit in his own ARV6 Roadster which has a top speed of 150mph.

    Another thing to note about a Morgan – the seats are low, which means if you’re a short-arse like me you won’t see far over the dashboard, particularly if you’re cowering at the speed at which Hirst nonchalantly takes his corners. But of course this calm and experienced attitude is why he won the Morgan Challenge Race at Silverstone the previous weekend.

    Speed demon: Tony Hirst and I get a dressing down for making too much noise.

    Thankfully by the time it came to my turn round the track the heavens had opened, which meant I ended up in the slowest and safest car in the fleet – the 4/4, and had some useful advice from Hirst to consider:

    • Look ahead through the corners and not at the front of the car.
    • Don’t trust your instincts – your brain will tell you to steer one way but you must resist.
    • Brake gently.
    • Accelerate gently.
    • Only accelerate and brake on the straights, and never on a corner.
    • Have fun.

    Accelerating gently? I’m not ashamed to admit I only hit a top speed of 65mph – some way off Hirst’s best I’m sure, but at least the car was delivered safely back in one piece despite the downpour. That’s a win in my book.

    Admittedly, reaching for a dram once arriving home just to settle my frazzled nerves is really the only part whisky plays in this little excursion, but experiencing the thrill of driving a handmade car does lend a healthy insight into the high level of craftsmanship and attention to detail that’s needed to keep its driver and passengers comfortable and safe. It’s understandable that Balvenie sympathises with these values, it being one of the few remaining Scottish distilleries with its own floor maltings and cooperage. But all that’s better explained by them in this video, which was produced by the group earlier this year, although the extent to which Balvenie is really the ‘last handcrafted whisky in the world’ is debateable. 

    Now, don’t suppose any other whisky brand fancies partnering with a luxury Bahamas tour operator?

    All in a day's work: Tony Hirst makes driving a Morgan at up to 150mph seem easy.

  • The benefits of whisky-scented moustache wax

    08 July 2015

    What better way for a whisky brand to grab the attention of a hipster than to talk about the one thing that matters to them the most?

    The moustache, that universal symbol of hispterdom, now has a new friend in the Johnnie Walker wax collection – a range of three scented moustache waxes each designed to enhance the flavour of the brand’s signature Johnnie and Ginger serve.

    Exclusively available at Huckle the Barber in East London, the pocket-sized collection – available in Piperine Pepper, Citrus Essence or Ginger Root flavours – is designed to increase brand awareness among millennials, or more specifically, hairy male hipsters.

    Wax your 'tache in three delicious flavours.

    This is the third example of Johnnie Walker’s attempt to capture this demographic’s attention through diversifying its range with whisky-related wearables. First came the Heriot Watt-developed Harris tweed infused with the aroma of Johnnie Walker, then the pair of Oliver Sweeney brogues with a secret compartment just the right size for a miniature of Johnnie Walker in the heel.

    At first glance each of these creations may seem like a novelty, but could branching its range out into non-consumables that appeal to a growing millennial audience be a clever approach to stemming declining sales in Western markets?

    Volumes of Johnnie Walker declined by 3% in North America and Western Europe in 2014, a trend that analysts claim ‘highlights the urgent need for a fresh positioning’.

    Quirky innovations like the Johnnie Walker moustache wax may gain column inches in the consumer press – as well as this website – and perhaps result in a handful of sales of the three waxy scents, but a deeper and more substantial appeal to millennials is key if brands like Johnnie Walker are to turn the tide in western markets.

    As Spiros Malandrakis, senior alcoholics drink analyst at Euromonitor, says: ‘Overoptimistically succumbing to the now defunct emerging market mantra, [Johnnie Walker] was being quietly left behind its Irish and American siblings as well as the myriad micro offerings in its core western markets.’

    He adds that expanding the brand’s appeal to encompass several drinking occasions, cocktail serves – that are easy to recreate at home – and even extended product lines will ‘make or break key mainstream brands going forward’. The warning has far more urgency for blended Scotch than other whisky categories, which is suffering from a tired image in the shadow of aspirational single malts and Bourbons.

    However he warns that brand diversification needs to offer more substance than simple novelty if it’s to have any real effect on falling volumes.

    ‘Attempting to re-establish relevance to an alienated younger demographic is and will remain important but appearances can only go that far,’ he says. ‘It’s time for radical changes in substance.’

    Hairy hipsters: the focus of Johnnie Walker innovations

    If it’s really the millennial audience JW is reaching for, surely with increasing numbers of female whisky drinkers, who incidentally are driving cocktail sales in western markets, expanding the brand focus from purely hairy hipsters to include a younger female audience is one path declining whisky brands could benefit from?

    Although it’s unlikely whisky-infused jewellery will drastically alter the brand’s sales for the better, it sure would be nice for female whisky drinkers to be recognised as a key demographic alongside hairy hipsters. After all, we may be more difficult to spot without the obvious facial cues, but there are no doubt just as many of us.

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