It always impresses me how people and companies can adapt to change. We have seen this idea of modification reflected throughout our economy and society, especially, since the credit crunch hit.
For the whisky industry, this need for change has not been as great. After all, last year in Scotland alone exports hit a whopping £4.2bn. “Incroyable!” as the French (who represent the biggest growing region for whisky consumption in Europe) might say.
Nevertheless, there does seem to be the subtle hints of change afoot. I see it in events I go to here in London, and hear it during myriad conversations I have on the topic. Many people agree: there is something, some sort of alteration, to the buzz and spirit of the whisky industry occurring just now.
And why not? After all, while exports are enormous, there are still huge sectors of the market to conquer. People like myself, for instance: a young, urban female. I love whisky. I know others in my demographic who do as well. But, the majority of them don’t. For the whisky industry this surely must mean there is incredible opportunity to tap into a wider base.
While not every company may agree with me, and prefer to stick to packaging, advertising and rhetoric which appeals to a more traditional group of consumer, I do see some picking up on this atmospheric shift. At Easter, for instance, Monkey Shoulder got creative and organised a giant Easter egg hunt. In return for finding an Easter egg, hunters received a whisky cocktail and a bespoke chocolate. How great is that? Later this year, the team behind the egg hunt (Anonymous Artists) will put on events called: “For One Night Only” which will involve interactive, subversive events based around different whisky cocktails. Meanwhile, at Whisky Live at the end of March, Neil Ridley and Joel Harrison of CaskStrength played around with the idea of a “whisky flight”, dressing up as airline pilots and serving up duty free whiskies to a very receptive audience. At one point, Balvenie brand ambassadors Dr Andrew Forrester and Sam Simmons “highjacked” the flight dressed as pirates, and served up Balvenie. It was a hilarious and interactive evening that went down a storm. The week prior, I experienced the excitement of tasting a dram at high altitude. In a bid to do something with a bigger punch, the Scotch Malt Whisky Society did a whisky session on the London Eye – during two rounds we tasted some exceptional cask strength drams, including a 39-year old Glen Moray and a 21-year old Little Mill. Not only was it educational, but the sights were breathtaking and the experience was far from “traditional”.
These are but a few examples of how different groups are approaching whisky in all its forms. Some might say this undermines the product – takes something that is beautifully handcrafted and turns it into a mere marketing game. I say, these events bring an added energy and bon vivant to an ancient industry. I believe there is room for both in the world of whisky. There is a time for sipping a 30-year old Highland Park by a roaring fire, and another time to get out there and partake in some fun experimentation in order to engage a wider audience.
I can only hope that more companies will jump on this bandwagon and start working on quirky projects. Because, after all, once someone is converted into being a whisky lover, it’s highly likely they’ll stick with it and continue consuming the “water of life” for years to come. And, surely, whatever aspect allows him or her get to that stage can only be a good thing.