Every day emails ping into my inbox that trumpet the launch of yet another travel retail exclusive non-age statement single malt, or the opening of one more artisanal distillery set to produce small-batch, handcrafted malt whisky.
As Obi-Wan would have put it, the force is strong with single malt whisky right now.
Whether it’s the big boys such as Glenfiddich, The Dalmore and The Glenlivet, or relative newcomers like Wolfburn and Kilchoman, every brand seems to have a compelling story to tell. Craft credentials, authentic provenance and quirky production techniques – the jargon of single malt rings the bells for those all-important millennials.
Now, blends still rule the roost in duty free, especially in emerging markets such as Latin America and the Middle East, but as each year passes single malts continue to gain ground in both volume and value.
Talking to travel retail liquor buyers this year I’ve
been struck by how well single malt seems to be doing as a sub-category – even in blend-skewed markets such as South Korea.
It strikes me that the scotch whisky industry has to
do more to enthuse younger millennial consumers about the art of blending and dispel the persistent myth among younger folk that single malts are intrinsically better
Travel retail seems to be the perfect place to begin
this battle – travellers often have time on their hands
and are more willing to open their minds and try something different.
Johnnie Walker has been leading from the front in trying to inject some excitement and interest into the world of blends. I recently flew to Amsterdam Schiphol airport to tour Diageo GTME’s new two-story Johnnie Walker House shop in Lounge 2 – three years in the planning and the largest execution of a concept which, to date, already has airport branches in Singapore Changi, Mumbai and Taipei Taoyuan.
The top-floor cocktail bar wouldn’t disgrace the swankiest of five-star hotels, while the entrance features a giant ceramic Striding Man given a decidedly Dutch makeover by artist Merjin Hos.
The ground floor boasts a peat wall, a touch-screen blending table and a line-up of travel-retail exclusives that includes a stunning local Delft Blue execution of Johnnie Walker Blue Label: The Johnnie Walker House Blue Label Casks Edition – Schiphol Limited Edition.
Chivas Regal has not been sitting still either. In May Pernod Ricard Asia Travel Retail ran a virtual reality promotion at three key Asian hubs – Singapore Changi, Seoul Incheon and Hong Kong.
Travellers were invited to don 360° virtual reality headsets, which then led them through a virtual presentation of the flavour profile of five Chivas expressions (12 Year Old, The Chivas Brothers’ Blend, Chivas Regal Extra, 18 Year Old and 25 Year Old), as well a tour of the Strathisla distillery.
Now, such high-profile stores and activations don’t come cheap of course, but they will be crucial going forward.
However popular single malt whisky becomes it is unlikely, given the way it is made, it can ever replace the blended whisky sales that could be lost if future generations fall out of love with it for good.